Political expert Anatol Lieven reasons about nearest presidential elections in 2012 and about Vladimir Putinís role in contemporary Russia

Media coverage of Vladimir Putinís dinner last week with the Valdai Club Ė of which I am a member - has inevitably focused on his remark about Franklin Delano Roosevelt having stood for four terms as President, and this having been (at the time) perfectly in accordance with the US Constitution. Equally inevitably, this was taken as a heavy hint that Putin intends to run again for President in 2012, replacing Dmitri Medvedev.

The setting in which we met Putin might have encouraged most people to think of themselves as not President, but Roman Emperor: a huge neo-classical sanatorium at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, built under Stalin for the Soviet elites and magnificently restored in recent years. The hall where we ate was lined with immense columns, and the food and wine were excellent, but as usual our lean and somewhat grim host took a couple of mouthfuls and one small sip. If Putin does take after any Roman emperors, it would still seem to be some of the more austere and military ones. Even ten years after the retirement of Boris Yeltsin, Putin is still benefiting from the contrast in this regard Ė perhaps because the contrast is not only with Yeltsin, but with a tendency to Yeltsinism (not just alcoholism, but a generally genial but lazy and undisciplined approach to life) which so many Russians see in themselves, and which they alternately celebrate and fear.

Read full version: Travels with the Russian Tortoise | Opinions | RIA Novosti

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