When European leaders meet with Vladimir Putin in London on Oct. 4, they should encourage him to resolve Russia’s "2008 problem": the open question of whether Putin will remain in power or not upon completion of his term. The question has become a topic of discussion in Moscow, although the Russian president has kept an ambiguous attitude concerning this issue.
This question has implications beyond Russia’s borders. That is because, since 1991, there is an absence of democratic succession mechanisms in the former Soviet countries. Few presidents have left office voluntarily. However, because of their age, many heads of state in the region will face this problem in the next few years. Russia’s elections in 2008 are critical. But it is one of 10 scheduled electoral processes in the former Soviet block, especially in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
The Kremlin is now busy at work minimizing major prospects for 2008. When former Russian Prime Minister Mijaíl Kasyanov indicated he might run for president, there was an investigation on the purchase of one of his houses. A few years earlier, Mijaíl Jordorkovsky had been sentenced to nine years in prison on fraud and tax evasion and funding political activities. The Russian media outlets have been indulgent towards power in these matters. Putin himself came to power very doubtfully. Yeltsin had resigned six months before the end of his term to ensure impunity granted by Putin.
The “leader-for-life” model did not disappear with the USSR. If elections are altered in 2008, it would be a negative message for the former Soviet republics. We have to mobilize ourselves for free elections to be held in Russia.

International Herald Tribune (France)
The International Herald Tribune is a version of the New York Times adapted for the European public. It works in direct association with Haaretz (Israel), Kathimerini (Greece), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany), JoongAng Daily (South Korea), Asahi Shimbun (Japan), The Daily Star (Lebanon) and El País (Spain). It also works, through its head office, in indirect association with Le Monde (France).

Russia’s succession challenge”, by Christopher Walker, International Herald Tribune, September 29, 2005.