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Special Report Roundtable: Putin's Russia

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT You might be right that we must all think about how to structure the government so that it better suits the pre-election period and prepares the country for what will happen after the parliamentary and presidential elections in March, 2008.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: You got that folks? That is Vladimir Putin explaining why he disbanded his cabinet today. Dana Lewis did a very good job earlier of trying to sort out what it all means. Of course, this comes on a day when the Russians also exploded this massive bomb, a non-nuclear weapon.

So everyone wants to know what is going on with Russia. What is going on with Russia--Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: That was a typically soviet inscrutable speak.

This is all about elections next year. Putin is not allowed to run again. So what does he do? He picks his prime minister, a complete nobody--he was a crony in St. Petersburg, and he is a loyalist--to become the prime minister. And he might be a candidate next year.

The way that Putin entered office was that Yeltsin at the end of his second term appointed Putin, also obscure at the time, as the prime minister, and then in about a year he became the president.

The most important event in Russia in the last few weeks was the release of the Putin vacation pictures, the ones we saw a few weeks ago, which all of a sudden exploded on soviet Russian TV, which Putin controls, showing him shirtless on vacation in Siberia like the Marlboro man.

This is essentially saying to the Russians here is a young, vigorous president with good abs. Why would you not want to have him returned? Even though the constitution says he can't, unlike Yeltsin, who was old and dying and decrepit at the end of his second term.

This is all about how Putin holds on to power. And, presumably, he might have a factotum like, this new guy, this unknown guy in office for a couple of years. He resigned and Putin is allowed to come back and run again, and almost indefinitely.

KONDRACKE: Putin is not going to give up power. He is creating a cult of personality, and these pictures were the example. It sort of reminds you of Mao swimming in the Yangtze River. There he is with his shirt off.

And there were all kinds of other pictures--Putin with airmen, Putin inspecting naval ships, and stuff like that.

HUME: What about Putin setting off big bombs?

KONDRACKE: The big bomb, that is meant to overdo our bomb. We have a bomb that has a technical name that is MOAB, but it is called the "Mother of all Bombs." So this one is the father of all bombs, is the designation of it now, and it is bigger. And so what the United States can do, we can also do.

And he is also done things that revive cold war tensions. They are now flying the old fashioned bear bombers. They are obsolete, but nonetheless they are flying against our air defenses in Alaska and against Japanese air defenses in Japan, testing them out. Checking out to see--it is all the old stuff again.

HUME: What is the point, Fred?

BARNES: This Tarzan stuff, beating his breast and showing how strong he is. It scares the Europeans, no question about that, particularly they are so dependent on Russia for gas and for oil as well.

And, look, I personally do not think that he is going to stay as president, so what he does is what Charles says. He picked some guy who used to work for him who has no independent political base whatsoever. He is entirely his puppet. And everyone will know that he is still in charge.

HUME: I understand that, but what are the implications for American policy in dealing with this?

BARNES: Here is a little Napoleonic guy with a big chip on his shoulder. And that can mean big trouble.

KONDRACKE: And what is worse is that he is selling surface to air missiles to Iran, their most advanced surface to air missiles, which the Iranians will put around Natanz, their nuclear installation, as at least a deterrent, and possibly for use against an Israeli or U.S. attack.

KRAUTHAMMER: A Russian nationalist who wants to challenge our power. He is not an ideological enemy, but a rival who will be around a long time.

HUME: Well, I guess we can say "Oh, good."

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