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The appointment of Mr. Viktor Zubkov, an obscure official, as the new prime minister of Russia has many analysts yearning for the old days of Kremlinology. Then, at least, it was possible to figure out how powerful someone was by their relative position on the seating chart or the dais.

Nowadays, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the appointment of leading figures. Only the logic of President Vladimir Putin matters. Indeed, the real question is whether Mr. Putin will surrender power at all, or whether the upcoming presidential election is the politician’s equivalent of a parlor trick to distract the public and the world about how Russia really operates.

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