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Trouble at the top… or not? Medvedev and Putin… January 14, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Russia.
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Intriguingly the Financial Times this week has a piece on a degree of discord between Medvedev and Putin. It reports that:

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, on Sunday took another apparent swipe at Vladimir Putin, rebuking the prime minister’s government for moving too slowly to alleviate the country’s economic crisis.

And that although…

Most Russians had believed Mr Medvedev would play second fiddle to Mr Putin, who named him as his chosen successor ahead of presidential elections last year…[although] several attempts by Mr Medvedev to pursue independent policies have been thwarted, Kremlin watchers have noted a new assertiveness in the president of late.

The FT certainly has a bee in its bonnet on this issue. For on December 31 they reported that:

…in the six days since Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, described his feelings about taking the oath of office in May, the corridors of power have been buzzing.

“The final responsibility for what happens in the country and for the important decisions taken would rest on my shoulders alone and I would not be able to share this responsibility with anyone,” Mr Medvedev told an interviewer.

And that:

For a normal president in a normal country, such a remark would have been a statement of the obvious. But to a select few, it was a “dog whistle”, a message audible only to those Mr Medvedev wanted to hear.

And on the 1st of August one could also read that:

The relationship between the two men [Putin and Medvedev] has been mostly harmonious, but the new president would clearly like to move out from under his predecessor’s shadow.

To add weight to his normally soft-spoken persona, Mr Medvedev has recently begun mimicking Mr Putin’s tough guy television style, lacing his official-sounding pronouncements with slang and street jargon. There was also plenty of finger jabbing, fist clenching and table slamming as he ran a carefully staged and nationally televised meeting in Gagarin between the town’s small business owners and a contrite looking group of government officials – driven in from Moscow especially for the purpose of being public whipping boys – as Mr Medvedev announced a new plan to fight official corruption.

Talking about rhetoric, Medvedev during the Russian Georgian conflict was strikingly harsh and his overt use of slang – and wow, do I sound prurient as I read this back – very evident.

It’s hard to know what the truth of this matter is. But it is hardly strange that Medvedev, proxy or no, would seek to carve out his own niche or that he might with time come to enjoy both the trappings and the substance of his office. Can’t help though and wonder whether there is any great substance to all this.

Still, in a year when the US Presidency might be thought to be of a certain fascination, and it is – it is, no harm in casting an eye eastwards every once in a while at the Russian Presidency.

Comments»

1. yourcousin - January 15, 2009

I believe the point of a puppet is that the strings are not supposed to be too obvious. With Putin attending the Olympics for Russia, grabbing the headlines during the Georgian war and now hogging the limelight in the gas crisis maybe Medvedev felt that he wasn’t even being given the superficial deference he felt he ought to garner. But then again did anyone ever think that Russia was a democracy?

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2. Wednesday - January 15, 2009

With Putin attending the Olympics for Russia, grabbing the headlines during the Georgian war and now hogging the limelight in the gas crisis maybe Medvedev felt that he wasn’t even being given the superficial deference he felt he ought to garner.

Those are all Putin’s responsibilites. In the Russian system the Prime Minister deals with foreign affairs. Presumably Medvedev knew this when he appointed him. Presumably he also knew that appointing him as PM would keep him in the limelight.

None of what the FT are describing as a “swipe” at Putin really sounds like much of a swipe to me anyway. Just a bit of Brit media shit-stirring.

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3. WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2009

Although unlikely that the Russian government would be overly affected by British media shit-stirring… One presumes…. 🙂

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4. ejh - January 15, 2009

Would that be an unusual example of a Soviet-era town renaming not having been reversed?

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5. splinteredsunrise - January 15, 2009

You do hear occasionally that the authorities in Volgograd would quite like to go back to being Stalingrad. It’s not come to anything yet though.

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6. yourcousin - January 16, 2009

Those are all Putin’s responsibilites

Yes be cause we all enjoyed Mikhail Fradkov at the opening ceremony in Athens, oh wait it looks like we missed him in favor of Putin that time. I guess Fradkov was busy that weekend. Or how he took a more hands off approach to the gas crisis of 2005 in favor of letting the PM do the talking, except for the fact that it was Putin talking shit with Fradkov doing his gophering back and forth with the EU. Or in regards to wars. Putin+second Chechen war on google news search came up with over 5000 hits while Mikhail Kasyanov (his PM from 00-04) pulled up just over 300 hits with the same criteria. And speaking of Georgia, this is even better Putin+war in Georgia pulls over 53,000 hits while Medvedev 1,530. But I can clearly see now how Medvedev is simply delegating responsibility and Putin is simply fulfilling his role as PM while fully respecting the fact that the office of presidency and its current occupant has total primacy of power. Come on, FFS. This story may be nothing but to act like the current setup is anything other than a farce is, well…

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7. Wednesday - January 16, 2009

Obviously Putin’s doing more in his role than previous PMs have done. No shit. I doubt anyone (including Medvedev) expected otherwise. That doesn’t change the fact that foreign affairs are part of his constitutional role.

You see a lot more about Medvedev and a lot less about Putin if you read about Russian domestic affairs (which typically in the West we don’t). As to whether Putin is still pulling the strings there as well, he may be, but I don’t think it’s as self-evident as you claim.

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8. yourcousin - January 17, 2009

My point about the olympics is this, have you ever seen the Russian Prime Minister at the opening ceremony rubbing elbows with other world leaders? To me the fact that he was in Bejiing was hugely symbolic. And certainly there are other things such as the fact that Putin hand picked Mededev. Or the fact Medvedev just happened to increase the presidential term limits. And before you say that he may be doing that for himself, I will bet you fifty euros (to be donated to SF or the IWW depending upon the victor) that Medvedev serves only one term before Putin takes back the president.

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9. yourcousin - January 17, 2009

ahem, should read “before Putin takes back the presidency”

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10. Wednesday - January 18, 2009

Symbolic or not, it’s still part of his role. And what Medvedev did was extend the length of the presidential term rather than extend the term limits. There never was anything stopping Putin from seeking the presidency again after Medvedev. Of course there was never anything stopping him changing the constitution so that he could just stay on as president, either.

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11. WorldbyStorm - January 18, 2009

Well I think Putin, who I have a certain (albeit qualified) admiration for, is a far cannier pol than that… he wouldn’t do anything too overt… as you often point out he does have enormous public support but he does have to work to maintain that (by all means necessary). It will be genuinely interesting to see how this all develops. One obvious point is that Medvedev is a fair bit younger than Putin and therefore going to be around a lot longer. So he would be unwise to overplay his hand. And it seems inconceivable that given their shared history from the very early 1990s they aren’t politically allies and like minds so all this could simply be optics.

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12. yourcousin - January 18, 2009

I think we’re losing the forest for the trees here, or maybe not. Putin has fallen out with his PMs (Mikhail Kasyanov) while President so former alliances don’t inherently mean all that much. And while you insist that attending the opening ceremony was within his duties I would ask again, have you ever seen a Russian PM instead the President (or corresponding power relationship in the USSR) at the opening of the olympics? You are correct on the length of the term versus term limit, I mistyped. Maybe I’m the only one here but I think that the rise Putin has seen a decline for human rights and genuine democracy in Russia (not that it ever really existed) and the fact that he has done all of this with a convincing electoral mandate is even more depressing. Now I recognize that Putin has always been entitled according to the Russian constitution to seek another term in office after Medvedev, but to pretend like this entire set up from Medvedev’s selection right on down the line has not gone against the spirit of genuine democracy beggars belief. And that is my over all point. WBS mentions optics, but that’s all this whole situation has ever been. No one doubts that it is still Putin calling the shots and that whatever relationship the President and PM have is only an optical illusion.

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13. Wednesday - January 19, 2009

have you ever seen a Russian PM instead the President (or corresponding power relationship in the USSR) at the opening of the olympics?

I can’t say that I’ve ever paid attention. Do you actually pay attention to who attends the opening ceremonies of the Olympics? Do most people?

I think that the rise Putin has seen a decline for human rights and genuine democracy in Russia (not that it ever really existed)

Your last comment there is the crucial one. There was no real human rights or democracy in Russia under Yeltsin either, but he was pro-west and so the numerous violations of both that occurred under his watch went largely unnoticed. I genuinely don’t think that things are worse in that regard now than they were then – not to any significant degree anyway – and since your argument appears to be based on what “people think” I will point out that that is what the people I know in Russia think, too.

No one doubts that it is still Putin calling the shots and that whatever relationship the President and PM have is only an optical illusion.

The problem with that is it’s a conclusion people started with long before the changeover even occurred… certainly well before Putin appeared at the Olympics. While Putin was still president it was taken almost as fact that he was going to hold on to power after his second term ended. And everything that’s happened since then has been interpreted as proof of that – even when it’s based on incorrect facts (such as the extension of the presidential term). Granted what Putin has actually done since then has made it easy to say I told you so, but I think if he’d left the government and taken up the helm of Gazprom or something (as was floated as a possibility) people would still say he was really calling all the shots because it was already decided he was going to be doing that. When you start with a conclusion it’s easy to make the facts fit it.

As I said earlier on, I’m not making an argument that Putin isn’t calling the shots, because I haven’t really got a clue. I just don’t think that what you seem to think proves it actually does.

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14. yourcousin - January 19, 2009

I can’t say that I’ve ever paid attention. Do you actually pay attention to who attends the opening ceremonies of the Olympics? Do most people?

No, as a matter of fact until this issue came up I never gave it a thought and made it a point to avoid the opening ceremonies. But that still doesn’t even come close to an answer,. And the little digging I have done indicates that it is the President who represents Russia there hence making it something I would like an answer to.

There was no real human rights or democracy in Russia under Yeltsin either, but he was pro-west and so the numerous violations of both that occurred under his watch went largely unnoticed

[Epilogue to this paragraph: In my last comment I did note that genuine democracy before Putin was found wanting in Russia and I can’t/don’t try to speak for anyone other than myself.]

I would agree with this and say that it was wrong. Yelstin was a drunk who did irreperable damage to his country and set a template in Chechnya which Putin later refined and exploited to his advantage. Human rights and genuine democracy have always struggled in Russia, from the Czars, to the Bolsheviks, to the collapse of the Soviet Union and beyond. I find it all reprehensible and think that it ought to change and not nessecarily in favor of some sort of Coca-Cola style democracy exported straight from the good ole US of A. but I would like to see an end to rampant political corruption which we see in over there. I would like to see an end to the high profile killings of opposition figures to the regime whether they be former spys, reporters, lawyers or foreign heads of state. I would also like to see them stop deporting innocent civilians when they get in a pissing match with said civilian’s government or let former states over which they had control develop and deal with their past in their own way without undue interference.

While Putin was still president it was taken almost as fact that he was going to hold on to power after his second term ended. And everything that’s happened since then has been interpreted as proof of that – even when it’s based on incorrect facts (such as the extension of the presidential term)

I admitted that it was a mistype, I apologize again. Look just becuase you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. There can be a good deal of Russophobia out and there and have Putin rigs things to his liking. They’re not mutually exclusive. As for “proving” it. This isn’t a court room, its a comment section on a blog so you’ll excuse me if that after work, and after working on the house and getting things ready for my wife to give birth (two days and counting) this isn’t the most thorough prosecution of the case against Putin.

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15. Wednesday - January 20, 2009

Congratulations.

The only other thing to note about the Olympics is that the opening ceremony occurred at the end of a week of fighting in South Ossetia (preliminary to the main action, of course, which started the day before the ceremony). I have no idea whether it had already been decided at that point that Putin would go to Beijing and Medvedev would remain in Russia. But one thing I am pretty certain of, if Medvedev had gone to Beijing under those circumstances people would have said, “Aha! The president goes off to the Olympics leaving the prime minister here to deal with the war in Georgia. That proves Putin is really running the show!”

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16. WorldbyStorm - January 20, 2009

Good luck to you and your wife yourcousin…

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