Posts Tagged ‘dmitry medvedev


Putin/Medvedev: who really had a doubt?

Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, plans to swap jobs next year with President Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev, who succeeded Putin in 2008, proposed the move Saturday at the annual congress of Russia’s ruling party.

The carefully choreographed job swap between Putin and Medvedev plays again and again on Russia’s state-controlled TV. Off-camera, though, not everyone is applauding.

The day after the announcement, protesters were chanting, “Russia without Putin.”

Ilya Yashin of the opposition Solidarity movement spoke at the rally in central Moscow. He said that Medvedev’s job was merely to keep Putin’s seat warm until the Russian constitution allowed him to return to the Kremlin.

In addition to charging the Putin government with corruption, Yashin faults Russia’s strongman with presiding over an ever-widening gap between Russia’s rich and poor. He said Russia leads the Forbes billionaires’ list, while 20 million people live in poverty.

Anti-Putin rally

But in a city of 12 million people, only 250 people showed up for an anti-Putin rally. And some, like Sergei Nikolayevich, a retired Army officer, were not convinced. He said he is not concerned about the political situation because of Russia’s strength in oil and gas.

At a park across the street, most strollers do not want to talk about politics.

The tandem: “Neither here nor there” at Moscow protest, Sept. 24, 2011. (VOA – Y. Weeks)

Vladimir Aristarkhov, a publishing house employee, said he plans to vote for the opposition Communist Party, out of protest. He worried that Putin and Medvedev could cling to power for a quarter-century.

Referring to the comedy duo in the Austin Powers spy movies, he said, “Our local version of Dr. Evil and his Mini-Me will stay in power as long as they can.”

Soviet-era redux

Vladimir’s buddy, Dima, a freight loader, worried that Russia now faces the kind of long-term stagnation that his parents lived through during Leonid Brezhnev’s 18-year rule of the Soviet Union. Dima said Russia will continue stagnating because Putin plans to stay in the Kremlin for another 12 years.

The Internet TV website, Dozhd, ran a poll asking site visitors the best reaction to a return of Putin to the Kremlin. The most popular option – emigrate.

Andrei, a 34-year-old IT worker, is staying. But he is not happy with the prospect of Putin continuing to stay in power.

“It makes us similar to the USSR – because we have one party, one government, one leader,” he said.

Andrei also worries that Russia’s biggest advantage – its oil and gas supplies – also is its Achilles Heel. “We are very dependent on the price of oil and gas, and this makes our economy very vulnerable,” he said.

Andrei and others say that if a worldwide recession knocks down oil and gas prices, Russia’s carefully choreographed political transition could face a reality check – from Russia’s streets.


Is Mikhail Prokhorov Vladimir Putin’s secret candidate?

A fascinating analyzis on Russian politics and on the different scenarios which could occur during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have repeatedly suggested that they may run in the 2012 presidential election.

But neither of them has announced an official bid, and they have put considerable effort into keeping everyone guessing. When questioned, Putin and Medvedev say they will consult with each other in order to decide who will seek the presidency.

But one thing is clear: Putin, Russia’s most powerful politician, will have the decisive say in determining who will serve as president for the next six years.

Once his choice is made sometime this year, the ruling elite will close ranks and support the chosen candidate. The outcome of his informal choice will most likely be formalized in the March election, thanks to Putin’s popularity, the enormous capabilities of the ruling elite to implement their preferences, and the questionable fairness of Russia’s recent elections.

Medvedev will most probably accept Putin’s choice, even if it entails his departure from the Kremlin and Putin’s return to the presidency.

If there is a deep crisis in 2011 that the ruling tandem cannot manage without risking their own political and business interests, they may have to back a third candidate.

Even without a serious crisis, Putin could back a third candidate if he loses confidence in Medvedev and simultaneously wishes to step aside himself because of fatigue.

There is also the possibility that disruptive events on the scale of the recent uprisings in the Arab world could erupt, leading to a change of power that neither Putin nor Medvedev would support. However, the probability of such a development is low.

That said, there are three likely scenarios for the election: Medvedev stays in power; Putin returns to power; or an as-yet unknown President X comes to power. These scenarios would have markedly different implications for domestic politics in Russia. However, a certain continuity across the scenarios can be assumed for the Kremlin’s foreign policy.

Key Uncertainties

Putin’s final decision on who will occupy the Kremlin for the next six years will be determined by key uncertainties that may take place over the next six months. Some of these uncertainties would lead to a serious change in the course of Russia’s development.

Here are the main uncertainties:

Will Putin feel that Medvedev can cope and protect his interests for six years? Putin may decide to remove Medvedev for several reasons. For instance, he may feel that there is a chance that Medvedev may lose his grip on power during his second term due to foreign or domestic challenges. Or he may feel that Medvedev will not guarantee the protection of his allies’ business interests during his second term. So far, Putin has not explicitly indicated publicly whether he will run, although there are signs that he would like to stay in power in some capacity beyond 2012.

Putin and the fatigue factor. Media reports and leaked U.S. diplomatic cables indicate that Putin’s appetite for work is flagging and he might be suffering from fatigue. If that is true, he may already be exploring ways to withdraw from the government for good. But such an exit would mean that Putin would no longer be able to take over from Medvedev if Medvedev loses control or fails to protect Putin’s interests during his second term. If wary of Medvedev’s capability to protect his interests, a tired Putin may then choose someone he regards as a more able and loyal candidate for the 2012 election or at least install Medvedev in the prime minister’s seat.

Will Medvedev feel it is time to rid himself of Putin’s patronage? Medvedev may decide that he has a better vision for Russia and more energy to promote the country’s development without Putin’s patronage. In that case he could take steps to increase his chances in negotiations with Putin on the 2012 election by shifting the balance between their bureaucratic power bases. For instance, Medvedev may use his constitutional powers to remove top officials and may start a broad campaign of replacing Putin’s appointees in key government positions with his own loyalists.

A major terrorist attack or meltdown in the North Caucasus. Terrorism in the North Caucasus appears to be manageable, with Islamist militants capable of only hit-and-run operations in the region and occasional terrorist attacks in the rest of Russia. Nonetheless, it is possible that terrorists may initiate action that will lead to a meltdown. Insurgent and terrorist groups may manage to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction in a major city or in a series of coordinated attacks, including seizures of towns and hostage-takings, and trigger a massive, indiscriminate government response. This would result in a long-term destabilization of the region, with the re-emergence of rebel-controlled pockets in far-flung corners of the North Caucasus and frequent attacks against government targets in urban areas.

An escalation of ethnic riots. There could be simultaneous riots in major cities similar to those staged by ultranationalists in Moscow in December 2010, but resulting in double-digit casualties and generating a violent response by natives of the North Caucasus. Under such circumstances the authorities would use force to disperse rioters, initiating massive arrests and taking a tougher stance against public activism in general. This would create a backlash in which ultranationalists would be in conflict with North Caucasus natives in major cities, and both sides would resist any attempt by the government to subdue riots.

A protracted deep economic crisis coupled with low oil prices. In the short term, Russia will to some extent be affected by external factors that it can neither forecast nor control, such as energy prices on world markets. The price of oil is the uncertainty that the government is least able to control and that will have the greatest impact on the country. The economy remains very dependent on exports of natural resources, with other sectors lagging behind global market leaders in productivity and efficiency.

A new, protracted global economic crisis may hit Russia hard, forcing the government to spend all its reserves. The sovereign Reserve Fund contained 775.2 billion rubles ($25.5 billion) as of Jan. 1, down 57.6 percent from 1.8 trillion rubles ($59.6 billion) on Jan. 1, 2010, as the government drew from reserves to cover the budget deficit. The 2011 federal budget was calculated on a premise that the average price of oil would be $75 per barrel, and each additional dollar per barrel is estimated to result in another $2.14 billion for the federal budget and vice versa. But if the price of oil falls  more than 50 percent and stays at that level due to a global crisis or other developments, the government will quickly deplete its reserves and be unable to honor its obligations to the population without raising taxes, which could cause protests.

An escalation of frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. This would have a profoundly destabilizing influence on Russia’s neighborhood. A renewed armed conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia would spread violence and instability into the North Caucasus. The ultimate defeat of Russia’s foes in such a conflict could create a failed or failing state that would serve as a springboard for terrorist and insurgency networks.

A resumption and expansion of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict may also require Russia’s involvement since Russia has treaty obligations to come to Armenia’s defense in a conflict.

Depending on how all these uncertain structural indicators play out and how they interact with other factors, three possible scenarios emerge for the March election.

Scenario 1: Medvedev Stays in Power

Medvedev is likely to remain in power for a second term while Putin will either remain a power broker for the entire second term or perhaps gradually exit from politics if these key uncertainties play out in the following way over the next six months:

  • Putin feels Medvedev will cope and protect his interests in 2012-18.
  • Putin increasingly suffers from fatigue.
  • Medvedev does not feel it is time to shed Putin’s patronage.
  • None of the following occurs: a major terrorist attack or meltdown in the North Caucasus; an escalation of ethnic riots; a protracted deep economic crisis; or an escalation of frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union.

Instability in North Africa and tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, coupled with the continuing recovery of the global economy, keep oil prices hovering at $100 per barrel or above over the next six months. As a result, Russia’s GDP continues to grow. Content with Medvedev’s peacetime performance, Putin agrees that his protégé run for a second term. Medvedev wins the March vote in the first round.

After the election, Medvedev pursues essentially the same domestic policies as he did during his first term but more decisively in the sphere of economic liberalization and reduction of opportunities for corruption. He is more cautious and incremental with reforms that affect the interests of elites or provide for political liberalization. Each serious reform in these spheres is preceded by a public discussion, both in online forums and among experts. More important, each reform is cleared with Putin, at least in the first year of Medvedev’s second term.

Government agencies continue to work to heed Medvedev’s directive to seek modernization alliances with Western countries. Russia accedes to the World Trade Organization, while the U.S. Congress repeals the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the 1974 Trade Act. Russia and the United States also reach a compromise on missile defense and agree to cooperate to keep Afghanistan stable as NATO draws down forces in this country.

At an EU-Russia summit in 2012, Brussels and Moscow agree on a deadline for introducing a visa-free regime and on the further investment of European companies in the upstream assets of Russia’s energy and high-technology sectors.

Russia advances its agenda through post-Soviet integration organizations while maintaining its grip on a smaller but still substantial part of the export routes, but it achieves no qualitative breakthroughs. The relationship with Belarus remains ambiguous, with no integration breakthroughs and occasional conflicts over the price of Russian energy supply and transit. Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh continue to remain de-facto independent, while Moldova’s conflict with Transdnestr progresses toward resolution thanks to the joint efforts in 2012 of Russia, Ukraine and powerful EU members such as Germany.

Russia continues to oppose “crippling sanctions” on Iran but prods Tehran to cooperate with the international monitors and allow more transparency regarding its nuclear program.

Scenario 2: Putin Returns to Power

The probability of Putin’s return to power will increase substantially if any of the following key events occur before Medvedev’s first term expires:

  • Putin comes to believe that Medvedev will fail to either cope with challenges or protect his interests in 2012-18.
  • A major terrorist attack or meltdown in the North Caucasus materializes.
  • Ethnic riots escalate.
  • Frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union escalate.

Should any of these events — or a combination of them — occur this year or in the first weeks of 2012, Putin will replace Medvedev in the Kremlin to ensure political stability and solidify his own policies.

After waning during Medvedev’s term of office, the concept of sovereign democracy will stage a triumphant return as the core of Russia’s national ideology. For opposition groups, it means a further stifling of their legal activities as the government increases control over NGOs under the pretence of fighting terrorism and extremism. The State Duma passes a new set of laws further curtailing civil liberties and media freedoms.

The influence of the siloviki escalates, but Putin does not allow any particular group in the clan to dominate.

Trying to offset the impact that a more aggressive foreign policy might have had on international investors, Putin — understanding full well the need to diversify the economy — decides to liberalize foreign corporations’ access to the Russian market. The attempts by Russian companies to acquire downstream energy transportation infrastructure continue to meet the tacit but formidable resistance of most European governments.

The favorable conditions offered by the Russian government attract quite a few major international companies, from energy giants to retail firms. While state champions continue to dominate in the so-called strategic industries — such as Gazprom and Rosneft in the energy sector and Russian Technologies in the defense industry sector — private companies, both Russian and international, thrive in the retail, construction, agriculture, food, entertainment and automobile sectors.

A new war of words flares up between Moscow and Washington and Brussels over ballistic missile defense deployment in Europe. However, pragmatic approaches on both sides help  gradually relieve tensions as Washington and Moscow converge on the perception that their common immediate security threat is posed not by each other but by a new wave of militant Islamism, which galvanizes North Caucasus religious extremists and creates new risks for the United States and NATO personnel deployed abroad.

Russia increases its involvement in Belarus, progressing toward incorporating the country by solidifying its control over the economy of its neighbor. Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko lacks alternatives due to his increasing isolation from the West.

Moscow also increases its presence in Central Asia as the growth of religious extremism there prompts regional leaders to seek a strong and unscrupulous ally in the fight against Muslim radicals. Although Chinese influence on the economy of these states increases, it is Russia that remains the center of gravity for the Central Asian republics. The strong authoritarian political model that is being rebuilt by Putin is increasingly appealing to the Central Asian leaders. Putin also continues to anchor these and other former Soviet republics to Moscow through integration projects such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Eurasian Economic Community and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Having cooled Russia’s engagement with the West, Putin pursues a closer alignment with China, further increasing energy exports to this country. Overall, however, Putin remains wary of China’s growing influence.

Cooperation with the West in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions stalls as Tehran awards and Moscow accepts new multibillion-dollar contracts to build nuclear power plants and deliver machinery.

Russia remains out of the WTO. Moscow preserves its membership of the Group of Eight industrial countries, although it may be left out of negotiations on some key decisions. Russia responds by accusing international organizations of attempting to undermine its sovereignty.

Scenario 3: President X

Putin is likely to facilitate the ascent of a third candidate if he feels that Medvedev is no longer willing or able to protect his interests in 2012-18, he suffers from fatigue, or a protracted economic crisis or ethnic riots occur.

A protracted global crisis erupts, spurred by a domino effect on the world economy — a combination of colossal earthquakes in Japan and California and the bankruptcy of several international investment powerhouses. Oil prices drop to $50 per barrel and remain at that level until at least early 2012.

In late fall 2011, Putin and Medvedev conclude that on the current trajectory the government will run out of cash reserves sometime in 2012, making public authorities unable to honor their social obligations. Both realize that this will give rise to protests that may undermine political stability and affect positions held by the ruling tandem and Putin’s business allies.

Putin sees no major problem in arranging his own election in 2012. But he does not want to bear responsibility for all the country’s pending troubles because this would bring an end to his prestige as the national leader and, consequently, to his status of powerbroker between the ruling clans.

To make things worse, North Caucasus-based groups stage simultaneous terrorist acts in Moscow and other major cities, killing dozens of people. Ultranationalists exploit these attacks, perhaps by rallying support for marches planned for the National Unity Day holiday on Nov. 4, 2011. Riots break out not only in Moscow, but also in St. Petersburg and other large cities. Ultranationalists attack dark-skinned natives of the North Caucasus and foreign countries.

After some serious reflection as well as pressure from Putin, Medvedev announces that he will not run for re-election in March. By then, Putin has already picked a candidate — 40-year old Colonel X, commander of a unit of the Interior Troops who has been decorated with a Hero of Russia medal for his distinguished combat service in the North Caucasus.

Shortly after United Russia’s victory in the December elections, Putin and Medvedev jointly announce that neither of them will run but will instead back X as their candidate in 2012. X is elected president in the first round in March. Medvedev quits politics, while Putin remains the prime minister and leader of United Russia.

President X, like Putin, believes in a strong central government, in the dominance of the executive branch of government and in other features of a managed democracy. He acts to increase the federal government’s control over civil society, the mass media and other non-state actors. Nationalism with strong ethnic overtones — disguised as patriotism — plays a central role in the state ideology and is used to win the support of nationalists as well as to mobilize and solidify society.

Faced with the budget crunch, in mid-2012 the new president announces a sharp increase in both real estate and income taxes.

He cuts education and health budgets while leaving pensions and other social benefit payments intact. The police crack down on those who attempt to protest against these measures. X’s general response is to stifle opposition and intimidate independent political and social entities in order to prevent them from organizing scattered public protests into a nationwide movement.

President X pursues projects that would help anchor post-Soviet states to Moscow. He treats Russia’s near neighborhood as a zone for zero-sum games with the West that Moscow must win to advance its interests, such as the formation of friendly regimes along its borders and control of energy export routes from the former Soviet area.

Russia supports independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia but cooperates with the EU on the settlement of Moldova’s conflict with Transdnestr.

President X also pursues closer cooperation with other countries that oppose the spread of Western influence in the post-Soviet neighborhood, such as Iran and China, seeking direct investments from China and arms sales to both. At the same time Moscow remains wary about the rise of China.

The president also adopts a harder stance on such issues as U.S. and NATO plans to deploy missile defense elements in Eastern Europe and refuses to revive the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. As the United States and NATO move forward with plans for missile shield installations in Europe, the president orders deployment of medium-range missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave. In relations with individual Western countries, the president seeks closer ties with EU members rather than NATO or the United States. Russia sees the EU as a much more benign actor but continues to play individual members off against one another.

While lambasting the West in addresses to domestic audiences, President X avoids excessive confrontations. He is pragmatic: He realizes that the national interests of Russia and such major Western powers as the United States and the EU converge on a number of issues, including terrorism and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He is also well aware that Russia could not afford a new Cold War. More important, X knows that Russia is facing a budget crunch and needs direct foreign investments and Western expertise in efficient production methods much more than it did when booming oil prices ensured a steady flow of revenues and low interest rates for borrowing cash abroad.

At the same time his willingness to cooperate with the West will remain inversely related to Russia’s recovery from the crisis.

Other Scenarios

The recent changes of regime in countries in North Africa and the popular uprisings in the Middle East have led to discussions about whether Russia could see a scenario in which protesters demanding social justice and political freedoms topple the regime.

Like many countries in North Africa, Russia has problems with political freedoms, corruption and vulnerability to consumer price shocks as well as formidable Internet access, which can facilitate the organization of protests.

But all this is unlikely to lead to a revolution in Russia.

In the Arab countries, Islam was the unifying ideology for many of the protesters. Russia’s Christian Orthodox Church, which is widely recognized as the legitimate authority on issues of religion, has long been aligned with the state authorities and will not support any political activism.

Popular unrest could succeed and spread to other parts of the country only if it is staged in Moscow. However, Moscow, unlike Cairo or Tunis, has an abundance of economic opportunities. The rate of unemployment is considerably below the national level.

Other social factors that facilitate revolt, such as a large number of young people and relative poverty, hardly apply to Moscow. The average age of Moscow residents is 40 — one of the highest of the Russian regions — and the average Moscow family owns property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Moscow also has one of the highest gross regional products per capita, about $30,000. In addition, Moscow’s law enforcement agencies have the resources to suppress any protests.

Still, should developments take this course, the situation would probably evolve along the lines of the third-candidate scenario, especially in the latter stages.

It is even less likely that Putin and Medvedev will run against each other in the 2012 election, even though Putin did declare in April that he could not rule out that both he and Medvedev would run for president. Putin’s statement appears to be another attempt by the prime minister to maintain a shroud of secrecy over which one of the ruling tandem might run rather than revealing a real intention.

For his part, Medvedev reiterated at a May news conference that he rules out a situation in which he would run against Putin. Medvedev realizes that he would most likely lose to Putin and that he could face a coup if he doesn’t concede defeat.

Such a scenario would also be damaging for their personal political images and, more important, for Russia’s whole power vertical system. It could lead to a schism within the Russian ruling elite and weaken the central government, which is dangerous for a country that emerged on the ruins of an empire only 20 years ago.


Medvedev compares Arab spring to the fall of the Berlin wall

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday compared the likely consequences of the Arab Spring to those of the fall of the Berlin Wall as he underlined the necessity of timely reforms to avoid unrest.

Revolts in the Middle East and North Africa “are of a historic character and can pave the way for transformations similar to those taking place in Central Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall”, the Russian leader told foreign ambassadors in the Kremlin.

“Events in the Arab world once again proved … that socioeconomic reforms, reforms that would take into account the interests of the widest majority of the population, must be carried out in due time,” Medvedev added in remarks released by the Kremlin.

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 symbolised a bloodless end to communism, a move regarded as having had a domino effect across the Soviet bloc, ending in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Medvedev’s words came after leaders of the Group of Eight countries at their France meeting in May adopted a declaration on the Arab Spring which also drew parallels with the 1989 removal of the 43-kilometre (27-mile) demarcation line between East and West Berlin.

Medvedev has previously called the uprising in Tunisia a “lesson” to all governments that do not meet the aspirations of the people.

However Russia has been a dissenting voice in the West’s treatment of the Libyan conflict, having abstained from a critical UN Security Council resolution and later continuing to criticise the scale of the NATO-led campaign.


Russia: Vladimir Putin launches his presidential campaign

In what could be seen as the start of a presidential campaign, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reflected Friday on decisions he made that he said could have cost him his political career – and declared that the risk was always justified.

He specifically referred to his response to the 1999 rebel attacks on Dagestan led by the notorious Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

Militants headed by Basayev and Saudi-born Ibn Al-Khattab attacked Dagestan in August-September 1999. Hundreds of people were killed in the subsequent fighting, a precursor to the second Chechen war.

“Unless I took resolute and tough action, the country would have fallen apart,” he said during a working visit to one of Russia’s biggest steel makers, the Magnitogorsk Steel Plant.

“I had to make a decision. I thought: That’s it, my career is over.”

Putin said he acted in accordance with the country’s national interests, with no consideration of political expediency.

Asked what he considered his most significant achievement in the past decade, Putin said a good deal had been done for the country but Russia had still a long way to go, specifically reduce poverty and ensure economic growth.

“New tools, new people and new ideas are needed, deep modernization and innovation are needed to accelerate economic and social growth and strengthen the political foundations of our society,” Putin said.

Asked what quality was most important in a president, Putin said, “integrity – integrity in everything,” adding that a person who “can’t keep his word must not even be allowed to head any team, let alone the country.”

The prime minister also stressed the importance of professionalism and diplomacy.

Putin’s comments come as analysts and ordinary Russians speculate who will run in next year’s presidential poll.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin have made clear that one of them – and only one of them – will run in the presidential elections on March 11, 2012, but it is anyone’s guess as to which one.


Polls: Medvedev goes down, Putin remains stable

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s trust and approval ratings have somewhat gone down and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s remained at the previous level in the past month, according to a poll of 1,600 respondents the Levada Center sociological service conducted in 130 populated areas of 45 regions of Russia on June 23-27.Medvedev’s trust rating has declined by five percentage points and the approval rating by three percentage points, with 33% of those polled trusting the president and 66% approving of his work.

Putin’s trust and approval ratings remained at 41% and 69% respectively.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu’s trust rating has declined to 11%, putting him in this respect behind Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov (12% each).

The top ten most-trusted policymakers in Russia also include Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia (7%), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, and A Just Russia party leader Sergei Mironov (5% each).

The poll also showed that only 46% of Russians approve of the government’s work. The number of respondents believing that the things are going in the right direction on the whole has declined to 41% from 44% in the past month.

Just as a month ago, 27% of Russians believe in the government’s ability to improve the state of affairs in the country, 37% do not believe in this, and 33% are undecided.


Are Putin/Medvedev political tensions made up?

If most analysts have witnessed growing tensions between Prime minister Vladimir Putin and president Dmitry Medvedev throughout the last past months, more clever observers suggest it all is a made up and that the “tandem” still perfectly works.

Slowly but surely, the 2011-12 election season in Russia is getting under way. In recent weeks, both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have made appearances that pundits regard as the beginnings of an election campaign, and analysts are watching closely to determine whether the Tandem will remain in place after March 2012.

On May 6, during a congress of the ruling United Russia party, Mr Putin announced the creation of the All-Russia Popular Front. This organisation will be made up of trade unions, business associations, youth groups and Kremlin-friendly NGOs and is intended to improve United Russia’s popularity by giving it more of a connection to ordinary people.

The new organisation will include “everyone who is united in their common desire to strengthen our country, united by the idea of finding optimal solutions to the challenges before us,” Mr Putin said.

President Medvedev immediately gave the pundits reason to speculate that there was discord between the Kremlin and the White House when he declined to endorse the concept of the Popular Front, saying in an interview only that he understood the reasons behind the move.

Competition is vital

“I understand the motives of a party that wants to keep its influence over the country. Such an alliance is in accordance with the law and justified from an electioneering point of view,” he said in televised comments.

Mr Medvedev also speculated that United Russia could not count on a landslide in December’s State Duma elections, saying that competition was vital in a democracy. “No one political force can regard itself as a dominant one, but any force should strive for maximum success,” he said.

The president promoted his own agenda during a lengthy press conference at the Skolkovo Innovation Centre on May 18. Answering questions from an audience of more than 800 journalists, Mr Medvedev commented on topics ranging from modernisation to gubernatorial elections to missile defence. His responses were mostly predictable, but the conference showed him to be comfortable, confident and in command of the issues – a man who could head a successful presidential campaign.

The press conference followed a meeting on May 10 with judicial officials in which the president again pressed for judicial reforms and a strengthening of the court system, and a spring marked by a controversial plan to remove government bureaucrats from the boards of state-owned companies.

Some analysts see Mr Medvedev’s actions as more proof that he is further distancing himself from Vladimir Putin. A process that began with his criticism of the prime minister’s comments on the prison sentences of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, continued with the leadership’s difference of opinion over Nato intervention in Libya, and expanded with the shake-up in corporate boardrooms.

“This is a major development, marking an independent move by Medvedev, touching the interests of influential members of Putin’s team,” said analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, discussing the new policies with Bloomberg.

The theme of the president’s autonomy was noted in his reaction to the formation of Mr Putin’s Popular Front. “Medvedev is trying to demonstrate his independence with those remarks,” Alexei Makarkin, a political analyst with the Centre for Political Technologies, said in an interview with The Moscow Times . “And it looks like the number of similar remarks will be growing soon.”

Analysts who believe that the Tandem is indeed splitting 
believe that the prime minister’s creation of the Popular Front is his way of returning to the presidency.

Testing the Tandem

The political scientist Grigory Golosov said: “If they [establish this new grouping], and there is no reason to think they won’t, then we can say that Vladimir Putin will be nominated precisely by this ‘popular front’ – that is, by all Russians who are for a better life.”

Alexander Venediktov of the radio station Ekho Moskvy agreed. “This story shows us again that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] certainly has not said ‘No’ to a third presidential term,” he told the BBC.

Those who believe the Tandem will continue past 2012 say that the recent appearances have given both politicians the opportunity to define their different but complementary personas – Mr Medvedev the “modernist” and Mr Putin the “traditionalist” – in the hope that one or the other will appeal to Russia’s increasingly divided voting population.

“Like before, Putin and Medvedev tend to occupy different political niches,” the independent political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told 
Interfax. “But both men continue to serve their common cause.”

The opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov even suggested that the Popular Front initiative was in fact intended to shore up the Tandem. “He [Putin] is attempting to halt rapidly eroding support for the ruling Tandem and the ‘party of power’,” Mr Ryzhkov wrote in an editorial in The Moscow Times .

The television analyst Nikolay Svanidze echoed these comments. “All this doesn’t necessarily mean it is Putin who will stand for president next year. I believe the Tandem has not yet made a final decision regarding who is going to run. If such a front is formed, the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, may use it just as easily. The new platform will make it possible for either of the two candidates to declare that he is backed by a considerable part of the people, not just one party and its voters,” he told Russia Today TV.

Any candidate for the Russian presidency in 2012 may have to pay more attention to the people than previously planned. According to an Levada Centre poll in April, 75pc of Russians are interested in politics. But 83pc of respondents believe that politicians work only to promote their own interests and ignore the needs of voters.


Will Dmitry Medvedev run for 2012?

Even as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared Tuesday that he will soon decide whether to run for a second term in 2012, the resignation of a powerful deputy prime minister from the board of state oil company OAO Rosneft the day before may provide a clue as to whether Mr. Medvedev has any future in politics.

Mr. Medvedev told Chinese media Tuesday ahead of a BRIC summit that he’ll soon decide whether to run in 2012.

Less than two weeks ago, Mr. Medvedev, perceived by many as the weaker partner of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, told key members of Mr. Putin’s government that they would have to leave the boards of the state companies they oversee. He also issued several other orders meant to improve Russia’s bad investment climate.

“It’s extremely important for Medvedev that these objectives are fulfilled. These are things that actually matter,” says Sergei Guriev, rector at Moscow’s New Economic School and a member of the Russian president’s commission on national projects.

Then late Monday, Rosneft said Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who oversees the country’s oil and gas industry, would leave its board.

As Mr. Medvedev searched for ways to reduce the state’s overbearing role in large, non-transparent companies and in the overall economy, the spotlight must have quickly focused on Mr. Sechin, the oil czar. Long perceived as one of the country’s most powerful men, the staunch Putin ally wasn’t shy about using his post in the government to get things done at Rosneft.

Kremlin watchers said any disobedience or foot-dragging from Mr. Sechin would have been a huge loss of face for the president and cast serious doubt on his political future.

Thus Mr. Medvedev appears to have received a fresh infusion of political clout. Still, he may have moved against the ministers only with the blessing of Mr. Putin. Also, it’s unclear who will replace Mr. Sechin — perhaps another ally of Mr. Putin or a so-called “independent” director.

Several of Mr. Medvedev’s plans last month to improve the investment climate strike at the very heart of what may be driving capital out of the country, such as a deeply unpopular payroll tax increase and the often-flouted rights of minority shareholders. In the words of Mr. Guriev, the Russian president’s adviser, these are things that “matter very much to the average businessman on the street.”

Although it’s not clear how far the president can go in implementing his plans, the prospect of a reform-minded president backed by Mr. Putin’s political influence would no doubt please investors.