Thursday, May 5, 2011

Who Wants To Rule Russia?

There's a new chapter in the ongoing political soap opera “Who Wants To Rule Russia?”, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister (and former President) Vladimir Putin's wrangling over which one of them will run for the top job in next year's presidential elections. The Russian constitution bars anyone from serving more than two consecutive terms, which is why Putin had to turn over the reins of power to Medvedev. While the two publicly present themselves as a “ruling tandem”, conventional wisdom has been that Medvedev is only keeping the seat warm for Putin, who will run for President again in 2012, a job that he could then keep until 2024 after the completion of two more terms in office.

Not so fast, say some familiar with the inner workings of the Kremlin. Medvedev, they say, has grown into the job of president and sees himself as the only one who can push forward much-needed political and economic reforms in Russia, and he's now willing to stand up to The Boss. That's the word from Konstantin Zatulin, a respected member of the Duma (Russian parliament) and a member of Putin's political party, United Russia. Zatulin claims that Medvedev's political allies were working behind the scenes to undermine support for Putin, particularly within the parliament. Medvedev also seems to be asserting himself of late, and in the process taking on Putin. One high-profile action was Medvedev's decision to bar ranking government officials from also serving on corporate boards of directors, an action that seems aimed squarely at one of Putin's most powerful lieutenants, Igor Sechin, a deputy prime minister and also chair of the board of Rosneft, one of Russia's largest energy companies. Medvedev has taken aim at such arrangements, saying that Russia's largest companies are too closely tied with ranking members of the government – a situation that stifles economic growth and hampers foreign investment in Russia. Putin, meanwhile, supports the “statist” approach to governance, where the economy is driven by a few key corporations which themselves are intimately tied to an inner circle of power at the top level of government.

Other Russian political observers disagree with Zatulin’s assessment, either saying that the Putin-Medvedev tandem is strong and that a decision has already been made about which one will stand for election next year, or that Medvedev simply is not powerful enough to push Putin aside. One indication of where things may be headed is a rumor that some members of the Duma may split off from United Russia to form their own political party, likely named “Fair Russia” which could then be a vehicle for a Medvedev 2012 presidential run. And just in case you think there's no humor in this situation, check out the trailer for the disaster movie “2012”, reworked to tell the story of next year's Russian elections.
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