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The occasion of the first anniversary of Dmitry Medvedev’s inauguration has inspired a raft of good pieces on the way Russia’s two-headed leadership is functioning. One of the most readable and comprehensive comes from veteran political scientist Peter Reddaway and can be found here.

Reddaway argues that the tandem structure was an ungainly beast from the beginning and that the pressures of the economic crisis are making increasingly exposing its weaknesses. He summarizes some of the arguments on the tandem put forward by Gleb Pavlovsky (discussed on this blog here), particularly his claim that there is a “pro-crisis” party within the ruling elite that is interested in trying to “detach Medvedev from the tandem, get rid of Putin, declare Medvedev their hero and ride to power.”

When considering the extent to which Medvedev is a force within the tandem instead of, as many still suppose, just carrying water for the dominant Putin, analysts often get stuck on the issue of what is the president’s base of support within the elite. It is generally accepted that Putin has salted his secret-service pals and St. Petersburg connections everywhere that counts. And who, even theoretically, would come to Medvedev’s aid if – and this is a huge if, I think – some sort of dispute developed between the president and the prime minister?

Some have suggested that Medvedev is building a power center within the legal community, based on the Association of Lawyers of Russia, which he heads. The association has experienced rapid national growth over the last year and is involved in drafting some of the initiatives that Medvedev has been discussing in the areas of combating corruption and legal reform.

Some point to the Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR), a supposedly reformist think tank whose board of trustees Medvedev heads. Certainly, INSOR has been generating discussion and proposals, but there is no sign it has any particular influence or would be of any great use in an under-the-carpet catfight. (See earlier post.)

But in a series of excellent and provocative posts (three parts: here, here, and here), the illuminating The Russia Monitor blog makes the argument that Medvedev is developing a powerbase with teeth in the form of the Federal Bailiffs Service (FBS, not to be confused with the FSB). That law enforcement agency could play a muscular role if Medvedev’s anticorruption initiatives get off the ground. The Russia Monitor speculates that the anticorruption drive (in which there are, of course, roles for the other “power centers” mentioned above) could itself be “the necessary pretext to consolidate [Medvedev’s] power.”

The author goes out on a limb and predicts that this consolidation is part of Putin’s transition plan:

I think Putin will slowly drift into the background until one day we will notice he is gone. There will not be some cataclysmic clash between Medvedev and Putin, no arrests of one or the other. Why? Because Putin planned it this way. It might even have started back in 2007, in the aftermath of the Tri Kita scandal, when Viktor Cherkesov -- head of the Anti-Narcotics Service -- wrote an open letter in Kommersant to other siloviki urging them to not break out into open warfare amongst one another. The article probably only confirmed what Putin already knew - that if a silovik replaces him either (a) the country will fall apart and/or (b) he will end up as collateral damage. So Putin knew he had to go with Medvedev.

Of course, there is no way to tell, but the arguments presented in those posts seem well-reasoned and more logically consistent than anything else I’ve read on the topic. They may explain why Putin, who supposedly has all the levers of power, has tolerated various gestures Medvedev has made that he purportedly opposed, such as naming Nikita Belykh governor of Kirov Oblast, not firing a Far East police chief who supposedly was too soft on antigovernment demonstrators, and allowing Boris Nemtsov to run for mayor in Putin’s beloved Sochi.

Some will argue that Putin is still preparing to return to the presidency. Andrei Piontkovsky told RFE/RL this recently:

[Putin’s] huge mistake in this entire operation was taking on the post of prime minister, considering that traditionally in Russia the prime minister is responsible for the economy. In such a situation, holding elections last December or in March would have looked like he was deserting his post. So now he is waiting for even a very tiny glimmer of some positive tendencies [in the economy] so that he can, under some convenient pretext, triumphantly complete Operation Successor.

The Russia Monitor makes a good case that Putin is sincere about the transition. And he’s trying to carry it out before his own power centers realize it.

-- Robert Coalson

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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