Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave a fiery speech
at Russia's State Council meeting on Friday.
He dismissed claims of falsification in October's regional elections -- claims that are widespread on the Russian Internet -- with this little ditty: "On the Internet 50 percent is porn material. Why should we refer to the Internet?"
He warned against loosening up the rigid top-heavy system he built with this zinger: "A political system shouldn't wobble like liquid jelly every time it's touched."
He raised the specter of the "Ukrainianization" of Russian politics, a reference of the inherent chaos plaguing public life in Ukraine.
But according to a report in "Vedomosti
," the most remarkable thing about Putin's speech was that it wasn't supposed to happen at all:
A State Council member later said that nobody had expected Putin at the meeting. The government had requested materials from the Kremlin at the beginning of the week. As for Putin's intention to speak at the meeting, it only became known the morning of the meeting day...
Political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov said that speaking up at the State Council meeting, the premier actually came to the defense of the political system he himself had shaped. It was Putin's way of showing that nobody would be permitted to dismantle this system, Vinogradov said. If this is what it really was, then the 2012 intrigue will be even more complicated and captivating than general public could expect.
In other words, "Vedomosti" is suggesting that Putin crashed Medvedev's party.
The long-planned State Council meeting was supposed to be an opportunity to discuss political reform and modernization. And it was supposed to be Medvedev's show.
Leaders of political parties were asked to bring proposals
Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, who heads the party A Just Russia, called for a ban early voting (the source of much election fraud) and an end to the practice of regional leaders appointing electoral commissions.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov called for parties to get better representation on State Television.
Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin called for media reforms and proposed that vote rigging be punishable by prison time.
LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky proposed a 10-year limit on civil servants holding the same post.
In the end, Medvedev proposed legislation lowering the barrier for parties to win seats in local elections to five percent of the vote -- down from the current seven percent. "Our political system works. It's far from being ideal but it works," Medvedev said.
All in all, pretty weak tea -- made weaker still by Putin's broadside.
One can argue forever (and we have) about whether Putin and Medvedev have competing agendas or are playing good-cop/bad-cop. Did Putin blindside Medvedev on Friday or was the whole thing staged to give the impression that political reform was really on the agenda?
We, of course, don't know the answers yet. But one thing is clear, increasing sectors of the Russian elite are beginning to sense the limits of Putinism. But they doesn't appear that they have anyting remotely approaching the strength to do anything about it yet.
-- Brian Whitmore