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Russian Media Speculates On Putin's Second Act


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

We've known for nearly two weeks that Vladimir Putin will return to the Kremlin for at least one, and most likely two, six-year terms starting in 2012. And we've known for two weeks that Dmitry Medvedev is most likely destined to become an interesting historical footnote - a curiosity who occupied the Kremlin in the short interlude between Putin and Putin 2.0.

But what happens next?

I have a piece out today that spells out possible four trajectories for Putin's second act: top-down reform: top-down reform (the Stolypin scenario); authoritarian modernization (the Andropov scenario), stagnation and survival (the Brezhnev scenario), and crisis and revolt (the colored revolution scenario). You can read the whole story here, so I'll spare you the rest of the details in this post.

These has also been a fair amount of speculation in the Russian media over the past couple weeks about where things may be headed.

In a recent commentary, Aleksandra Samarina, head of "Nezavisimaya gazeta's" politics desk, wrote that given the painful economic moves the government is going to need to make in the near future mean that extremists on both the left and the right will enjoy a resurgence in the coming years:

Politics is becoming heated, seats of conflagration are springing up practically every day. The [ethnic] Russian marches are being revived and today they are getting permission from the authorities and taking place under the slogan of combating ethnic crime. People believe that this kind of crime is taking place, and any moment now they will come out in support of those to whom only yesterday they would not have given their backing. The Communists realize that their hour has come: A new crisis is on the doorstep, the rating of the party of power is falling in line with the rise in tariffs, the right-wing party will not take votes away because it does not exist, and the majority of protest votes will fall into Gennadiy Zyuganov's lap.

Political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya also offers a pessimistic prognosis. Writing in Politkom.ru, opines that Aleksei Kudrin's resignation as finance minister is a harbinger of more shocks and conflicts within the ruling elite:

Russian politics has acquired a new quality. The elites are disappointed, tension has grown, the main players are demonstrating an inclination toward destructive steps, the proneness to conflict inside the regime has increased abruptly, and contradictions and disagreements have intensified. All this is leading to an abrupt increase in the spontaneity of developments....

How dearly is Putin prepared to pay for incorporating Medvedev into a new framework of political reality, one outlined by Putin himself? The resignation of Kudrin is already an extremely high price for Medvedev's premiership. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that there are over seven months until the expiry of his presidential powers. In view of the sharp growth of spontaneity in Russian politics and the decision-making mechanisms, it is possible to say that there will be many more surprises yet.

Political analyst Pavel Danilin sees a more optimistic future. In a commentary in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," he writes that "the tandem is being preserved and is renewing its legitimacy by means of taking the policy it has been pursuing out to a universal vote."

Far from being sidelined, Danilin writes that Medvedev "has received extra powers to run the [United Russia] party as the person who is taking it into the elections."

In practice the president, the prime minister, and the party are playing the role of a political triumvirate, mutually linked with each other so closely that the attitude to one of the participants in this power construction will have a direct effect on the two others. That, incidentally, is something that has been no secret to sociologists for a year -- the ratings of United Russia, Putin, and Medvedev move in a synchronized fashion, which demonstrates the presence of a close link in the eyes of the voters between each participant in the triumvirate...

What will happen after the presidential elections? Medvedev will become the second figure in the state. He will have carte blanche to form a new, young cabinet of ministers, which Putin directly spoke of at the United Russia congress. This government will be composed taking into account the opinion of the victorious party. The head of the executive -- and Prime Minister Medvedev will occupy precisely that position (after all, the president is head of state and guarantor of the Constitution) -- will implement modernization policy, whose contours have already been outlined.

In a highly entertaining piece in "Gazeta.ru," Nataliya Gevorkyan writes off the past four years as an illusion that abruptly came to an end on September 24 at the United Russia congress:

I am in favor of honesty and clarity in politics: Putin as Putin, with no illusions, hopes, playing at modernization, or any endless transformation programs, on which not the country's worst minds expend their failing mental forces and which, as it turns out, nobody needs. Four years of illusions constitute an exhausting humiliation for those who would like to believe that Medvedev is not Putin. Putin, gentlemen, is Putin, so expunge these years from your life and consider them a temporary insanity and an unexpected blindness that prevented us from judging a person on his deeds rather than on the basis of our own hopes and aspirations for the necessary transformations in our country.

Gevorkyan also scoffs at the idea that Putin's second stint in the Kremlin will be any different than his first:

There will not be a new Putin, for there is no such thing. Putin does not change. Circumstances enable him to display different aspects of his nature. He is not a bad actor. I saw him as quiet Volodya, who was being twisted like a doll before his first term, but I also saw the looks that he threw at those who thought that they would go on twisting him like that. I recall the words of one of the retainers of the present oligarchs, who said to me after [oil tycoon Mikhail] Khodorkovskiy's arrest: Do you think this is the same Putin whom you interviewed? This is a different Putin. Nonsense. It was the same Putin, but he had felt power and vanquished his teachers. The Putin who decides to release Khodorkovskiy, if this proves advantageous to him for some reason, will be the same Putin, but one who has already felt unlimited power. It will be the same Putin, with the same set of merits and shortcomings which are quite easy to understand and count if you study his person attentively. Different aspects of his character manifest themselves in different external circumstances, but these are features of the character of the same Putin.

-- Brian Whitmore

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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