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The 2012 Shadowboxing Intensifies


Vladimir Putin (right) and Dmitry Medvedev

Vladimir Putin (right) and Dmitry Medvedev

And here we go again.

In a commentary in "Vedomosti" on Wednesday, Igor Yurgens of the Institute of Contemporary Development and Yevgeny Gontmakher of the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev to openly declare his intention to run for a second term.

The two Medvedev allies also argued that Russia would face a massive economic crisis and social tensions if Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin.

Literally hours after the Yurgens and Gontmakher commentary appeared, Reuters moved a story, citing anonymous officials, claiming that Putin had already decided to run for president in 2012.

Reuters cited one of the officials as saying that Putin was "troubled by the perception that his protege, whom he has known for more than two decades, did not have sufficient support among the political and business elite or the electorate to ensure stability if he pushed ahead with plans for political reform." Another official claimed that "an attempt by Medvedev to assert his authority in recent months had unsettled Putin, but the two leaders communicated well on a regular basis."

This, of course, was more than enough to set off another round of the-tandem-is-feuding-oh-my-oh-my! hand wringing.

In a piece today, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" spoke to the usual stable of Moscow pundits to get a handle on what is really going on.

Gleb Pavlovsky of the Effective Politics Foundation told the daily that the tension that has always existed among Putin and Medvedev's respective teams is now spilling over to the principles -- and that society was getting increasingly impatient with the drawn-out drama:

What happened yesterday was but another exchange of blows due to the growing tension within the tandem. This tension has already become a problem for participants in the tandem. They cannot even settle principal issues and work out a common political program in order to alleviate uncertainty. That's why Putin and Medvedev are ever on the lookout for ways to expand theirroom for maneuver. That is why they choose all sorts of quixotic means for that like Chinese media outlets and Reuters...
All these indirect signals indicate existence of illusions both politicians entertain. They think that they themselves will choose the moment when they make the rest of the country happy with the announcement that everybody has been waiting for. That's an illusion. They do not see how the situation is changing. Six month ago, the whole country was waiting for this announcement with trust and impatience. These days, the country is waiting with distrust, irritation, and apprehension. Natural coalitions that formed around participants in the tandem disintegrated and deteriorated into teams of neurotics.

Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center, meanwhile, downplayed the whole affair. "It was announced on countless occasions already that Medvedev must run for president. It was also denounced more than once that he should remain president," Malashenko told "Nezavisimaya gazeta." "In any event, there is no way to say what will happen. All of this is guesswork."

Meanwhile, as I blogged earlier in the week, Putin's Popular Front is drafting a platform for State Duma elections in December that appears to be moving in the direction of (mild and tightly controlled) political reform that Medvedev has long been calling for.

In an article in today's edition of "Novaya gazeta," political analyst Andrey Kolesnikov sarcastically noted the convergence:

Vladimir Putin, has entered the PR field of Dmitriy Medvedev: The place where "freedom is better than lack of freedom." And he has assumed strategic command heights in it. That is, the prime minister is now also the main democrat in the country, ready to share responsibility with the people for the troubles that the 6 years of the next presidential term may bring. He intends to give the people even more freedom than Medvedev.

The conventional wisdom in the Moscow punditocracy appears to be moving in the direction of Putin returning. For now, I am sticking to my assumption that Plan A is still for Medvedev to remain president and for Putin to remain in charge as National Leader (recognizing, of course, that Plan A can easily be abandoned for Plan B).

What I suspect happened yesterday was that the Medvedev and Putin teams, which (as Pavlovsky suggested) are becoming increasingly jittery, engaged in a bit of shadow boxing via the media.

In any event, I suspect we will soon see photographs of the smiling tandem hanging out together and enjoying some kind of fun outdoor activity.

-- Brian Whitmore

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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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