Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Tandem Is Feuding -- Oh My!

A woman walks by a panel made of cardboard boxes, displaying President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Rostov na Donu, 21Oct2010
A woman walks by a panel made of cardboard boxes, displaying President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Rostov na Donu, 21Oct2010
Every few months or so the meme emerges. Headlines scream: "The tandem is feuding!" Speculation abounds about whether Dmitry Medvedev or Vladimir Putin are competing to be the establishment candidate for president in 2012. Pundits predict a return to the vicious political clan warfare that marked the 1990s.

And then it fades. They go skiing and drink tea. They catch a football game together. They play badminton for the cameras. And everything appears to be cool.

Until another round of speculation begins that -- wait for it! -- The Tandem Is Feuding!

Medvedev's firing last month of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov got the meme going again. And the punditocracy is back in overdrive.

A good example is Vladimir Frolov's recent column in "The Moscow Times":

The continuing uncertainty about whether President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will run for president in 2012 is becoming a source of political instability.The mounting tensions between the political courts around each leader are threatening to upend the political calm in the nation and plunge Russia into a clannish warfare rivaling the late 1990s. The political courts are already waging media wars positioning themselves for a showdown in a few months. Medvedev's court is on the offensive and is trying to box the president into a decision even before he sorts this out with Putin.

Writing in "Svobodnaya pressa," political analyst Vladimir Golyshev points out that "the name 'Putin' mysteriously disappeared from the invitation list to [Moscow Mayor] Sergei Sobyanin's inauguration." He also notes that "the first bold act by Sobyanin's city hall was to issue a permit for an anti-Putin demonstration. For 2 1/2 hours people were able to chant 'Putin must resign!'"

Golyshev also compared Putin to Yegor Ligachev, the perestroika-era hard-liner and conservative foil to Mikhail Gorbachev. He likened filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov's recent conservative manifesto to the infamous 1988 Nina Andreyeva letter, a public broadside against Gorbachev that was orchestrated by Ligachev.

I wonder how long this will continue before Putin and Medvedev will decide to do some more male bonding for the cameras again.

To be sure, there is something to the periodic conflict speculation. Frolov, for example, is correct to focus on "the political courts around each leader," because it is there, and not between Medvedev and Putin themselves, where conflict does indeed exist.

Igor Yurgens, the head of the Institute for Contemporary Development and an adviser to Medvedev, would certainly like to see the backs of Putin and the siloviki. And Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, the informal leader of the siloviki clan, has -- to put it mildly -- little affection for Medvedev.

But for the time being at least, I remain convinced that Putin and Medvedev are on the same page.

And as I have blogged here and here, I think Medvedev's role in this drama is to carry out a tightly controlled modernization of the economy accompanied by some even more tightly controlled tweaks to the political system. (note the Justice Ministry's unexpected registration of Vladimir Milov's opposition movement Democratic Choice this week.)

An admirer of Yury Andropov, Putin has learned the lessons of perestroika well: that unmanaged economic and political reform can easily spin out of the Kremlin's control. But he also understands the lessons of the Brezhnev period -- that a stagnant economy and moribund political system can sink a superpower.

This is the needle Putin is trying to thread.

I think that Plan A at this point is for Medvedev to remain president after 2012 with Putin's blessing -- and protection -- to carry out these tasks. Putin may remain as prime minister, or as I suggested here, become the secretary-general of United Russia. It doesn't really matter, since the big bad siloviki, the guys with the guns and the license to use them, are loyal to him. And Putin will remain Russia's supreme leader -- regardless of his title -- as long as they do.

There will be noise and rumblings as Putin's and Medvedev's respective courts are indeed fierce rivals -- and don't really like each other all that much. And there will be feigned conflict, but it will probably just be pokazukha.

-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: HWilliams from: T&T
November 03, 2010 04:11
This analysis does sound realistic to me Brian!For the first time ,i have to say that I think you have a point!

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15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


19:16 November 21, 2014


On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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