Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Power Vertical

Exit 'The Tandem,' Enter 'The Team'

Medvedev (left) and Putin at the ski resort Krasnaya Polyana in Sochi.
Medvedev (left) and Putin at the ski resort Krasnaya Polyana in Sochi.
Who is truly calling the shots in Russia?

Vladimir Putin? Dmitry Medvedev? Putin and Medvedev, together in tandem? Some grey cardinal in the shadows, like Igor Sechin or Vladislav Surkov?

Actually, an increasing number of analysts are pointing out that Russia is -- as it has been throughout the Putin era -- run by a collective leadership. Putin and Medvedev are the front men and leaders to be sure, but decisions are arrived at largely by consensus among a group that includes at least 10 and as many as 30 people.

Chatham House has recently issued a report, authored by Andrew Monaghan of the NATO Defense College, that makes several salient points about the nature of Russia's ruling elite and where it appears to be headed.

In the report, titled "The Russian Vertikal: The Tandem, Power, and Elections," Monaghan argues at the outset that "there are no major gaps between the political agendas of Medvedev and Putin" and that regardless of which one of them is president after 2012 "there is unlikely to be major change in Russian domestic or foreign policy in the short to medium term."

He also argues that the terms we have been using to describe Russian politics -- terms like tandem and vertical -- are quickly becoming obsolete:

"Both ‘The Tandem’ and ‘The Vertical’ have lost their original meanings. The tandem has become outdated – not because of a split between the two men, but because of the emergence and emphasis on a unified team, albeit one with some internal rivalries."

And who is on this unified team?

This team cuts across the often assumed divisions between state and ‘oligarchy’ (neither of which is as coherent or united as often made out). Putin is the appointed figurehead of the team, with Medvedev as his colleague. But around them exists a collective leadership centered around perhaps some 10 or 11 people. Specific interpretations may vary slightly, but these include [Deputy Prime Minister Igor] Sechin, [Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei] Naryshkin, [Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav] Surkov, [Moscow Mayor Sergei] Sobyanin, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, and businessmen Yuri Kovalchuk, Gennadi Timchenko, Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov. Such a team ripples out on a scale, according to some Russian observers, of a couple of dozen members of government administration, including deputy prime ministers, party heads such as Boris Gryzlov, and other leaders of big business and the security services.

So what explains the apparent rifts that appear between Medvedev and Putin periodically?

One of the reasons why the duumvirate appears to disagree is that it is seeking to appeal to different audiences, both in Russia and abroad...Putin cultivates an image of brutal machismo to speak to the ordinary, simple Russian citizen, while Medvedev, the strict manager and lawyer, appeals to the intelligentsia and business class. The tandem may correct the details of its course, but the wider course will remain the same.

Both myself and Sean Guillory have made similar arguments in the past.

Monaghan's report dovetails with another widely discussed paper by Kremlin-connected political analyst Dmitry Orlov, director general of Agency for Political and Economic Communications. In that report, published in May, Orlov argued that decision about who will be president in 2012 is being decided by "the most influential 25-30 Russian politicians and businessmen" behind closed doors.

Orlov argues that the alliance between Putin and Medvedev will endure beyond the election and "grow into a lasting political alliance." The tandem's main task as Russia gears up for elections to the State Duma in December and for the presidency in March 2012 "is to ensure the unity of the ruling elite."

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Andrew Monaghan,Dmitry Orlov,Putin-Medvedev tandem

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: shay dismay from: usa
June 07, 2011 20:14
And in order "to ensure the unity of the ruling elite" (as they fleece Russia of its wealth at the expense of a jaded population) the priority of this ruling class is to prevent the legitimate opposition of Kasparov and Nemtsov from posing any threat to the current dictatorship. The Kremlin will not allow any of the legitimate opposition to have any access to TV broadcasts, instead Nemtsov and Kasparov are continually mocked on network TV news with no option to respond and defend themselves against the slander. The brave few within Strategy 31 who confront the establishment must be dismayed at the indifference of their fellow countrymen and women who through their ignorance merely accept the shambles that is today's Russia.

Tough-guy Putin is terrified of allowing either of the censored opposition leaders to speak to a mass audience, what is he so scared of? Putin has never participated in a live televised debate against a legitimate opposition candidate, instead he stages his idiotic televised Q&A sessions responding to questions which have been vetted well in advance. And six months later he strips down to his waist and rides a small horse through the vast Russian countryside where he fishes and rescues his camera crew from wild cats. And the brainwashed Russian viewers gobble it up, they cannot get enough of their savior. Yet their roads and infrastructure continues to crumble, inflation remains rampant, the stuttering economy is hopelessly dependent upon the volatile energy sector, and institutionalized corruption continues to devour away at ordinary Russian lives. Official salaries are a pittance, only supplemented by corrupt kick-backs and bribes, and pensions are scandalously low.

The notion that Putin has curtailed the oligarchs is a myth, as his compliant oligarchs far outnumber the disobedient oligarchs whom he has eliminated. Ultimately it will not matter whether Putin or Medvedev steals the presidency, as the irony of Russia is that no matter how cataclysmic the upheaval, Russia ultimately stays the same, a nation battered into the ground by a ruling elite bent upon enriching themselves obscenely at the expense of the vast majority who struggle for some semblance of human dignity.

by: Sublime Oblivion from: cyberspace
June 08, 2011 03:45
I agree that the best characterization of Russia's ruling elites is as a "team," and more precisely, the board of directors of a major corporation (with Medvedev as current CEO).

However, I do think Monaghan casts the net too widely. I find it hard to imagine that the aforementioned businessmen have a voting seat.

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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