Friday, August 29, 2014

The Power Vertical

Medvedev Comes Into His Own

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev addresses the audience during a meeting with students at Moscow's Energy Institute on March 29.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev addresses the audience during a meeting with students at Moscow's Energy Institute on March 29.
What has gotten into Dmitry Medvedev?

In just over two weeks he has slapped down Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for comments critical of the international military campaign in Libya, ordered government officials to give up their posts on corporate boards and fired dozens of senior police generals.

In openly rebuking Putin on foreign affairs, instituting a corporate policy that will harm the prime minister's key allies like Deputy Prime Minister and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, and purging the ranks of the Interior Ministry elites, Medvedev has sparked endless chatter that he has finally become his own man.

In an article in "Vedomosti" this week, Maksim Glikin writes that Medvedev "is clearly proclaiming a policy polar to the one promoted since 2000," when Putin came to power:

That policy used the development of the power vertical as an excuse for pumping administrative and economic resources into bureaucracy. Its ranks swelled along with its immunity.  Everything else -- from the media to the judiciary -- were adjusted to promote the bureaucracy's interests alone.

Glikin goes on to write that Medvedev is "trying to punch holes in the fence" that the elite has constructed "to isolate itself from society."

The question remains, why?

Why irritate the whole ruling class all at once? And why the rush? Is it that he knows he has just one year left in office and wants to be remembered as a reformer? Or does he know that he is staying in power and has a free hand? Russian rulers who assume they are going to be in power for another seven years tend to be careful with reforms. It is this consideration that makes the former assumption more likely.

It's a clever argument, but I'm not sure I buy it.

Rather than suddenly appearing out of the blue, Medvedev's current hyperactive assertiveness has actually been building for months.

In November 2009 he fired his senior media adviser Mikhail Lesin, a former Putin aide who remained in the Kremlin after Medvedev took office.

In September 2010, he dismissed Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, one or Russia's most powerful politicians and a close Putin ally.

The Luzhkov firing capped off a rather remarkable run on the country's provincial barons in which Medvedev replaced a startling 34 regional leaders since taking office in May 2008 -- including some serious heavyweights who had been in office since Soviet times.

In March 2009 Medvedev replaced Oryol Governor Yegor Stroyev and Murmansk leader Yury Yevdokimov. Longtime Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel was eased into retirement in November 2009. Volgograd Governor Nikolai Maksyutka and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev stepped down -- with more than a slight nudge from the Kremlin in January 2010. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov saw the writing on the wall and announced his retirement in July 2010.

In February of this year, Medvedev raised eyebrows by calling for panel of legal experts to review the case of jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Days after that, he rebuked Putin for saying that the January 24 terrorist attack on Moscow's Domodedovo Airport had been solved.

I was as intrigued as any Russia watcher by Medvedev's frantic moves over the past two weeks, but, as this little trip back in time should show, it was actually nothing new.

Medvedev has recalibrated Russian foreign policy toward greater pragmatism and away from the instinctive anti-Western tilt it took during Putin's presidency. He has overhauled the regional leadership. And is in the process of radically altering the nation's corporate policy.

But what does it mean for the future of the ruling tandem? Writing in today's "Moskovsky komsomolets," Mikhail Rostovsky suggests that the jury is still out:

Participants in the tandem are playing complicated tactical games with each other. Each wants to be number one. Medvedev likes it where he is. Putin knows that premiership under Medvedev in a second term will differ from what it was during the first.

Are their wishes and aspirations mutually exclusive? Perhaps. But Medvedev and Putin will have to reach an agreement by the end of the year. Before that, however, each will play it close to the chest and never let anyone make use of the discord within the tandem.

I think this is largely correct. But as I have blogged before, Plan A seems to be to somehow keep the tandem intact (which means Medvedev remaining president and Putin maintaining his dominant position in Russian politics).

Putin and Medvedev need each other because each appeals to a different wing of the elite. Without Putin's protection, Russia's various bureaucratic and siloviki clans would quickly emasculate Medvedev and render his presidency powerless. And a return to the authoritarian Putinism of 2004-07 would be very difficult -- if not impossible -- in the current political climate.

Moreover, Putin clearly understands that reforms are necessary but seems to prefer that Medvedev carry them out (under his watchful eye, of course).

As Sean Guillory wrote in a thoughtful recent post on his blog, Putin and Medvedev's contrasting styles "can indeed be reconciled into a Hegelian whole."

We're just waiting to see what form that "Hegelian whole" will take.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Putin-Medvedev tandem

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ivan from: Sofia
April 06, 2011 21:47
For the first time Mr. Witless surprised me with a decently written article. But if his partial success with this writing conforms to the Hegelian principle, then we must await for the entirety of events in Russia to unfold before we can judge whether the author was only partially wrong or totally wrong about the elections. Although the imperialists hope that the good cop Medvedev will remain in power, I am positive that Mr. Witless here secretly hopes that the bad cop Putin takes over. This way Mr. Witless will be able to keep his job and have something to write, however redundant and useless it might be.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
April 06, 2011 22:59
Is Medvedev a grandson of "termo-nuclear" Rosenberg?
Are both, Putin and Medvedev, pupils of Petuhov-Gruber,
Rashka-Prashka secret police snitch that "Hegelianed",
Being proud of Hegel and Beckersdorf joke-shrueders.

Not withstanding Medvedev family resemblance to the,
Or lack of it, he wouldn't mind get me again into a cell
Of Russian "Treblinkas" and "Anaverde" of plagio-hell,
Me create - them usurp, Termo-Nuclear electric plants.

Putin wouldn't mind too, maybe working again on plan,
Along with Brit's Empire partners in crime, kidnapping.
It doesdn't matter what hat wear now Varaga-Prashka,
Canibals, or Bolshevics, or "Hegel" - I would be eaten.

by: vytautasb from: vilnius
April 07, 2011 05:48
Still too early to tell about Medvedev's change of heart. It will take a lot more than a few dismissals to undue and reverse the systemic changes these past 10 years. Who likes to admit that after so long a journey that a wrong turn (toward authoritarianism) was made and that it would be best to turn back and start over from the beginning.

by: shay dismay from: boston
April 07, 2011 13:29
I refuse to search for positives in this autocratic tandem, more than likely it is just the imitation of democracy that the current Kremlin practices. When I see something substantial from Medvedev—like the removal of Putin or the pardoning of Mikhail Khodorkovsky—then I will agree that this muppet is finally his own man, but for now Russia continues to be a bewildering corrupt shambolic cruel belligerent hypocritical former superpower.
In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
April 07, 2011 15:50
Agree with your sentiments. Russian-watchers must be wary of seeing substance in the non-stop, official (and largely empty) pronouncements. By their fruits you shall know them. The majority of Russians are adept at deciphering the Kremlin-kibuki dance (see poll data below).

by: Rick from: Boston, USA
April 09, 2011 01:47
I truly hope that Mr. Putin comes back as President in 2012 for Russia's sake. If Medvedev decides to challenge Putin and win, but most likely lose in an election due to Putin's popularity, then Russia will be a puppet to the US as it were during the 90's under the inept and weak leadership of Yeltsin. V. Putin is the strong, patriotic leader Russia needs for it future. Therefore, the US war mongers would love a weak puppet like Medvedev to push around, but would cringe with Putin back. Outside of a rising China, Russia is the only other hope of keeping America in check.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
April 09, 2011 19:44
What are you, a Russian intelligence agent? You seem to hate the USA, yet you are in Boston. If you believe Russia is so great, why not go live there?
In Response

by: Rick from: Boston
April 10, 2011 14:38
I'm actually planning on it. America is on its way down fast and many like yourself are too blind to see it for what it really is. It is a country of the very rich, or the very poor and getting worse by the day. A country of greed, self importance and entitlement. Oh, and lets not forget fat pigs. I suspect you are over 50 and very obese. Those are the one's who are most clueless. After that are the spoiled little fat kids and young adults who only know sports, cars and bar-b q's. Good luck with the sinking ship Mr. Patriot. I give America 3-4 years and it will be a bankrupt, third world country. Have you see our debt? We're only buying a little more time my blind friend.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
April 10, 2011 23:47
I have plenty of complaints about my own country, particularly our debt to China. When the Chinese come to collect, and we can't pay, they will simply expropriate all US investments in their country and MANY US companies will suffer. Part of me wants it to happen just so the greedy wall street types learn a hard lesson. On the other hand, if you think that such behavior doesn't happen in Russia, you couldn't be more wrong! Greed, self-importance, and entitlement defines Russian business even more than American business. In fact, the ties between business and government are so close in Russia, they are often indistinguishable. Government officials often serve on corporate boards simultaneously! Doesn't Moscow have the most billionaires in the world right now? None of their money is trickling down to the rest of the population. Instead it gets sent to Swiss bank accounts or goes into building huge palaces on the Black Sea. So dream on, Mr. Hateful, and have fun paying bribes to police in your new homeland! Also, all the BRIC countries have growing middle classes, as well as growing waistlines. Yeah, there is a lot of fat Americans, but many countries are starting to catch up to us...including China! They are just beginning to be consumer economies, something we have been for far too long.

BTW: I am under 40, well educated, and my BMI is "normal".

by: James from: NYC
April 12, 2011 22:56
Excellent article, most accurate sober analysis of the situation I have seen yet - with no bias or typical negative anti-Russian hysteria in western media.
Agree with everything said in the article.

About This Blog

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

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