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The Power Vertical

Toward Managed Pluralism?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin before taking part in the Security Council meeting at the presidential residence in Gorki on January 28.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin before taking part in the Security Council meeting at the presidential residence in Gorki on January 28.
It's not just about the presidency.

What the upper echelons of the Russian political elite are deciding now is not only whether it will be Dmitry Medvedev or Vladimir Putin who will occupy the Kremlin after 2012 -- but what the contours of the entire political system will be.

In a compelling piece published last week in "Vedomosti," political analyst Dmitry Badovsky argues that Russia is moving away from the highly personalized system of authority that dominated the past decade and toward some form of tightly controlled two-party system.

Badovsky writes that consensus is building in the ruling elite for the continuation of the Putin-Medvedev tandem for the time being and for the institutionalization of shared power in the long term:

This presupposed not the continuation of some personality-based duumvirate or a transition to a parliamentary republic, but the stronger institutionalization of the 'French model' of balanced presidential and governmental power, authority, and responsibility, bolstered by parliament and the system of political parties.

He adds that "the continued retention of power and maintenance of the general outlines of the political regime will require more complex structures than the tandem, the personal approval ratings of leaders, and the dominant party."

Badovsky then goes on to suggest that the Russian system is moving in the direction of some form of managed pluralism:

The ruling class is almost ready to minimize the risks of one person's monopoly on political authority, regardless of that person's name, for the sake of maintaining its influence over the long range, as well as for other reasons.

The main indication that Russian politics is moving in this direction...is the beginning of the establishment of a two-party system for this parliamentary campaign, a system in which power could be regularly turned over from one elite faction (or coalition) to another, but would always remain in the hands of the ruling class. Other parties would also exist in their own niches, but the effective consensus by members of the elite would prevent 'third parties' from taking charge of the government.

The new and more powerful version of a rightwing liberal party and the rebranding of United Russia within the framework of the Popular Front (devised partly to confine the CPRF, LDPR, and Just Russia to narrower electoral niches) seem to be elements of the scenario in question. In the final analysis, the possibility of the transformation of the partners in the current ruling tandem into the leaders of the new two-party model of the political regime, including their competition in the presidential election, cannot be excluded completely.

I agree with Badovsky that Russia is moving in the direction of a more pluralistic system -- albeit a tightly controlled one -- at least on the surface. As I have blogged on numerous occasions, I still believe that Plan A is for some form of the tandem to endure beyond 2012 -- with Medvedev as president and Putin in the role of "national leader." And there are ample signs that the party configuration following December's parliamentary elections will look different and more diverse that it does today.

But I think Putin's role in that system will be larger than a co-equal partner to Medvedev in a Tandem 2.0 arrangement. I expect Putin's role in the future political arrangements to resemble something similar to Iran's supreme leader, Turkey's so-called deep state, or China's Deng Xiaoping after he formally stepped down as China's leader but maintained decisive influence over the political process.

The lessons the Russian elite drew from the chaotic 1990s, I believe, will prevent them from a move to a more pluralistic system --even a tightly controlled one -- without a guarantor, or a "krysha."  

And with his control over the security services, Putin is the only krysha in town.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Putin-Medvedev tandem

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Reebhoy from: London
May 23, 2011 21:00
The impression my contacts on the ground in Russia are giving is Putin is finally becoming toxic, the silent majority although not ready to challenge his authority are increasingly seeing him as delusional and bad for the country. Whether Medvedev will have the political courage and instinct to move with this invisible groundswell is another question entirely. The prolongation of The Tandem will eventually entice non cooperation into the open.

by: Joera from: Amsterdam
May 24, 2011 06:56
Brian, you got it!

by: Harley Balzer from: Washington, DC
May 26, 2011 16:16
Nick Gvosdev and I did not try to copyright the term "Managed Pluralism," but we did both write about it before the Khodorkovskii case (see Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 19, No. 3.

Have to applaud any description of the Russian political system that avoids using the word "democracy." As I said in my article, the problem is the noun, not the adjective

by: Reeboy from: London
June 03, 2011 18:55
Navalny Warns of Revolt Within 5 Years

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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