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Medvedev Scuttles Putin's Espionage Law

The diarchy drama continues.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has instructed his administration to re-work a controversial bill broadening the definition of treason and espionage to assure that it doesn't violate human rights.

The legislation, which human rights activists and legal experts say would effectively criminalize dissent, was originally drafted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's government.

And it appears that some in the Russian media saw this one coming. Here's a little nugget from a recent report by Vladimir Ukhov in the weekly "Novaya vremya."

On January 13, the State Duma's Legislative Committee removed discussion of the governmental draft law on espionage and state secrets from the agenda (the committee's chairman, Pavel Krasheninnikov, is said to be on the presidential team). The president's allies are determined to make the legislation as mild as possible...The president is rumored to have enlisted [Kremlin Deputy Chief of Staff] Vladislav Surkov's support on for the next round of this battle.

And sure enough, it was Surkov who announced the Kremlin's intention to revise the bill, saying Medvedev was swayed by fierce criticism it received:

The head of state has paid attention to the opinions on the issue that have been voiced in the media and society in general. The bill will be reworked.

Medvedev had earlier criticized Putin's government for not moving fast enough to enact measures to combat the economic crisis.

On the same day the Kremlin torpedoed the espionage legislation, the prime minister's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov downplayed speculation about a rift in an interview with Golos Rossii. In response to a question about whether Medvedev's criticism of Putin's government for its handling of the economic crisis signaled a split in the ruling diarchy, Peskov had this to say:

It is quite natural for the president to criticize the government, it is not about disagreement. I repeat: they never mix their personal relations with the working process, and, what is more important, both of them, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, live and work for our country's prosperity. Prime Minister Putin is criticizing ministers, President Medvedev is criticizing the government, and it is not criticism for the sake of criticism. The main goal is to improve the work that is being carried out and to raise the efficiency of this work. Mr. Medvedev is the head of state, and it is quite natural for the head of state to express what he thinks about the work of the country's government. The government is certainly paying much attention to this criticism.

As I have written here, Russia's de jure head of state Medvedev and its de facto ruler Putin appear to have significant differences about how to handle the economic crisis. It is probably much too soon to tell whether Medvedev's move on the espionage legislation points to a significant split over civil liberties issues as well.

Robert Amsterdam's blog, I believe, asks the pertinent question: "Are these disagreements that indicate some stronger clash of policy, or PR moves that look like disagreements?"

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

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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