For weeks President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to be ascendant and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seemed invisible.
Medvedev was moving fast against the state corporations
, a signature feature of Putin's authoritarian modernization that tower over Russia's top-heavy economy. He seemed to be getting a handle on personnel policy
by building a team of "civiliki," experts in civil law, to counter the influence of Putin's "siloviki." He railed against
Russia's "primitive raw-materials economy" and "endemic corruption." And he slammed the security services for ineffectively dealing with terrorism.
And then suddenly, as my colleague and newly minted Power Verticalist Gregory Feifer points out
in an earlier post, Putin grabbed the initiative back with one answer to one question at a meeting with Western journalists and Russia experts last week.
Asked whether he would consider running for president in 2012, Putin said he and Medvedev would "think together and consider the realities of our time, our personal plans, the political landscape… and we'll come to a decision."
Here's how Ivan Rodin described Putin's move in an article in Monday's edition of "Nezavisimaya gazeta
As things stand, Putin handily won all the lost positions in one bold stroke late last week. The premier pronounced the tandem still existing and himself still playing the first violin in it. He said that he was making all important decisions - including who
would be the next president of Russia, for that matter.
Russia's fall political season is kicking into gear after the summer lull -- and what is really going on remains as opaque as ever. Were Putin's remarks a warning shot? Were they an attempt to clip the increasingly assertive Medvedev's wings? Or was the whole thing just a diversionary show, a fake conflict in which the president and premier are acting out carefully orchestrated roles for public consumption?
If the conflict is real, then how hard is Medvedev prepared to push for real power? How hard is Putin prepared to push back?
And if it is all a diversion, then what is the end game?
I have always maintained that whatever relationship and secret arrangements might exist between Putin and Medvedev, the conflict between their respective teams
is very real -- and has been intensifying over the past year.
Along these lines, political analyst Aleksei Makarkin told "Vedomosti
" that he did not expect an open clash to break out between Medvedev and Putin. But the two leaders' teams, he added, would continue to jockey for power.
Putin and Medvedev imply in their latest statements that both might run for president in 2012. The outcome [of the power struggle] will depend on the economic and political situation in 2011.
Let the games begin.
-- Brian Whitmore