"We will see, somewhat closer to 2012," Putin told French journalists ahead of his visit to Paris. "Naturally, I am already thinking about this issue with President Medvedev but have decided not to make much fuss about it, not to let ourselves be distracted by this problem. What we will do in 2012 will depend on the results [of our work]."
Speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Dmitry Furman of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Europe interpreted Putin's remarks to mean he was leaning toward keeping the current tandem arrangement in place.
"That they will make some sort of pact and refrain from racing against each other for presidency has been clear from the very beginning... Putin's words regarding his current job did imply that there was at least a chance that he might remain the premier after 2012," Furman told the daily.
Also speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Gleb Pavlovsky, president of the Effective Politics Foundation, said Putin and Medvedev have not yet decided what they plan to do in 2012. Pavlovsky, Russia's uber-spinmeister who has close ties to Putin, says until a final decision is made, the ruling tandem is going to be very careful about what kind of signals it sends to the bureaucracy:
The tandem taught voters the necessity to make a choice they would have just as happily avoided. Individually, every person sympathizes with one or the other [participant in the tandem], but only as long as there are no conflicts between them and there is no need to choose one over the other.
OK, so the bureaucracy is happy. But what does this all mean for policy?
In a recent article in politkom.ru, Tatyana Stanovaya, head of the Political Technologies Center Analysis Department, writes that the continued presence of two leaders is a recipe for chaos and confusion:
Anybody who folllows this stuff day-to-day can certainly sympathize with Stanovaya's analysis. To see this contradiction, one needs to look no farther than the ongoing debate over modernization.
A May 26 editorial in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" identified two camps: Medvedev's team, including his aide Arkadiy Dvorkovich, and Igor Yurgens, leader of the Institute of Contemporary Development:
A more conservative group, centered around Putin, Vladislav Surkov, the deputy Kremlin chief of staff, and Sergei Sobyanin, head of the government apparatus, warns that such a radical modernization program would bring back the chaos of the 1990s:
A newly released poll, meanwhile, shows that both Medvedev's and Putin's approval ratings have dropped sharply over the year, although both still enjoy healthy support.
According to the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), 53 percent of Russian voters expressed confidence in Medvedev's job performance, down nine points from the 63 percent rating he enjoyed in January. Likewise, Putin saw his job approval rating drop to 61 percent, down from 69 percent in January.
Another poll by the Levada Center shows the public believing that Medvedev is becoming an increasingly independent figure, although most continue to see Putin as the dominant partner.
According to that poll, 46 percent believe that Medvedev has a strong influence on events in the country, up from 35 percent a year ago.
Some 42 percent said Medvedev was an independent politician, while 44 percent said he was under Putin's control. This is a significant change from a year ago when just 19 percent said Medvedev was independent and 68 percent said he was controlled by Putin.
Where this is all going, in terms of personell and policy, should begin to clarify a bit the closer we get to the December 2011 elections to the State Duma, which will set the stage for the March 2012 presidential poll.
-- Brian Whitmore