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Head Of (The Deep) State

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at the United Russia party congress in Volgograd on May 6, 2011
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at the United Russia party congress in Volgograd on May 6, 2011
There has been a lot of ink spilled lately about what Vladimir Putin's decision to form the All-Russian Popular Front means for the country's political future.

Speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" earlier this week, Igor Bunin, the president of the Center for Political Technologies, argues that it is a sure-fire sign that Putin intends to return to the presidency:

The prime minister first has to acquire the controlling 'block of stock' [in the People's Front]. In this way, he will dispel any doubts about the person who makes the decisions, particularly the decision regarding the presidential nominee at the United Russia congress in December. This is his primary goal. His next goal is to return to the president's office, and with Medvedev's consent.

According to Bunin, if United Russia manages in December to win the same two-thirds "constitutional" majority it won in the 2007 State Duma elections, Putin's return to the Kremlin is all but a sure thing:

Then Putin will be able to say that he is still the national leader and that United Russia and the People's Front want him to return to the president's office. In fact, if the results are high enough, he will simply have to return to the president's office! If the results are more modest - i.e., far below 50 percent - he can reach an agreement with Medvedev on keeping the tandem alive in one form or another. These are the only options.

I agree with Bunin that the results of this December's elections will be a key indicator about who will occupy the Kremlin after 2012. But I draw the opposite conclusion.

If Putin controls the Popular Front (and is there any doubt that he will?) and is crowned "national leader" (again!) and United Russia maintains a "constitutional majority" in the Duma, then this makes it all the more likely that Putin will feel comfortable allowing Medvedev to stay in the Kremlin.

In a two consecutive columns in "The Moscow Times," political analyst Vladimir Frolov, president of the LEFF Group, makes the case.

In a May 10 column, Frolov argues that a supermajority in the Duma is one of the keys to Putin maintaining control of the country while surrendering the presidency:

With his Duma super-majority secured, Putin would nominate Medvedev for a second presidential term as United Russia’s candidate. He would then put forward someone else as Medvedev’s next prime minister. This is part of Putin’s conception of a gradual, not rapid, modernization.
Putin would maintain control, while Medvedev gets his second term without much authority. But would he want it?
In reality, yes. This is Russia’s change you can believe in.

Another key, Frolov wrote in a May 23 column, is to find a post that Putin can occupy that affords him sufficient prestige -- and control:

Medvedev knows that Putin lacks a viable rationale to return to the Kremlin and is visibly weary of his prime ministerial role. The trick is to devise an arrangement for Putin to remain the ultimate decider while not spending too much time making tough decisions.
Perhaps such an arrangement could be found in Medvedev’s inconspicuous decree last week that granted unprecedented powers to the secretary of the Security Council that almost rival the authority of the president and prime minister. After all, [China's] Deng Xiaoping’s title for many years has been chairman of the Communist Party’s Military Commission.

Secretary of the Security Council could conceivably be the perch from which Putin continues to run the country, especially since Medvedev's decree giving it control over the military and security services. This would formalize the informal control Putin already exercises over these bodies.

As I have blogged before, it actually doesn't matter that much which post Putin occupies -- Prime Minister, speaker of the Duma, general secretary of United Russia (or the Popular Front). The point is, as long as Putin controls Russia's "deep state" -- ie, the key figures in the military, law enforcement, and security services -- he will have more power and influence than Medvedev or whoever is the formal head of state.

-- Brian Whitmore

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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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