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The Dance Of The Dynamic Duo

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev delivers his annual state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly at the Kremlin's St. George Hall.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev delivers his annual state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly at the Kremlin's St. George Hall.
Here we go again.

After Dmitry Medvedev's uninspiring state-of-the-nation address on November 30, the political obituaries rolled off the presses as if on cue.

"Disappointment: The President's Speech Failed To Meet Expectations," lamented the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta." In a similar vein, the headline on read: "Medvedev Clears The Way For Putin."

And the online Yezhednevny zhurnal, ridiculing the president's focus on children's issues, offered this harsh assessment:

Many observers had predicted that Medvedev would use the address to kick off his re-election campaign, the phase in the battle for the Kremlin in which he appeals to the public. But it was clear from the speech that this has postponed indefinitely. Perhaps this phase will not even happen. By giving such a boring and bland address, filled with trite and unrealistic wishful thinking, Medvedev appears to be staking a claim to another post -- Deputy Minister of Education.

Expectations were indeed high for Medvedev's speech. The preparations for the annual address were shrouded in secrecy and there were hints that the president was considering announcing sweeping changes.

On November 16, "Vedomosti," citing Kremlin officials and a leaked document, reported that Medvedev was considering redrawing Russia's administrative map, replacing the current 83 regions and republics with 20 super-regions centered on major cities.

Speaking on his video blog on November 23, Medvedev criticized the Russian political system as "stagnant," adding that it needed more competitive elections, a more engaged opposition, and a more responsible parliamentary majority.

On the day of the speech, Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Center for the Study of Post-Industrial Society, argued in an article in "Izvestia" that Medvedev was poised to win reelection in 2012: one of the few within the Russian establishment who see the future of the country in the correct light. He is one of the few who are convinced that Russia should become a technologically advanced country whose wealth depends on the labor and talent of its citizens rather than on export of raw materials; that the police must protect citizenry instead of putting the fear of God into them; that we need a rapprochement with the European Union because we have a lot of what Europe needs and because we have to learn a lot of things from it.

Medvedev can count on the majority of Russians who understand, just as he himself does, that without these reforms Russia will forever remain a larger analog of Venezuela. What Medvedev needs at this point is knowledge that he has the kind of support he needs...

The way I see it, Medvedev has everything he needs to win a free and fair election in 2012.The president we have rules the country that does not demand changes as yet but that expects them nevertheless. I have faith in Medvedev and in his ability to live up to these expectations.

So why did the speech disappoint so much?

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Rostislav Turovsky, a professor of political science at Moscow State University, as saying that the lackluster speech "reflects the uncertainty surrounding the presidential election," adding that Medvedev "lacks the resources and the will" to launch his reelection bid in earnest.

The underlying assumption here is that there is some epic power struggle going on between Medvedev and Putin for the post-2012 presidency. But I just don't see such a struggle going on in the tandem (there is, however, clearly deep and enduring tension between the two men's respective teams).

As I have blogged here repeatedly, I think the Putin and Medvedev are on the same page and that Plan A -- at this point -- is for Medvedev to serve a second term, albeit under Putin's watchful eye. That said, with the election 15 months away, everybody wants to keep their options open in case it becomes necessary to switch to a Plan B.

We've been watching this song and dance for the better part of the past two years. Every time Medvedev gets assertive and raises his profile, the inevitable chatter follows that he is eclipsing Putin. When Putin resurfaces to take center stage -- as he will tonight with his interview with Larry King on CNN -- the buzz that Medvedev is getting slapped down comes back with a vengeance (see my recent post here, outlining the trend).

If it looks orchestrated that is because it probably is. And we'll probably see a lot more of it over the next year.

-- 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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