Lauren Goodrich at Stratfor.com has written a well-reasoned piece that argues the former. I have been meaning to blog it for a couple weeks now (it came out on July 5 and is well worth a read), not least of all because it largely mirrors my understanding of the current political dynamic.
"Interesting shifts are under way this election season," Goodrich writes. "While on the surface they may resemble political squabbles and instability, they actually represent the next step in the Russian leadership's consolidation of the state."
Goodrich argues that upon coming to power, Putin's first priority was to restore the authority of the Russian state which had deteriorated during Boris Yeltsin's presidency.
Putin largely achieved this goal using authoritarian means during his eight years in the Kremlin, which gave him the confidence to turn the presidency over to Dmitry Medvedev -- while remaining in firm control of the country as prime minister.
Putin's next priority, which he is undertaking in tandem with Medvedev, is to modernize the country's economy and infrastructure. But this, Goodrich writes, requires some adjustments in policy:
These policy changes show that Putin and Medvedev feel confident enough that they have attained their first imperative that they can look to confront the second inherent problem for the country: Russia's lack of modern technology and lack of an economic base. Even with Russian energy production at its height, its energy technologies need revamping, as do every other sector, especially transit and telecommunication. Such a massive modernization attempt cannot be made without foreign help.
In order to achieve these goals, Putin and Medvedev not only need to improve Russia's investment climate and ease up the state's role in the economy (which explains Medvedev's moves to move siloviki like Igor Sechin out of the chairmanship of state corporations), they also need to create what Goodrich calls "the appearance of democracy."
Enter Mikhail Prokhorov and Right Cause:
But the tandem (and the larger ruling elite) also wants to make sure the appearance of democracy doesn't turn into the real thing.
Enter the Popular Front:
And as I have been blogging for months, the mechanism to keep the current elite firmly in control with the appearance of a more democratic system is "managed pluralism":
Igor Yurgens , chairman of the Kremlin-connected Institute of Modern Development, recently said he expected Medvedev to remain president for a second term, adding that Putin would remain the country's most powerful figure.
"Vladimir Putin is a more powerful player. He will probably become a kind of father of the nation, allowing the president to promote the thoughts and ideas he regards as priorities," Yurgens told Interfax.
My only quibble with Goodrich's conclusions is that I don't think this is just about Putin. It is about keeping the inner sanctum of the current ruling elite, what Andrew Monaghan of the NATO Defense College calls "The Team" (and what I would call the Deep State -- but that is a subject for a future piece I am working on), in power as well.
-- Brian Whitmore