A funny thing happened when President Dmitry Medvedev nominated former Astrakhan Mayor Sergei Bozhenov this week as Volgograd's new governor -- allies of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the region rebelled and tried to derail
Ivan Novakov, a member of Putin's campaign team in Volgograd, told the daily "Kommersant
" that Bozhenov was an unacceptable candidate to many in the local elite because when he served as mayor of Astrakhan he was involved in vote rigging (I'll refrain from commenting on the inherent irony here). A better candidate, Novokov said, would be Sergei Kokorin, a close Putin ally who is the head of the regional branch of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).
In the end, the Volgograd legislature confirmed Bozhenov and he was inaugurated on February 2
. But the miniscandal over his appointment speaks volumes about the state of affairs at the pinnacle of Russia's power vertical.
"It is remarkable that the objections against Sergei Bozhenov originated from members of Putin's local staff. The ambiguity of this situation does not add to the stability of the regional elites," political analyst Andrei Rogozhin told "Kommersant
The unexpected struggle over Bozhenov's appointment illustrates that Medvedev has not only become the lamest of lame ducks, but that his political partnership with Putin appears to have outlived its sell-by date. This isn't one of those "The Tandem Is Feuding, Oh My"
moments that we have seen so much of over the past few years. This time, amid the ongoing political uncertainty in Russia, the tandem finally appears to be dead in the water.
The weekly "Argumenty nedeli
" wrote last week, citing Kremlin sources, that Medvedev is "not sure at all that Putin will keep his promise and make [him] the premier" after the March 4 presidential election.
According to the weekly, Medvedev is so concerned about this that he and his wife, Svetlana, visited Patriarch Kirill in early January to seek his support:
The Medvedevs reputedly visited Patriarch Kirill I in early January, asking His Holiness for counsel and support. It is rumored that this was precisely why the patriarch mentioned the necessity of a dialogue between the powers-that-be and society in his sermon. The point was that Medvedev was promoting this dialogue and that he was therefore perfect for the role of the premier.
It does not take a genius to figure out that Putin was informed of the visit. And he reportedly was less than pleased. Putin responded by reactivating contacts with the so-called Christian Chekists -- St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko and Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin. It was Putin's way of reminding the patriarch that he has his own faction within the Russian Orthodox Church.
There have been other signs that the Putin-Medvedev divorce is all but sealed. In an article in the daily "Vedomosti
" last week, for example, Putin took a swipe at Medvedev's efforts to reform and modernize the economy.
"On the initiative of President Medvedev in the last years we embarked on a number of reforms aimed at improving the business climate. There has been no noticeable breakthrough so far," Putin wrote.
Putin has also suggested that the political reforms that Medvedev is trying to shepherd through the State Duma -- restoring the election of governors and easing the rules for the registration of parties and presidential candidates -- were far from a done deal and could be halted.
And in a recent interview with the daily "Izvestiya
," the filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin, who heads up Putin's campaign team, sharply criticized Medvedev for not working harder to secure his patron's election in March.
"I have a feeling that he is keeping silent," Govorukhin told the staunchly pro-Putin daily, adding that it would be "more appropriate if [Medvedev] took an active part in the campaign of the man whom he himself forwarded as a presidential candidate" at the September 24 United Russia party congress.
He has already accomplished his mission and made room for Putin.... The moment Medvedev did this he became expendable. The people who are interested in Medvedev's future know better than to wonder if he is going to return to the Kremlin one fine day. They wonder how long he will last as the prime minister. Even that, however, is a question for Medvedev's master and not for Medvedev himself.
The death of the tandem, however, has political consequences for Putin.
The constituencies that once placed their hopes in Medvedev
, the technocratic wing of the elite and the urban professional class in society, are deeply uncomfortable or outright hostile to Putin's return to the Kremlin. And this will make it much harder for him to govern, regardless of what happens on March 4.
-- Brian Whitmore