Russia may soon have the youngest president in its recent history: Dmitri Medvedev, the successor endorsed by Vladimir Putin, turned 42 on September 14.
It seemed like Putin would keep up the suspense over his successor’s identity until the very last moment – United Russia’s congress, scheduled for December 17. However, at a meeting with Putin on December 10, the leaders of four parties – United Russia, Just Russia, Civil Force, and the Agrarian Party – requested the president to approve their nomination of Medvedev as a presidential candidate. The request was granted immediately.
RBC Daily reports Putin’s main argument in favor of Medvedev: he has “a chance of forming a stable administration in Russia after the March election” and continuing the policy course pursued over the past eight years.
The next day, live on television, the successor said that he is “prepared to run for president of Russia” and requested the incumbent “to consent, in principle, to heading the government of Russia after our country’s new president is elected.”
Interfax notes that Medvedev’s rating rose by over 10% straight after he was proposed as a presidential candidate. This was indicated in a December 7-10 opinion poll done by the Levada Center. Sergei Ivanov’s rating is 21%.
The Gazeta newspaper maintains that Medvedev’s nomination has been announced early because Putin is (oddly enough) disappointed with the Duma election results. Although United Russia did win a constitutional majority, its number of seats in the fifth Duma (315) won’t be much higher than the number it held in the fourth Duma (309 at most). This is why Putin’s announcement of his successor emphasized that Medvedev is not being nominated by United Russia alone; he represents four parties which got 75% of the vote between them.
In an interview with the Vedomosti newspaper, InDem Foundation President Georgy Satarov argues that Medvedev’s nomination is Putin’s attempt to restore the balance of power within his team, where the “siloviki” (security and law enforcement) people have been dominant of late. Satarov said: “The power-struggle doesn’t end here, of course – it’s only starting, and we don’t yet know what kind of moves will be made in response to this… Under certain circumstances, Dmitri Medvedev would have a chance to become a self-sufficient political figure. And the presidency is a very important circumstance.”
Konstantin Simonov, president of the Political Conjuncture Center, told the RBC Daily newspaper his theory about Medvedev’s nomination. In his view, it was prompted by the Kommersant newspaper’s controversial interview with Oleg Shvartsman, head of the Finansgrupp (Finance Group) conglomerate. Shvartsman described how medium-sized business is undergoing “velvet reprivatization” in favor of the siloviki.
Simonov said: “This was a deliberate leak, intended to tell the Russian business community what would happen to our country if Putin names a successor backed by the Kremlin’s siloviki faction.” In other words, the interview “set up the siloviki,” in a sense, and prepared the ground for a democrat candidate.
The second potential successor – Sergei Ivanov, backed by the siloviki faction – responded to the news “in a very dignified manner.” A source from Ivanov’s staff told Gazeta that Ivanov thinks highly of Medvedev’s performance and “believes that this person can cope with his responsibilities.” The source also noted that the choice of Medvedev didn’t come as a shock to Ivanov: “Sergei Ivanov knew that he wouldn’t be Putin’s successor. The Medvedev-related consultations had been going on for the past ten days, and Ivanov was aware of the outcome.”
Kommersant reports that influential regional leaders – from President Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov – have also expressed support for candidate Medvedev and hypothetical prime minister Vladimir Putin.
Pavel Astakhov, leader of the For Putin (Za Putina) movement, described Medvedev as “quite optimal.” Vedomosti quotes him as saying: “He holds a law degree, and we have a catastrophic shortage of trained lawyers in government.” Astakhov promised that the For Putin movement will support Medvedev.
This vigorous approval from regional and federal elites, fresh from demonstrating their active support for United Russia in the Duma campaign, is evidence that Medvedev shouldn’t have any problems with resources.
According to Gazeta, people who have worked with Medvedev describe him as well-organized, goal-directed, and capable of thinking outside the box. Other qualities attributed to Medvedev: confidence in his own strength, ambition, a liking for innovation, and unblinkered thinking.
Vedomosti reports that there’s a portrait of Czar Nicholas II on the wall of Medvedev’s reception office. Sources acquainted with Medvedev say he’s a great admirer of Russia’s last emperor. The best way to make him smile is to point out his resemblance to the Czar’s portrait. “If Dmitri Medvedev would only grow a beard, the resemblance would be striking,” gushed one visitor.
But it appears that Nicholas II isn’t Medvedev’s only idol. Newsru.com draws attention to the changes in Medvedev’s style of speaking and walking: “Whether intentionally or not, Medvedev has copied Putin’s manner of speech – when chairing Cabinet meetings, for example. His style of behavior and his Putin-like gait have been noted by regional leaders during his visits to the regions as supervisor of the national projects.”
Newsru.com maintains that when Medvedev addressed the president, requesting him to head the next government, he clearly copied Putin’s intonation and manner of speaking: “If you don’t look at the TV screen, it sounds just like Putin’s voice. This is a copy of the rhetorical moves often used by Putin. The same shifts of tone, and the emphasis on what he regards as the significant part of a statement.”
Deputy Duma Speaker Oleg Morozov (United Russia) noted that Medvedev is young and energetic; he also pointed out that Medvedev’s surname fits in so well with United Russia (“medved” means “bear,” and United Russia’s logo features a bear – in fact, the party is often referred to as “the Bears”).
Experts have noted that the West regards Medvedev as preferable to Ivanov. Boris Titov, chairman of the Business Russia association, told RBC Daily: “He’s West-oriented, of course, but he’s also had some experience in relations with China – he has a good knowledge of China, and the Chinese are familiar with him. Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi calls him a friend – I heard her say it.”
Some experts aren’t ruling out the possibility that the presidential campaign might bring some further surprises – in the form of another successor candidate. Alexei Trubetskoy, president of the Novocom Corporation, told Kommersant that some group of voters might nominate another candidate from the “successor list.” And then “we might have an American-style election,” with two candidates promising to continue “Putin’s policy course,” each in his own way.
Alexei Mamontov, president of the Moscow Inter-Bank Currency Association, told the Trud newspaper: “Who says Medvedev is sure to be the next president? There will be another successor.”
Will Putin become prime minister? Naturally, there are only two possible answers to this question: yes or no. The experts who say “yes” are discussing whether the Constitution would need to be amended in order for Putin to retain his presidential powers in his new office. The experts who maintain that “the idea of Prime Minister Putin is nonsense” still can’t work out what else Putin might do after he steps down.
Oleg Morozov told Gazeta that there’s no question of amending the Constitution. “The prime minister will be able to rely on the parliamentary majority,” said Morozov. “And a person with a popularity rating of 80% couldn’t be easily dismissed.” Morozov added that United Russia wouldn’t insist on Putin always remaining prime minister.
Gazeta maintains that a plan is already being developed to enable the prime minister to take charge of the security and law enforcement ministries. It is known that Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov is working on economic reforms in the military; Chief of the General Staff Yuri Baluyevsky is responsible for combat training; and Senior Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov is handling state arms procurement. By establishing some sort of advisory body (a defense committee, for example) and chairing it, Putin would be able to give instructions to the defense minister, the chief of the General Staff, and the senior deputy prime minister. In effect, he would still be the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Applied Policy Institute, notes that Article 32 of the federal constitutional law on the government would have to be amended in order for the security and law enforcement ministries to report to the prime minister rather than the president. As Kryshtanovskaya told RBC Daily, “amending Article 32 wouldn’t mean amending the Constitution.”
The opposition predicts that the Constitution will be amended after the new president takes office: it may have to be amended to suit Putin’s new status, weakening the president’s powers and strengthening the powers of the prime minister.
Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Political Analysis Center, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the idea of Putin as prime minister may be intended solely for campaign purposes: “Putin might say he’ll think about it now, and decide after the election. So the campaign will promote the idea of Medvedev as president and Putin as prime minister, producing a win in the first round of voting. After the election, Putin will be free to decide whether or not to become prime minister.”
Dmitri Badovsky, deputy director of the Social Systems Institute, agrees that Medvedev’s statement is simply the start of his election campaign. In an interview with RBC Daily, Badovsky emphasized that Medvedev’s campaign objective is “to consolidate the pro-Putin electorate around himself – and Medvedev is also attempting to avoid any nervous tension among the siloviki who are uncertain about the future.”
Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky agrees, but he maintains that Putin will never become prime minister. Belkovsky told RBC Daily: “The myth of Prime Minister Putin will be played out just like the myth of Putin as national leader was played out in the Duma campaign. The image of the mild, liberal Medvedev doesn’t really fit in with the people’s impressions of what a leader should be – especially when compared to Putin – and that is why Medvedev has been chosen.”
In an interview with Radio Liberty, Belkovsky said: “On the other hand, the myth of Putin as prime minister – which Dmitri Medvedev has just revived in his televised speech – will enable Vladimir Putin to solve the last of his problems: he won’t be a lame duck for the rest of his time in the Kremlin.”
Belkovsky assured RBC Daily that Putin has firmly decided to move out of government entirely, and will do so. According to Belkovsky, someone else is willing and able to become the next prime minister: Alexander Voloshin, former head of the presidential administration, whom Belkovsky describes as Medvedev’s “guru.”
Meanwhile, as Newsru.com reports, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington has presented some hypothetical development scenarios for Russia. The latest CSIS report, “Alternative Futures for Russia to 2017,” discusses the future of Russian politics and its main characters.
Thomas Graham, formerly senior director for Russia at the US National Security Council, outlines a scenario in which “Vladimir Putin smoothly hands power over to his designated successor and slowly fades as the new president consolidates power.” According to Graham’s scenario, Putin’s successor would remain president for eight years, then repeat the smooth transfer of power to his own successor.
In contrast to this fairly calm scenario, another hypothetical sequence of events is set out by Andrew Kuchins.
As Kommersant reports, Andrew Kuchins, an author noted for his political forecasts, adopts the uncharacteristic role of fortune-teller here. He describes the scenario as follows: “Russia and the world were stunned by the assassination of Vladimir Putin as he walked out of a midnight mass at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on January 7, 2008.” The Kuchins scenario says that the assassins are never found, and chaos overtakes Russia immediately: the stock market plunges, strikes and demonstrations spread, and martial law is declared on January 20, 2008. Expressing the assumption that “what looked to be a fairly smooth transition to longtime Putin colleague Sergei Naryshkin taking over as president with Dmitri Medvedev stepping into the prime minister position was disrupted by the killing of Putin,” the Kuchins scenario goes on to say that the assassination “greatly empowered the siloviki faction in the Kremlin,” which includes Igor Sechin, Viktor Ivanov, and Nikolai Patrushev.
It’s worth noting that one of these forecasts has already turned out to be incorrect: Dmitri Medvedev has been named as successor, not Sergei Naryshkin.
Other hypothetical events in this scenario: Vladimir Yakunin is elected president – he gives orders to open fire on striking oil-workers in Surgut, and launches corruption trials in which Valentina Matviyenko and Yuri Luzhkov get the death penalty for stealing billions of dollars from the state.
All this has a happy ending in 2016: with the assistance and money of the newly-released Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of YUKOS, Boris Nemstov is elected president and brings his pro-democracy team to power.
As Kommersant notes, the most surprising aspect here is that for all the improbability of his scenario, Andrew Kuchins (former head of the Carnegie Moscow Center) is one of the most well-informed and authoritative Kremlinologists in America.
Time will tell.