Disputes dedicated to possible successors of Putin are in full swing

For the second time in Russia’s post-Soviet history, a president is completing his second term in office. Succession disputes are also under way for the second time. Previous experience should make the outcome more predictable.

For the second time in Russia’s post-Soviet history, a president is completing his second (acording to the law, his final) term in office. Succession disputes are also under way for the second time. Previous experience should make the outcome more predictable.

It does make this task easier, too much so, because the formula drawn from experience of struggle for the throne of our first president is too simple: do not make long-term forecasts because they will not come true anyway. As I remember, 18-24 months before the resignation of Yeltsin not a single expert could foresee who would replace him in reality.

That is why I think that it is too early to guess who this will be. It is possible only to evaluate the distance that participants of the race have to pass to the historic point when the aforementioned question will make sense.

Like in 2005, hypothetical official candidates (we do not speak about unofficial candidates now) move in two groups: strategic reserve moves behind and favorites move ahead. If the composition of the reserve group has changed, it has hardly changed more than by one person. To the group established a long time ago (Yakunin, Tkachev, Matvienko, Shoigu) new Director of the Presidential Administration Sobyanin was added due to this post and not due to his deeds. There a few dark horses definitely move there too together with the figures visible to the eye. However, it is impossible to see them yet.

The fundamentally important piece of news of the race is absence of fundamentally important news. By now the group of favorites remained the same as it was last autumn when it appeared. It consists of Ivanov and Medvedev.

The distance separating both from the other hypothetical candidates even grew. The candidacy period was recently seemingly prolonged for both. Two key passages of Putin’s address to parliament on May 10, namely military and demographic, were addressed to Ivanov and Medvedeve respectively.

A piece of popularity

President Putin confirmed ten days later that Dmitri Medvedev would be in charge of measures to increase the birth rate. Simultaneously the new initiative received a name of “Demographic program.” This means that although this is not a national project it is not lower than a national project.

In reality it is much higher. Unlike the national projects the slogan of the birth rate increase met mostly positive response of the people. Most likely, this was en explanation of a 4% growth of Putin’s rating (according to Public Opinion fund) that occurred after he voiced this idea.

Thus, handing demography over to the hands of Medvedev Putin gave him a chance for an additional piece of popularity. At any rate, to receive this popularity in reality the candidate needs to take effort so that public associated the generous demographic measures with his name. He will have to take even bigger effort to prevent sticking of any difficulties and failures to his name. There are already many such difficulties and failures around the national projects.

Seven months of existence is a sufficient period for separate national projects to start transiting from the phase of noise to the phase of confusion. It is known that a way to the third phase of search for the scapegoats from them is very short. Recently Medvedev already had to do the inevitable, that is to correct project “Healthcare” and to promise doubling of salaries for doctors of certain specialties who were forgotten in autumn and were protesting since then.

As to project “Education,” it has been experiencing the phase of confusion from the very start, the objects of the experiment have almost got used to this and the longer the situation remains like this the less troubles Medvedev will have.

Situation is probably the most difficult with the national housing project. Attacking the House of the Government recently a crown of deceived buyers of housing almost did not shout anti-Medvedev slogans. If there was a political technology trait in its actions it was not obvious. In any case, this is only the first sound of thunder. It will be increasingly difficult to achieve harmony of the housing buyers demanding that developers should not rob them and construction lobbyists defending bitterly their right to rob these buyers. All this is happening against the background of skyrocketing of housing prices and unfulfilled promises of fabulous growth of construction volumes.

The main difficulty of the managerial post on which Dmitri Medvedev is placed is the fact that his work is connected with real problems for solving (or not solving) of which he will have to respond with his public face the further the more.

Parried attacks

From this point of view situation is better for Sergei Ivanov. This is a matter of public and internal bureaucratic public relations rather than practical check to discuss if the army subordinated to him has grown stronger than it has been before.

The defense minister should try to succeed in narrower aspects, that is achievement of money allowances increase, maintenance of good relations with the military industry lobbyists and conflicting groups of generals. The minister also has to persuade public opinion that during his office service has grown easier and hazing has decreased.

The Defense Minister fails to persuade the public. On the contrary, the tragedy of Private Sychev this winter launched the first large information campaign against the military Deputy Prime Minister. In any case, the campaign was stopped soon in an organized manner. Sergei Ivanov shook but remained standing like he remained standing still in the past after the tragedy caused by the car of his son. A few outrageous cases of hazing that occurred already after the tragedy of Sychev remained in the periphery of the information flow.

These events did not reduce the current “presidential chances” of Ivanov very much but rather provided information for the future saying that it was difficult for him to be a public figure. If it is possible to overcome this drawback, it is possible with assistance of very dense and reliable public relations work.

It is necessary to say that test political technology salvos at Medvedev have not had a comparable effect yet.

Here is one of the most interesting of them in the form of a highly artistic newspaper pamphlet “Czar of all Russia count Dmitri Medvedev.”

“Recently I was told about Dmitri Medvedev, Senior Deputy Prime Minister. I have not seen this personally but it is reported that there is a portrait of, you will never guess, count Vitte hanging in his office. This is Sergei Vitte who was Finance Minister a hundred of years ago. Vitte was not only Finance Minister. For half a year he was also Chair of the Council of Ministers. He was also count. Well, it is clear that any minister dreams about becoming prime minister. But where Mr. Medvedev is aiming? There is obviously something unclear or even worse at this point. What if there is another face is hidden behind the portrait of count Vitte? What if this is Ivan the Terrible or, for example, Stepan Razin or Napoleon?”

No, serious candidates are not compromised in such a way. However, if there is a favorable situation the next blows will definitely be more skillful and more appealing to masses.

Between Vitte and Keynes

If we speak about Vitte and other authoritative economists, it is appropriate to ask what is the program difference between the candidates? We will not guess foreign and domestic policy and will speak only about economic policy. Is it possible to guess beforehand which of them will do what?

Alas, judging by the current deeds it is possible to say that our both candidates are economists-interventionists. This means that they focus on beating of money out of treasury and further distribution of this money in their spheres of influence.

According to indirect signs it is possible to judge that Medvedev is more liberal. Prime Minister Fradkov is considered a person closer to Ivanov than to Medvedev. Deputy director of the governmental staff Kopeikin, the chief advisor of Fradkov, is one of the most serious ideologists of economic interventionism (state interference into economy) and the main ideological opponent of Finance Minister Kudrin. In turn, the Finance Minister together with Herman Gref with his Economic Development and Trade Ministry and Central Bank are considered the buttresses of liberalism in the national economy.

Speaking frankly, even if this logical chain is immaculate, it almost does not add any clarity. Now almost everyone who influences decision-making, that is bureaucracy and business allied with state officials, as well as broad public in its own manner, demand what can be called Keynesian policy. These are big state expenditures, big state orders and bigger paternalism.

Only a leader with strong will and highest popularity can oppose this seriously. Are these peculiarities inherent to any of the two candidates? If yes, they are well hidden. Of course, in case of ascent to power nuances of policy of one or the other will be different. In any case, it is probably impossible to guess which nuances will be possible two years later.

Human factor

We can only, like it is common in our country, speak not about ideas but about people, that is who is whose person.

Observers speak about Medvedev saying that he does not have “his people” in the government now (like in the Kremlin in the past) being absolutely devoted to him and simultaneously influential. He has only subordinates. Of course, Zurabov or Yakovlev are too talented and bright to be “absolutely devoted” to anyone.

The military Deputy Prime Minister has a certain support in the House of the Government. The recent re-subordination of the Federal Customs Service from the Economic Development and Trade Ministry to the Prime Minister reportedly increased the powers of Ivanov.

Did this novelty reduce the powers of Medvedev (if Gref is considered his ally)? Hardly. Gref’s Economic Development and Trade Ministry has never been an integral structure managed by one powerful hand. Like our other governance bodies this is a conglomerate of autonomous communities that often have rivalry among themselves. Separate links of the ministry definitely lived well in a symbiosis with the customs service but there was no guarantee that the powerful hand of Gref reached it at all. That is why it failed to retain the customs service.

Will the customs service with its fabulous wealth become a source of might of Sergei Ivanov in the struggle for power? Or is this a consoling prize? I think that it is too early to draw conclusions about this, as well as about the fact if the restarted hunt for turncoat officials of security agencies will score him real points.

The real officials of security agencies surrounding the President in the Kremlin are evidently going to say the decisive word as to who is the real successor for him and who is not. It seems that they have not said this word yet. There is even no 100% assurance that they will be able to say this word in the future. The quantity of will and ability to get united around a common political project there is no bigger than in other places.

We simply cannot speak about our business tycoons and regional leaders, as well as about all other masters of political life as about real players. They are too scared to speak up.

To be more accurate, they are too scared now. If the central authorities loosen the grip they will be quite capable of speaking and contribution to the events. Who can say that there will be no changes? It seems that in the last twenty years not a single couple of years has passed without serious changes. Let us return to what we have now, to be more accurate, to people’s preferences. After all, these are the people who vote if there is really a voting.

Judging by the polls of Public Opinion fund, a serious struggle for hearts of voters began between Ivanov and Medvedev. In early May, Ivanov with his sixth place in the electoral rating slightly outran Medvedev but lagged a little behind of him in the rating of confidence (the sixth and the fifth places respectively). In the middle of May the situation changed. Now Medvedev has the sixth place in the electoral rating (Ivanov has the seventh) but in the rating of confidence Ivanov has the fifth place and Medvedev has the sixth.

Is it necessary to remind that Putin has the first place with a huge distance to other candidates and between him and his “heirs” there is a trio (Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky and Shoigu) in which only one person is absolutely devoid of hopes for presidency.

Nonetheless, both favorite candidates cope with the minimal task so far. People start vaguely identifying them as their possible candidates. This is sufficient to remain in the race but is obviously insufficient to speak about their right for the throne loudly.

Many events should evidently occur in the fog and under the carpets before only one person remains on the stage. There is no guarantee now that his name will be Medvedev or Ivanov.