Buzz Continues over Putin-Medvedev Disharmony over Libya

It iz difficult to reconcile the positions of Vladimir Putin and Dimitry Medvedev on Libya. Is this a real or staged conflict?

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Amiel Ungar, | updated: 22:50

Dimitry Medvedev
Dimitry Medvedev


Back in 1958, the American social scientists Daniel Bell penned an influential essay: "10 Theories in Search of Reality" to recapitulate the directions of scholarship on the Soviet Union. The USSR has made way for the Russian Federation, but the discordant notes struck by President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have stirred commentators inside and outside of Russia into an attempt to make sense of the apparent disagreement between the Russian dynamic duo over Libya.

Russia, by abstaining rather than casting a veto,  allowed the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizing the no-fly zone, go through.

Putin spoke to workers and made his views about the intervention in Libya patently clear:

  • "This resolution of the Security Council is obviously incomplete and flawed"
  • "The resolution allows anyone taking any actions against the sovereign state."

  • "It resembles a medieval appeal for a crusade, in which someone called for going to some places and freeing something,"

Dmitry Medvedev went on TV and slapped down Putin's comparison with a crusade, claiming that it had overtones of a clash of civilizations and therefore was wrong. Medvedev seemed to hint in his appearance that he was more in favor of the resolution than against it, and he had personally ordered the Foreign Ministry to abstain and allow the action against Qaddafi to proceed.

Vladimir Putin appeared unbowed when in Slovenia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, the Russian Prime Minister had the following to say: "The number of victims [in Libya] is growing… "Those who take part in this tragedy should think about it, they should think about it and pray for the salvation of their souls,"

Putin, however, tried to defuse the controversy when his press secretary conceded the preeminence of the Russian president in the field of foreign policy, making Medvedev's position "... the sole official position of the Russian Federation." Putin claimed he was merely giving "his personal point of view".  He acknowledged that  "as for agreement or disagreement among the Russian leadership on what is going on in Libya, it is the Russian president who is in charge of foreign policy and there can be no divergence."

Russia watchers and analysts are asking themselves is this dispute for real?

The cynics claim that the Medvedev and Putin good cop-bad cop act that hitherto had played out in domestic policy was now being extended to foreign policy. Medvedev presents a smiling liberal face to the West and therefore is plied with concessions to enable him to stand up against the bad cop Putin. The presentation of two, seemingly different viewpoints provides Russian foreign policy with greater complexity and therefore greater freedom of maneuver, but there is little essential difference between the two leaders.

Another view reminiscent of good old Kremlinology is that power struggles are endemic and leaders have to find a niche and rally their supporters. The big question is whether Putin or Medvedev would be the approved presidential candidate in 2012. Putin, by putting down markers in the foreign policy area, was signaling his intention to run and challenging Medvedev to repudiate him. Had Medvedev done nothing he would have advertised himself as a lame duck, so he took action, elegantly and discreetly. against Putin.

 A third view is that the two figures actually represent different viewpoints. Medvedev is not slavishly pro-Western. an ideology that briefly flourished after the fall of the Soviet Union. However he objects to viewing the West as an intractable rival. nor does he seek to re-create the Soviet Union as a global power minus the Communist ideology. He wants Western investment for Russian modernization. Putin on the other hand is deeply suspicious of Western motives and therefore appeals to the man in the street who imbibes an anti-western mindset from childhood.

Brian Whitmore, who writes the Power Vertical blog for Radio Free Europe, was formerly skeptical about the differences between Medvedev and Putin, but now he think that it may be for real. Just hours before the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, Medvedev fired Vladimir Chamov, Moscow's pro-Qaddafi ambassador to Tripoli. Chamov had strenuously opposed a no-fly zone over Libya. Additionally, immediately after Medvedev's appearance, Putin's remarks were yanked by the networks and replaced by Medvedev's rebuttal.