Uncertainty over Putin-Medvedev Partnership Persists
There is something inherently depressing about the fact that 20 years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian politics continues to be opaque. To paraphrase Daniel Bell, we still have conflicting theories in search of reality.
Nothing has changed since half a year ago, with the debate continuing over whether Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, has broken with his former patron Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or whether they are still playing the good cop, bad cop routine for both domestic and international consumption.
Those who believe that a rift exists between the two cited Medvedev's seemingly disparaging remarks about Putin's latest hobbyhorse, All Russia People's Front, that he referred to as a "political tool".
"I understand the motives of a party that wants to keep its influence over the country", he said. "Such an alliance is in accordance with the law and justified from an electioneering point of view."
The front is intended to backstop the United Russia Party, that has been declining in the opinion polls, by bringing in new faces and giving the establishment of facelift.
Medvedev has been pitching his appeals to Russia's young professionals, who face a glass ceiling because of entrenched veterans who are frequently political hacks. Speaking in Kostroma, the Russian President remarked:"The simplest thing that can be done is to replace those governors who do not want to invite young people to work (applause from audience). I am absolutely not joking, by the way. The fact is that if, as you said, a governor adheres to the principle that the elites must not be replaced, it means that it is high time for him to be pensioned off."
Until Dmitry Medvedev explicitly connects such practices to Vladimir Putin, the above statement can be interpreted in two ways.
Those who view Medvedev as a closet liberal would argue that the above comments are an indictment of the Putin system and of people who have held power for at least 11 years and do not want to relinquish it.
On the other hand, the rejuvenation of governmental posts does not have to coincide with a democratic approach. Vladimir Putin's popular front is also intended to bring in fresh blood. And the Soviet government of 1938 was one of the youngest in the world because Stalin had managed to purge the previous officeholders.
Medvedev also announced that his preference for a presidential system was a function of Russia's size and diversity, but should not be interpreted as a call for marginalizing the legislative branch and local legislative bodies that he called "essential elements of the political system".
"Excessive concentration of power is indeed a dangerous thing. In our country this happened more than once. As a rule, this either led to stagnation or to civil war. Therefore, we should not allow this to happen," he said.
Again, this criticism about over concentrating power could be taken as a jab against Putin. However it can also be explained as a theoretical bow to liberal opinion without any practical political consequences.
The one advantage that Russia has over the Soviet Union is the rhythm of election campaigns. There will be legislative elections in December and presidential elections the following year. By then the real Dmitry Medvedev will hopefully stand up.