If a few days ago Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wanted, in his speech delivered at the United Nations in Geneva, to remind to the international community that he is still a world first class leader, the speech delivered at SPIEF 2011 by President Dmitry Medvedev seems to be rather a message addressed primarily to its own citizens and secondary to the foreign guests. The media immediately described it as an indicator of the current president’s intention to run for another term. The more so as Medvedev condemned the government’s heavy hand in the economy, even in the presence of Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. Or I don’t think that there’s anyone who can say that the two bind a great friendship (Sechin is the main victim of point four of the Medvedev’s Decalogue – the replacement of senior officials with independent directors in key state-owned companies).
“It is impossible and unnecessary to manage the country from one point. Especially, if we are talking of such a country as Russia” Medvedev said and it was enough for journalists to announce (again!) an attack on the siloviki system owned by Putin and the intention of young president to distance himself from his protector, Russia’s prime minister, in the run-up to next year’s presidential election. Sure, the political battle means confrontation. A confrontation of ideas, mainly, when speaking about democratic regime. A confrontation of measures and programs that to improve the lives of people who go to the ballot boxes.
Hence to believe that two-headed eagle of Russia will break in two pieces just for the sake of confrontation and for media sensationalism is a long way. Why I think that we are currently in a Potemkin fight – more appearance than reality ? Let’s take a look. Somewhat more in detail. Customer’s materials, as one might say …
Last week, Vladimir Putin holds a meeting of the Popular Front’s Coordinating Council and said: “The front’s tasks are not limited to taking part in the elections to the State Duma. We must look towards the future and draft a long-term development strategy. I am convinced that we will be able to carry out our ambitious plans to modernize the economy and the social sphere only if we operate with broad public support and work for the people and in their interests. Rather than promising changes for the distant future, we must work step by step to improve living standards today”. In the SPIEF speech of President Medvedev we found about his vision of what Russia will look like in a few years’ time, and what needs to do to achieve this.
“I will talk about the project for developing Russia, a project that will come to fruition only if the whole of Russian society joins forces in its implementation. Projects only achieve results when society as a whole feels a need for and is involved in their implementation. This project will go ahead no matter who holds office in this country over the coming years” said Mr Medvedev.
The same view, different words. And a common denominator of both: the social cohesion. And the social contagion. These mean Vladislav Surkov’s cherished concepts when he must to reconcile the stability of the vertical power with the dynamic upgrade necessary changes to modernization.
More. President Medvedev said that: “Modernisation is the only way to address the many issues before us, and this is why we have set the course of modernising our national economy, outlined our technology development priorities for the coming years, and set the goal of turning Moscow into one of the world’s major financial centres. Of course this is not an easy process, and we knew from the start that we would encounter difficulties on the way, but we could not simply wait for the right time to come along, and decided to seize the initiative and take action. In any case, our modernisation policy is already starting to bear fruit”.
In turn, Prime Minister Putin noticed: “Using the structure of United Russia, we would like to bring new people out of the woodwork who have fresh ideas that are relevant to today’s Russia and our near future. Institutional issues are also being resolved – we have already selected a premise, and people have started working. So, I’m satisfied on the whole. Let me repeat once again: the most important thing is to seek out new people with fresh and interesting ideas that the country needs. On the whole, the process is going as we expected” and “This proposal is linked with United Russia because it is the leading political force in the country, and it has the capability to follow through on these ideas and to place people in the previously mentioned positions of power through its instruments and channels”.
The vision is the same. What is the difference ? One. While President Medvedev speaks the language of technocrats who advise him but nothing about political support, PM Putin also reminds us that he has political levers necessary to implement the program. Medvedev isn’t the lame duck, but also he isn’t Sorcerer’s Apprentice which to be exceeded his Master. And he knows that it is impossible to manage the country from one point as it is impossible to manage a country without political support. Especially, if we are talking about a huge country as Russia. Such comparisons analysis of text could run tens of pages.
The conclusions are but a few: any split between Russia’s two-man leadership is not possible, nor is it desirable and even is unconstructive. I don’t believe in the viability of confrontation for the sake of media ratings. The President Medvedev’s attitude seems to be rather the discontent and frustration of sorcerer’s apprentice because of its limited powers.
And those who dream at a Medvedev hero and think that Putin’s Era is over must wait. Yes, Mr. Medvedev has a young team, flexible and able to adapt, to seek pragmatic solutions and to react more quickly and effectively. Press recently wrote about the refusal of the political enrolling of presidential advisor on economic issues Arcady Dvorcovich. I think that isn’ a bad thing. On the contrary, the experience has shown that is at least inefficient to ask a technocrat to become political propagandist.
Instead, Prime Minister Putin has the infrastructure and support of the United Russia party. Maybe is a machinery little rigid, bureaucratic, with slow reactions and difficult to reform, but very necessary and useful in the electoral battle. A wise decision of President Medvedev would be that himself try to be the bridge for collaboration between his team and the necessary political support, whether PM Putin will give him a second chance or will decide to run for presidential office himself. In fact we could see an episode like that in 2008, and Medvedev could take up the post of prime minister.
The chances that the international community (already overwhelmed by a multitude of more serious problems) longer consider this an attack to democracy are minimal. There will be five years in which a significant part of the Skolkovo project will be materialized; also the measures and programs required to the Putin’s government, and that seem to run with snail speed, would get dynamics and coherences, and the Medvedev’s team results will be seen internally and externally. Only then can we see the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in a different light. Reality has shown that it can transcend the legend. Sometimes.
Published – Eurasia Review, 20 June 2011
Update: 20 June 2011
The Russia President Dmitry Medvedev‘s interview given to the Financial Times newspaper is evidence that my perception was correct. Medvedev dismissed talk of a deepening rift with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in remarks published on Monday, strongly hinting they would not run against each other for president next year.