Autocratic Competition

Contrary to rumor, competitive politics do exist inside Russia’s government – but only among those already in power.  In taking a look at the contradicting and competing statements about future plans for the 2012 elections from both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, the Financial Times gives a good breakdown of how the fractured governing elites tug and pull behind the supposed unitary face of the power.

Russia is no simple autocracy in which the boss just barks out orders. Competing lobbies, including the powerful security services, must be managed. So must the way decisions are presented to the public – and the rest of the world.

Appearance matters as much as reality. Even if Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev are merely pretending to compete – perhaps to create an illusion of political pluralism – others may still see the competition as real, and respond accordingly.

Moscowrisks generating misunderstandings, just when key questions are on theinternational agenda, including Iran, the Middle East and nuclear arms.Similarly, Russian and foreign companies wanting to talk business withstate-run agencies and enterprises may have to pay even more attentionthan before to the political atmosphere. It will be harder – andperhaps more important – to judge which officials are in, which are outand which are in between.

Of course, all states have theircomplexities. But succession questions matter more in Moscow thanelsewhere. After all, last year’s handover of the presidency from MrPutin to Mr Medvedev was the first time in Russian/Soviet history thata healthy incumbent voluntarily gave up the keys to the Kremlin, oreven pretended to do so.