Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are grabbing headlines with last night’s row over the U.N. Security Council’s resolution on military intervention in Libya, after Putin likened it
to ‘medieval calls for crusades
‘. (Never mind, of course, that Russia’s failure to veto the move ‘effectively allow[ed] the allied assault to go forward.
‘) Medvedev was quick to slam his comments, dramatically suggesting that they would cause ‘a clash of civilizations
‘. The New York Times
suggested that ‘[t]he apparent tension between the two men set off speculation about whether they were starting to jockey for attention in advance of presidential elections next year.
This BBC analysis
makes the point that both of these positions are part of the tandem’s staged roles:
it is not clear whether these verbal differences mark a break in relations within the political “tandem” running Russia, or whether they simply reflect the two distinct roles which Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev have adopted as part of the same team: Mr Medvedev playing the “good cop” – the liberal reformer, the Westerniser, the moderniser – and Mr Putin representing the hardman of Russian politics.
With various press photos today revealing the two leaders in various PR situations, Medvedev playing with guns and Putin playing with tigers, it seems that Russia has the best of both worlds. Putin’s brash and attention-grabbing stance will be popular with Gaddafi loyalists and potentially also with Russia’s domestic community, who may appreciate the fact that Russia is distancing itself from a popular but risky intervention. Medvedev’s contradiction, on the other hand, will appease the international community that Russia is clearly trying to ingratiate itself with these days. The ambiguity of the tandem rule means that both messages can be taken as equally valid, giving Russia the upper hand – and a double head – at least in terms of its image.
And of course, how fitting that the Russian Federation’s state symbol is a two-headed eagle (and has been so since 1472).