Double-headed or Single Minded?

doubleheadedeagle.jpgAs many readers are probably aware, today the Financial Times published a special pull-out section on Russia with about a dozen articles ranging over a wide variety of topics.  Overall, the material is well balanced and informative, but not containing too much breaking news you don’t already know about.  Below is an excerpt from Charles Glover’s piece on the power sharing arrangement, addressing everybody’s favorite question:  just how much independence does Dmitry Medvedev have, and will it increase?

Mr Medvedev seems content with his subordinate role. However, while he has has been seeking to step out from under Mr Putin’s shadow and assert his independent political identity, he has not sought to challenge Mr Putin, at least openly.

While he frequently criticises the work of the cabinet headed by Mr Putin, this does not appear to bother the prime minister. Likewise, pronouncements by Mr Putin on foreign policy, which is nominally Mr Medvedev’s domain, do not seem to faze the president.

In an effort to define himself ashis own man, Mr Medvedev has ironically tried to mimick his mentor’stough guy style, lacing his educated Russian with Putin-style streetjargon and earthy metaphors, and jabbing the air with his fingers as hespeaks. He even piloted a fighter jet in March, another Putinmade-for-TV stunt.

While the two get along smoothly, bickering among their staffs is a constant feature of the political scene.

DimitriSimes, head of the Nixon Centre in Washington DC, says the frictionamong deputies is destabilising the work of the government. “Thesubordinates claim that if only their chiefs were given more power,things would work better. The tension between the subordinates comes atthe cost of effective decision-making in time of crisis,” he says.

Fallingbudget revenues as a result of the crisis have already sparked discordamong factions and may yet embroil the president and prime minister insquabbles over the shrinking economic pie. Friction is particularlyobvious between Igor Yurgins, an important Medvedev economic adviser,and Vladislav Surkov, a Kremlin spin doctor and Putin appointee.

Theexistence of two poles of power encourages the elite to try to play thetwo men off against each other, says Masha Lipman of the CarnegieMoscow Centre. “There is a temptation among the elite to appeal to oneversus the other to arbitrate disputes and solve problems,” she says,but adds that “that in itself is not enough to cause a serious split.”