Adrian Pabst, an academic from the University of Kent, has a well written if not entirely surprising opinion article in The National arguing that a real separation emerging between the Medvedev and Putin camps – “a growing split within the ruling regime on ideology and policy that presages a vigorous contest over how Russia should be ruled.” I’m glad to see at least someone found something to talk about from the president’s big speech. Wouldn’t it be great if it actually mattered what the president of Russia said he wanted to do?
The question is why Mr Medvedev has not yet delivered on his promising overtures. There are two rival hypotheses. He may indeed be part of a managed democracy and merely provides the liberal cover that helps legitimate Russia’s increasing authoritarianism. Or Mr Medvedev does have his own ideas but lacks internal support to push them through as Mr Putin refuses to give him space to govern even 18 months after he became president. The growing rift between the two on ideology and policy points increasingly to the latter. Mr Medvedev’s recent indictment of those who glorify Stalin’s legacy is yet another attack on one of Mr Putin’s political pillars – the restoration of Soviet symbols. Mr Medvedev appears to be offering an alternative vision for Russia, shaped neither by western liberalism nor pan-Slavic nationalism.
Still, the possibility of greater authoritarian consolidation has not disappeared; but neither has the potential for democratic renewal. Indeed, Mr Medvedev’s recent actions indicate a clear and growing rift between his camp and Mr Putin’s. It is this rivalry that will shape the contours of a future contest over ideas and policies in Russia.