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Protecting Medvedev

I wanted to highlight one item mentioned in today’s newsblast. Over the past number of weeks, especially in the wake of Yuri Luzhkov’s ouster, the media has built up a perception of a false dichotomy between Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, when in fact the opposition to the president’s reformist “civiki” is found elsewhere.  Putin’s role is to shield Medvedev from wolves in the government that would devour him, allowing to him make a few changes and put on a good face – but certainly not enough changes to threaten the core features of the power structure.  From Brian Whitmore on the Power Vertical:

Medvedev’s personnel policies have often been presented as part of a power struggle with Putin, but I think this interpretation wildly misses the mark. Putin understands as well as anyone that the system he painstakingly built over the past decade runs the risk of ossifying and stagnating without an infusion of new blood — just as Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s stability-of-cadres approach did in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As I have bloggedon numerous occasions, Medvedev’s real rival in the ruling elite is notPutin but Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. The technocratic factionof the elite, that Medvedev leads, and the siloviki wing, headed bySechin, are two integral parts of the Putin system.

When Putinwas building his power vertical and bringing the country’s media andbusiness elite under its control, Sechin and the siloviki wing wasdominant. But reforming that system and making it a force formodernizing the economy in the wake of the global crisis requires adifferent approach. And this is where Medvedev comes in and where thetechnocrats, civiliki, and modernizers get their moment in the sun.

Putin, however, is not prepared to let the reform and modernization process get out of control as it did during perestroika.