Vladimir Putin has remained eerily quiet since the news broke that his long-standing Finance Minister had had enough of wanton profligacy and was going to part ways with the Kremlin. In a Bloomberg interview on Monday, Andrei Kostin of VTB bank said that though he had not discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, he seemed to be a in ‘a good mood’. Alexander Golts in a Moscow Times op-ed yesterday pointed out that the military expenditure to which Kudrin so heartily objected is in fact his ally Putin’s priority, not Medvedev’s. It may have been the President who had the task of reminding Kudrin of who’s boss in a very public fashion; if only he actually was the boss. Streetwise Professor, who shares Golts’ view that the real conflict lies in the Putin-Kudrin nexus attempts to unravel the riddle:
[I]t appears that Putin has not interceded on Kudrin’s behalf; Kudrin ran to daddy, and daddy did not intervene on his behalf. Perhaps not surprising, given that one interpretation of Kudrin’s outburst is that it was directed not at its ostensible target–Medvedev–but at Putin instead. But who knows for sure? Perhaps Putin told Kudrin to keep his powder dry, and at some decent interval after the election, Medvedev will have served his purpose and be kicked to the curb. But I cannot get beyond the fact that everything Kudrin said about Medvedev’s profligacy (especially with respect to defense) really applies to Putin. This cannot have escaped Putin.
Playing that out, the implication is that Putin has decided that short run political goals are of overriding importance, and that medium-to-long run economic consequences are of lesser concern. Pushing that line of reasoning still further, that is hardly a signal of confidence and political strength. It would mean that Putin is convinced that he needs a splashy, decisive political victory in December (the Duma elections) and May (the Presidential election), and that he needs to politic and bribe to get it. If he were truly a Russian Colossus, standing astride what used to be 11 time zones, why would he think this way?
No, the Kudrin affair suggests deep fissures within the Russian elite, and deep insecurity at the very top. Very deep.