Road to Nowhere

Are the wheels about to come off the tandem?  Brian Whitmore suggests it’s a real possibility, given that they’re trying to go in different directions; a fact which has been underlined by Medvedev’s modernization tangent.  Unfortunately neither direction, the analyst he quotes believes, will lead them towards a more solid economy:

That is the central argument of political analyst Kirill Rogov in an interesting piece in “Novaya gazeta.” Rogov argues that the agendas of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “are fully formed and divergent” but neither of them is making a compelling case.

Here’s the money quote: 

The problem is not that Russia right now seemingly has two chiefs. The problem is that the feeling that change is necessary has fully matured in society. You cannot brush it off with PR tricks. For society, to move backward (Putin) looks increasingly unpromising historically, and this ignites the prime minister’s hostility toward his protégé. At the same time, the calls to move forward (Medvedev) for now appear unconvincing to the greater part of society. As a result, the machine is skidding and starting to overheat from the inside a little.

Rogov correctly points out that the Putin model of authoritarian modernization is inherently unstable because it is dependent on high energy prices:

The Putin agenda is unconvincing because, as the crisis showed, governance by the ‘old economy,’ with its gigantic raw materials industry, monopolies, and state corporations, looks solid and convincing only as long as oil prices are high. But the onset of an era of low prices is being accepted more and more often as the base scenario for serious long-term forecasts. The logic here is simple. The longer energy prices remain high, the more investments are made in new deposits, production technology, and alternative fuel. And that means a turnaround in prices is virtually inevitable.

A change in the trend of raw materials prices undercuts not only the ‘old’ economy itself but also the two main pillars of the political regime that rests on it: social stability and the possibility of controlling the elites and the bureaucracy. Therefore, in spite of Vladimir Putin’s continuous demonstration of self-confidence and equanimity, the main characteristic of his agenda for the elites in the long-term future is its ‘instability.’ And Putin’s readiness to use force in this context makes this agenda even less attractive.

Read on here.