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Tandemology and the Russian Media’s Spin Cycle

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Oh, the excitement and intrigue of Russian politics in election season … high-powered advisers are getting canned, officials demoted, fake parties are dissolved and replaced with different fake parties, while famous oligarchs are disappointingly flipped and flopped.  All of it is so elaborately constructed to give a sense of motion and progress toward change, providing the media with a narrative for months of the will-he-won’t-he, Putin-or-Medvedev, tandemology stories.  But are we already seeing some exhaustion with the rehashed plot?  Is the Kool-Aid running low, as more and more people begin opening their eyes to the profound disappointment of predetermined outcomes that is the hallmark of this hybrid authoritarian model? 

Of course it is fair to acknowledge that a large part of the Russian public has willingly accepted Putin’s bargain of rights exchanged for economic growth without complaint, but there has always been a public tension and panic of barely concealed instability – a force that has become more difficult to control and manage with the approach of elections.  Most recently, the great myth of stability has been punctured by increasingly obvious foot-dragging in Moscow, as various small projects ordered by the government have ground to a halt, inhibited by unsure and unwilling ministers and lower officials.

But overall, it seems like the biggest challenge for the Russian leadership is how to keep things interesting as the boredom sets in.  We recently came across this blog posting, translated below, from Stas_Kucher, which elaborates on some of his impressions of the end of Medvedev’s political career, and the profound disappointment of watching a political system without any kind of real public participation.  The spin cycle evidently isn’t working for him.

Medvedev has run out of steam. Or has he?

There is a feeling that Medvedev, speaking in old hippy slang, has ‘checked-out’. That he is finished as President. That he’s ‘burnt-out’. If in the foreseeable future, Vladimir Putin’s participation in the presidential elections is officially announced, and only his, we could even boldly name the expiry date of Medvedev’s effective presidency as 18 May 2011 – the famous first, and possibly last, of his press-conferences as somebody actively fulfilling the role of Head of State.


It would be symbolic: it turned out that the last serious questionposed to him was by our correspondent Yuri Matsumoto. Medvedev answeredhim honestly, saying what he thought. Then, in order not to end uptalking about Khodorkovsky, he spoke about the Russian language andabout reindeer hunting… and that was it, nothing further”presidential” has been heard from him since. You understand what I’msaying.

Naturally, we can recall Boris Yeltsin’s time. It happened that forweeks, this guy didn’t appear in public and didn’t make anyannouncements. But now is not that time, and Medvedev is in great shapeand doesn’t drink at all.

In the meantime, newsworthy pretexts for brilliant Presidentialspeeches are pouring in. Libya. The National Front and its largemembership. The emergence of the ” Right Cause”. New wildfires, finally!

Somebody will reproach me : Wait, what about the meeting with thelinguists yesterday,on the birthday of “our everything”. That is,Pushkin. I agree. Responding to the words of the political analystVyacheslav Nikonov that it would be good to coordinate the targetedprogramme ‘Russian Language’ “directly from the Kremlin”, DimitryMedvedev said that Russia has, and I quote, “a completely out-dated,inadequate management system, which should be changed. Because, when allinitiatives are only coming from within the Kremlin, it shows that thesystem itself is not sustainable”.

That is in fact an absolutely sensational comment. Had it been saidtwo years ago, it would have been taken as a revolutionary call toaction. Saying the same thing at the May 18th press conference wouldhave inflamed [people’s passions.]

If you caught that word, that’s right. Precisely “inflame”. Thisstatement is lost now: its not in the headers of news sites; not on thefront pages of newspapers or in ‘Der Spiegel’ news programmes. And thatstelling. Two years ago, Medvedev’s statements “inflamed [passions]’,creating the image of the president as a symbol of change. Today, hiswords don’t ‘burn’ – no, there is the feeling that the President hasextinguished himself and his image. Like an actor, who has ‘played’ hisrole and understands that it’s time for him to leave the stage. Morethan likely, the decision on Medvedev has already been made. And notmade by him.

Of course, its one of those times, when I really want to be wrong.Its painfully boring living in a country where everything is so crudelypredictable.