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Two’s a Crowd

medvedputin042809.jpgIf you only read one article about Russia today, we would highly recommend Peter Reddaway’s extensive analysis posted over at the National Interest (don’t worry, the tone is actually very measured).  Reddaway takes a look at the politics of the current tandemocracy power arrangement between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, which he believes isn’t flexible enough to allow the state to respond efficiently to the economic crisis, producing some unsustainable tensions.  He argues that the growing criticism in the media is worth paying attention to, and that we could see some of the clans and elite business interests make some moves to produce changes in the leadership – which may not necessarily be in the national interest.

The takeaway message from Reddaway’s article is that there are likely some serious bumps in the road ahead for Russia’s political stability, and that this “declining cohesion” of this peculiar state model could provide the emergence of several new power scenarios, which shouldn’t be mistaken for an improvement from the status quo.

Putin faces an unenviable dilemma. He cannot depart without looking like a cowardly deserter. But staying on would likely be politically fatal. Furthermore, he may not be a free agent. As is widely rumored in the media, key actors may have damaging information on his accumulation of personal wealth or other dark deeds from the past, which they can use to direct him along the path they prefer.

There is one lastscenario. Some sort of non-constitutional and possibly violent changeto the leadership might be attempted from the Far Right, and might ormight not succeed. This would probably be fueled by the xenophobic andimperialist ideology that dominates most Far Right media, and byelements of the siloviki, i.e., the security services and themilitary. However, partly because the representatives of these groupswho are currently in power have been politically weakened, thisscenario looks unlikely, at least for now.

The Russian leadershipis becoming unstable–for reasons mainly to do with the awkwardtandem-leadership arrangement and the costs, economic, political andpsychic, of the recession. None of the future scenarios is verypromising–for Putin, Medvedev, the Russian economy, the clans, thewider elite, the newly unemployed or the country. The least disruptivedevelopment in the short term would be a transition to a situation inwhich Medvedev becomes a fully fledged president and appoints acompetent prime minister to handle the recession. Then, in 2010-12,Medvedev or his successor might be able to mobilize enough elite andpopular support to start tackling the urgent, deep-seated problems ofRussia’s system of government.