Sunday, March 02, 2008

Putin Protege Dmitri Medvedev Expected to Win Russian Presidency

Dmitri Medvedev

"In the run-up to the vote Russia's main television channels gave generous coverage to Mr Medvedev, who refused to debate with his rivals."---BBC (3-2-08)

"By all accounts, there shouldn't be any conflict between [Putin and Medvedev]. Those are the indications...But power is a strange thing, and it can change a person considerably, especially if that power has come unexpectedly. The step up from first deputy prime minister to president is a great deal bigger than, say, an ordinary person stepping up to become first deputy prime minister."--Vladimir Vassiliyev, St. Petersburg University

"Medvedev is receiving power from the hands of Putin...One of the slogans we are putting forward is ‘Out of the Kremlin, False Dmitry!’"---Gary Kasparov

“Apparently, Putin is tired of performing the role of both good and bad cop by himself...And he decided to divide those two functions...[Putin] will not only hold a plenitude of real power in his formally new role of prime minister, but will be playing the role of bad Chekist [link added]...the role of good liberal in the propaganda sphere will fall to Medvedev. He was nominated by Putin not to carry out an independent policy, but to serve as a reliable element in a new political construction that allows Putin to remain for a third term forbidden by the constitution.”---Andrei Piontkovsky [See Piontkovsky's appearance on TV with comments by David Satter, Anders Aslund, Carl Gershman, and Richard Weitz.]

Today the Russian people are voting. Mostly they will be voting for outgoing President Putin's protege Dmitri Medvedev, pictured above. Thanks to his support of Putin, Medvedev was rewarded with the position of Chairman of the Board of the state-owned gas giant GAZPROM and First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

President Putin will probably become the Prime Minister and be the de-facto ruler. Kremlin critic Andrei Piontkovsky believes that the Putin-Medvedev team will play "good-cop bad cop." Eurasia Monitor (2-27-08) reports:

According to Andrei Piontkovsky, the political commentator who is himself being prosecuted under Russia’s law on extremism [link added], the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate is a classic case of “good cop-bad cop.” “Apparently, Putin is tired of performing the role of both good and bad cop by himself,” Piontkovsky wrote. “And he decided to divide those two functions. In the post-March Russian political construction, he [Putin] will not only hold a plenitude of real power in his formally new role of prime minister, but will be playing the role of bad Chekist … Along with ceremonial functions, the role of good liberal in the propaganda sphere will fall to Medvedev. He was nominated by Putin not to carry out an independent policy, but to serve as a reliable element in a new political construction that allows Putin to remain for a third term forbidden by the constitution.” Given that the ruling elite is united in opposition to permitting a free press, Piontkovsky added, “whatever Medvedev’s personal intentions are, a thaw or perestroika should not be expected with his arrival,” (Grani.ru, February 26 as cited here).

The Washington Post (9-26-07) has reported that the Putin regime has criminalized dissent by labeling critics like Piontkovsky and opposition politicians like Gary Kasparov "extremists":

In July, Putin signed amendments to the country's five-year-old law against extremism that expanded the definition of criminal activity to include such activities as the "public slander of public officials" and "humiliating national pride" [Full text; see page 1]...

In one [prosecution] report, Piontkovsky is accused of extremism because he creates a fictional conversation in which Putin calls some apparent critics "shameful goats." That report also alleges that Piontkovsky's use of the words "incite hatred" was itself an incitement to hatred.

What the report failed to mention, according to Alexander Kobrinsky, a professor of philology at St. Petersburg State University and an expert witness for the defense, is that Piontkovsky was actually quoting Putin when he used the words "incite hatred."

"Any features of extremism should be demonstrated by concrete sentences or statements," Kobrinsky said. "There is nothing like that. . . . Unlike the experts, I read Piontkovsky's books."

Neither the prosecutor nor the reports she cited explained why Piontkovsky's work incites hatred against Americans and Jews.

Piontkovsky said he believes it relates to a section in one book where he criticized a Russian politician who said the radical Palestinian group Hamas is not recognized as a terrorist organization by Russia because it doesn't commit terrorist acts in Russia.

"Of course, they're not terrorists because they only kill Jews and Americans," Piontkovsky wrote sarcastically [Full text; see page 3].

The best place to read about Russian politics is at RFE/RL or the Eurasia Daily Monitor of the Jamestown Foundation. The BBC has a good article about today's election.

Medvedev's Wikipedia entry summarizes the prevailing view:

Medvedev announced that, as President, he would appoint Vladimir Putin to the post of prime minister to head the Russian government.[21] Although constitutionally barred from a third consecutive presidential term, such a role would allow Putin to continue as a national leader[22] (the constitution would also allow him to return to the presidency later if he so chose). Some analysts have been quick to point out that such a statement shows that Medvedev recognizes that he would only be a figurehead president.[23] Putin has pledged that he would accept the position of prime minister should Medvedev be elected president. Although Putin has pledged not to change the distribution of authority between president and prime minister, many analysts are expecting a shift in the center of power from the presidency to the prime minister post should Putin assume the latter under a Medvedev presidency.[24] Election posters have portrayed the pair side-by-side with the slogan "Together we will win" ("Вместе победим").[25] The poster depicts both politicians as the same height, yet Medvedev is 10cm shorter than Putin.[26]

In January 2008 Anders Åslund assessed the situation that had evolved in the Kremlin after Medvedev's nomination as highly fractious and fraught with a coup d'état on the part of the siloviki clan — "a classical pre-coup situation".[27][28]

Here is a link to the full texts of very interesting articles about Putin by Dr. Aslund such as those referrenced in notes #27 and #28.

The BBC (3-2-08) notes:

Mr Putin, hugely popular because of Russia's economic boom, was barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

In the run-up to the vote Russia's main television channels gave generous coverage to Mr Medvedev, who refused to debate with his rivals.

The other candidates are: Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, nationalist Liberal Democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Democratic Party candidate Andrei Bogdanov [Full text].

Fox News (3-2-08) reported that some candidates, such as the former chess champion Gary Kasparov, were not even allowed to register as candidates and so are not on the ballot. Kasparov is the head of a politically very diverse umbrella coalition called Other Russia [See official site]. During the communist era, the regime used the requirement of registration and re-registration as a purge mechanism to de-legalize the activities of people or organizations it did not control.

In a 2-26-08 interview with RFE/RL, former chess champion and opposition leader Gary Kasparov said:

Medvedev is receiving power from the hands of Putin,” he said. “We don’t know how much power he is getting and in general whether he will be a real president or a puppet. I’m inclined to believe that he will be a puppet … But I repeat: we are engaging in reading tea-leaves, because all of this is taking place in the thicket of Kremlin offices; [it is] a Byzantine court intrigue, which by definition must be hidden from the eyes of those around it. The transfer of power is completely lacking even the minimal veil of legitimacy that Putin has had. One of the slogans we are putting forward is ‘Out of the Kremlin, False Dmitry!’ We think it is also important to emphasize that the government will actually be relying on crude force and the remaining inertia in society” (RFE/RL, February 26 but cited from here).

Andrei Piontkovsky believes that the election of Medvedev may lead to a falling out among thieves. The Eurasia Monitor (2-27-08) reports:

[T]he ruling elite is split, locked in a power struggle “for control of many billions in financial flows.” This, [Piontkovsky] said, could make the relationship between Putin and Medvedev unpredictable. “So far, Putin is managing to play the role of mediator between these clans, using the huge powers given to the president by the Russian constitution. Will he be able to keep those powers when they formally belong to someone else? It cannot be ruled out that a situation will arise in which one of the groups of siloviki, unhappy with some specific decision by Putin, tries to orient itself toward Medvedev and turn him from being a toy in the hands of the regent into a genuine tsar, offering itself as his support.” Whatever the case, wrote Piontkovsky, this “regime” of warring clans “will continue to close off Russia’s path to the future.”

RFE/RL (2-29-08) reports:

When Putin ran for president, he asked Medvedev to run his campaign. The hard work paid off -- Putin won the election in 2000, and three years later, Medvedev was promoted to presidential chief of staff. Soon afterward he was rewarded with the most coveted job in the country's booming energy sector -- the chairmanship of the board of the state-run gas giant Gazprom...

Medvedev's rise to power has been choreographed by Putin, who has hinted he intends to play a key role in the next government -- most likely as prime minister.

Relations between the 55-year-old Putin and the 42-year-old Medvedev have until now been warm and almost paternalistic. But that, Vassiliyev says, may change once the balance of power has shifted.

"By all accounts, there shouldn't be any conflict between the two men. Those are the indications," [Vladimir Vassiliyev of St. Petersburg University] says. "But power is a strange thing, and it can change a person considerably, especially if that power has come unexpectedly. The step up from first deputy prime minister to president is a great deal bigger than, say, an ordinary person stepping up to become first deputy prime minister."

Few Russians believe anyone but Medvedev will win the March 2 election. But some in St. Petersburg, where opposition parties have had an active following in recent years, intend to boycott the vote.

"It seems to me that we've returned to the situation we had in my youth," says Mikhail Amosov, a member of the Yabloko party, which was barred from running in last year's regional elections. "After all, there were elections even in the Soviet Union, but as we used to say: 'It might be an election, but there isn't any choice.'"

"Our recommendation is this," Amosov continues. "Either don't vote at all, or spoil your ballot paper by, say, voting for all the candidates. Simply put, you should demonstrate your opinion of the candidates on offer in this way, so that they know that none of them is worthy of your vote" [Full text].

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