With Dmitry Medvedev having been sworn in as Russia’s new president and outgoing President Vladimir Putin poised to take up the role of prime minister and leader of the ruling United Russia party, Russian observers continue to ponder the prospects for the new Medvedev-Putin diarchy. The newspaper Vremya novostei asked various experts to assess how “harmonious” the ruling tandem is likely to be and whether they believe the presidential term will be lengthened and Putin will return to the Kremlin in 2012.
First Deputy General Director of the Center for Political Technology Boris Makarenko responded that “Under Vladimir Putin, the presidential administration and government were, in fact, a single mechanism. Now, of course, the government headed by Putin will in fact be more powerful than the cabinets headed by [former Prime Minister Mikhail] Fradkov and [former Prime Minister Viktor] Zubkov. I don’t think it’s necessary to explain why. For this, it is not necessary to change the constitution, which is [already] flexible enough. Exclusive powers of the president and the government are prescribed in it, and the ‘grey zone’ will be divided up differently from the way it is now. In fact, the Fradkov and Zubkov cabinets were also atypical for Russia over the past one and a half decades. There were times when the White House was significantly stronger, under Premiers [Viktor] Chernomyrdin and [Yevgeny] Primakov, and even under [Mikhail] Kasyanov. Now there are two main questions. The first: How harmonious will the tandem standing at the head of the executive power turn out to be? Here there is no reason not to believe the assurances of Putin and Medvedev that they are like-minded and will work well together. The second question: Will competition between the apparatuses [of the president and prime minister] … be inevitable? No one can answer that yet. Everything depends on how often Putin and Medvedev … straighten out their entourages, not allowing competition to take on a destructive character.”
Makarenko added, “I do not exclude the possibility that the period of the presidential term … might be extended, but I am skeptical about this. Moreover, an increase in the [presidential] term from four to five years is insignificant, and seven years is too little for a good president and too much for a bad one. As to the question of who will become president in 2012, today neither Medvedev nor Putin can answer that. They themselves want to see how things go, but it is unlikely that an opponent of the current authorities will become the next Russian President. I rule out the possibility of Putin’s return to the post of president in 2012.”
Georgy Satarov, the head of the Information Science for Democracy foundation (INDEM), predicted that power would not be formally redistributed in favor of the prime minister, for a number of reasons. “One of those [reasons] is this: Over the past eight years, a fantastic redistribution of power in favor of the presidential administration that has no constitutional basis has already taken place. The parliament has practically been destroyed as an independent branch of government and the courts [destroyed] as an independent institution. And this occurred without introducing any amendments to the constitution. And if Putin wants to redistribute something, it will happen completely informally. The question is: Does he want to? My point of view is … [that] this is unlikely, because I doubt that he plans to stay in the post of premier for a long time … I think that Putin was sincere when he said that he worked like ‘a galley slave’ [during his eight years as president] and that he is now being ‘demobilized’. And this will most likely take place; only he will do additional service for a while. And then he will leave, as he planned. All this talk about increasing the [presidential] term is an argument in favor of the version that Putin has left power temporarily but dreams of returning soon. But this is not true. Who will be president in 2012 is unpredictable, but I rule out the possibility of Putin returning to that post.”
Dmitry Badovsky, Deputy Director of the Research Institute of Social Systems, however, said, “Of course, at the moment there is no question of any radical redistribution of power connected with a revision of constitutional provisions. A global redistribution of power in favor of the government would be evidence that Vladimir Putin definitely does not plan to return to the post of president, but today that possibility … nevertheless exists. … A constriction of the prerogatives of presidential authority will not take place, but at the same time the role of the government and the legislative authority will be strengthened. During the United Russia party congress, this formula was enunciated as follows: ‘The time has come to open up the constitutional potential of the executive and legislative branches more fully.’ And everything will happen on the basis of this” (Vremya novostei, May 7).