With the Central Election Commission set to register First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as a presidential candidate, observers have again been speculating about the future relationship between Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor and Russia’s presumed next president, and Putin himself, who has agreed to serve under his long-time subordinate as prime minister (see EDM, January 7; December 11, 17 and 19, 2007).
Appearing on Yevgeny Kiselyov’s program “Vlast” on January 18, Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Institute of Globalization Problems, predicted that Medvedev and Putin will inevitably come into conflict. Delyagin said that, first of all, while Medvedev will undoubtedly ask Putin for advice, he will inevitably seek the counsel of others. (Delyagin suggested that Medvedev is likely to consult his former boss, ex-Kremlin chief of staff Alexander Voloshin.) This, said Delyagin, will naturally “very strongly stress” Putin. Secondly, Delyagin noted that “the leadership of the country is carried out by means of formal mechanisms, one of which is a president’s order to the premier,” and predicted that such an order will eventually be given. However inconsequential that order may be and however politely it may be given, “It will all the same be an order that will have to be carried out,” Delyagin said, adding: “Comrade Putin has a very acute sense of power, and when Comrade Medvedev begins to request humbly, Medvedev will still not have anything bad in mind, but … [Putin’s] acute sense of power will already snap into action; he will already be in a fighting stance.”
While Delyagin did not specifically predict a winner in the power struggle he feels is inevitable, he noted that power in Russia is not held “by the person who makes decisions [or] signs papers, even laws” but “in the hands of the person who fires the director of the FSB [Federal Security Service]” (“Vlast,” RTVi television, and Ekho Moskvy radio, January 18). The Russian constitution, of course, assigns such powers to the president.
On the other side of the argument, former independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said in an interview published on January 19 that Putin plans to return to the presidency and will thus place limitations on Medvedev’s presidency.
“He plans to return, but in order not to lose power, he needs to surround the new president on all sides with red flags so that he [Medvedev] will be not be able to do anything independently,” Ryzhkov told the Kasparov.ru website. “Putin now has a majority in the Federation Council [and] a constitutional majority in the Duma. Putin has created a unique system in which all of the key state posts are held by his friends and relatives. Putin himself in the first years worked with the administration head of ‘someone else’, Voloshin, and the future president will be in the same boat: if he wants to fire the prime minister, he will not find the secretary who will type the decree [or] a newspaper that will publish it. Putin has achieved total control. In this system, a step by the president to the right or the left will be equal to an execution. According to the constitution, a president can be impeached if two-thirds of the State Duma, three-quarters of the Federation Council and a third of the legislative assemblies of the Federation subjects vote for it. Putin has those majorities. So if the president makes a mistake, the issue of removing him from power is strictly a technical one” (Kasparov.ru, January 19).
According to some observers, if Putin moves to restrict Medvedev’s freedom of action as president, he will find support from among those who opposed the choice of Medvedev as Putin’s successor – i.e., the siloviki faction widely thought to be informally led by Kremlin deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin, which is said to include FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, among others.
An analysis posted on the Internet by the Center for Current Politics in Russia on January 20 explored the reasons for the unhappiness of the siloviki over the rise of Medvedev as Putin’s successor. It noted that Medvedev is not only associated with a rival business empire – he is chairman of the board of Gazprom, while Sechin is board chairman of the rival energy giant Rosneft – but that there have been rumors of late that Medvedev has put together his own group of “siloviki,” which will “objectively lessen the new president’s dependence on the experience and competence of the current leaders of the FSB, MVD, and other power bodies” (Ancentr.ru, January 20).
The Center for Current Politics in Russia’s analysis speculated that the dissatisfaction of the siloviki over the choice of Medvedev as Putin’s successor may have been behind recent comments by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader, State Duma deputy speaker, and presidential candidate, who declared on January 17 that Russia is gripped by “fear” and that it is “terrifying to entrust the fate of the country to one person.” Therefore, Zhirinovsky said, “The best form of democracy is a parliamentary republic, because any president turns into an authoritarian individual: he has all the levers of power, and that is impermissible.” Referring indirectly to Medvedev, Zhirinovsky declared that “the Kremlin candidate” for president is “an invalid, on a leash like a mutt” (Newsru.com, January 17).