Split in the Russian Political Tandem Putin-Medvedev?
There are signs that the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is gaining his own profile rather than wishing to remain forever Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked successor. The catalyst for this process is the financial and economic crisis. Different individuals and groups surrounding the president and the prime minister play an important role in this process, since they try to ensure that their patrons demonstrate a greater political profile. By Eberhard Schneider
On March 2, 2008 Dmitry Medvedev, then First Deputy Prime Minister, was elected president in the first round of the Russian presidential elections after being proposed by Putin as a candidate in December 2007. Many wondered why Putin did not change Article 81.3 of the Constitution, which doesn’t allow to be elected to more than two terms consecutively. In order to do so, two-thirds of the Duma votes, three-quarters of the Federation Council’s votes and two-thirds of regional parliaments’ votes would have been required for a constitutional amendment to take place, which Putin would have easily achieved. Most probably, Putin preferred to take a four-year break to recover from the stress of the presidential office and to stand for office once again after four years, which is in accordance with the Constitution. Putin might have wanted to concentrate in the meantime on the chairmanship of the ruling “United Russia” party. Putin decided against a constitutional amendment largely due to trying to avoid being seen as another Alexander Lukashenka (President of Belarus), who changed the Belorussian Constitution in 2004 in order to be allowed to run for the presidency for a third time.
The arrest of some high-ranking officers at Moscow airport Domodedowo on October 1, 2007 – which exposed a long-standing fight amongst the Russian security services – prompted Putin to change his mind. He was concerned that once he retreated from politics the several power groups which he held together would start fighting with one another and that the siloviki (people from the secret services, the Ministry of the Interior and the military) following different interests would win at the expense of the other. There was also a risk as to whether his predecessor could govern the siloviki or whether they would challenge him.
If Putin did not seek a constitutional amendment, then which other high office could he assume? The choice fell on the office of Prime Minister. Putin was required to carefully assess under which president he could work, since the President of Russia is not only the formal Head of State but also has strong executive powers. He decided that Dmitry Medvedev would be the ideal candidate.
At a press conference on February 14, 2008 Putin said, responding to a question about whether there would be any major differences between him as prospective Prime Minister and President Medvedev, that both he and Medvedev have had a 15-year working relationship through which they have learned to listen and to understand one another. He simply trusts Medvedev. Therefore, “it would not be terrible” if he transferred him the “essential executive powers to govern the country”. If he became Prime Minister, he would not alter his relations with the head of state and he would not be “hostile” towards him or “counterproductive”.
Medvedev and Putin are both from St. Petersburg and are both lawyers by profession. Nevertheless, there are also differences between them such as the 13-year age gap; in other words, half a generation. Putin was born in 1952, whereas Medvedev was born in 1965. Further differences include their socio-economic background. Putin grew up in a working class family and was the son of a factory worker. The family lived in a communal flat (20m²) where they had to share the bathroom and the kitchen with other families. On the other hand, Medvedev grew up in a family of professors. During the Brezhnev years, professors with a high academic grade were well paid and enjoyed a high social standing.
Division of power between President and Prime Minister
According to the Constitution, the Russian President is responsible for foreign policy. He defines “the basic domestic and foreign policy guidelines” (Article 80.3), decides on foreign policy (Article 86) and is the commander-in-chief.
On the other hand, according to the Constitution, the Prime Minister is responsible for the “implementation of foreign policy of the Russian Federation” (Article 114.1). This means that Putin cannot contradict foreign policy as defined by the President without the consent of the Foreign Minister. He can nonetheless remain the authority over the implementation of foreign policy because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an integral part of the government despite its subordination to the President. According to the Constitution, the portfolio of the government includes the economy, financial policy, culture, education, science, health and environment. Regarding foreign and defence policy, as well as national security, the government is only responsible for the implementation of policy set by the President.
During an interview on December 24, 2008 Medvedev explained – following a question on the extent of cooperation between the President and the Prime Minister – that both he and Putin exchange policy ideas on a regular basis. They not only discuss economic issues but also political ones. Medvedev described their teamwork as “comfortable”. On the question concerning the war in Georgia, Medvedev emphasised that as commander-in-chief he alone made the decision to begin the operation.
On which elite groups and other power bases can Medvedev rely? The following table will attempt to identify several state, political and economic structures that the President and the Prime Minister rely upon. However, it should be noted that the extent to which these players influence Medvedev and Putin is schematic and not completely verifiable.
|Closer to Medvedev||Closer to Putin|
|Parliament||Federation Council||State Duma|
|Chairman||Federation Council: Sergey Mironov||State Duma: Boris Gryzlov|
|Government||Justice Minister: Alexander Konovalov (directly subordinate to the President, loyal to Medvedev)||All other ministers (excluding Foreign Minister Lavrov)|
|Presidential Administration||Head of administration department: Constantin Tishchenko||All the others|
|Foreign Policy||Foreign Minister: Sergei Lavrov (directly subordinate to the President)||Deputy Head of the Apparatus of the Government: Yuri Ushakov|
|Security Policy||Security Council (President is the Chairman)||Secretary of the Security Council: Nikolai Patrushev|
|Investigative bodies||Chief State Prosecutor: Yuri Tshajka||Head of Investigative Committee: Alexander Bastrykin|
|Political Parties||“Just Russia”||“United Russia”|
|Economy||Small to medium-sized enterprises||Large-scale industry, raw material industry|
|Trade Associations||Association of small and medium-sized enterprises “Opora Rossi” (Stanchion of Russia)||“Russian Association of Entrepreneurs and Manufacturers” and
“Delovaya Rossiya” (“Business Russia”)
|Elite Groups||Lawyers/ Judges||Siloviki|
|Political Key Issues||Fight against corruption|
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Ben Heine holds the copyright on the cartoon. The Russian State Duma is Public Domain.
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