Trouble In Post-Communist Paradise?

by Mike on May 2, 2011

in Politics,Russia

It looks like we’re about to witness a power struggle at the highest level of Russian politics.  According the UK’s Guardian, President Dmitry Medvedev is maneuvering to run for a second term in 2012  despite an agreement that he would step aside so Putin could reclaim his old job.

Medvedev is only President because Putin chose him as Prime Minister and handpicked successor.  When Medvedev promptly appointed Putin as Prime Minister, it became clear that the two cut some kind of deal when Putin stepped  down as President.  That chain of events, coupled with the fact that crossing Putin isn’t exactly the secret to a long and healthy life led most observers to assume that Medvedev would just step aside after his first term to allow Putin to return to his old post.  Not everyone saw it that way, however.  Here’s what I wrote back in 2008 on the eve of Medvedev’s inauguration:

No one can be certain about what happens next. Many predict a puppet situation, but I predict a power struggle. Putin currently has standing and political capital. Medvedev will have institutional power. Neither man will want to be the other’s puppet. Struggle is inevitable. That’s just my hunch and could be total crap. In any event, Russia is about to get interesting.

Yes, I just wanted to post one of my accurate predictions.  After my Romney will defeat Hillary in 2008 predictions, I think I’m entitled.  But what I said about power is right.  A Russian President has tremendous power.  He controls the government, manipulates mass media, and even influences who hold power in business.  Regardless of any deals that may have been made and which powerful former mentors still hold influence, there will always be a temptation to cling to power.  Medvedev is trying to do just that.

Despite the unseemly nature of Russian politics, the struggle between Medvedev and Putin is probably healthy.  It isn’t exactly democratic; the pair are jockeying for support of the one political party that unscrupulously dominates Russia.  However, competition for the support of competing interests, even within a single block, will lead to more accountability than one man reigning over a fiefdom.  It may not be much, but a baby step back toward democracy is better than nothing at all.

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