The ice is shifting
Cracks are showing in the Putin-Medvedev rule, says Samy Amara from Moscow
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev are beginning to show signs of conflict in both style of leadership and political content. On the surface it seems that there is no power struggle, conflict or differences of opinion between the president and his prime minister. Few have yet dared to even insinuate that there are differences and hidden conflicts and a clash of personalities between them.
Each of them insists that they are one team, one blood, one school of thought, having both graduated from Leningrad University's Law School, in the words of Putin. However, close observers suspect this is all make-believe and the reality is far more sordid that the powers that be in the Kremlin are trying to patch it over.
President Medvedev is chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Development (ICD)'s Board of Directors. The ICD released a report earlier this month that promotes the modernisation programme launched by Medvedev. The authors claim that Russia needs "to go back to Boris Yeltsin's constitution" to ensure political competition as a prerequisite for economic modernisation. It also calls for Russia to join NATO, the European Union and the World Trade Organisation.
Igor Yurgens, head of the ICD and a close adviser to Medvedev, told The Telegraph last May, "the reform process stumbled halfway." There is "overcentralisation and fragility" based "not on institutions but on the mythological vertical of power". Both he and Medvedev have stated that Russia is in danger of remaining a developing country and will not catch up to the industrially advanced countries if it does not embark on radical reforms. Supposedly Putin halted the pace of reform when he took office in 2000, keeping power within a small circle of oligarchs. His economic policy was based on the revenues from oil and gas which suffered because of the world economic crisis.
Last September, Medvedev gave a speech, published on the government's Internet site kremlin.ru, "Go Russia". It was characterised by frankness and openly called for change, insinuating that the country should get rid of the Putin inheritance and stop depending on the export of energy and raw materials. Medvedev lamented the state of economic backwardness that Russia languishes in and the unfortunate repercussions that are caused by its continued dependence on raw materials. He also pointed to corruption coupled with the deteriorating social situation, poor healthcare and social services, the glaring weaknesses of civil society, the arrest in democratic transformations, the return of terror in the Caucasus, inferring that they are all characteristics of the 10 years of Putin's presidency.
This is the first time that such frank statements have been uttered openly. Any such criticism of politics or economics was hushed up under Putin' presidency. It is an interesting development that Medvedev seems to be giving the green light and accepting contrary views that challenge the authorities.
He did admit there were some notable achievements, most importantly saving the Russian state from the danger of collapse and restoring its prestige and dignity. What most shocked people in Russia was the directness and frankness of Medvedev's attack.
The speech focussed on the same themes as Medvedev's State of the Union address which he delivered last November in the presence of government parliamentarians, and heads of autonomous regions.
Medvedev reiterated his criticisms in the annual congress of the ruling United Russia Party, which were also considered by some as indirect criticism of his mentor Putin who put him in power in the first place. Medvedev reserved his greatest criticism for the party itself which Putin heads, hinting there has been vote rigging in the local elections. Medvedev said the party cannot initiate change if it does not change itself. It has grown further and further from the electorate. "Democracy is not the reserve of the ruling party and opposition parties. It is a question of citizens exercising their right of decision- making through the country."
This ushers in a new era of conflict between the duumvirate governing the country. It has become clear that the main differences between them lie in what Medvedev regards as the role of the ruling party and its concentration of power. This is a new agenda that forces itself on Russian political life. Medvedev's supporters are pushing for a new Russia for the 21st century and they have a very different vision of the Russia of tomorrow, radically different from the outdated perspective of Putin and his hangers-on.
Putin tried to curtail civil liberties and strengthen the authority of the Russian state after the terrorist act in Beslan in 2004. Russians are getting fed up with state security, intelligence and the Ministry of the Interior -- the symbols of authoritarianism, and are yearning for a more open and democratic society.
This open criticism culminated recently in an unprecedented protest in Kaliningrad where as many as 10,000 demonstrators marched, some demanding the ousting of Putin. It seems the new generation wants fresh leadership and new blood -- new ideas which have nothing to do with Putin's legacy.