Today marks Dmitry Medvedev’s first year in office. But is he President Medvedev or “President” Medvedev? Is there a harmonious “tandem” or a Putin/Medvedev rift?
I have a column on his tenure so far at RealClearPolitics.com. My conclusion:
So far, the difference between Medvedev and Putin is mainly a matter of style and tone. Will style become substance? Could Medvedev be a genuine reformer who must tread carefully because he is still hobbled by the presence of Putin and his faction? Is he an ambitious man who wants to free himself from his mentor’s shadow, and prepare the ground for a second term, by using a mostly cosmetic liberalism to build a power base? Will the rumored discord in the Putin/Medvedev “tandem” become a full-scale war of Kremlin “clans”? Or is Medvedev playing “good cop” to Putin’s “bad cop,” primarily for Western consumption?
“Only time will tell” may be the tritest of conclusions. But in this case, it is the only one that seems fitting.
An interesting article on Medvedev’s liberal moves appeared in the “Russia Now” online supplement to The Daily Telegraph (UK), produced by Rossiyskaya Gazeta — the official publication of the Russian government. In other words, this is what the Kremlin’s mouthpiece wants to tell an English-speaking audience.
For those who read in Russian, some good expert opinions on Medvedev’s first year and the “tandemocracy” are offered here. For those who don’t read in Russian, here’s a translation of the most interesting quote.
Dmitry Oreshkin, political scientist, member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights:
There aren’t very many pluses, but one of them is the fact that we are gradually getting used to the separation of powers. Not the separation prescribed in the law and the Constitution, but separation in actual political practice. It doesn’t matter whether Medvedev and Putin are good or bad; the important thing is that for the first time in perhaps a thousand years, there is a de facto mechanism that can be called separation of powers rather than dyarchy.
Dyarchy presumes two powers fighting each other for full power; in such a situation the people do not feel the presence of government at all, because the bureaucracy, the army, the police, etc. do not know whom to obey. Today, as uncertain as the situation is, the government does function, and at the same time there are two functioning centers of power that are very close to each other but have different interests, different resources, different levels of influence, different values. And this seems to be perceived as normal; there is no sense of anarchy.
There is no dyarchy the way there was in 1917, or the way there was during the conflict between Gorbachev and Yeltsin or between Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet in 1993; there isn’t this kind of instinctive struggle for the total dominance of one branch over all the others. Instead there is an attempt, perhaps an unconscious one, at separation. The country, the bureaucracy, and the government agencies are gradually getting used to the notion that the prime minister has his sphere of responsibility and the president has his own, and neither of them is completely subordinate to the other.
Yes, of course they are very closely connected. Yes, of course Putin leads and Medvedev follows. Nonetheless, this situation has existed for a year. The only plus is that the sociocultural tradition is changing; I see no other positives.