Russia’s growing leadership rift

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have purported in recent speeches two contrasting views of the situation Russia is in. The difference in their analysis should also be interpreted as a sign of the growing rift between the country’s leaders, writes Eberhard Schneider in a December paper for the EU-Russia Centre.

“In his state of the nation speech on 12 November, President Medvedev called for a complete modernisation of Russia based on democratic values and institutions. He said that without such a modernisation Russia would struggle to survive in the modern world. The economy was too dependent on raw materials and corruption was rampant. 

The president outlined several detailed proposals, some with deadlines, in his 100 minute speech. Some experts regarded the speech as an effort to demonstrate who was the real president. 

In addition Medvedev set out a broad political agenda to clean up politics with a focus on the regions. He denounced unworthy bureaucrats in the police and secret services. He said that citizens had to think for themselves and not rely on their leaders to take all decisions. His speech could thus be interpreted as a critique of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose government had not foreseen various problems let alone set about tackling them. 

Amongst the proposals that Medvedev outlined in his speech were measures to deal with monocities (those cities dependent on one industry), the financial system, simplifying the mortgage system, the introduction of new technologies, preventing waste of gas and improving the efficiency of the state bureaucracy. The president also announced a range of measures to support development in the troubled north Caucasus region. 

President Medvedev put forward a ten-point programme to improve and broaden the political system at regional level (the system had recently been criticised for allowing election manipulation). His proposals included the introduction of measures to ensure equality of representation in regional parliaments, amendments to the 7% hurdle, dispensing with the need for parties to collect signatures before putting up candidates, suggesting parties in the regional parliaments listen at least once a year to those parties not represented, allowing access to the media for all parties and introducing electronic voting to combat fraud. 

The president also underlined the importance of civil society in developing democracy. He gave figures showing the state had made a start in firing officials involved in corruption. 

On 25 November, Andrei Makarov, a board member of United Russia, went even further than the president in his attack on corruption in the police. Makarov said the situation in the police and other law enforcement agencies was so bad that it would be beter to disband the Interior Ministry and start building up a new law enforcement service. 

Meanwhile, on 21 November, Prime Minister Putin spoke at the annual congress of United Russia in St Petersburg and sought to defend the work of the government. He took credit for measures introduced to deal with the economic crisis and said that the negative growth rate would not be as bad as predicted (-8.5% instead of -10.5%.). In conrast to Medvedev’s proposal to reduce state support for industry, he announced more aid for the car industry. The party also agreed a new programme under the motto Russian conservatism. It promised to combine stability with developing the best new ideas. 

From these speeches it is clear that Medvedev and Putin have different visions for the future of Russia. Only time will tell which vision will come out on top.”

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