Russia’s presidential primaries

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

“For many commentators, the primaries for the 2012 presidential elections in Russia have already started. Even if the two men at the top, Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, are outwardly loyal to each other, there is considerable rivalry between their respective teams, who are above all keen to promote their own interests,” writes Professor Eberhard Schneider of the EU-Russia Centre in a January paper.

“The two leaders appear to have an understanding that both need to agree on major issues concerning politics, economics and personnel. While Putin emphasises the importance of overcoming the financial crisis, Medvedev places more emphasis on the need to modernise the economy. 

Putin remains the more popular, with latest polls showing that just under 70% of the population have a favourable opinion of him compared to 51% for Medvedev. Against the background of the Duma elections in December 2011, many experts doubt that the Medvedev-Putin tandem can survive beyond that date. So far neither has ruled out running for president in 2012. In response to a question during a television appearance on 3 December, Putin said that he would consider all options, and added that there was still much time to decide. It was important not to be diverted from the tasks ahead by concern about ratings. He and Medvedev had known each other for a long time and worked well together. The same day, prompted by Putin’s remarks, Medvedev declared that he too was keeping all options open as regards a further presidential term. 

In a television interview on 24 December, Mededev listed the achievements during 2009. These included maintaining social and financial stability and saving firms from bankruptcy. Inflation was 9% compared to 13% in 2008. He also mentioned the negative aspects: the continuing dependence of Russia on exports of raw materials, the inability of many firms to be competitive, and the high levels of unemployment. 

Medvedev also showed his irritation with the Interior Ministry, ordering a 20% reduction in staffing levels by 2012, a 50% cut in departments, measures to tackle corruption and new staff regulations for the police force. He also noted that the dominant party (United Russia, whose president is Putin) had to take full responsibility for developments in Russia. Medvedev added that he wanted to see a strengthening of the party political system and indicated that he was ready to meet with all political forces that respected the law. 

The president also stated his intention to press for a fundamental reform of the judicial system to deal with political interference and corruption (the so-called Basmanny Justice, named after the court in central Moscow where Mikhail Khodorkovsky was tried). 

Putin also attempted to paint a positive picture in his annual televised question time with citizens on 3 December. Most questions covered social security, employment and financial support for local communities. He also stated that most of the proceeds from the sale of Yukos had gone to support the renovation of the housing stock, an assertion that less than 10% of the population believe, according to a Levada survey. 

On 22 December, the first deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, was named to head a new and powerful government commission on economic development and integration. One of his new tasks will be to plan for the new common economic area between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin remains responsible for handling the financial crisis and credit policy. Sukalov’s nomination, placing him above rivals such as Igor Sechin, could put him in pole position to succeed Putin should he resign as prime minister. 

Although there is no sign of a major split in the Putin/Medvedev tandem, as the date for the presidential elections becomes closer the rivalry between the Putin and Medvedev camps is likely to intensify. This rivalry could lead to a breakdown of the political alliance by the end of 2010.” 

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