Who will rule Russia – Putin or Medvedev?

Ask an ordinary man as to who will be the next President, the answer will be: Putin.

HK Dua

“Russia’s next President will be selected by Russia’s last President.”

The joke is doing the rounds in Moscow’s chattering classes, who are spending quite a bit of their time guessing who will contest for Russia’s presidentship next year.

Vladamir Putin, who was President for eight years and is now Prime Minister, or Dmitry Medvedev who is President until 2012.

Under the post-Soviet Russia, a President can serve no more than two terms of 4 years each. Putin led Russia for eight years and got his friend installed as President at the end of his eights year in office. The Constitution has been amended meanwhile to enhance the Presidential term to six years at a time. This means that the next President will rule Russia for six years – and with greater certainty and self-assurance than at present.

Ask an ordinary man as to who will be the next President, the answer will be: Vladmir Putin who during his years in power re-established Russia’s confidence in itself after Boris Yeltsin’s wasted time after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The guessing game has begun in Moscow following some of the statements of President Dmity Medvedev indicating that he could stand for presidentship. He has also in a way contributed to the speculation by making himself more visible than before and by showing greater decisiveness lately.

The joke that the previous President will decide who will be next President actually speaks about the ground realities.

Both Vladamir Putin and Dmitry Medevedev are long-time friends from St. Petersburg. Medvedev became President because of Putin’s support. No one has spoken about any differences between the two leaders, except where Russia officially did not condemn western intervention in Libya, but Putin compared it to medieval crusades. A public statement issued at President Medvedev’s instance undid western misgivings on this account.

Also significant is a statement by the ruling party – United Russia – that no decision had been taken on who will be its candidate for next year’s election This was after Medvedev’s remarks which led to the speculation about his candidature.

Medvedev has during three years of Presidency gently pushed economic reforms. He is said to be more liberal of the two leaders., hence more popular with the western media.

But most people in Moscow think that Russia still needs Putin at the Kremlin because he restored Russia’s pride and confidence. Putin also enjoys the support of the oligarchs who have controlled Russian economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the state-run economy.

Ultimately, the candidate for President will be selected by the Kremlin establishment which takes major decisions affecting the Russian State. Putin has been the candidate of this establishment. He is also a favourite of the oligarchs who wield considerable influence in Moscow.

Putin will be the option if the Kremlin establishment – which is not known to take public positions – in case it wants a strong Presidency during the next six years. It could be Dmitry Medvedev, in case it wants economic liberalization and a more pliable presidency.

In case of serious differences in the Kremlin establishment on who is to govern Russia, it can also choose a dark horse.

The question who rules Russia is important not only for the Russians, but also for the rest of the world. At stake are the major issues relating to the resetting of the ties between Russia on one side and the US and Nato on the other.

China also will be interested to know who will be the next President in Moscow because during last few years relationship between Russia and China has become very close. The western powers are still to figure out its ramification of the growing friendship between China and Russia.

Both Vladamir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have been good friends of India which will be studying what kind of foreign policy Moscow evolves about the US, China, West Asia and nearer home on Central Asia and Afghanistan. The world as such will be wanting to know which side Russia will turn during the next ten years or so.

(The writer is a senior journalist and now a MP. He was on a visit to Russia recently.)

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