Vienna, March 16 – At a time when both demonstrators and an Internet petition are calling for the ouster of Vladimir Putin but not Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow experts say that Russians now want a president with different qualifications than those that led them to support Putin a decade ago.
And these experts say, according to an article on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal, Medvedev lacks some of those qualifications but is working to build his resume to meet these popular expectations, the latest indication that the incumbent president is preparing to break out of the tandem and rule on his own (svpressa.ru/politic/article/22496/).
In the article, Lev Ivanov says that “the demands for the retirement of Putin are sounding ever louder, but the president is taking as allies veteran siloviki,” an indication the “Svobodnaya pressa” journalist says indicates that the Russian president is seeking to create both the power base and the image Russians say they want in a leader.
Ivanov notes that “in the course of the last few months, [Russians] have been calling at meetings in Kaliningrad, Baikalsk, and many other ‘dying cities’ for the retirement of Putin. But nowhere has there been a call for the retirement of Medvedev.” But despite that, Medvedev suffers from several disadvantages as a candidate for unchallenged leader of the country.
“Unlike Putin,” Ivanov says, “Medvedev does not have a large and powerful command” of his own. Putin can count on “a broad clan of chekists and also people from the mayor’s office of Petersburg with whom he worked ‘as a civilian,’” but Medvedev’s “cadres reserve” consists “only of his fellow students from the law faculty of St. Petersburg University.”
And what is most striking, Ivanov says, is that “over the course of the two years of his presidency, Dmitry Medvedev in fact has been able to promote to positions of power a total of only four or five of his own people,” a reality that reinforces his image among Russians and others as “’second fiddle’” to Putin.
In 1998, the “Svobodnaya pressa” writer continues, “the Nizhny Novgorod section of the Institution of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences conducted research about what Russian citizens expected or at least hoped for in the individual who would succeed the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin.
Aleksandr Prudnik, who headed that research project, told Ivanov that at that time “Russians wanted to see in the new president an individual who combined the qualities of “Peter I, Zhukov, Zheglov, and Stirlits” and that Putin turned out to be the man who completely corresponded to those desires and expectations.
Today, Prudnik continues, Russians want a leader whose image represents “a synthesis of Stalin, Che Guevara and Prince Myshkin,” a synthesis that at least so far Medvedev does not display and the absence of which elicits “a deep disappointment” among Russians. As a result, “neither the people nor Medvedev have found a connection.”
Because of the incumbent Kremlin leader’s failure to do so, Prudnik says, “the people are beginning to rate the president negatively. From the very beginning, Russians have considered him as a weak president” and to see him as having qualities only of Prince Myshkin. If he does not add the qualities of Stalin and Guevara, Prudnik says, he could end like Yushchenko.
Medvedev understand this, Ivanov continues, and he understands that without the support of the siloviki, he will neither be able to boost his image in the population or take on Putin. That suggests that the Kremlin incumbent will see to make more cadres changes in the FSB, the Interior Ministry, and the military in the coming months.
Medvedev has already made several moves in that direction, seeking to distance from positions of power “the so-called ‘Petersburg chekists’” close to Putin. Olga Kryshtanovskaya, the director of the Academy of Sciences Center for the Study of Elites, said that the total number of siloviki at the top “had fallen from 42 percent to 30 percent” over the last two years.
Another expert, unnamed, told “Svobodnaya pressa” that Medvedev had been skillful in using PR technology against his opponents in the siloviki and that he was forming alliances with siloviki who feel that they have been passed over by Putin or otherwise seen their status decline as a result of attacks.
And – and this may be especially important in status conscious Moscow – Medvedev has changed the seating arrangements at Security Council meetings. The siloviki no longer sit next to the president but rather at the other end of the table, a very different location than they had occupied under Putin.
According to Ivanov, the majority of experts he consulted said that “the tandemocracy all the same will split into two centers of force at the latest in the spring of 2011 when a new successor must be set.” One expert suggested that the tandemocracy could continue only “if Medvedev agrees to become prime minister under president Putin.