The rhetoric of renovation and reinvigoration cultivated by President Dmitry Medvedev has been severely curtailed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who presented to the State Duma last week the last report on the work of his government.
Medvedev cannot be sure that the big idea of change is appealing to the self-serving bureaucracy and suspects that paternalistic attitudes are prevalent among the voters. The squabble among political clans on the eve of a reconfiguration of leadership has deeper consequences than just eroding the legitimacy of the entrenched regime. The construct of the duumvirate that performed above expectations in the time of unexpected crisis cannot be reproduced due to accumulated acrimony between the two co-rulers. If Putin allows Medvedev to take his desired second term, the team of “modernizers” is set to discover that the freedom from the controlling hand translates into an inability to discipline bureaucracy, to keep the “oligarchs” on any kind of leash, and to keep the public quiet. If Putin opts for reclaiming the position of supreme power, which remains “Plan A,” he could find that the discourse of modernization has taken root devaluing the attempt to buy another decade of stability. Any new leadership formed by heavily manipulated elections will have diminished legitimacy and authority, which weakens Russia’s defenses from the next crisis.