Medvedev insisted that “my choice is different,” but could not dispel doubts that this alternative choice is meaningful.
These doubts were spelled out by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s most famous political prisoner, in interviews with Western media last week given before his sudden transfer from Moscow to a prison in Karelia. Putin is unperturbed by such alarmism and harbors no doubt that his “executive vertical” has proven its resilience by weathering the storm of painful economic contraction and would serve its purpose of centralized political control over major financial flows for years to come. His method of choice in addressing the risks of marginal hue and cry is heavy-handed management of elections, so he goes forward with building a coalition for “stability” as if Medvedev does not exist. Putin’s junior partner has indeed become an odd man out in the disciplined ranks of top bureaucracy and he has accepted his political failure as a natural good loser. The political and business elites are not prepared to give him a chance for acting on his “choice,” but his words about “the models that would only lead our country backwards” are not lost. The confidence in Putinism is eroding from top-down, and the overwhelming vote for it would condemn this excessively corrupt system to disintegration caused by desertion and disrespect.