The Lopsided Tandem
Chairman of the Board of the Institute for Contemporary Development (ICD) Igor Yurgens speaks to Kommersant correspondent Viktor Khamrayev about Dmitry Medvedev’s political prospects.
Will Dmitry Medvedev be able to run for the presidency in six years?
He has already said that he won’t rule out the possibility. So he still has ambition.
But now he will head the government, and President-elect Vladimir Putin prefers that this be a caretaker government and prime minister.
I don’t think this will be a caretaker government. It will have to decide what to do about pension reform and how to reform education and healthcare. No doubt, it will have to think about the military budget if oil prices drop, not to mention utility rates and other things. It is also difficult to imagine the prime minister as a figurehead if he plans to become president.
The reforms you are talking about will most likely be unpopular. Society will consider them liberal.
The government won’t have an easy time. Dmitry Medvedev won’t find it easy, either, all the more so since there are already seasoned politicians there that will not bow to him.
Won’t Prime Minister Medvedev and his government become whipping boys that will be taken to task for unpopular reforms both before the opposition and the president?
I don’t think Putin needs whipping boys. As a wise person and a cautious man, he will always have his system of checks and balances between those who, in the ruling elite, are called liberals and those who are called hard-liners.
So, you think the tandem will continue after Putin’s return to the Kremlin?
The tandem was a more or less equitable structure for the first two years of Medvedev’s presidency when he took practical steps in foreign policy (the “reset” with the United States, Poland and NATO), launched military reform, initiated the fight against corruption and promoted a number of modernization initiatives. All these steps made him a major politician, but then, by virtue of some circumstances that we don’t know about, he agreed to move into the background. The manner in which he withdrew implies that the tandem is lopsided.
If Medvedev still harbors presidential ambitions, will he only be able to return to the Kremlin on a wave of Putin’s popularity, like he did in 2008?
This is where his position becomes difficult. On the one hand, he must become an independent political figure in order to be a real contender in the next presidential race. To become such a figure, he must carry out reforms. They will be unpopular because they will affect the interests of this or that group of people in Russia. It is unclear what his electoral chances will be after that. Unlike past elections, the next ones will be very competitive if Putin does not take part in them. On the other hand, Medvedev will have the chance to simply follow in Putin’s wake. But in this case it is unclear whether he will become an independent political figure. This is his dilemma. He will either have to sacrifice his political career and reputation by pursuing unpopular reforms for the sake of the country, or remain in President Putin’s shadow and see his electoral prospects diminished.
So perhaps it is more rational to stay in his shadow?
For the time being the impression is that Medvedev has decided to follow in Putin’s wake. He has himself decided to distance himself from a number of modernization initiatives. In addition, he has abruptly given up on a number of other side issues that are still followed by the thinking part of society, such as the Magnitsky case and the YUKOS saga.
How then are we supposed to understand Medvedev’s idea for a big open government? It is clear Medvedev is creating it to be autonomous from the Kremlin.
Currently, I can neither confirm nor deny this. From time to time, you hear some bold ideas voiced as part of the big government concept, and young, engaged people put forward initiatives. But there is no system there so far. This government does not have a general strategy and there is no one who would formulate a streamlined modernization platform for Prime Minister Medvedev for future elections.
So, will Medvedev be in Putin’s shadow forever?
Why do you say that? The next elections are a long way off. Therefore, Medvedev still has a chance. Everything will depend on how the next six years play out. We are entering a period of political turbulence.
This interview was originally published in Russian in Kommersant