In the context of the ongoing political game, all unpopular decisions will be ascribed primarily to Medvedev, followed by United Russia. Medvedev’s behavior is marked by inertia. All he’s doing now is playing a behind-the-scenes game to stay on as prime minister.
What are your expectations of the upcoming United Russia convention given the clear decline in the party’s credibility with voters? Will the party be radically reshaped?
I don’t have any particular expectations. It will be a group psychotherapy session meant to reassure party members and communicate one key message: “No one is going to shut us down. Keep working as usual.”
Hasn’t the formal party leader Dmitry Medvedev – whose party leadership does not seem beyond question and has been accompanied by uncertain decisions as prime minister – used up his political capital? Will he be able to breathe new life into the party and set a new line of political conduct?
I believe that in the context of the ongoing political game, all unpopular decisions will be ascribed primarily to Medvedev, followed by United Russia. A time will come when they will be declared responsible for all the troubles. So far, the prime minister and the party have done fairly well.
I don’t think that Medvedev can breathe new life into the party. His behavior is marked by inertia. All he’s doing now is playing a behind-the-scenes game to stay on as prime minister. That’s the ultimate goal of his public activities. Anything related to party-building or elections is of secondary importance to him.
Should we take the expected refusal by Vladimir Putin to attend the convention as a sign of his complete break with United Russia?
No, we shouldn’t. Not all the party conventions were attended or addressed by Vladimir Putin. And he will talk with party members during pre-convention discussions, so don’t look for any hidden messages here.
Should we expect the formally nonpartisan All-Russia Popular Front to gain more clout following the convention? Can it become the political heir to United Russia in the near future and morph into a ruling party?
In order for the Popular Front to become electable, two things must happen. Either the Popular Front will have to become a formal party, which I believe is unlikely, especially since the front is made up of several parties, or the ban on electoral blocs will have to be lifted. In the second scenario, a bloc of several parties under the name the All-Russia Popular Front could participate in the next State Duma elections. The second scenario is preferable and makes more sense. However, it’s impossible to say how likely it is to happen ever in real life.
Might the tone of Medvedev’s remarks at the convention be affected by the criticism of his policy article in Vedomosti? Should he adjust his assessment of the economic and demographic trends in Russia (these overly positive claims bore the brunt of the criticism)?
Generally speaking, the point of the article is very simple and straightforward. Point one: I'm going to stay on as prime minister for a long time to come. Point two: it is possible that I will be the candidate of the ruling party in the 2018 presidential election. That’s all there is to it. The article itself doesn’t really matter. I don’t think that the statistical data will be revised in any way for his remarks at the convention, or be publicly reconsidered for that matter.
What’s your take on Igor Yurgens, the economist and political scientist, saying that the points he made in his article came too late? Don’t you think that after Putin's remarks at the Valdai Club conference the prime minister’s arguments were a bit beside the point and failed to catch anyone’s attention?
I think they addressed different things. Putin spoke about values and Russia’s place in the world, while Medvedev focused on the economy. Notably, the points that the prime minister made in his policy article were positively received by big business, especially ending the taboo on higher unemployment and encouraging labour mobility, among other things. So Medvedev did a good job handling the tactical challenge of maintaining the support of big business.