Behind the Breaking News
A briefing from the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy
Volume VI, Number 3 (6 March 2008)

It might take two to tango, but only one can lead
By Susan Cavan
Deputy Director
Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy
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While one would be hard pressed to find any indication of it on the official Kremlin website, Dmitri Medvedev was elected president of Russia on Sunday, March 2 with 70.23 percent of the vote.  There were, of course, voting irregularities, as noted by the sole independent Russian monitoring organization, Golos, whose monitors were denied access to polling stations, and even arrested.  Golos director Lilia Shibanova suggested that the poll results be considered "with great, great misgivings." The violations, and subsequent crackdown on election protesters, were unfathomable and unnecessary, given that the vote seemed to reflect opinion polls. (1)  As a Moscow Times article noted, the elections were "not free, not fair, but accurate." (2)

Prior to the elections, the "staffs" of each leader puzzled over the correct margin of victory for Medvedev:  Putin supporters worried that a Medvedev electoral poll that topped Putin's winning percentage in 2004 would be unseemly; at Medvedev's campaign headquarters, the aspirations were for bigger numbers.  (3) Somehow, the "actual" results seem to have split the difference.  Putin's percentage (71.3) was larger in 2004, but given the increase in the number of voters, Medvedev received more votes. (4) Just the way the numbers broke.  Really.

President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Dmitri Medvedev have worked together for many years and admire and trust each other immensely. At least that is what each man tirelessly intones. The inherent contradictions of a two-headed power structure aside, their arrangement could succeed if one or the other accepted a "junior" role in the partnership; unfortunately, neither man seems prepared to play that part.

Medvedev has emphasized the constitutional structure of the Russian political landscape as being strongly weighted towards the president: "Our country has been and will remain a presidential republic.  There is no other option." (5) Putin insists, "the highest executive power in the country is in the hands of the Government." (6)

While a new president traditionally is accorded a "honeymoon," perhaps it is this dual power structure that will be allowed a certain grace period to see how these two Russian presidents adjust to power sharing.  While Medvedev has made clear that Putin will be his choice as prime minister, the actual appointment probably will not be made until after the inauguration in May.  According to the constitution, the prime minister "not later than a week after appointment [the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation] shall submit to the President…proposals on the structure of the federal bodies of executive power." (7) Just how Putin envisages the structure of the government will reveal a great deal about the future of this power sharing agreement.  However, Russian authorities have not proven to be great institutional architects; it is the personalities in the circles surrounding the leaders that have been crucial through both Yel'tsin's and Putin's administrations.  Thus, in evaluating even the early stages of a Medvedev presidency and the fate of this unorthodox diarchy, it well may be that the cadres decide everything.

The process of nominating members to the boards of major corporations demonstrates thus far, that many of Putin's top aides and advisors appear to be maintaining their posts atop Russia's most profitable and influential companies:  Igor Sechin at Rosneft; Viktor Ivanov at Aeroflot; and Sergei Ivanov at Unified Aviation Corporation. (8)  The notable change is at Gazprom, where the president-elect will relinquish his seat to the outgoing Prime Minister, Viktor Zubkov.  More changes are likely, but many boards of Russian state corporations have until the end of June to resolve their leadership issues, and by then, Medvedev may decide to take a more hands-on approach to personnel matters within and without the Kremlin.  (9)  Of course, Medvedev also is on record about the need to separate high-level officials from corporate positions: "I think there is no reason for the majority of state officials to sit on the boards of those firms." (10)

A quick glance at Medvedev's career suggests that his personnel choices, provided he is allowed to staff the Kremlin under his power-sharing agreement with Putin, will shift away from such a heavy emphasis on former security services members and more to colleagues from his law student days and also from his time at the offices of then St. Petersburg Mayor, the late Anatoli Sobchak.  The crowd of St. Petersburgers from Putin's staff selections may remain, or Medvedev's clique might have their own preferred colleagues from the north.

A glimpse at likely Medvedev loyalists was provided by a published report of the individuals who celebrated his victory with him:  Sergei Sobyanin, Medvedev's campaign manager who replaced Medvedev as Kremlin Chief of Staff in 2005; Kremlin Deputy Chief of Staff and Nashi founder Vladislav Surkov; the irrepressible Aleksandr Voloshin (Chief of Staff to Yel'tsin and to Putin, at which time he was Medvedev's boss); and several individuals who are also close to Putin, including the successor also-ran, Sergei Ivanov, Putin's super-reformer Dmitri Kozak, and United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov. (11)

There is some speculation that Medvedev will not have oversight of key personnel appointments during the early phase of his presidency.  Currently, Putin associate Viktor Ivanov is charged with personnel decisions in the Kremlin, but it is unlikely that Medvedev would allow members of the outgoing administration to regulate his authority in personnel matters.  According to Voloshin, "The way I see it…the president will wield all powers specified by the Constitution. … I do not perceive any attempts to usurp these powers or shift them to the government.  The president will be supreme commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and as such, he will control security structures." (12)

There are many Kremlin apparatchiki who have been extremely influential throughout the Putin presidency.  An interesting gauge of the success of the Medvedev-Putin leadership team may be the ability for these individuals to "leave the public sector and go to work in the private sector,"  (13) as Medvedev has suggested, or perhaps, to seek shelter in the belyi dom and bloat the government offices of a Putin premiership.

Source Notes:
(1) "Not free, not fair, but accurate all the same," By Nabi Abdullaev and Francesca Mereu, 5 Mar 08 Moscow Times via http://www.moscowtimes.ru/stories/2008/03/04/003.html.
(2) "Not free, not fair, but accurate all the same," Ibid.
(3) "Presidential election: Is there intrigue?" Argumenty nedeli, No. 9 (95), February 2008; What the Papers Say (WPS), 3 Mar 08 via Lexis-Nexis Academic.
(4) "Dmitri Medvedev beats Putin's voting record set in 2004," 3 Mar 08, Pravda via http://english.pravda.ru/russia/kremlin/104324-dmitry_medvedev-0; For President Putin's percentages and total vote count, see the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) official count as listed on http://www.putin2004.com/default.aspx?id=46, (accessed 5 Mar 08); For Medvedev's count thus far, see the CEC website www.cikrf.ru/news/preditog_10_030308,jsp.
(5) "Interview with Itogi Magazine," 18 Feb 08; www.medvedev2008.ru via Johnson's Russia List (JRL), 27 Feb 08, 2008-#42.
(6) "Transcript of Annual Big Press Conference," 14 Feb 08 via www.kremlin.ru.
(7) Russian Constitution (in English), Article 114 via http://www.constitution.ru/en/10003000-07.htm.
(8) "The State Managers on Putin's Team will retain control over 40% of the economy for another year," Vedomosti, 6 Feb 08; The Russian Oil and Gas Report via Lexis-Nexis Academic.
(9) Ibid.
(10) "Medvedev lays out economic program," 5 Mar 08, The Moscow Times via http://www.moscowtimes.ru/stories/2008/02/18/002.html, (accessed 5 Mar 08).
(11) "The Few," 4 Mar 08, Vedomosti via Johnson's Russia List (JRL), 2008-#48, 5 Mar 08.
(12) "There will be no usurpation of presidential powers," by Natalie Gevorkjan, 19 Feb 08, Kommersant; What the Papers Say (WPS), 19 Feb 08 via Lexis-Nexis Academic.
(13) Interview with Itogi Magazine," Ibid.