May 01, 2011

Let the Games Begin

In less than a year, Russia will go to the polls to vote for president, and the winner – for the first time – will be awarded with a six-year term. While intrigue swirls over which of the ruling tandem – President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – will be the anointed candidate of the ruling party, United Russia, wobbly economic conditions have led to declines in both leaders’ favorability ratings (though still well above 60 percent), and there are new signs of strain between them.

Medvedev, who has to this point been largely considered Putin’s puppet, appears to be breaking from his mentor. In March, he publicly scolded Putin for calling western intervention in Libya a “crusade,” saying such remarks were “unacceptable.” Shortly afterward he took the even more serious step of announcing (through his economic aide, and as part of a push for greater economic transparency) that all government officials serving on company boards must leave them by July 1. This will of course include Putin’s closest ally, Igor Sechin, who would be forced to either give up his post at Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, or leave the government.

Analysts were quick to note that this is the first time Medvedev has seriously asserted his authority and taken on Putin’s team. “This is a major development which marks Medvedev’s first independent move affecting the interests of influential members of Putin’s team,” analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said. “The closer the elections, the more aggressively he is acting.”

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