Two quite strange and surprising news items hit the internet last week. The first was about the odd “injury” of Vladimir Putin, seen during his trip to Ukraine, which was described by official sources as a symptom of jet lag and exhaustion. Jet lag would of course be understandable, but “exhaustion” is a very weak explanation in the case of a man who has long since been styled and shown as the toughest guy in Russia. I doubt we find out someday what exactly was behind that mark, but let’s dwell on that later. The other thing did not get this much media attention. According to Levada Center, the approval ratings of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, for the first time in history, equalled. Does it mean the beginning of something new? I doubt so. Only on the surface, maybe.
I used Levada’s data to compile a chart of the two leader’s approval ratings since the election of Medvedev:
It is pretty much obvious that the two approval ratings have been moving together, with the lowest value in April 2009, about the time when the crisis hit in. The first alteration in the direction of the two line can be noticed during this autumn, and is manifested in September and October. This in itself would be quite interesting, but we have an even more interesting dataset about the percentage of the people who would vote for Putin and Medvedev at a presidential election respectively. This, according to Levada, changed from 37-17 in June to 24-21 in October. Pretty impressive, mostly because the sudden shrink in the difference stems mainly from a drop in Putin’s rating and not from an increase in Medvedev’s. This sudden drop is a mistery, taking into account the wide range of visible activities of the Prime Minister since June and especially since the wildfires. It is not even manifested in the overall approval ratings.
This is where Putin’s “injury” comes to the picture. This is not the first big PR-mistake his team has made in the last few months. Enough to think about the unfortunate incident in Nizhny Novgorod where angry protesters stormed the Prime Minister, or the ridiculous Lada-trip. And now this black eye. Something is clearly running wrong, we just don’t know what exactly it is. I am inclined to say that we are witnessing another trick, because, obviously, Putin’s team surely did not become that stupid in just some months. Last week’s sanctioned anti-Putin rally in Moscow, authorised by Sergey Sobyanin’s administration adds to this theory. Clearly, the new mayor, who is much closer to Putin’s circles than to Medvedev’s, wouldn’t have taken such a decision entirely on his own.
What is the purpose, then? Could it be that the Russian government only wants to give the world again something to chew on? Maybe. Or is this all part of getting Medvedev ready for re-election? Maybe. Most probably, it seems to me like another camouflage movement. All but real. What I am trying to say here is that this change may as well be a temporary disturbance in the usual way things go. If, however, this process continues, we can only assume that, like all the other things before, this is planned. After all, Putin’s approval rating has a slightly downwards trend, and Medvedev’s has a slightly upwards one. I would not be surprised if the two stabilised somewhere close to each other, even if with a slight advantage for Medvedev right before the 2012 election.
What is essential though, it is if the tandem is approved by voters. Because, if it isn’t clear yet, we are talking about two types of leaders tied together as one here. Two types, neither of which succeeded on their own before, but who, working together instead of fighting each other might as well succeed now. We are talking about Brezhnev and Gorbachev, or, perhaps more expressively, Stalin and Khrushchev working in a team. From time to time, depending on the actual situation or wave of issues on the agenda, one of them should come to the front.
A mastermind knows when to back down in order to keep the upper hand.