I completely agree with the thoughts of Ivan Rodin published in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta about the PR-stunt of Dmitry Medvedev, or, more specifically, his team. For those who do not know about it: the Russian President vetoed a law that would have banned people already undergoing proceedings for disorderly behaviour from organising protest rallies. This was Medvedev’s third veto overall, and the first “real” one, given that the first two was put on laws containing technical problems or wording mistakes. One thing is undoubtedly clear about this story: it is not about the freedom of assembly or the rights of the opposition. The State Duma is most likely to change the wording of the law a tiny bit and then to send it back to the President. If not, Russia’s government will still have plenty of tools in its hands to supress voices criticising the system too loudly. Period. However, the whole media attention surrounding the veto, the fact that this is one in a recent series of similar measures and the obscurity around the veto’s birth make this usual PR-stunt a very interesting thing to observe.
In the last few months Dmitry Medvedev embarked on modernising the Russian political system, at least, that is what he is constantly saying and broadcasting to Russians. As I have blogged earlier, I am sure that this is only a mask to cover up for something. The sacking of Georgy Boos (and replacing him with a less visible, just-as-loyal guy), the subsequent sacking of Yuri Luzhkov (and bringing a complete stranger to Moscow), the Yaroslavl speech (with a definition of democracy very familiar from Soviet times), allowing Strategy 31 to hold a (tiny) meeting (while conducting another trial against Hodorkovsky) and now this veto make up a nice little pattern of fake modernisation. Something that seems to be progressive but is always followed by a not-so-visible backlash. On the other hand, the intensity of the media portrayal of this “potemstroika”, if I may call it this way, might as well hint that Medvedev is really up to something.
The question is: is he really?
We all know that there is no individual Medvedev or individual Putin in the Russian system. The tandem makes up a weird creature that – as I wrote before – wants to be Brezhnev and Gorbachev, Stalin and Krushchev at the same time. Medvedev and Putin go great together, which is why there is no need to change the lineup. Simultaneously, nonetheless, there are people behind the two leaders who have their own plans. Rodin argues that the whole story about the law was orchestrated by Vladislav Surkov, the “grey cardinal” of the Kremlin. Moskovsky Komsomolets outlines a comlicated story about parties of the fake opposition playing games with the draft law, which, practically, means again Surkov. Surkov, even though he used to be a top aid for Vladimir Putin, is now widely regarded as the “brain” of the “civil circle” behind Medvedev (that is, libertarian politicians, businessmen and thinkers who never held a position in the KGB or the FSB). So, while it would be a completely plausible explanation that the tandem (or Vladimir Putin) has been pushing Medvedev into the foreground with such initiatives, we cannot exclude the possibility of this being rather an action of the “civiliki” who use Medvedev as their representative. Even more so, as, apparently, Vladimir Putin has started to rebuild the KGB, something that would seem an immediate and serious threat to Surkov and his associates.
In the foreground, obviously, nothing is likely to change. Even if Surkov wants to show off the more liberal side of Medvedev, he has already outlined several times in public why he is not a fan for liberal democracy. A “potemstroika” is always a potemstroika. This is all about strengthening positions either to prepare for or to avoid something bigger to happen. Last time a “clan war” broke out in the Kremlin, it resulted in massive replacements (let’s just think of the Tambov Gang and Tri Kita) and a surprise presidential candidate to cool down hot heads. I do not know whether the same will happen this time, but one thing is for sure: the mastermind behind the tandem simply cannot allow one thing to happen: imbalance. The question is: how far will both (or all the three, four…?) sides go in this cold war of clans?