It has taken me a while to react on the disappointing state of the nation address of President Medvedev, and the reason is that for a long time I hadn’t quite gotten the idea behind it. As we all remember, the whole story about the speech started out quite promisingly. There were plenty of opportunities for Medvedev to make a giant leap towards his second term. First, there were speculations about a planned reorganisation of Russia’s federal subjects that would have created the geographical prerequisite for modernisation. Then, there was this carefully built up notion about a gradual political modernisation of Russia. It started in Yaroslavl then continued with the “projections” of Vladislav Surkov about the backlash of United Russia, which was echoed – albeit in a more cautious manner – by Medvedev himself (and seemingly embraced by the party as well). Then, by a sudden turn of events, the President deems it more important to speak about children’s rights (besides the usual mantra). Maybe he simply had too much to talk about?
Brian Whitmore on The Power Vertical suggested that this was yet another example of the pendulum game the “dynamic duo” of the tandem has been playing in the last few years. “If it looks orchestrated, that is because probably it is” – he tells. I think his usually clever arguments are not so well-founded this time. As I blogged earlier, – and as I commented on RFE/RL – the tandem being the reformer Gorbachev and the repressive Brezhnev at the same time is a good idea as long as you always have someone to push in the foreground. But raising expectations and then deliberately disappointing an audience is something which is really hard to understand.
I usually agree with assumptions that Putin and Medvedev are on the same side, but that does not necessarily mean everything is smoothly orchestrated. On the contrary, working in the tandem could have indeed brought some instability into the system on the very simple assumption that having two leaders with seemingly different policy profiles gives more opportunities to the Kremlin’s factions to attach political justification to their conflicting private interests and to fight it off as if it was a democracy. It gives them a far greater field of attack as well. In addition, upcoming elections always tend to destabilise systems like Russia, even if they are as carefully managed as tandemocracy.
My suspicion that it was not at all deliberately thought out by Putin was underpinned by today’s press release about the Prime Minister surprisingly defending Medvedev’s ideas on political pluralism, saying that United Russia should learn to work in a more competitive political environment. I don’t think that “pluralising” or “modernising” Russian democracy (whatever you may like to call it) would be against Putin’s interest. Surely, it wouldn’t be a real pluralisation anyway. We all agree, after all, that someone like Vladislav Surkov can’t be seeking a western-style democracy, don’t we? This – together with the geographical reorganisation, which I’m definitely sure will take place – is intended to change, or rather to restore the balance within the inner structures of United Russia, so to make it capable to meet the challenges of the next decade (the first one of which will be the 2012 presidential election).
To cut it short, I’m more or less sure that some people in United Russia started to feel insecure, and for some reason the tandem had to realise that they might have went just too far too early. What prompted this recognition is not clear at all, but it is pretty obvious that it’s because of this that the speech had to be changed at the last moment. This one is, to me, the only plausible explanation – otherwise, as I said, I cannot see why on Earth would the tandem waste a communication strategy that was set up deliberately.
The belly of the beast started grumbling.