Many noticed how the finance minister Aleksey Kudrin has become an interesting figure of Russian politics recently. I myself have blogged about him earlier, voicing my opinion that Kudrin might be the public face of Kremlin-style liberalisation in an attempt to safely link the “civiliki” to Putin. Now that Kudrin again voiced the need for political liberalisation at another investment forum this week, Brian Whitmore suggests that Kudrin may step into public politics as a leader of the Right Cause party. Speculations about this have been around for a while, so there is definitely something planned. Such an enigmatic person as Kudrin will probably not become, all of a sudden, a loose cannon. If it’s planned though, it seems to confirm my earlier theory about the integration of the liberals under the leadership of a strong ally of Putin. But what does it mean for Putin, Medvedev and most of all, Kudrin?
Speculations about Kudrin changing parties are not entirely new. A month ago the weekly Argumenty Nedeli published an article entitled “The ruling parties are preparing a horse. A Trojan one” which already suggested Kudrin planning on assuming the leadership of Right Cause. They argued:
“Therefore, the Krasnoyarsk demarche of Kudrin is the first step of his going over to Right Cause, or even assuming the leadership of the party. Clearly, he would have to resign from the ministry and the civil service by doing this, even if now this may look quite incredible. However, this resignation is indeed expected in April or in May.”
The article suggests that Kudrin and Right Cause might as well deprive United Russia from its constitutional majority in the Duma, becoming the third largest group after the Communists. From that position, Kudrin could be the “troublemaker” of the Duma, constantly demanding a higher retirement age and less state spending. At the same time though, he could remain a secret ally of the government. Of course, these predictions are quite vague and uncertain. At the same time, they are worth noting, all the more because, apparently, Kudrin chose to maintain this direction. The fact that not only Kudrin but the Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov and the Presidential Advisor Arkady Dvorkovich – three very important faces of the reform agenda – have been asked to join and they haven’t said no, underscores that someone is trying to assemble liberals into one political group. And who else than Vladimir Putin would have the power to do this?
I think sometime last year there was really some discussion about taking United Russia closer to modernisation, thereby securing that things don’t slip out of the tandem’s hands. That resulted in a failure: liberalisation and United Russia just don’t go well together. There are simply too many of the siloviki and local strongmen in the ruling party to the liking of liberals, which makes the reforms implemented through United Russia impossible. Moreover, the March elections confirmed that United Russia will not be able to remain a strong and effective power tool for five more years, and also that there is place in the political arena for one more party offering a reform agenda.
Another very important question is whether Kudrin and the liberals are meant to remain in opposition or not, in case of Right Cause making it into the Duma. I think the beauty of this whole thing lies in the numerous possibilities it opens. If the government chose to continue the careful liberalisation it started, Putin could set up a coalition government of Right Cause and United Russia, institutionally separating liberals from hardliners. In the case of Putin reassuming the presidency, Kudrin might even be appointed Prime Minister (although this would undoubtedly stir up tensions between clans, but couldn’t be ruled out in a more distant future). In case of United Russia choosing to implement a more “conservative” agenda, Right Cause could be kept aside in the opposition, voicing the need of reform but otherwise remaining loyal to Putin. Either way, Russian politics would seem more democratic, and reforms would become more efficient and probably less risky. At the same time – as AN put it – the US would also be happy to see “their man” leading a reformist party in the State Duma.
At the same time, a coalition government by definition would be more shaky and more difficult to manage. A task like this calls for a strong leader. Which tells us that Kudrin going over to Right Cause might as well support “Plan A”, Medvedev continuing as President and Putin as Prime Minister.