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The Russian tandem, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev relaxing together (photo:dpa)

Geopolitics: Guessing game for the Russian tandem's future

Speculation is rife and Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are keeping people guessing. They are the tandem at the top of Russian politics who will decide the future. GIS expert Professor Stefan Hedlund looks into his crystal ball.

THE peculiarly opaque nature of Russian politics has given rise to a veritable industry of, at times, very fanciful political commentary.

In the Soviet days it was known as Kremlinology, a pseudo-science of sorts which purported to be able to divine changes in the top political leadership by reading tea leaves to learn the future.

Speculation again was rife about what gambits might be deployed to ensure he would not have to leave power

Speculation in the turbulent days of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency at first concerned what the man at the top might be up to and, when his health began to falter, it turned to what might be done to preserve him in power.

One of the main credits normally added to the political account of Russia’s prime minister Vladimir Putin is that while president he restored political stability and predictability.

But, when the second term of his presidency was drawing to an end, speculation again was rife about what gambits might be deployed to ensure he would not have to leave power. The Russian constitution only allows two consecutive terms so he would either have to change the constitution or find some other arrangement.

Bowed out

The actual outcome was that, at the eleventh hour, Mr Putin bowed out, anointed his protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, as his successor, and expressed a humble hope that the new man might perhaps consider his benefactor for the post of prime minister.

In March 2008, Russian voters were allowed to go to the polling stations to confirm what had already been decided.

It was quite an event, representing something which had never really happened before in Russian history, namely a system of power-sharing at the top. Or, was it all just for show?

Speculation has been intense, with analysts looking for even the most minute signs that the ‘tandem’ is failing, that one or the other side is about to take over. Given the overriding focus on stability, on keeping the respective praetorian guards of the two men at the top in rough balance, many such signs have been deliberately planted, to continue the guessing game.

Line of division

As Mr Medvedev’s first term in office is now, in turn, drawing to a close in 2012, we may conclude that the arrangement has worked out much better than most predicted.

The line of division has been kept deliberately fluid, with both men at times making minor incursions into the turf of the other, but on no occasion has there been any serious challenge.

The whole point of the exercise is that little, if anything, will be known about what is really going on. There will be no firm rules, and no organised way of calling the rulers to account.

Everything is meant to be fluid, based on essentially unpredictable personal relations. There is nothing new in this. It is, on the contrary, symptomatic how often reference keeps being made to Winston Churchill’s classic quips about Russia as ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,’ and about Russian politics as bulldogs fighting under a rug.

The whole point of the exercise is that little, if anything, will be known about what is really going on

The only thing which can be said with any degree of certainty is that before the end of the year Russia’s next president will have been selected, and in March 2012 the Russian electorate will once again be allowed to go to the polls to confirm the decision.

Vladimir Putin

  • Born Leningrad 1952
  • Law degree from Leningrad State University 1975
  • Began working for the KGB 1975
  • Posted to East Germany (German Democratic Republic) from 1985-90
  • Appointments in St Petersburg, close to Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, from 1990-1997
  • Called to Moscow by President Boris Yeltsin 1997
  • Deputy Head of the Presidential Staff, and then Head of the FSB, the Federal Security Service July 1998
  • Prime Minister August 1998
  • Acting President December 31 1999
  • Elected President March 2000
  • President 2000-08
  • Prime Minister 2008-present

Dmitry Medvedev

  • Born Leningrad 1965
  • Law degree from Leningrad State University 1987
  • Defends dissertation in 1990
  • Teaches Roman and Civil Law at St Petersburg University until 1999
  • Began political career as campaign manager for Mayor Anatoly Sobchak
  • Served as campaign manager for Putin in 2000 presidential election
  • Appointed chairman of Gazprom Board of Directors in 2000 (until 2008)
  • Presidential Chief of Staff 2003
  • Appointed First Deputy Prime Minister 2005
  • Elected president March 2008
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