It’s no secret that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev often plays ‘second fiddle’ to President Vladimir Putin. Their relationship is a perfect illustration of how Putin maintains control. For the most part, though, if there is a power struggle between the two, it is kept out of the headlines. Last week, however, it roared back into the papers. Medvedev had criticized a bill, proposed by Putin, that would make it easier to investigate tax fraud. Putin responded by saying that officials who did not agree with him should get out of the government and “go and join the expert community.”
This translation of an article that ran in TV Rain discusses the 7 biggest blows to Medvedev since he started his post as Prime Minister. – Ed.
Ever since Putin has returned to the Kremlin, and Medvedev has returned to the [Russian] White House, the roles in the tandem have been rigidly defined. Rumor has it that Medvedev could not get used to the change in status for a long time, but his wise colleagues convinced him that he had always been number two, and had assured himself an honorable second place in the government hierarchy.
The problem is that Putin never forgave Medvedev for having his own agenda of “freedom is better than non-freedom,” and for the fact that people liked it. Here they’ve come out on anti-Putin protests for already a year now or even more.
Medvedev, of course, is number two. But from the first minutes, the prime minister was told that he could no longer count on any game of his own. Let’s recall the main losses Medvedev has suffered since becoming prime minister:
1. [Former Defense] Minister Anatoly Serdyukov had fought for a gigantic Army budget with Medvedev’s support, but Putin did not forgive this union and got rid of this influential silovik [power minister].
2. Business people close to Medvedev have been removed, dismissed from the government posts or have even emigrated.
The Olympic Committee, after a triumphant excoriation staged in Sochi by Putin, is formally deciding the issue about the dismissal of its deputy chairman Akhmed Bilalov.
3. Vice Premier Arkady Dvorkovich, likely the best known official from the so-called Medvedev team, has nearly lost his post. There are broadcasts on Rossiya TV news programs about the Dagestan mafia which is blowing up Russia with Dvorkovich’s support. There is the public flogging of Yevgeny Dod, head of RusGidro [one of the largest hydroelectric companies] who has been suspected of sympathies to the interests of the vice premier, and not its long-time patron Igor Sechin.
4. Medvedev lost Vladislav Surkov. At first, for his alliance with Medvedev, Surkov was exiled to the White House [government], and then dismissed completely. Recently, Putin magnanimously returned Surkov to power. But now he was placed in the Kremlin, but at the margins; the former manager of domestic policy has now been demoted to an expert on Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia.
5. Putin has nearly closed down Medvedev’s Skolkovo [the innovation center slated to be Russia’s “Silicon Valley”]. He has remained silent while criminal cases have been opened against its officers, and has stripped this platform of its political weight.
6. Even Andrei Kostin, head of VTB Bank, has been forced to get rid of his advisor, Aleksandr Budberg, the husband of Medvedev’s press secretary, Natalya Timakova. Life News, headed by Ashot Gabrelyanov, gets into fights with Timakova now and then.
7. The most powerful warning blow has come from a movie studio that has released two films at once about the failures of Medvedev as president. Medvedev was nearly late to the war with Georgia, and wouldn’t have coped without a kick from Putin. When it came to Syria, Medvedev behaved entirely like a traitor to state interests. The author of the trial-by-cinema is still not known, but the films have been broadly circulated on YouTube.
Political analysts have put out paper after paper saying that Medvedev is not what he once was, that rivals are breathing down his neck, and a short list of his replacements has been created. These include Sergei Shoygu, Aleksei Kudrin, Igor Sechin and Vladimir Yakunin, who choked a deaf man [a reference to a hoax about his alleged resignation]. And there’s even Mikhail Prokhorov, who has been repeatedly proposed by some in Putin’s entourage as a replacement for Medvedev.
All this time, Medvedev has behaved politely and has only once tried to speak out on his own when he declared a new five-year plan for modernization until 2018. To be sure, the meeting of the government took place in the Kremlin, and at the head of the table sat Putin as usual.
The only protest against a Kremlin decision was the one about the “Dima Yakovlev Law” [barring foreign adoptions, named for a Russian boy who died in the US after being adopted by an American couple]. The members of the cabinet one by one protested against the ban on American adoption.
The current case is likely the first in recent times, when Medvedev has openly gone against a Putin initiative. But does the topic sound right? Putin against Medvedev? A crack in the tandem? Medvedev has personal scores to settle with the power ministries. He seriously offended them during his rule, and they have openly demanded revenge.
“Medvedev against the siloviki” is a more accurate formulation. And in that opposition, many tactical unions may emerge. Here the expert Kudrin, who is breathing down Medvedev’s back, is also writing a draft reform to rein in the Investigative Committee. Putin plays the role of umpire in sports by tradition. But in open conflicts that cross over to personalities, Putin always takes the side of the one who refrains from direct attacks. “You shouldn’t offend my siloviki, they’re mine,” that’s what I think Putin said yesterday.