Tomorrow is an historic day in Moscow as for the first time a popularly elected Premier will replace the previous incumbent at the end of his term. The spectacle is likely to encompass a closely managed piece of political theatre redolent with pomp and circumstance. The new President will be inaugurated in the Andreyevsky Hall of the Kremlin’s Great Palace, a former tsarist throne room. The historical undertones are not accidental.
Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev will become President of the Russian Federation and will swiftly appoint the outgoing President, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, as his Prime Minister. It is the dynamic between these men, and the way in which the ‘tandem’ they are to form is to operate, which is preoccupying western commentators. The consensus is that in the short-term at least V.V. Putin will retain enormous influence and the replacement will remain dependent on his predecessor’s endorsement in order to underpin the authority of his presidency.
Certainly Medvedev derived his huge mandate in March from Putin’s patronage and a commitment to the outgoing Premier’s programme. Although a radical change in direction is unlikely, there is an opportunity for a different tone to be established in relations between Russia and the West, should there be a will in that respect. Similarly the new President has an opportunity to demand more efficiency from state owned energy giants. Analysis has focussed on the likelihood that Putin will retain a degree of power, and that analysis is probably correct, but that does not mean that Russia’s governance will not change with the arrival of Medvedev.
There will not be a wholesale decampment of constitutional power or even de facto power from the President’s office to that of the Prime Minister, but there remains likelihood that Putin’s presence at the White House may soften the stranglehold on power exercised by the President. Sean’s Russian Blog points out that for the first time since Boris Yeltsin moved to weaken the Duma, that a Russian Prime Minister will truly exercise his constitutional right to select a cabinet. He observes that ‘diarchy is better than autocracy’. If Putin’s Prime Ministership causes power to be shared more equally amongst Russia’s institutions should the west disapprove simply because the impulse is his desire to retain influence?