Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev said he wants a second term, but won’t stand against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March 2012 elections because their rivalry would hurt the country. He made this statement during an interview with the Financial Times broadcast on 20 June by Russian television stations. Inevitably, there has been lots of speculation and theories being talked about in Moscow about what the Russians call the “Match 2012 problem,” including the possibility that both leaders could run against each other in order to kind of give greater international acceptance of a Putin Presidency if he were to win. “Despite the theories, it really comes down to which of the two men will run. We never expected that there would a competition between the two because that would be very divisive amongst the Russian oligarchs and Russian elites,” Chris Weafer, Russian strategist at Dutch financial major ING in Moscow, told New Europe on 22 June.
Putin has said that there is no need to make a decision until close to the end of the year although Medvedev would actually like the decision made sooner. The assumption is that it’s very much Putin’s choice. Does he want to return to the Presidency or to maintain the current tandem ?
Putin wants to remain in charge. “He sees himself very much as the director of operations, as the guy calling the shots and he has made it very clear over the last couple of years that he sees the job as far from finished. He doesn’t want to go anywhere,” Weafer said.
The argument for keeping the tandem is that Medvedev, picked by Putin to succeed him as President in 2008, is clearly a much more acceptable face to foreign investors. People in the West see Medvedev as the face of reform and progress. “Given that Russia now needs to attract a substantial amount of foreign investment and the involvement of foreign companies and foreign experts in the Russian economy, it clearly would be a lot easier if Medvedev was the front man for the country,” Weafer said. The tandem is good for the economy, good for business, and good for investment.
Medvedev tried to charm investors at the annual St Petersburg conference on 17 June. He has made fighting corruption and cutting the Russian state’s role in the economy one of the cornerstones of his Presidency. Regardless of who serves as the next President, investment will flow into Russia after the elections if the global economy improves, Weafer said. “The reason investors are holding back in Russia right now has more to do with the global backdrop than domestic although the elections provide a really handy excuse for people to sideline Russia until the middle of next year,” he said. “We’re not likely to see any major cross-border investment flows until next year in Russia, but my guess is that if the rest of the world settles down and we don’t have any escalating crisis, then we’ll start to see a higher level of investment coming in to Russia from the second half of next year, in other words after the election. And I think we’ll see that regardless of whether it’s a Putin presidency or a Medvedev Presidency although clearly we see more enthusiasm and faster flows under Medvedev than Putin,” the ING Russian strategist said.
The ideal for Putin would be to maintain the current tandem. “The problem for him is the next Presidency is six years and Medvedev can only run for one more ... if the economy struggles and public support for the government starts to slip away, then there is a danger that Putin may be forced out or he may be elbowed at least out of the way during the next six years and may not be able to retain a position of power in six years anyway,” Weafer said.
Putin has made it clear he doesn’t like the limelight that comes with the Presidential duties. He seems much more comfortable out of that role but with his hands very firmly on the levers of power. “It seems to me that if he had a magic wand, which means that if he could be sure he would be able to retain his position of power not just for the next six years but for the next 12 years, he would much rather do that in the Prime Minister’s office rather than in the Kremlin seat,” Weafer said. Putin’s got to ask himself one question : “What’s the risk of losing power or being elbowed out of power during the next six years or 12 years if the current tandem stays ? Does he feel lucky ?” Well, he has until the end of the year to decide.