There’s a good chance that Dmitri Medvedev will stand for reelection next year while his predecessor and former mentor Vladimir Putin stays on as prime minister. The reason is simple — the condominium is working very well for the both of them.
Medvedev last month virtually ruled out a democratic competition between the two Russian leaders, saying that he would find it “hard to imagine” him and Putin running against each other. Such a leadership race, he added, could be “harmful” and “detrimental” to their “goals.”
Dmitri Trenin explained last year how both men complement one another. Whereas older Russians, reminiscent of the Soviet days of global power, long for what Trenin described as “the preservation of a paternalistic state” and see in Putin the strong man needed to guide them in difficult times, the nation’s youth and middle class are hungering for more inspirational leadership. “Enter Medvedev. His Internet surfing, compassionate and generally liberal image helps recruit a key constituency — those beyond the reach of Putin himself — to Putin’s plan.”
To dismiss Medvedev as a mere Putin puppet — a constitutional bridge between Putin’s second and third presidential terms — would be both unfair and wrong. […] Conversely, portraying Putin as “a man from the past” and Medvedev as “a hope for the future” exaggerates the differences between them and omits the more important factors that unite them.
For all his talk of democracy and reform, Russia under Medvedev last week banned an opposition party from participating in the upcoming elections and propped up a small faction led by a Kremlin friendly oligarch instead — “Right Cause,” a pro-business platform for, indeed, reform. Corruption is still endemic. Moscow remains firmly in control of those parts of the economy it cares about. Medvedev isn’t going to change any of that which is why Putin chose him for president four years ago.
All the while, everyone knows who is truly in charge when it matters. It is why Foreign Policy‘s Steve LeVine suggested this week that “Putin doesn’t need to convince anyone.” He may continue to hint at a presidential run for several more months but eventually, LeVine predicts that “he will, for the good of the nation of course, step aside (technically, that is) and maintain the status quo. The system works the way it is.”