Medvedev, Putin to Switch Places Next Year

Vladimir Putin will return to the presidency in 2012 after serving as Russia’s number two for a single term.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin listens to a question at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 28, 2009
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin listens to a question at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 28, 2009 (WEF/Monika Flueckiger)

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin told his United Russia party on Saturday that he will stand for the presidency in 2012 which would return him to the post he vacated in 2008 after serving the maximum two consecutive terms.

Incumbent Dmitri Medvedev is expected to become prime minister after the power switch next year. Putin said to be confident that his protégé could “create a new, effective, young, energetic management team and head the government of the Russian Federation.”

Putin told party members in Moscow that the two men had reached agreement on who should hold which post “a long time ago, several years back.” Speculation abounded in recent months nevertheless about who would seek United Russia’s presidential nomination for March’s election. The party dominates Russian politics and is certain to deliver the next government.

A constitutional amendment recently enacted allows Putin to serve two new terms of six years each instead of four so he could be in power until 2024.

Although Putin’s decision seems to confirm the belief long held among Kremlinologists that he was in charge all along, Medvedev is still an important part of the tandem.

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, Medvedev’s Kremlin banned an opposition party from participating in the upcoming election this summer. Corruption is still endemic. Moscow remains firmly in control of those parts of the economy it cares about. Medvedev hasn’t significantly changed any of that which is why Putin had him elected in the first place.

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