Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who's On First?

To keep the friendly debate on Russia going, I wish to respectfully disagree with anonymous with regards to power in Russia. Anonymous believes that fully recognizing Medvedev would increase his domestic image as a powerful president and would undermine Putin. Anonymous also made a historical comparison to post-Revolution Russia in 1917, when there were two power centers in Russia: the provisional government (run by Alexander Kerensky) and the Petrograd Soviet (controlled by Lenin). Anonymous believes that if we had thrown our weight behind Kerensky, we could have seriously eroded Lenin's influence.

While certainly a plausible counterfactual, I, as a fellow student of history, find the comparison to be seriously lacking. Comparing the power struggle in 1917 Russia to a struggle for power between Putin and Medvedev simply doesn't work. In 1917, Kerensky and Lenin had emerged from a country ravaged by both revolution and war and were both trying to consolidate their power. Today, however, Putin has already consolidated his power. He served as President for 8 years and is still the face of Russian politics. Putin was highly visible in both the August war in Georgia and in Russia's response to the financial crisis. I don't have an in with the siloviki in Russia nor am I an expert on Russia, but I haven't gotten the impression that Putin is going to ride off into the sunset anytime soon.

Furthermore, anonymous's assertion that the proposed constiutional change extending the Presidential term in Russia from four years to six years was to keep Putin from returning to power quickly is wrong in that, if passed, it will not affect Medvedev's current term but go into effect for the next President. The six-year term was recently approved by the lower house of the Russian parliament and is currently waiting to be approved by the upper house.

There seems to be no rational reason for Medvedev to extend the Russian Presidential term limit to six years less than one year into his own term. Perhaps he's merely paving the way for Putin to return to power. Although Putin has served the maximum of two consecutive terms, there is no constiutional barrier to running for a third non-consecutive term. Were Medvedev to suddenly vacate power call for another election, Russians could soon be chanting "12 more years!".

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