The 2012 Decision

I can't deny that professional tandemologists who interpret every public address by the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a sure sign of his intent to run for president in 2012, are at least consistent.  However, being consistent doesn't necessarily mean being consistently right.  Putin is known for his habit to never disclose his plans until the very last minute.  And what are the tandemologists endlessly telling us?  That Putin — again! – fleshed out his plans for the next year.  To the folks who believe they can read Putin's mind, I'd like to remind a famous line by the former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: If I turn out to be particularly clear, you've probably misunderstood what I've said."

Besides, is there any reason not to trust Putin's own words?  Whatever one might think about him, lying for the sake of political expediency isn't in Putin's character.  During his presidency, Putin has maintained that he wasn't going to change the Constitution in order to run for a third term.  At the same time, he kept repeating that sometime in 2007 he will endorse a “successor.”  This is exactly what happened: in December 2007, Putin threw his weight behind the current president Dmitry Medvedev.  So, when Putin says that he'll make "the 2012 decision" after consultations with Medvedev, I'd take his words at face value: regardless of the exact time Putin makes up his mind, the Decision will be presented to the country as a joint Putin-Medvedev's decision. 

Consequently, when I read that "Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's speech to the State Duma…had the ring of a political manifesto ahead of the 2012 presidential elections," I wasn't convinced at all.  Here is why.  On April 15, Putin asked the leadership of the United Russia party to focus on the upcoming December Duma election.  Yet on April 20, when speaking to the Duma, he supposedly presented a "political manifesto" for the presidential election almost a year away from now (March 2012).  Does anyone see logic here?  I don't.   Besides, if for whatever reason, Putin did want to present a presidential campaign "manifesto", why would he choose such a boring venue?  He could go on TV and hold one of his trade-mark "town hall" meetings; instead, he used his annual address to the parliament (with deputies caught sleeping during the speech) that no one outside the Duma, except for the tandemologists, listens to.  Does anyone believe that Putin lost his political senses?  I don't.

That said, I do see elements of a "political manifesto" in Putin's Duma speech: he indeed articulated the contours of his United Russia party's platform ("modernization without experimentation") for the next Duma election.  In so doing, he chose both perfect timing (approximately 4 months before the official start of the campaign) and place (the floor of the Duma itself). 

It appears to me that Putin likes the way the whole election cycle was organized back in 2007 – with United Russia first winning the parliamentary election and then nominating a presidential candidate – and wants to repeat the pattern in 2011.  But this poses a serious problem for President Medvedev if he runs for re-election.  As one of the few Russian politicians who understand the real value of election platforms and electoral slogans, Medvedev wants "the 2012 decision" to be announced as soon as possible, ideally, in the coming weeks.  He realizes that a priori, his modernization agenda ("modernization through liberalization") lacks broad support among the paternalistically-oriented Russian electorate.  Medvedev therefore needs time to mobilize disciples and sympathizers of his vision of Russia's future.  He also needs time to create an election campaign team capable of transforming an abstract idea of modernization into a set of campaign slogans appealing to the voters.

Starting this process in December will be way too late.  Medvedev will have no other choice as to use the election campaign machinery provided to him ("forced on him" would be a better term) by Putin and United Russia.  The “edinorosses” made it already very clear that they prefer having Putin as their presidential candidate; however, they will certainly nominate Medvedev if told so by Putin.  But for Medvedev, there will be a price to pay for United Russia's support, and pieces of his modernization program will be used as a currency in this transaction.   

Medvedev does have a choice: if the Decision is postponed until December, he may decide not to run for re-election at all.  Only 45 and in excellent health, Medvedev has a luxury to sit out a couple of election cycles while waiting until the public demand for his modernization supply becomes sustainable.  His recent comments about future life outside the Kremlin show the common sense, self-confidence and intellectual maturity.  Should he focus on Skolkovo, as he hinted he might, any future success coming out of this enterprise will serve as an investment into Medvedev's political future.  In parallel, Medvedev could create his own political party (or take the helm of the liberal Right Cause) and then criticize his "successor" from the sidelines.

Such Medvedev's move will completely turn the tables on Putin.  Putin will either have to find a suitable "third" candidate or, worse, run for president himself.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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14 Responses to The 2012 Decision

  1. Mark says:

    Amazingly enough, and perhaps illustrative of how often our minds run along the same lines, I just put up a new post on the 2012 elections not a half-hour ago. Or perhaps it’s just that the subject is so hot right now. Anyway, I wish I’d read this one first.
    Mine takes issue with Grigorii Golosov, of Open Democracy, who also believes Putin will be the candidate and that the fix is already in. I must admit, the possibility looks much greater now than it did a year ago, and surveys suggest the voting public would be extremely supportive of a Putin run. Interestingly, Golosov has addressed one of your points – he suggests the reason a decision hass not been announced and will not anytime soon is because subordinates will stop listening to the “lame-duck” authority figure who is not standing for election.
    There are a couple of holes in that. For one, both might run again as a tandem (advance assurance by presidential-candidate Medvedev that Mr. Putin would stay on as Prime Minister); anyone who had thumbed his nose at Putin in the belief he wouldn’t be around in a year would live to regret it. For another, the reaction of either man to a subordinate who started getting lippy as soon as the decision was announced would be to remind him or her, “At the moment I am still President/Prime Minister, and your ass is outside looking for a job”.
    I believe now that Putin will run, simply because – as you have stated – appetite for Medvedev’s modernization agenda has cooled. Polls consistently give Putin higher job-approval ratings than Medvedev: maybe they should switch it up, and Medvedev take the PM spot for a term.
    Anyway, Open Democracy’s position, like much of the western press, is that the whole thing is rigged so that nobody else can win. And that’s true – Putin cunningly ran the country properly as President, presiding over growing surpluses and declining inflation, so that in the end there was only one choice. The sneaky dog.

  2. Eugene says:

    Mark,
    Yes, I read Golosov’s piece. Actually, Golosov’s suggestion on the “lame-duck” situation belongs to Putin himself, not to Golosov. And I completely agree with you that this is completely ridiculous: in essence, Putin is admitting that he can’t control his own subordinates. (That said, I don’t expect much critical thinking from Open Democracy’s authors; they are selected by other criteria…)
    It was always clear to me that Medvedev’s liberal modernization doesn’t enjoy the same publis support as Putin’s social-democratic paternalism. However, in the situation when either man can win the presidency without any real opposition from the “outside”, the final decision with regards to 2012 belongs to elites. For some time, I felt that Putin would support Medvedev’s position and try to line up the elites accordingly. Recently, I began to feel that Putin, while really supporting Medvedev personally, doesn’t support his modernization platform. Hence my hypothesis that Putin is trying to “mold” Medvedev in his (and his UR) preferred shape. Postponing the Decision time is just one of the ways of avieving that.
    Somehow, I doubt that Medvedev will assume the PM position should Putin become president. I feel that Medvedev gave the interview to Dozhd for a reason. There he mentioned a lot of potential “post-Kremlin” opportunities (Skolkovo, academia, media), but government was characteristically ignored. Call it crazy, but I have a gut feeling that if Medvedev realizes that he’s up to the second term as a “junior partner” in a tandem, he won’t run. His wife won’t let him…
    Best,
    Eugene

  3. Vinikr41 says:

    “It could act on television, spend one of well-known« conversations with the people », and instead has chosen the annual report before parliament (deputies slept during its performance) which isn’t listened behind walls of the Duma by anybody, except тандемологов”
    You aren’t right, Evgenie! Meanwhile we still listen to V.V.Putin’s performances. But you are right in other that D.Medvedev is still insufficiently popular in the people independently to stand in Presidents for the second term without a sheaf from V.Putinym. Meanwhile it for Russians – a talking head. In its luggage a little notable the people of affairs. It is thought to me that there will be a third candidate. V.Putin has knowingly joked: “It will be pleasant to you.”

  4. Vinikr41 says:

    “Он мог выступить на телевидении, провести один из своих знаменитых «разговоров с народом», а вместо этого выбрал ежегодный отчет перед парламентом (депутаты спали во время его выступления), который не слушает за стенами Думы никто, кроме тандемологов”
    Вы не правы, Евгений! Пока что мы ещё слушаем выступления В.В. Путина. Но Вы правы в другом, что Д. Медведев ещё недостаточно популярен в народе, чтобы самостоятельно баллотироваться в Президенты на второй срок без связки с В. Путиным. Пока что он для россиян – говорящая голова. В его багаже мало ощутимых народом дел. Думается мне, что будет третий кандидат. Не зря же пошутил В.Путин: “Он Вам понравится.”

  5. Mark says:

    Yalensis suggested on my blog that Medvedev would be “put out to pasture” running….Skolkovo. That’s the second time (counting your mention above) that I’ve heard his name mentioned in connection with running Skolkovo.
    Maybe there will turn out to be something to it. He’s interested in techtoys enough to probably take it seriously, although there’d be stuff (lot of biomedical research, that kind of thing) that’d be over his head. That said, Putin wouldn’t understand it either, but at least he knows how to listen critically to his briefers. Medvedev still has a little too much of the “I hear you, but I know best” mentality. Interestingly, that was a good deal of George W. Bush’s problem, too.

  6. Eugene says:

    Vinikr41,
    Я не хотел принизить значение речи Путина, не говоря уже о том, что совсем не хотел обидеть его сторонников🙂 — сам я, например, всегда читаю путинские речи (ну, разве что цифры иногда пропускаю). Просто я не верю, как и сказал, что Путин начнет “избираться в президенты” до того, как объявит свое решение — совместно с Медведевым.
    Да, жаль, что Медведев, судя по всему, не пользуется достаточной поддержкой, чтобы стать президентом без Путина. Но опять же, по моему разумению, Россия достаточно зрелая страна, чтобы не иметь президентов “по принуждению.” Пусть Медведев станет первым настоящим оппозиционным политиком и поборется за президентское кресло “нормальным” образом, без дяди.
    А относительно третьего кандидата, это не о нем Путин сказал “Он вам понравится.” Он сказал о ВЫБОРЕ. Так что третим кандидатом может оказаться и женщина. Маловероятно, конечно, но здорово!
    Приходите еще.
    С уважением,
    Евгений

  7. Eugene says:

    Mark,
    Both Yalentis and I apparently use the same source: Medvedev’s recent interview with the TV station Dozhd, where he discussed his options “post-Kremlin” (including “running” Skolkovo). He sounded very mature and without any false bravado or bitterness. Looks like he really considers leaving the Kremlin as an option.
    I do like Medvedev and feel that he would be better president than Putin. Nothing wrong with Putin, of course: he was great president of his time. But time is different, and Russia does need “liberal experiments” to move forward. The problem with Putin seems to be that he wants to change Russia without changing the status quo.
    Best,
    Eugene

  8. Mark says:

    I don’t have any problem with liberal experiments that are Russia’s idea. What I don’t care for so much are liberal experiments leveraged with western pressure via liberal opposition groups, and only one side receiving western media coverage.
    I don’t have anything against Medvedev, either; he seems a nice enough guy. But he’s too easy to make fun of. Nobody makes fun of Putin, and if they try, it doesn’t get any mileage. Putin singing “Blueberry Hill” somehow came off cool, it didn’t look like he was trying hard to be something he’s not. Medvedev spasming to “American Boy” was pretty much the polar opposite.
    I think Putin is aware Russia can’t remain static and move forward at the same time, but he’s not dealing with the same set of conditions other countries do. Other countries claiming to want democratic reform are offered help reaching that end state, no strings attached. Russia will get western help only under certain preset conditions; one, it will have to lumber itself with a hobbling set of internal circumstances that will keep it occupied forever with internal security problems – say, independence for the Caucasus, perhaps reversal of its recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence as well, relinquishing them to Saakashvili’s tender mercies. Two, the leader must pour ashes on his head, don sackcloth and abase himself before the world. He must confess to his country’s cruel and rapacious trampling on human rights, and admit that Russia is far behind the west in every respect and could never catch up on its own. In short, an offer of help in achieving democratic reform could never be seen as having come about through a meeting of equals Then, and only then, would the west offer genuine assistance, albeit with close on-location western supervision.
    My problem with Medvedev is he just might be prepared to make that sacrifice.

  9. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Mark,
    I’m not going to even try to tilt your apparent personal preference for Putin over Medvedev:)
    But I feel you overemphasize the difference in political views between the two. It was actually Medveded who insisted on the speedy recognition of Abkhazian and SO independence; Putin was reportedly more cautious. And it was reportedly Putin who lead the policy of reconciliation with Poland (with some inevitable pouring ashes over his head). So what I’m trying to say is that there is absolutely no evidence that Medvedev is going to sacrifice any vital Russian interests.
    Now, it’s hard to object that Putins is a better singer than Medvedev…
    Best,
    Eugene

  10. Mark says:

    Ha, ha!!! I’ve never heard Medvedev sing, so I’ll take your word.
    I wasn’t aware that the recognition of South Ossetia/Abkhazia was Medvedev’s initiative; if so, it reflects well on him. And I was annoyed at Putin for abruptly closing the door on the whole Katyn thing, because there were plenty of opportunities to tamper with the official record, and there appeared to be some evidence of that having taken place – instead, Putin said (in effect), “Russia was responsible; case closed”.
    I agree Medvedev is unlikely to sacrifice any vital Russian interests, and further believe he would not be allowed to do so if that appeared to be his plan, because he doesn’t have a powerful-enough organization in blind obedience to him. What concerns me is Russia’s image, as I believe it’s easier to write Russia off as a big joke with Medvedev running things. But if he were President while Putin stayed on as PM, I don’t see any reason it would not work well, as both have their strengths. But if it has to be one or the other, I’d back Putin.
    Medvedev has not yet learned not to trust the west. That doesn’t mean Russia cannot do business with the west, because it must in order to move forward (either that, or an all-their-eggs-in-one-basket deal with China). But the west cannot be allowed to gain control of state industries; not under the current climate, because the aim is still to weaken and contain Russia.

  11. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Mark,
    I’m well aware of the image Medvedev is often projecting: weak, naive, overtrusting, etc. My response to this: Medvedev has been at the top of the Russian government for more than 10 years, including a stint of Gazprom chairman. In so doing, he’s had as many figths — including victorious ones — as anyone around the Kremlin. The very fact that he was chosen over Ivanov shows Medvedev’s ability to affect things. Do you really believe that a weak, naive and hapless man can do all that?
    As for his image abroad, your suggestion that he’s viewed as a joke surprised me. In 3 years, Medvedev’s done more for improving Russia’s stance in the world than Putin for all his 8+ years.
    That said, everything boils down to the fact that without explicit support from Putin, Medvedev can’t be re-elected. Too bad, but this is the fact of life. (There are many great people in the U.S. who have no chance of becoming U.S. president. Yet, this reflects badly on country, not on them.)
    As for Putin, I have a number of problem with him, but my major is his belief that Russia needs “10 stable/quiet years” to become successful. Is he serious? Who can give Russia 10 (or even 5) quiet years?
    Just couple of years ago, the price of oil of $70 per barrel was enough to keep Russian budget balanced. Today, Russia needs at least $95 to have 2% deficit — and ~$115 to keep it balanced. Where will these “10 stable years” come from?
    Best,
    Eugene

  12. Mark says:

    I could be wrong, but I believe the search for “10 stable years” is the driving force behind Putin’s efforts (not exclusive by any means, I’m sure) to transition to a less energy-dependent economy while banking the proceeds of the current energy-dominant economy and accelerating efforts toward WTO acceptance (which, I suggest, is long overdue).
    I think it’s fair to say elements of western policymaking are equally determined that Russia will not enjoy 10 stable/quiet months, never mind years.

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