Passing the baton

President-elect Vladimir Putin’s decision to transfer the leadership of the United Russia party to his protégé and future Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev doesn’t answer all the questions regarding Russia’s political future. Yet, it does clarify a couple of important short- and mid-term issues.

First, Medvedev isn’t going to be a “technical” prime minister in the sense Putin’s two previous heads of government, Mikhail Fradkov and Viktor Zubkov, were. To be sure, even as Chairman of United Russia, the future Prime Minister Medvedev won’t possess the same level of authority and autonomy that his mentor Putin had enjoyed in 2008-2012. Nevertheless, the combination of the two positions will definitely elevate Medvedev’s status and may help him establish himself as a bona fide second person in the state hierarchy.

Second, some analysts speculated that by offering Medvedev the prime minister position, Putin was simply fulfilling his part of the “swap” deal announced last September; some even predicted that Medvedev’s government wouldn’t last until fall and that Putin was already looking for a replacement. Putin’s decision to charge Medvedev with heading United Russia seems to put an end to this speculation. Of course, as president, Putin can fire his prime minister at any time – and the current Duma will promptly agree. Yet, getting control simultaneously over government, United Russia, and, indirectly, the Duma where United Russia has a working majority provides Medvedev with significant ammunition against his numerous foes among the elites. Far from firing Medvedev within months, the proposed arrangement rather suggests that Putin is willing to keep Medvedev for the whole presidential term. That’s perhaps what Medvedev had in mind when telling in a recent TV interview that the upcoming power configuration is “for a long haul.”

By placing his junior “tandem” partner in charge of government and Russia’s largest political party Putin has done everything at his disposal to let Medvedev become a political figure in his own right. Now, it’s up to Medvedev to prove that he can grow to the occasion.

Getting in order his relationship with United Russia will be important part of this process. In the past, Medvedev criticized the “edinorosses,” in particular, for using excessive administrative resources in the regional elections. Besides, by using liberal lingo during his own presidency, Medvedev was deliberately, if cautiously, positioning himself to the right of the left-of-center United Russia. It was therefore surprising for many to hear Medvedev’s admission – made during a meeting with the United Russia leadership – that he had never been “a liberal” and always adhered to “conservative values.”

There is nothing surprising in Medvedev’s statement. As a true “putinist,” Medvedev has long learned the art of acquiring, dropping or changing ideological “values” for the sake of political expediency. Like Putin, he doesn’t really care about United Russia’s current ideological flavor; like Putin, he considers the party as a commodity, a dispensable tool for stamping executive decisions sent to the Duma. However, given that Medvedev dreams of another presidential term, he needs a political base of his own and will certainly attempt to transform United Russia into a suitable vehicle to presidency. The party chapter – modified in 2008 to accommodate Putin’s becoming United Russia’s leader – gives its chairman essentially unlimited power, especially in the area of personnel decisions. Should the upcoming United Russia congress (scheduled for the end of the month) leave the party chapter unchanged, Medvedev will have all the means to restructure United Russia to his liking.

Putin’s inauguration on May 7 will mark the official conclusion of the “Operation Swap.” On May 8, the “Operation Successor II” will officially begin. With a track record of being a successor to Putin already – and with positions of prime minister and chairman of United Russia under his belt – Medvedev will have all the reasons to consider himself the leading candidate. It’s unlikely, however, that in 2018, simply passing the baton from Putin to a successor will be enough.

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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23 Responses to Passing the baton

  1. An astute analysis Eugene.

    A lot does now depend on Medvedev just as you say. Will he make the most of the room for manoeuvre he has? It worries me a little that he is supposedly judged a bad manager though I wonder whether it is true or whether it is simply malicious gossip that has been spread about him. I never heard that he was a bad manager before he became President, which makes me think that it may not be true.

    I am going to nail my colours to the mast and say that I like Medvedev. I for one wish him well.

    • Eugene says:

      Dear Alexander,

      Regardless of what manager Medvedev is, one thing is clear: he’ll have to deal with two very different and very difficult jobs — to run government and to deal with UR (I am intentionally not saying “reform” as I’m not sure he wants to). For any manager, that’s a lot to handle, especially that he has opponents in both.


  2. Dear Eugene,

    A comment made off topic but arising from yesterday’s events in Moscow.

    This is that the liberal opposition needs to put a clear distance between itself and the likes of Udaltsov and Limonov. Whatever these people are they are not liberals whatever definition of the word one cares to use. Limonov seems to have gone into probably terminal decline but I am alarmed at the attention Udaltsov seems to be getting and at the way he is being allowed to take centre stage at opposition rallies. It’s been obvious to me for weeks that he’s been spoiling for a fight and bluntly he comes across to me as a political hooligan. Doubtless he has his fan club amongst the rowdier section of the capital’s youth and possibly its student community but he is hardly a popular figure and his antics over the last few months show why. People like Udaltsov need to be marginalised not embraced and people like Mitrokhin and (yes) Chirikova need to make it clear that they want nothing to do with him and that he is not welcome at their rallies.

  3. Eugene says:

    Dear Alexander,

    I definitely share your negative attitudes towards Udaltsov: first, I dislike his Stalinist views; second, I detest professional “revolutionaries.” That said — as I think we discussed it before — if what you call “liberal opposition” wants to achieve anything, they should form reasonable alliances. Otherwise, because of their very low numbers, THEY will be marginilized, not leftists like Udaltsov.

    I see no problem in creating tactical alliances between people of different ideological views if they’re united by a common cause, like having honest elections. The other thing is that there must be rules of conduct agreed upon between the parties in advance. From this point of view, if Chirikova and Mitrokhin want to protest along Udaltsov, why not? — for as long as no one throws flyers.

    The real problem, as I see it, is not Udaltsov per se, but the rapid pace of radicalization of the protest movement. And as I said and wrote in this space before, I blame the authority for this as well.

    Best Regards,

    • Dear Eugene,

      It is not Udaltsov’s views that concern me but his conduct. There is no excuse for violence and the situation simply does not merit it. As for the protesters, if they are becoming “radicalised” because they are not getting what they wanted even though they are only in the end a minority then they deserve to be marginalised and will be.

      PS: Viz tactical alliances, one should be careful about those. Let me tell you of the young lady from Riga

      There was a young lady from Riga
      Who smiled as she rode on a tiger
      They returned from the ride
      With the lady inside
      And the smile on the face of the tiger

  4. Eugene says:

    Dear Alexander,

    You might have misunderstood of what I said. It’s the “liberals” who’d get marginalized if they don’t form alliances, and it’s the “radicalized” protesters who, quite unfortunately, are becoming the mainstream of the protest movement. Regardless, responsible authorities don’t play tit-for-tat with their citizens, especially those who’re young and inexperienced; being in power implies not settling petty scores with youngsters, IMHO.

    Re: Udaltsov. You seem to have some evidence that he was violent or incited violence. Share it with me, for I don’t. True, there were anarchists (most likely “limonovtsy”) in the protest crowd, but I don’t see why Udaltsov should be held responsible for their actions. After all, according to the Russian law, it’s the authorities, not demonstrators, who’re in charge for preserving public order during public events, demonstrations included. With so many police and OMON on the streets — and with only 12 metal gates for crowd control — the question is for them, why they let through people with explosives and knives. By oversight?

    As for the tactical alliances, if the US, UK and Russia hadn’t formed a tactical alliance against Hitler’s Germany, the outcome of the WWII — and, incidentally, the course of history — could have been very different. Happy Victory Day!


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  5. Dear Eugene,


    1. I read a report on Novosti yesterday that seemed to say that Udaltsov was at the centre of the trouble. I have also heard that he was at the centre of the sit in that sparked the original trouble. Whether this was so or not there is no doubt that he was at the centre of the trouble at the demonstration on 5th March 2012. Besides I understood that Mitrokhin had criticised him and had held him at least partially responsible for what happened yesterday.

    2. I am not at all sure I follow you about the authorities “playing tit for tat” with young protesters. It seems to me that what happened yesterday was that a group of young protesters tried to break through police barriers to cross a bridge and reach the Kremlin whilst another or possibly the same group of protesters possibly with Udaltsov involved earlier engaged in a sit in near the Udarnik cinema. There were also apparently attempts to set up tents on Bolotnaya Square. The police responded as they would in any country and street fights broke out. No one apart from three policemen needed hospital treatment so the police response was hardly disproportionate. Lukin the Human Rights Ombudsman has said that the violence was pre planned by some of the protesters and if it is true as I have read that one or more petrol bombs were thrown then this conclusion is unavoidable. I gather that everybody has been released and that Udaltsov walked free with a small fine.

    4. My comment above was not that one should not enter into tactical alliances but that one should be careful about doing so. In the case of Udaltsov like Limonov before him, does he really give anything to the opposition and to the protest movement which is worth having? Doesn’t association with him and his ilk do instead more harm than good?

    • Indeed Happy Victory Day!

    • Eugene says:

      Dear Alexander,

      I’m afraid I’m not quite satisfied with your response re: Udaltsov’s guilt. As a lawyer, you know better than me that being at the “center of the trouble” isn’t equivalent to being the cause of the trouble. Besides, we’re discussing Udaltsov’s alleged violent behavior, and all you can incriminate him with is sitting down on the pavement. What is so violent in the act of sitting?

      Also, since when we take Mitrokhin’s criticism as an ultimate judgement of truth? Many people, including Mitrokhin, are now envious of Udaltsov’s sudden celebrity status: in short 2-3 months, “enigmatic” Udaltsov has been on TV more than the boring Mitrokhin for his whole political life. Moreover, Mitrokhin didn’t even attend the protest action; why should we listen to him at all?

      I’m not sure how the police react to erecting tents in the UK, but in the US, tents can be removed from the public space only by court decision. After which protesters move them to another location. Last week, I saw the Occupy Boston tents in Boston, and in March, I passed by the similar tents in DC. No police presence in either case.


  6. Alex says:

    Did you mean that the “baton” being passed was the “democratizator”? 🙂
    After approval of his PM position today, Medvedev should introduce a bill to send the whole Duma on holidays for four years .. This will save money, time and will, probably, even reduce corruption.


    • Eugene says:


      With your question, you reminded me the classics of the Soviet Union education: “What did the author want to say by his novel/poem?” 🙂

      I love your idea, except that Duma’s current term is now 5 years — thanks to DAM 🙂

      Happy Victory Day!


  7. Dear Eugene,

    To answer your points:

    1. The Novosti report I read was absolutely clear that Udaltsov was involved with the group that led the break out attempt and became involved in the clashes with the police. As I have said the fact that petrol bombs were thrown (and I have now seen film of this) shows that Lukin is right and that the violence was pre planned.

    2. Anyway, I think you have misunderstood my point possibly because I didn’t make it clearly enough. I don’t know whether there is a sufficiently strong case in law to bring against Udaltsov though I suspect there is (and there surely is in relation to the incidents on 5th March 2012). Whether or not there is sufficient evidence for a criminal case against Udaltsov is however wholly irrelievant to the point I am making. I am making a political case against Udaltsov not a legal one.

    3. Associating with people like Udaltsov is in my opinion a very bad idea. As you rightly say from a position where only a few months ago he was barely known he has now been allowed to eclipse all the other leaders of the protest movement including even Navalny. Given his frankly disturbing views and his love of what let us euphemistically call “direct action” this is very bad. Given that I would be frankly surprised if Udaltsov commands the support of more than a thousand or so followers and given that he has no electoral support whatsoever (and with his views is not going to get any) and given the trouble that follows him wherever he goes I am totally unable to see the sense of this at a time when the opposition and the protest movement need to broaden their support. What is the sense of associating with such a marginal character and of allowing him to obtain so much prominence when his views and methods must to the overwhelming majority of people be completely repulsive?

    4. On the subject of tents, if they were planted in Britain without authorisation on a public highway or in a public square open to traffic (including pedestrian traffic) the police would be fully entitled to clear them and to prosecute anyone who planted them for the offence of obstructing a highway without first seeking a court order. A court order would be needed if the tents were planted on private property such as for example the forecourt of St. Paul’s Cathedral as happened in the recent Occupy protest in London. Largely for political reasons the police also sought and obtained an order to clear a tent city that had grown up in Parliament Square near the Palace of Westminster but this was because the authorities had tolerated this tent city for such a long time that the police and the authorities presumably felt that a formal order was politically necessary. I suspect a further factor may have been that because of the semi permanent nature of this tent city the police were worried that if the protesters were evicted without a court order they would be in a position to sue the police for illegal eviction on the grounds that they had made the tent city their home.

    • Eugene says:

      Dear Alexander,

      I feel that we have already spent more time discussing Udaltsov than he probably deserves. Let’s watch him: after all, he’s only 34 and, as I learned today to my great surprise, a lawyer.

      The point I’d like to make is different. The attempts to victimize OMON surprise me. OMON is — or at least supposed to be — an elite police group trained (!) to deal with public unrest, even riots. And, I assume, they are properly compensated for the risk. It’s therefore strange for me to hear that they were “provoked,” They don’t have a right to be provoked; it’s not part of their job. As a consultant, I often feel “provoked” by rude or stupid clients, but I never respond in kind — this is simply not what I’m paid for.

      Yes, I do see an asymmetry in what the law enforcement can or can’t do compared to what citizens can or can’t — especially if these citizens in their mass are young people. Whatever you may think about Occupy Something protesters in the US, the behavior of a policeman in Berkley who pepper-sprayed them has no excuse. Such a behavior undermines the state itself.

      But let’s leave alone May 6. Yesterday and today, the police and OMON were chasing people around Moscow, arresting them for reciting the Constitution and simply wearing white ribbons. They even broke in a cafe, trashed it and arrested patrons. Who/what did “provoke” them this time?


      • Dear Eugene,

        The police have a job to do but to suggest that they were “provoked” is absurd. I trust I have never given the impression that that is what I think even if some silly people have suggested it. Apart from the incident in the cafe (about which I have heard only the sketchiest details) their behaviour does not seem to me to have been disproportionate.

        • Alex says:

          Alexander (and Eugene, too )
          My remark about the “baton” in my comment above was originally followed by a large paragraph, which I subsequently deleted . But I will try to reproduce it here.

          I watched several live iPhone “broadcasts” of the demonstration on the 6th of May. and I then watched many videos people made. You know what? I do not approve or defend behavior of some of the “demonstrators” – my impression was that neither did the people on the square. But after watching the OMON behavior, I thought that if I were to come to the next demonstration, I would bring a 3 mm stainless steel wire of sufficient length and explain to the people in the front row what to do with it when OMON decides to “break” the crowd the way they did it.. I am sure people there had even better ideas for the future. Is that what the Russian Government wants? That next time the people would come to the demonstrations fully prepared to defend themselves against an unprofessional, provocative and bulling OMON . The OMON cannot do the job they were asked to do professionally. A single their mistake in a situation like that has a very high cost. They cannot make mistakes – that’s is what they are paid for. They must be publicly punished and retrained. Of course, I don’t know what they were told to do – judging by the events in the following days, and the comments of the “bosses” that OMON was “too soft” , whoever gave the OMON the orders was and is not professionally better.- most likely worse.

          I would like to stress – I do not take any sides here, even though I do have opinions. What I want to see first, is the Russian Government to run the country competently and professionally – even if I do not agree with their “ideology” . Why I want it? Omar Khayyam has a Rubai about the consequences of dealing with idiots – I agree with it 🙂

          But over the last years, what I observe is that UR and Government do more and more foolish mistakes – practically everything they touch now becomes screwed up. They (the UR and the Government) do not know – and worse – do not want to know – how to solve simplest problems. They are no longer fit to govern the country. And the way they – if it were “they” and not just one person – handle the current situation, it soon indeed will be a revolution. BTW – and IMHO- all this recent demonstration activity is the direct result of “Churification” of the last Duma elections much more than it was the result of any “western help. Whether Churov himself should be blamed – I am not sure at all. After all somebody ordered him to become a “wizard” (or should I say a “warlock”?)


          • Dear Alex,

            Interesting that you say this because having also watched the film of the protest I came to the opposite conclusion, which is that the OMON behaved with reasonable discipline and proportionately in the circumstances. Of course my standard of comparison is the conduct of the riot police in Britain and Greece, where the riot police seem altogether less disciplined and more violent. I saw nothing for example that remotely resembling “kettling”, a tactic the British riot police now routinely use, whereby they encircle protesters and hold them effectively prisoner in the same place for several hours at a time refusing even to let them go to service their physical needs.

            • Alex says:

              Well, maybe I have too high expectations? 🙂
              There were at least several episodes when individual or small groups of OMON was engaged in what was clearly personal vendetta. On one occasion I remember particularly well a very young OMON soldier suddenly running into the crowd to hit another youth and then running back – apparently he did not like what he heard about himself.That young demonstrator was hospitalized.

              BTW – about the difference of perceptions – to me the tactics you ‘ve just described looked far more civilized than the example I gave above. It is non trivial (bring nappies if one is really serious about political activism in Britain? 🙂 ) . How lawful it is – another question ( I mean , this is effectively a detention and which case there are certain obligations by the authorities). Generally, OMON should be engaged only when there is a clear danger to the the public in general. Protection of higher officials is handled by their personal security. (and btw their good mood – such as not permitting people to tell the officials what they think about them in one or another form -should not be protected at all – Public Service it is , not Public Overlords .

              I cannot see why someone should be able to forbid other people to be where they want to be, or express their opinion about whoever, or wear white ribbons – or, maybe , condoms – on their jackets if they want to – it is (supposed to be) their country after all – or is it?



              • Dear Alex,

                Clashes between riot police and protesters are an ugly business whenever and wherever they happen. “Kettling” is only one example of some of the methods the British police use and some of the others are every bit as brutal as anything that happened in Moscow on Sunday. By the way there is nothing civilised about “kettling”. Remember that it affects people who may be demonstrating peacefully and who are not involved in any violence or who may be there by chance but who nonetheless get trapped inside the police ring. It is also dangerous, mentally and physically, to keep people confined for an indefinite amount of time in the open air often at night and in bad weather.

                Having said this, I am not in the business of defending OMON, which is perfectly able to look after itself. The only further point I will make is that the British media, which is not usually restrained in condemning brutality by the Russian police, has shown little inclination to do so on this occasion. This to my mind tends to confirm my own impression, which is that the police response on Sunday was by international standards unexceptional.

                • Eugene says:

                  Someone has made a shrewd observation about OMON. Usually, they are sent to the streets with transparent shields but often without batons. They say, that in this way, it’s easier to disperse the crowd.

                  In contrast, on May 6, OMON was WITHOUT shields, but WITH batons — which obviously made them more vulnerable to assault but more capable to inflict maximal personal damage.


                • Eugene says:

                  Dear Alexander,

                  Does it look like “kettling” you mentioned? 🙂



                  • Dear Eugene,

                    On the evidence of the photograph the short answer is no.

                    The essence of “kettling” is that it imprisons large groups of protesters over a long period usually several hours. OMON’s objective on Sunday was to disperse the protest as quickly as possible. Even if OMON is prepared to “kettle” protesters there would have been no sense in doing so on Sunday.

                    Wikipedia has a good article discussing the tactic and providing examples for its use.


                    Notice the descriptions of some of the activities of riot police in various countries. As you can see there have been instances in Britain of people being killed over the course of clashes with the riot police. Thankfully that has not so far happened in Russia at least not over the course of the recent protests and the Wikipedia article makes no reference to OMON having used “kettling” in Russia.

                    Having said this, I want again to emphasise that I am not in the business of defending OMON. It is not a defence to any unacceptable tactics OMON might have used or might one day use that equally bad or worse things happen elsewhere. That the level of violence has so far thankfully been on a small scale is due as much (actually much more) to the protesters, the vast majority of whom want to protest and have protested peacefully, as it is to the authorities and OMON.

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