Medvedev’s assertiveness troubles Putin
Published: December 30 2008 17:51 | Last updated: December 30 2008 17:51
It was an innocuous sounding comment in what appeared to be a routine television interview. But in the six days since Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, described his feelings about taking the oath of office in May, the corridors of power have been buzzing.
“The final responsibility for what happens in the country and for the important decisions taken would rest on my shoulders alone and I would not be able to share this responsibility with anyone,” Mr Medvedev told an interviewer.
For a normal president in a normal country, such a remark would have been a statement of the obvious. But to a select few, it was a “dog whistle”, a message audible only to those Mr Medvedev wanted to hear.
Usually when discussing such matters he stresses his “consultation” with Vladimir Putin, the prime minister and former president, who all but installed Mr Medvedev in his job and is thought to take most of the big decisions. But this time Mr Medvedev stressed that he was the single constitutionally empowered decision-maker.
Kremlin watchers say this assertiveness seems to be part of a new pattern, with Mr Medvedev appearing frustrated that, in spite of his constitutional power as commander in chief, he is stuck in a subordinate role.
“An apprehension is growing on both sides, particularly the Putin side,” said Dmitry Simes, head of the Nixon Centre in Washington, who spent last week in Moscow.
“No one is quoting Putin as saying anything . . . But several of Putin’s associates are uneasy about his [Medvedev’s] new assertiveness.”
Mr Simes said Mr Medvedev had summoned cabinet members and given instructions. “Clearly it was Medvedev reaching out to members of the cabinet on economic issues which normally would be considered Putin’s prerogative.”
A Putin adviser said Mr Medvedev’s remarks in the interview demonstrated a “cavalier” attitude. Mr Simes said: “Medvedev sounded very self-confident. He was not very deferential.”
Personal relations between the two men are warm, but most attempts by Mr Medvedev to pursue independent policies have been thwarted. Anti-corruption measures he championed were changed by Russia’s usually supine parliament in October. According to Russian press reports, plans by Mr Medvedev to appoint independent judges were thwarted by Putin allies.
Mr Medvedev’s big legislative success has been a constitutional change to lengthen the presidential term from four to six years, which has sailed through the approval process. The reason? “Everyone understood that this was Putin’s idea,” said the Russian-language version of Newsweek
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre think-tank, said: “I don’t think he [Medvedev] is amused that. . . he is regarded as a junior partner.”
However, the economic crisis could test both men. Lilya Shevtsova of the Carnegie Centre said: “They both understand that the. . . system of power depends on them getting along.”
Dec 30 04:08 PM US/Eastern
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday signed into law constitutional amendments extending presidential terms from four years to six, the Kremlin said, following a high-speed approval process.
A Kremlin spokeswoman confirmed to AFP that Medvedev had approved the amendments, after they were announced in early November and pushed through the national parliament and all 83 regional assemblies in less than two months.
Analysts have speculated the changes could be designed to pave the way for a return to the presidency by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who left the Kremlin in May but is often viewed as continuing to wield true power in Russia.
Last month the Vedomosti daily newspaper cited two Kremlin sources as saying that Medvedev would resign soon after the approval of the amendments and that Putin would then run in a presidential election in 2009.
Critics have criticised lawmakers' haste in approving the amendments, which are the first change to Russia's post-Soviet constitution since its adoption under former president Boris Yeltsin in 1993.
The amendments sailed easily through both houses of the national parliament, which is dominated by United Russia, a pro-Kremlin political party whose chairman is Putin.
Only members of the opposition Communist Party, which has a minority in the parliament, voted against the changes. Communists have complained that the changes are part of an "authoritarian" trend in Russia.
The United Civil Front, an organisation led by former chess champion and bitter Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov, said after the parliamentary vote that the changes would "establish a dictatorial regime in Russia."
Medvedev, who took over from Putin in May, has argued that the amendments will improve political stability.
He has said the changes will not apply to his current term, which is due to last until 2012, and would only affect the winner of the next election.
The amendments also extend parliamentary terms from the current four years to five and include a provision for the government to report to parliament on a regular basis.
The amendments still need to be published in an official government newspaper to come into force.