When Dmitry Medvedev called a major press conference last week, analysts buzzed about whether the Russian president would challenge his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, by announcing that he would seek reelection in 2012. Medvedev skirted the question, however, differentiating himself from Putin on some issues but, in Time's estimation, generally looking like a "lame duck" courting Putin's all-powerful endorsement. Now, this morning, The Australian, citing "highly placed sources," is reporting that Putin has decided to run for the presidency. If Putin, who has already served two six-year terms as president, does indeed run, what would it mean for Russia? Here's what analysts are saying:
- Potential Power Struggle: Sources tell The Australian that recent public disagreements between the two leaders (Medvedev, for example, has spoken out against those who hold "power indefinitely" and expressed more support for the NATO-led intervention in Libya than Putin) have made Putin question Medvedev's loyalty, while Medvedev is "reluctant to step aside." One Kremlin source says "it's the classic tale of the pupil trying to overtake his master" but another argues that the power ultimately resides with Putin: "Medvedev can't stop Putin from coming back. And Putin wants to be president again."
- No American-Style Competition: Evgeny Gontmakher, a board member at Medvedev's think tank, tells Time that while "there was this idea that Medvedev could land out of thin air and introduce American notions of competition into the Russian political system," the President has no political base. Putin, meanwhile, has his hands on the reins of the dominant--if increasingly unpopular--United Russia party, and recently created the All-Russian People's Front, an alliance of labor unions and civil society groups, in what Time calls an "obvious pre-election maneuver."
- Different Domestic Agendas: Medvedev, The Daily Mail notes, "projects himself as a youthful, technologically aware, economically aware candidate who many credit with helping Russia's financial situation. Putin, meanwhile, is well liked by the more right-wing and older voters and has portrayed himself as a no-nonsense action man." Paul Gregory at National Review argues that if Medvedev wins reelection, "Russia will tilt in a slightly more pro-Western, pro-rule-of-law, pro-democracy direction." If Putin becomes Russia's next president, "we can expect more of the same. Russia will be a brutish bully on the world stage. Political opponents will continue to be beaten. Corruption is likely to grow." Importantly, Gregory adds, a growing number of Russians believe Russia is moving in the wrong direction, though the winds of public opinion only mean so much. The election, he writes, will still be "resolved behind closed doors," as Russia's future hangs in the balance.