Saturday, 27 November 2010

Putin is still the Czar

Christian Caryl has a good piece in Foreign Policy about the "power struggle" between Medvedev and Putin:

Politicians and pundits won't stop telling us that Medvedev and Putin are at odds. Keep dreaming.

Joe Biden has got it all figured out. In a round-table discussion last week with a handful of reporters and columnists, the U.S. vice president suggested that the Obama administration's nuclear arms reduction treaty, New START, and its broader aim of "resetting" relations with Russia could be a means of strengthening Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the expense of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. "The centerpiece of where Medvedev is, is this reset," Biden said. "And [START] is the crown jewel inside that reset because it wasn't Putin pushing this -- it was Medvedev."

Well, good luck with that. Two big problems with this approach present themselves. First, if the past 20 years has shown us anything, it's that issuing Washington brownie points to a Russian politician is a great way of ensuring that person's ultimate marginalization and irrelevance. If you're Medvedev, getting yourself publicly identified as the man pushing a pro-Western agenda is going to be a huge hindrance, not a help. Does Biden think that Russians don't read the papers?

Second, Biden's remarks assume that Medvedev and Putin are participants in a power struggle, each maneuvering at the expense of the other. I can see why the vice president might think that Russia's leaders are engaged in full-fledged rivalry; so many people seem to be taking that as a given these days. But I just don't think it's true.

Russia's cozying up to NATO is another good example. Medvedev's rhetoric may be notably calmer than Putin's, but in terms of substance Russia's current president hasn't given away anything that the previous one didn't. Rhetoric counts, for sure. Yet earlier this year Medvedev signed off on Russia's official military doctrine, which declares NATO to be the No. 1 "military danger" to the Russian Federation. Nor have we seen Medvedev back down on Russia's stationing of military forces on Georgian territory. So I'm not sure there's quite as much daylight between the president and prime minister on foreign policy as many people are assuming.,0

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