A split in Russia’s ruling tandem?

The Guardian (London) has boldly broached the subject of who will run for President in 2012. Recent comments to the affirmative by President Medvedev was surprising, apparently even to Prime Minister Putin.

Medvedev election

In saying that “I am not ruling anything out” the young President caused Mr.Putin to step in quickly, explaining that he and Medvedev would “figure out between ourselves” what the future would hold. Interestingly, Medvedev didn’t comment afterward.

Last week however Medvedev said, “I am ready to work in a different job. I do not want to look into the future … but I am ready to work at any post. The president’s job is difficult, the premier’s job is also difficult. The main thing is to be useful to the nation.”

As the Guardian reported, President Medvedev’s position is still not clear in the minds of Russian voters. Medvedev, who served in St. Petersburg as Putin’s former aide and campaign manager, is seen as riding shotgun, not in the drivers seat.

It is Putin who controls the country’s ruling political party, United Russia. Medvedev has little power base inside the party elite. According to a September poll by the Levada Centre, only 20% of Russians believe Medevdev operates independently of Mr Putin.

Others see things differently. Moscow Times analyst Vladimir Frolov wrote that “Despite assurances of political and personal closeness, they already have ideologically diverging teams who would hate to see their boss yield the right of way … Putin is already in full campaign mode. Medvedev is busy building his own support base and projecting the image of the nation’s moderniser and agent of change.”

Medvedev may only have a shot at an independent presidency if Putin’s star shines less brightly. That is a possibility when looking at Russia’s mismanaged, mostly state-controlled economy and its over-reliance on energy exports. Fortunes could change for the prime minister as unemployment soars and retail sales, industrial output and wages continue to fall.

Chechnya and Georgia could be time-bombs, ticking along as Russian voters prepare for the 2012 elections. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this summer, Joe Biden, the US vice-president said of Russia, “They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”