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Putin vs. Medvedev in 2012

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The duopoly that has been Russian leadership for the past two and a half years may be cracking open finally. When Vladimir Putin stepped aside and tapped unknown Dmitry Medvedev to become the new Russian President people started questioning who really controlled Russia. Anyone who had studied Russia in any depth however knew that Putin was still in full control of the country. Medvedev had no power base to speak of and had no way of challenging Putin’s dominance of the Kremlin, exactly the reason Putin personally picked him to become the new President.

Fast forward a couple years and the landscape is finally starting to shift ever so slowly. Cold War era style tea leaf reading of the Kremlin has been revived in efforts to determine the leadership structure of the new power  Russia has become. A duopoly of power in Russia has never lasted very long over hundreds of years of Russian history. While the old Kremlin found balance with multiple power structures behind the scenes the new Russia depends on the media generating support for political maneuvers. Putin dominated media reports for years while unfriendly broadcasters were converted or closed during his years as President. However the last few years Russians have seen more Medvedev than ever before and some of them are starting to buy his vision of a modern and less corrupt country.

In a shockingly open letter, Dr. Sergey Kolesnikov, a rather unknown Russian businessman, took direct aim at the split between Putin and Medvedev. His very public open letter at www.corruptionfreerussia.com is one of the boldest moves against Putin in years. In his letter Kolesnikov details a well known but well covered fact of Putin’s years as the leader of Russia. There seems to be quite a lot of cream being skimmed off the top of Russia’s economy as the price of strong leadership. Of course most stoic Russians wouldn’t even pause to read Sergey’s letter because of its obvious nature. Everyone in Russia knows you have to pay a little extra to get things done, even with Putin. The interesting fact is less about the letter but more about who the letter was sent to…Dmitry Medvedev.

Over the past year Medvedev has being quietly using his slice of media time to differentiate himself from Putin’s power structure. His repeated calls to reduce corruption and open up the political system to debate are obviously being heard at some level of the Russian psyche. Sadly Mr. Kolesnikov will likely come to realize the control Putin still wields in Russia despite already losing his job. Alexander Litvinenko suffered from an almost impossible to obtain and fatal poison polonium despite living in London. However Kolesnikov has left a detailed account on one way Putin has been skimming the country. The construction of the Putin Palace on the Black Sea appears to be funded via a 35% skim of various Russian government projects. Sadly when the 2009 economic collapse happened the government projects were halted while the Putin Palace continued it’s magnificent construction. How this information will be used in the run up to the 2012 election will show some of the power flowing behind the Kremlin political façade.

Clearly nobody really expects Medvedev to open an investigation into Prime Minister Putin a la Khodorkovsky and Yukos. He simply doesn’t have the power base for such an open move. His massive and upsetting overhaul of the military has ensured Medvedev can’t challenge Putin’s secret service power. However he may have the financial power base to actually challenge Putin in the 2012 election given the importance the media plays in the new Kremlin. There may be enough lost cream to upset more than a few oligarchs come 2012. If that is the case and Medvedev is going to make a serious and honest attempt at re-election then this little known Russian businessman has handed him the perfect media weapon. Paying for corruption in Russia is like paying taxes in other countries. Medvedev’s anti-corruption platform is simply the Russian equivalent of any countries conservative lower taxes promise. It’s an effective political promise known and loved world wide. If Medvedev uses this political weapon against Putin in typical secretive Russian fashion it will show a genuine attempt at re-election.

Unfortunately Mr. Kolesnikov didn’t hold off and make his revelation much closer to the election in 2012. It’s a mistake of timing that often happens in very young countries still coming to understand the democratic process. Putin has more than enough time to recover and control the situation. But the seeds of change sown by the colorful Boris Yeltsin have obviously sprouted in a few places despite Putin’s best efforts to reverse and uproot them. Even if Medvedev doesn’t have the necessary support to effectively challenge Putin in 2012 the future for Russia is a little greener today than it has been in years. And as long as there is hope for spring to arrive Russians have proven they can survive the harshest winter!

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About Noel Trotsky