As Russia wildfires rage, Putin shows strength, Medvedev tweets
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has taken center stage on the Russia wildfires that have ruined at least 20 percent of Russia's grain crop. President Medvedev is struggling to stay in control.
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Amid the crisis, Prime Minister Putin has been front-and-center on evening TV news broadcasts, whipping officialdom into shape and reassuring the population. Late last week he was seen rushing to the hard-hit region of Nizhni Novgorod, where he pledged to rebuild every destroyed home "before year's end," threatened to fire lax local authorities, and ordered all officials to cancel weekend leisure plans for the duration of the emergency.Skip to next paragraph
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In one weekend news segment, Putin was shown talking by phone with President Dmitry Medvedev – who was apparently sitting in his office – and responding briskly to Mr. Medvedev's suggestion that compensation should be paid to bereaved families by saying, "We did that already."
Experts say that if there was ever any question about who actually rules Russia, Putin's emergence as the key figure in the fire-fighting effort may settle the matter. "Putin is managing this PR campaign in a very aggressive way, because he wants everybody – not just the elite – to know who is master in this house," says Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent political analyst. Medvedev looks too passive by comparison, he adds.
Putin for president?
For his part, Medvedev declared a state of emergency in seven regions and tweeted his sympathy for afflicted Russians, calling the crisis "a terrible tragedy" on the Kremlin's Twitter page. Medvedev has also posted items about the fires on his official blog, but the audience for this is far below that of nightly TV news broadcasts.
"It may be that Medvedev, by distancing himself from the disaster, may suffer minimal losses to his image," says Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the independent International Institute of Political Expertise in Moscow. "Putin clearly bears the blame, unless he can find a highly placed scapegoat to pin it all on, that is."
Most experts say Putin also emerged the winner in the summer's other scandal, the expulsion and exchange of 10 alleged Russian spies from the US. Many now think it all but certain that, when the next presidential polls roll around in 2012, the one and only establishment candidate will be Putin.
"It now looks like the most logical development is that Putin will return as president," says Mr. Petrov. "Nobody is likely to ask Medvedev what he wants."
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