Medvedev slams Putin's 'inexcusable' Libya 'crusade' comments
The sharp exchange of words on Monday reveals what some Russia experts say is a growing rift between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.
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"This is not a real conflict between Medvedev and Putin," says Alexei Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information, an independent Moscow think tank. "It's like Medvedev is Putin's lawyer, he follows him around and cleans up his speech.... Basically, it just means the tandem is working as it was designed. The West sees the good Medvedev trying his best, while other constituencies are reassured by Putin."Skip to next paragraph
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Bad move by Medvedev?
Mr. Mukhin points out that if Medvedev had been aiming to make a public break with Putin, he could hardly have chosen a worse issue. An admittedly unscientific online poll conducted by Russian blogger Semyon Petrov currently shows 88 percent of respondents opposing Western military intervention in Libya, while just 6 percent are supportive.
If it does come to a showdown, Putin would seem to hold all the cards. He is leader of United Russia, the party that dominates virtually all legislatures in Russia, from municipal to national level. He also appears close to top business leaders, does most of the hands-on contact with officialdom, and consistently enjoys a higher public approval rating than the president.
Medvedev's vision of "modernizing" Russia appeals to liberals and well-educated young people, but does not seem to play well with wealthy oligarchs whose main business is resource extraction or with the vast majority of ordinary Russians outside of a few major cities, experts say.
Moreover, critics complain, whenever Medvedev has taken a rhetorical stand in the past against corruption, electoral dirty tricks or human rights violations, he has seemed unable – or unwilling – to follow through with any concrete action.
"There are differences between Medvedev and Putin, and they are only now reaching the public space," says Alexei Makarkin, director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. "But I wouldn't read too much into it. They still seem to take decisions together, and will probably be able to arrange between themselves who's going to be the next candidate for the Russian presidency, just as they said they would."