Neither bread, nor circuses

Other News Materials 5 February 2008 12:38 (UTC +04:00)

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Shusharin) - The first impression created by the beginning of Dmitry Medvedev's campaign is that there has emerged a certain distance between him and Vladimir Putin.

The presidential nominee has opened a site where the current president is mentioned very seldom. The media reports, however, that the television part of Medvedev's campaign will consist only of two clips - one will show him with Putin and the other will deal with national projects.

It is obvious that there is a distance between the two, but who is moving away from whom - Medvedev from Putin or Putin from Medvedev? Most likely, Putin is moving away from Medvedev simply because only a stronger man can initiate this. In this case it is completely obvious who is tougher both formally and otherwise.

Outwardly, it seems that the presidential PR campaign has been very quiet after the parliamentary elections. Before them, the president was called a "holy" figure and the "father of the nation;" signs of his historic mission were found in the Russian Orthodox religion, numerology, and astrology.

All of a sudden, everything stopped. The president's most militant and loyal supporter, the Nashi (Ours) youth movement, is dissolving under the guise of reorganization. Needless to say, this quiet atmosphere is in sharp contrast to Putin's thunderous speech at the Luzhniki Stadium.

However, I do not see anything strange in this situation. Moreover, I think that everything falls in line with Putin's plan.

Obviously, circuses have come to an end. The successor is promising bread. He said he will double pensions. Medvedev is doing what Putin has always avoided - making specific promises. This alone is reason enough to stay away from such a nominee, just as from any populist, for that matter. Let him be responsible for what he promises.

This is all true, but I would like to paint a more general picture, or at least try to do this.

What will Medvedev inherit? He will receive a certain structure consisting of three parts. All three parts have weak points, which the successor will have to deal with, or is already doing so.

The most important of these is the simulated model of democracy. Its weak spots have already revealed themselves. It seems that everything is in order and Mikhail Kasyanov is out. But it was enough for Gennady Zyuganov to say that he may decide not to take part in the debates or even the elections, and an informal but still unpleasant problem of the elections' legitimacy emerged. Someone joked on the web - if Zyuganov refuses to take part in the elections, Medvedev will be called the "winner of clowns."

He will not refuse, of course. Zyuganov is a tested comrade and it is always possible to reach an agreement with him. But he has received a chance to bargain, and, frankly speaking, he is becoming more of a clown with each passing year. The Russian Communist Party largely remains a political brand despite his personal features, rather than thanks to them.

The second component of the Russian arrangement is the imitation model of running the country, primarily, the economy. At first sight, this seems nonsense - Putin has been working to consolidate his control over all spheres of life throughout his eight years. But, his efforts have produced a new oligarchy, which is leaning toward solving problems in a heavy-handed way. It is trying to establish control over major corporations. This is personal control in the guise of governmental. The oligarchy is trying to control even some of Russia's regions. Yury Luzhkov, Moscow's Mayor, and Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen President, are major oligarchs who have managed to come to terms with Putin.

This system of management is oriented exclusively to Putin and will not accept any other leader. It cannot be reformed for this reason and can only be disassembled, but this will require enormous intellectual and other efforts.

Finally, the most important part of the system is the market economy, which is making steady headway. The current power rests on it, not only on high oil and gas prices. But here the future president may walk into a trap.

Take pension promises, for one. By May 1st, when the government-corporate agreement on the price freeze expires, the doubling of pensions may not make up for a leap in prices. This is not the only problem. It makes sense to freeze prices only if the government compensates corporations for losses, but our government prefers to conduct explicit conversations about business's social responsibility. If it undertakes something, it will be more in the nature of the Jacobian bread rationing, the Bolshevik surplus appropriation system or the current actions of Hugo Chavez.

As paradoxical as it may seem, this policy may be potentially conducted by a man who is considered a Western-oriented liberal. Circuses have been cancelled and there will be no bread. The nation will have to wait for a new savior who will either replace Medvedev or set up a new configuration of power.

There are all ideological prerequisites for this. United Russia's young supporter - the Nashi movement - has done much for the Russian project. Its site contains accusations of those who love America and Hava Nagila, and appeals to establish an Orthodox Hezbollah. Putin's personal PR campaign has been transformed rather than stopped - a film about his youth has just been released.

So, it seems the most interesting events are still ahead.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of Trend.