Tue, May 03, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Possible Medvedev-Putin rift appearing in Russia

The Guardian, MOSCOW

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is pushing to extend his tenure in the Kremlin against the wishes of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a senior politician from the country’s ruling party said.

Member of Parliament Konstantin Zatulin, with United Russia, which dominates parliament and is headed by Putin, said Medvedev’s allies were waging a campaign to undermine the prime minister behind a public facade of unity between the two men.

Until recently, it was widely assumed that Medvedev would not run in presidential elections next March, so that Putin could return to his old job and serve two more terms to 2024. Most analysts had presumed that Putin would put himself forward, while Medvedev would bow out meekly after a single term.

However, Zatulin said in an interview that the president’s aides were jockeying to keep him in the Kremlin by eroding Putin’s support in parliament.

“Medvedev wants to stay, he has broken the agreement and now Putin will have to persuade him to back off,” he said.

His words highlight a deepening rift between Russia’s ruling duo. Putin has emphasized his credentials as a conservative statist who rejects “liberal experiments,” in what analysts interpreted as a bold pitch for the presidency. -Medvedev, by contrast, has pushed his image as a tech-savvy modernizer and anti-corruption crusader.

While Medvedev has no party, Putin leads United Russia, which he uses to exert control over parliament, regional leaders and the bureaucracy. The party said Putin is its preferred candidate and it would consider supporting Medvedev only if the prime minister does not run.

Medvedev, on the other hand, wields clout through his huge presidential administration, and via influential aides who can manipulate party politics and state media.

“Medvedev has decided to put himself forward [as a presidential candidate]. He feels inspired and he senses a certain support,” Zatulin said.

Asked if Putin and Medvedev might go head to head, the politician replied: “Yes, I think so.”

Other observers are also putting their money on Medvedev as the preferred candidate, though most of these think he will stand unopposed. Medvedev took up his post in 2008 after he was endorsed by the outgoing Putin, 58, who had spent eight years in the Kremlin, but could not stand for a third consecutive term.

Putin, a former KGB officer, then stepped into the prime ministerial role, from which he has appeared to take the lead in Russia’s ruling tandem, known collectively to wags as either “PutiMed” or “MedvePut.”

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