The Concealed Battle to Run Russia

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, his wife Svetlana Medvedeva, 
and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at an Orthodox Easter celebration 
at Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow, April 4, 2010

Despite their professed mutual respect, Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, and his prime minister, Vladimir Putin, apparently cannot agree on one question—which of them will be running for the Russian presidency in March 2012. Over a year ago Putin told foreign journalists that he and Medvedev would at some point “sit down and come to an agreement” about who would be the presidential nominee of United Russia, the overwhelmingly pro-Kremlin party, in the next election. (He repeated the same promise in a recent interview with Larry King on CNN.) But that moment has yet to come, and in the meantime, both men are provoking speculation about their possible candidacies.

Putin’s publicity stunts last summer—including a 1,300-mile drive across Siberia in a Russian Lada (which reportedly broke down twice)—suggested that he was already campaigning. And at the Valdai group, an international forum, in September, he made a pointed remark about FDR’s four terms as US president having been legal under the American Constitution. For his part, Medvedev has said more than once that he did not rule out the possibility of a second term (which, beginning in 2012, will be six years instead of four). His press secretary, Natalya Timakova, was more emphatic, saying in September that Medvedev could not complete his program of “modernizing” Russia in just one term. In an October interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Igor Yurgens, a top presidential adviser, went so far as to insist that Putin should take himself out of the running to make way for Medvedev to carry out his programs. Yurgens acknowledged that Putin deserved “honor and praise” for stabilizing the country when he served as president in 2000–2008, but went on to point out that “if stabilization goes on forever, it leads to stagnation.” Medvedev himself warned in a video blog on November 24 that Russia was showing signs of “deadly” political stagnation because of the overwhelming dominance of one party.

As it has in earlier contests over leadership, the country’s all-powerful Federal Security Service (FSB) is bound to have a crucial part in deciding who will be the next president. (This agency made the original arrests in the Khodorkovsky case, discussed below, which has great significance for the presidential succession.) This is why The New Nobility, which explains how the FSB has evolved over the past decade into an organization with enormous political and economic influence, is such an important and timely book. The authors, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, who wrote the book in English, are a husband-and-wife team in their mid-thirties, with a well-established reputation as Russian investigative journalists, specializing in security and intelligence, a dangerous subject in Russia. (They told me when I met them in Moscow in 2008 that they had been summoned…

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