Analysts Say Medvedev-Putin Job Swap No Surprise
Russian political experts say the announcement that Vladimir Putin will run for president in next year's elections while Dmitri Medvedev will become prime minister in a new government took no one by surprise.
''People have been puzzling over what was going to happen, knowing that it would be between the two of them for some time, and a lot of people for sometime have thought Putin intended to come back," said Robert Legvold, a Russia expert at Columbia University. "Remember two years ago when they extended the presidential term [from four to six years], the assumption was that had been pushed through so that Putin could come back even earlier than a regular constitutional election. So it's been around for some time.''
Many Russia analysts say the job swap between Medvedev and Putin transforms the March presidential elections into a farce.
Photo: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wave during a United Russia party congress in Moscow, September 24, 2011.
But Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, looks at it from a different angle.
''I don't think that they are any more or less of a farce than they would have been," he said. "Remember, the problem here is not that you have Putin running or not running - or Medvedev running. The problem is that you don't have full access to participatory political resources for all of the political forces in society.''
Analysts say over the years, the Russian leadership has consolidated its power by controlling most of the media and stifling political opposition. That is why experts say Putin is expected to win the election and probably be re-elected six years later, keeping him in power until 2024.
''The kind of power that he exercises with or without a formal office hasn't existed since Stalin," said Matthew Rojansky. "Putin has this level of cult of personality and political power that he exercises just through his personality that's unlike anything else.''
Many analysts say Putin is very popular throughout Russia.
But Robert Legvold says the Russian government is not.
''It may be one of the reasons why he's resuming the presidency because I think he hopes that he can turn his personal popularity into support for the regime, for the government and for the policies that it is pursuing," he said. "Because there is quite a difference in what the polls show us in people's attitudes toward him personally as opposed to the political environment or the political situation in Russia.''
In the end, many experts, including Matthew Rojansky, believe the two men work as a team.
''Tandem is the right word for the system. I think Putin at some point in 2007 [as president] said 'I need a crutch here, I can't do all of this myself. I need for public relations purposes, for management purposes I need a loyal servant,'' said Rojansky. "And I think Medvedev became that guy and I think they work as a team. It's not a team of equals, but I think it's a team. And so the fact that Medvedev sat in the Kremlin for the last four years, I think is relatively less significant than the fact that he was a member, he was the junior partner in the tandem, and he will remain that.''
Analysts say the Putin/Medvedev team faces some daunting tasks ahead such as modernizing the country's institutions, opening up the political system and fighting corruption. But many experts question whether the two men will tackle those issues because they really haven't done so up to now.