On Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev forced Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin to resign.
Medvedev’s harsh treatment of Kudrin was a response to the statement Kudrin made over the weekend. Following the announcement of Vladimir Putin running for president in the upcoming presidential elections and Medvedev’s future job as the prime minister, Kudrin said, “I do not see myself in the new government. I think that those differences of opinion that I have [with Medvedev] will not allow me to join the government.”
Rumor has it, however, that there was more to Kudrin’s statement than a simple disagreement. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov commented, “It is possible that initially Kudrin aimed for the position of prime minister, hence his demarche.” Whether or not Kudrin’s ambitions were the cause of his criticism, Medvedev had little choice but to force a confrontation to avoid being perceived as a weak leader.
Just a day earlier, Putin’s press secretary reacted to Kudrin’s statement in a much milder manner—after all, Kudrin has a history of disagreements with Medvedev and the United Russia Party as a whole. This suggests that the final decision came from Medvedev, not Putin.
Kudrin’s expertise and reputation have been instrumental to Russia’s economic progress in the 10 years he served as the minister of finance. Currently, there is not a viable replacement for him. Economic experts in Russia and abroad responded negatively to the news and predicted a backlash from the markets.
Under a less competent economic leadership, Russia will be more vulnerable to the impeding economic crisis, and investors will be more wary of a government that has received a vote of no confidence from one of the world’s most acclaimed ministers of finance—its own. Because of this, some predict that Kudrin is too valuable to Putin to simply let go; there may be a peaceful resolution of the scandal pending.
Regardless of whether Kudrin stays, the conflict exposes weaknesses in Russian leadership.
Kasyanov and the number three on the Russian Forbes list, metals magnate Mikhail Prokhorov, both see the Kudrin affair as a sign of upcoming changes at the top. Prokhorov predicts a polarization of the elites and emergence of new political ideologies. However, such change, if it happens, is long-term and uncertain. And for now, Putin remains the only undisputed political power broker in Russia.