President Vladimir Putin used the state’s control of all television in Russia to urge Russians to turnout and vote for his chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev. Putin is hoping that high election turnout will give Medvedev’s move to President some democratic credibility. Nobody should be fooled.
Besides Putin’s control of all Russian media, the election results have been further fixed by the removal of any serious challenger. former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, and Garry Kaparov have all been maneuvered off the ballot. Candidates from the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party remain on the ballot, but only because they pose no real threat.
Medveddev has made some indications he is open to reform, but as Chairman of Gazprom’s board he used hard-line approaches when dealing with foreign countries and expanded Gazprom’s reach across Russia’s economy. More importantly, Putin has clearly indicated he will still be running the show. At a February 14th press conference he said that the Cabinet, which will be head by Putin in his new title as Prime Minister, will have “the highest executive power in the country.” He continued: “There are enough powers to go around … [Medvedev] and I will divide them between ourselves.”
Putin believes that if Medvedev is viewed as a more liberal independent force, the West will be more likely to allow Russian companies to expand investment in Europe and other Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) countries. The U.S. and its allies must watch the Putin-Medvedev tandem carefully as they pursue confrontational policies including opposition to Kosovo independence, opposition to missile defense in Poland, abrogation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a heavy-handed approach to Ukraine and Georgia, and anti-Western propaganda at home.