Putin, Medvedev spar ahead of 2012 polls

15th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Long dismissed as a puppet of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev this week made perhaps his boldest attempt yet to demonstrate he was his own man.

His declaration that he will soon announce whether he would run for a new Kremlin term was seen by analysts as a major move in a stamina-busting presidential election campaign but also drew a rebuke from Putin.

The next day, Putin bluntly responded that there was nearly an entire year to make that announcement and the government needed to work without distraction until then.

Medvedev -- who is on a trip to China this week -- apparently decided not to put additional strains on his relationship with Putin and backed off.

After his talks with the leaders of the world's top emerging economies at the resort town of Sanya in the southern Chinese island province of Hainan, he spoke for television cameras.

But he never addressed the question that is on everyone's mind -- why Russia's ruling tandem cannot even agree on a date to announce their decision for their election -- or any issue related to the polls.

Analysts said that Putin does not want to become a 'lame duck' and had to rein in his protege.

"Putin had to resort to his old style as if nothing has happened, but actually it has -- Medvedev has shown himself to be an independent politician," political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told AFP.

"But if Putin did not answer he would have allowed to think of himself as a 'lame duck," his team would have stopped being taken seriously and would have become a doormat according to the laws of Russian bureaucracy. He cannot allow that to happen."

Russia is heading for presidential elections in 2012 and both the 45-year-old Medvedev and his 58-year-old mentor Putin did not rule out standing.

But with less than a year remaining before the polls neither one has said who will run and analysts have in the past weeks said the men should make their plans public so as not to keep the political and economic elite in limbo.

Putin was in Ukraine for talks the day Medvedev made his surprise announcement on Tuesday and did not speak with reporters afterwards after failing to persuade Kiev to join a Moscow-led customs union.

He also made no grand declaration for Tuesday's celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Yury Gagarin's historic space flight, out of character behaviour for a man who never misses a chance to tout his country's triumphs.

"All this fuss around the elections does not contribute to a normal working structure," he said on Wednesday as he finally broke his silence.

"Everyone in their specific place must hoe their plot every day like Saint Francis." The Kremlin refused to comment on Putin's latest statement.

"Putin is being irritated by what he thinks looks like his political funeral," political commentator Gleb Pavlovsky, who is close to the Kremlin, told AFP.

He said the two men had yet to work out how their relationship will look in the future, especially if Medvedev receives Putin's blessing to run. "He is still unclear about what is being offered to him," he said of Putin.

A top official from the ruling United Russia party, Yuri Shuvalov, on Thursday also entered the debate, saying its preferred candidate for the 2012 polls would be Putin.

Taking over the presidency from Putin in 2008, Medvedev has over the past three years played second fiddle to his mentor.

But as the end of his term nears Medvedev has become more assertive and shown a confident posture.

The president rebuked Putin over his controversial "medieval crusade" remarks criticising the Western campaign in Libya. He also ordered Putin's government allies to stand down from the boards of state-run companies.

"As the polls near, a public competition between Putin and Medvedev intensifies," said Andrei Ryabov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

© 2011 AFP

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