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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

The power behind the throne

Kremlin and Saint Basil'sWho really runs Russia ­ the titular ruler, or some grey cardinal behind the throne? This perennial question has foxed Kremlinologists for decades, and the confusion is set to become greater as we approach one of the most intriguing election seasons in the country's post-Soviet history.

In recent months President Dmitry Medvedev has been building a case for his re-election in 2012. Not through any specific statement that he will run, but rather by pressing for his policy agenda ­ first outlined in 2008 ­ to be implemented.

The big question, of course, is whether this will fly with the president's mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ­ who has shown few signs of seeking to take things easy beyond next year's election.

Over the next several months we may see many twists and turns, but one scenario that seems to be gaining a head of steam is that Medvedev will stay on as president ­ and that Putin will gradually step back from the dayto- day business of government over the next few years.

This concept ­ of a strong power behind the throne ­ has been seen many times throughout history, and will probably be given serious consideration by Medvedev, Putin and their closest advisers in the coming months.

The most obvious comparison is that of China at the time of Deng Xiaoping, the country's reforming leader from the early 1980s onwards, who stepped down as chairman of the Communist Party's powerful military commission, but still retained a strong guiding hand over policy for years afterwards.

Putin could emulate this example, but it would require some careful management.

The drawback with trying to apply Beijing's system here is that Russia does not have the strict one-party rule as exercised by the Chinese Communist Party, and the ruling factions seem to be more splintered here.

What Medvedev's actions have shown in recent weeks ­ particularly his order to remove senior ministers from the boards of state companies ­ is that it does matter who is Russia's titular ruler. Whether those orders are carried out in their entirety, and to the ruler's satisfaction, is of course a different matter.

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