| JRL Home | JRL Simple/Mobile | RSS | Newswire | Archives | JRL Newsletter | Support | About
Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Differing duo

The apparent rift between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin over Western military action in Libya has provoked a media firestorm, with speculation mounting about pre-election campaigning by the two leaders.

Both Putin and the Kremlin have been at pains to downplay the argument, while insiders insist that the two leaders' messages were aimed at different audiences ­ Medvedev's to the West and Putin's to ordinary Russians.

Putin, who made global headlines on Monday when he called NATO airstrikes on Libya a "medieval crusade," a day later stood his ground and suggested anyone involved in the Libyan "tragedy should think about [civilian casualties] and pray for the salvation of their own souls."

Putin said that he and Medvedev were part of one team, but suggested that the president may have been more constrained by diplomatic protocol.

Downplayed by Putin

"It is the president who oversees foreign policy, and there can be no differences there," Putin said in a televised news conference during an official visit to Slovenia on Tuesday. "If you are interested in whether our approaches on these events differ, then I assure you: we are very close people, and we understand each other. The president has to formulate the position of the country using appropriate terms."

Still, Putin's remarks reiterated his clearly anti-NATO stance, a day after Medvedev rhetorically upheld a UN resolution that announced a no-fly zone over Libya and that de facto authorised military action against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi for violating a ceasefire.

Russia abstained last week on UN Resolution 1973, prompting analysts to think that Russia's tandem was sitting on the fence, either because it couldn't decide on a foreign policy course or because there were real policy differences between the Kremlin and the White House.

Putin's description of the UN resolution as "deficient" and Medvedev's swift rebuttal, calling statements about crusades "unacceptable" seemed to reflect underlying differences.

However, both sides categorically denied there was any row ­ noting that Putin was reflecting his personal point of view, while Medvedev was giving Russia's official position.

The difference, in other words, wasn't between Putin and Medvedev, but in Moscow's unofficial line and its official line.

"Both the prime minister and the president have their own personal point of view," a Kremlin source told The Moscow News. "I'll tell you more ­ the president has a personal opinion and a state position ­ and sometimes these aren't the same. So there's no point in looking at this as a rift, because both people have a clear understanding of their respective spheres."

Duma confusion

The conflicting remarks reportedly caused confusion in Russia's State Duma, with deputies on the Foreign Policy Committee saying they had to hastily rework a statement denouncing civilian deaths resulting from NATO aviation attacks.

Gazeta.ru cited Leonid Kalashnikov, a Communist State Duma deputy, as saying that Medvedev's sudden rebuke had the Foreign Affairs Committee scrambling on Monday in an attempt to rewrite the statement more diplomatically, while avoiding favouring either Putin or Medvedev.

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said that his committee was still working on the statement, Gazeta.ru reported.

But Just Russia deputy Oleg Shein ­ one of three parliamentarians who drafted an alternative statement asking Medvedev to call for a new UN Security Council session ­ said he didn't see any strategic contradiction between Putin's and Medvedev's remarks.

"Their statements shouldn't be seen as different positions ­ they should be viewed as different orientations," Shein told The Moscow News. "Because Resolution 1973 in itself never stipulated military actions in Libya... it shouldn't be viewed as a difference in strategy between the two leaders," Shein said.

He seemed to agree with Medvedev about the need for caution when referring to "crusades", but added that "it is important that the State Duma sent a signal that the coalition needs to stop its military actions in Libya."

Debate orchestrated?

Medvedev and Putin have appeared to disagree before, but the controversy was never as clearly marked as the one over Libya ­ nor has Medvedev ever referred to a specific statement made by just Putin before.

In December, Medvedev said it was wrong for officials to judge court cases before a verdict. That comment came after Putin referred to jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a "thief [who] should sit in jail".

Then in January, Medvedev advised officials against promoting themselves by talking about the Domodedovo terror attack ­ just days after Putin said the case had been solved.

But the remarks over Libya illustrated a case where the two leaders were not shy of publicising their differing points of view.

And while Western media have interpreted the disagreements as rivalry, Kremlin insiders say it's more a case of the leaders serving different functions ­ one as more populist on the domestic agenda, and the other as more pro-Western on the foreign agenda.

"In Russia you can never tell whether it's a war or a game, and this is one of those cases," Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a leading sociologist and coordinator for United Russia's liberal camp, told The Moscow News. "It may have been orchestrated, or it may have been for real."

Election campaigning?

What's clear is that one leader is talking to an international audience while the other is targeting the domestic one, Kryshtanovskaya said.

"Putin is working with Russia's electorate," Kryshtanovskaya said. "This tells us that Putin is preparing to run for president."

Medvedev's actions, meanwhile, were aimed at boosting his diplomatic credentials, she said.

Keyword Tags:

Russia, Middle East, North Africa - Russia, Twitter Revolutions, Mass Uprisings - Russia, Government, Politics - Life in Russia, Culture, Arts - Russia News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter Tweet