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The Unraveling: The Tandem's Slow Death
Brian Whitmore - RFE/RL - 4.2.12 - JRL 2012-61

Gleb Pavlovsky is talking.

He talked to the British daily "The Guardian" last month, for example. And he talked to Yevgenia Albats at "New Times" just last week.

Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin with Heads Bowed Together Over Microphone
file photo
Talking out of school has gotten Pavlovsky into trouble in the past and actually appears to have gotten him fired from his Kremlin job last year. Nonetheless, when it comes to Russian politics, he usually knows what he is talking about.

So what exactly is Pavlovsky talking about? In fact, he's talking rather candidly about the question that has been on a lot of Kremlin-watchers' minds for the past six months: what led to the decision, announced at the United Russia congress on September 26, 2011, that Vladimir Putin would return to the Kremlin?

(I took a stab at this with a post back in October, but I am not -- to say the least -- anywhere near as informed or plugged in as Pavlovsky.)

Almost from the get-go, according to the Kremlin's former uber-spinmeister, there was a lack of clarity among the elite about what the tandem arrangement between Putin and Medvedev was supposed to ultimately mean.

For some, including Pavlovsky himself, former deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, and much of the elite's technocratic wing, it was a clever way to transition out of the authoritarian system Putin built into a more pluralistic model.

But for people like Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and the siloviki wing of the elite, it was nothing more than a chess move to keep Putin in power without violating the letter of the constitution. And if you can believe what Medvedev and Putin themselves say about how their castling move was agreed to back in 2008, this was also how the tandem itself viewed the arrangement -- at least in the beginning.

"The whole problem was that four years ago it seemed to us that the tandem was a good form of transit but it turned out that this was simply the old Russian form of a private deal built into the constitutional system and destroying it, naturally," Pavlovsky said in his "New Times" interview.

Speaking to "The Guardian," Pavlovsky stressed that Surkov -- who was dismissed from his Kremlin post in December -- understood more than anyone the danger of Putin attempting a return to the presidency.

"Surkov saw Medvedev staying as the preferable option. I never had the impression that Surkov wanted Putin to experiment with his return. He felt the limits of the system," Pavlovsky said.

"He was the last person in the Kremlin who understood what the system could withstand and what it couldn't. And now there is no one left to feel that."

As the tandem arrangement took hold in practice, part of the elite began to gravitate over to the new president -- a trend that apparently gave Medvedev ideas and made Putin nervous. By the end of 2010, as Medvedev's term neared its mid-point, "there was a great deal of tension," Pavlovsky told "The Guardian."

By the spring of 2011, the tension was approaching critical mass, something that was visible in the surprisingly public sniping between the two leaders over Western intervention in Libya.