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Very Little Hope and Very Little Change

Russia progresses from kleptocracy to tandemocracy.

May 24, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 34 • By CATHY YOUNG
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More tea leaf-reading followed a March 16 interview in the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta by businessman, political consultant, and Medvedev adviser Igor Yurgens. Urging Medvedev to run for reelection as president in 2012 on a “modernization” platform, Yurgens suggested that his candidacy would have the backing of the pro-reform faction in government—whose members he went on to list by name. Writing on the website, columnist and Hudson Institute fellow Adrian Piontkovsky suggested that this amounted to a declaration of war against Putin, and possibly the beginning of a push for his ouster as prime minister. But this possible signal of revolution in the Kremlin was another false start: Subsequent statements by both Putin and Medvedev suggest that their “tandem” will, in one form or another, endure after the next election.

While “tandemocracy” is unquestionably corrupt and authoritarian, it is in some ways a softer, more haphazard, less self-confident, and more amorphous version of pure Putinism. Its authoritarianism is tempered, at least outwardly, by pseudo-democratic decorum. It is less ideologically militant and more flexible: Earlier attempts to partially exonerate Stalin as a great if flawed leader have been largely abandoned, with both Putin and Medvedev strongly condemning Stalin’s crimes. (An attempt by Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov to include posters of Stalin in the Victory Day displays on city streets at the request of war veterans was scuttled after harsh criticism from federal officials and legislators.) In the international arena, the quest to rebuild Russia’s lost empire has been scaled down to scattershot efforts to maintain influence in the “near abroad,” usually with mixed results: While the recent regime change in Kyrgyzstan is likely favorable to Moscow, it has also angered the Kremlin’s unreliable ally Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.

Lenin once said that revolutions happen when those at the top are no longer able to keep things going the way they were, and those at the bottom are no longer willing. In today’s Russia, those at the top still manage, however badly, to stay afloat—and those at the bottom may be dissatisfied but are unwilling to demand change. At least for the time being, the Russian bear limps along.

Cathy Young is a columnist for Real Clear Politics and a contributing editor to Reason.

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