Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin should let President Dmitry Medvedev, his protégé, seek re-election in 2012 rather than return to the Kremlin and risk unrest like that in Tunisia this month, a Medvedev adviser said.
“Look at what is happening in Tunisia,” Igor Yurgens, who heads a research institute set up by Medvedev, said yesterday in an interview. “People won’t understand why Russia can’t choose a new, more modern-looking person who is more open to the outside world. Everyone is fed up at seeing the same face.”
Putin, 58, a former KGB colonel, has continued to wield power as prime minister since handing the presidency to Medvedev in 2008 after the two consecutive terms allowed under Russia’s Constitution. Putin hasn’t ruled out running for president in 2012, when he could serve for 12 years, as Russia now has six-year presidential mandates.
“When a single person stays in power for a long time, even if he is a very good person and was brilliant at the start” there needs to be a change, said Yurgens, chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Development in Moscow.
Tunisia’s former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, 74, who had been in power for 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 amid protests sparked by rising food costs and unemployment.
While not a government official, Yurgens is close to Medvedev’s team and like-minded Cabinet members such as Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, said Sergei Markov, a political analyst and pro-government lawmaker who advises the Kremlin.
“Yurgens says what part of the elite thinks but can’t express openly,” Markov said in a phone interview. “He can be considered as influential and is part of the president’s team.”
Yurgens also criticized the conviction last month of jailed former Yukos Oil Co. billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky on new oil embezzlement charges, saying it was a step backward for Medvedev’s goal of attracting more foreign investment. Khodorkovsky, a Putin critic who was scheduled for release this year, won’t be freed until 2017.
Medvedev, 45, a trained lawyer, has made the fight against corruption and promoting the rule of law the cornerstone of his presidency.
“The investment climate is not terribly inviting in the Russian Federation at the moment, especially after the Khodorkovsky case,” Yurgens told Bloomberg Television in an interview broadcast today, a week before Medvedev travels to the Swiss resort of Davos to address the World Economic Forum.
“No one can feel he is immune from the system and that is a very bad signal,” he said. “Mid- to long-term if we don’t solve this case in a positive manner, it will be very bad.”
Khodorkovsky says his imprisonment was revenge for opposing Putin, who was president at the time he was arrested in 2003. Yukos, once Russia’s largest oil company, was bankrupted by a $30 billion tax claim and sold off in pieces to state oil company OAO Rosneft. Putin denies any role in the case.
U.S. and European governments condemned the new jail sentence for Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, saying it further weakened judicial independence and would discourage foreign investors.
Yurgens said in an October interview with the Moscow newspaper Kommersant that Khodorkovsky should be released to signal a move away from a “massive, arrogant and strong state” that is oppressing business.
Russia is the world’s most corrupt major economy, according to Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index issued in October, sliding to 154th among 178 countries, alongside Tajikistan and Kenya.
Gorbachev Sees ‘Friction’
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said in October that Putin’s United Russia party “has been doing everything it can to move away from democracy, to stay in power.”
Medvedev has been showing signs of independence, and this is creating “friction” between him and Putin, Gorbachev said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.
Putin’s voter support fell to 31 percent in December from 37 percent in June, while Medvedev’s rose to 21 percent from 17 percent, according to a poll by the Moscow-based Levada Center. The survey of 1,611 people nationwide was conducted Dec. 17-21 and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
Medvedev would like a second term, his economic aide, Arkady Dvorkovich, told the BBC in comments broadcast Dec. 10.
“I believe he does” want six more years in the Kremlin, Dvorkovich said. “Otherwise, he would not work seriously on the initiatives he announced.”
While Putin could serve Russia in any other capacity, “there will be fewer political and economic risks if Medvedev rather than Putin governs the next term,” Yurgens said.