An adviser to Dmitry Medvedev said the outgoing Russian president should abandon plans to become premier and make way for the man he fired last year as finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, who would do a better job.
Medvedev, 46, in September agreed to give up the chance of a second term to allow Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, 59, to reclaim the Kremlin. Putin offered Medvedev the premier’s job in return, a move that turned the president into a diminished political figure, said Igor Yurgens, who heads a research group created by Medvedev, in an interview in Moscow Feb. 17.
Medvedev wouldn’t be “very successful in the job” because Putin’s allies in the Cabinet would “tear him apart,” Yurgens said, abandoning his support for the president for the first time publicly. “Kudrin would be an ideal prime minister for an interim period because he’s a highly regarded professional and obviously enjoys the trust of future President Putin,” he said.
Middle-class anger at Putin’s planned Kremlin return and allegations of fraud in Dec. 4 parliamentary elections in which Putin’s party retained its majority ignited the largest anti-government protests since the 1990s. Putin, who has been in power for 12 years, is seeking a new six-year term in the March 4 election.
Forecast to Win
The Russian leader is forecast to win in the first round with 58.6 percent of the vote, according to an opinion poll published today by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion. The state-run pollster interviewed 1,600 people on Feb. 11-12 and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
Putin can only overcome distrust of his rule among well-educated Russians by delegating some power to a decisive Cabinet that will implement economic and political changes demanded by protesters, said Gleb Pavlovsky, who heads the Moscow-based Effective Policy Foundation and has advised the Kremlin for more than a decade.
“The main thing that Putin needs to do after the election is to create a strong government, but everything that Medvedev does makes that task harder,” Pavlovsky said in an interview in the Russian capital last week.
Putin served as president from 2000 to 2008 and then moved to the premiership to comply with constitutional term limits, backing his protégé Medvedev to take his place.
As late as September, Yurgens, who heads the Institute of Contemporary Development, was urging Medvedev to ignore Putin’s wishes and seek a second term to implement his promises on fighting corruption and diversifying the economy away from oil and gas. Yurgens said he is now helping Kudrin set up a new political party.
Medvedev discredited himself by ceding the Kremlin to Putin, said Yurgens, who characterized Kudrin as being capable of keeping a check on government spending while maintaining some independence from the president.
“We wouldn’t have to worry about the government and its spending and he would carry out political reforms,” said Yurgens.
Kudrin, 51, was the longest-serving finance minister in the Group of Eight major economies until he was forced out by Medvedev after publicly opposing increases in military spending. During his tenure, Russia cut state debt to less than 10 percent of gross domestic product and posted budget surpluses from 2000 to 2008.
Kudrin, in a radio interview broadcast in December, said being offered the premiership was a possibility, adding that Medvedev’s authority had decreased “significantly” after agreeing to make way for Putin. The prime minister is aware of Kudrin’s plans to set up a new party, said Yurgens.
Medvedev’s spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said she had nothing to say about Yurgens’ switch in support to Kudrin. “This is Yurgens’ personal opinion,” Timakova said today. “There’s nothing here for me to comment on.” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that it’s too early to say whether such a party would be a good development as he isn’t aware of the details of the project. “The last legislative initiatives are in fact aimed at activating political life in the country,” Peskov said. The government responded to the protests by promising to make it easier to register political parties.
Kudrin said Feb. 14 on his Twitter Inc. account that he had held talks in January with pro-democracy groups involved in the protests to consolidate them into a single entity, without reaching an agreement. His spokesman, Pavel Kuznetsov, declined to comment further on those efforts.
If Putin’s opponents don’t agree to join Kudrin’s movement, that won’t deter him, said Yurgens, adding that billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who’s running in the presidential race on a pro-business and pro-democracy ticket, would be welcome to take part in the project.
A new Kudrin party may take part in parliamentary elections if Putin agrees to hold a new vote, offering him the chance to establish himself as a political leader, said Yurgens.
Medvedev this month swiped at Kudrin for his efforts to set up the party, dismissing him as “no real opposition figure.”
Any new political movement needs to be led by “strong people supported by the part of the population that believes in liberal values, and not only by people who just decided to get in on it,” Medvedev said in remarks posted on the Kremlin’s website.