Medvedev or Putin, What's the Difference?: Jeffrey Tayler

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By Jeffrey Tayler

In the wake of the Russian diarchy’s decision to swap roles following 2012 presidential elections, President Dmitri Medvedev has become surprisingly candid about the lack of difference between him and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“We are really not competitors, but have been close comrades and friends for the past twenty years," Medvedev said in remarks carried by the television channel Vesti 24 and reported by the newspaper Vedomosti. "If it had been otherwise, I wouldn’t have had any career in politics in Moscow at all.” He cautioned against expecting much from his upcoming stint as prime minister: “We have to figure out how to change our government, undramatically but firmly.”

Dramatic action is needed. Vedomosti separately reported a shocking increase in the average size of bribes uncovered by law-enforcement authorities: The average bribe stands at 250,000 rubles (about $8000), up from only 60,000 rubles a year ago, according to Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Sergey Bulavin. The newspaper noted that the increase might reflect a move towards catching bigger criminals. This, after the Minister of the Interior, Rashid Nurgaliyev, made a much-derided statement last August: “Bribe-taking, abuse of office, corruption and all sorts of negative things are behind us now, in the past, and don’t exist today.”

The foreign business community in Russia has issued its first pledge of support for Putin’s return to the Kremlin, reported Vedomosti. The members of the Consultative Council on Foreign Investment, who include top executives at Shell, Nestle, ExxonMobil Development, PepsiCo and Ernst & Young, offered their unanimous support for Putin's candidacy. “Putin reacted with joy,” noted the article, “saying that at today’s meeting he felt as though he were at a ‘plenary session of the government of the Russian Federation.’” He also assured foreign investors that no changes to economic policy were in the offing, and announced that outside investment in Russia had jumped by 20 percent in the first nine months of 2011.

Putin’s political party, United Russia, has finally published its campaign program on its web site, in advance of State Duma elections slated for December. The 12th Party Congress adopted as a platform the speeches given by Putin and Medvedev at the September event that sanctioned the tandem’s continuation in power beyond March 2012. Priorities, according to RBC, included modernizing the economy and health services, paying pensions, rearming the military, and fighting corruption, xenophobia and separatism.

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A new twist has appeared in the case of the former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was famously murdered in London in 2006. The Mail on Sunday quoted his wife, Marina Litvinenko, as saying that he indeed had worked for Britain's MI5 and MI6 -- a contradiction of earlier statements.

“‘He worked,” she said, “as a consultant for them over a year in an operation to combat Russian organized crime in Europe,’” the newspaper reported. She also said, according to the Mail, that the Russian government has contracted top British lawyers to represent the prime suspect in the murder, Andrey Lugovoy, whom Russia has refused to extradite to Britain and who is now a deputy in the State Duma.

Lugovoy himself told Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda’s radio station that he remains “willing to give all necessary testimony via video conference . . . but no decision” has been made yet by British investigators regarding the matter. The article pointed out that British doctors initially said Litvinenko had died as a result of poisoning with radioactive polonium (presumably administered during a tea with Lugovoy), but never released the results of the autopsy.

(Jeffrey Tayler is Moscow correspondent for World View. He is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the author of six books, including "Murderers in Mausoleums: Riding the Back Roads of Empire between Moscow and Beijing." The opinions expressed are his own.)

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-0- Oct/22/2011 17:13 GMT