A number of recent events in Russia show that the 2012 Russian presidential election campaign is in full swing. In keeping with true Russian style, this campaign is aimed not at a mass Russian audience, but rather the political/economic elites involved in the soap opera-like battle for Russia’s wealth and power.
The Power – Who May Enforce the Law?
Unlike Libya, Russia does not carry out missile strikes against civilians who are opposed to the regime. Instead, the Russian government elects for a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ strategy, which is planned and managed by law enforcement bodies. Most important is the ability to bring prosecutions against individuals and companies in Russian courts that are notoriously supportive of prosecutors. The stakes are even higher now that Medvedev’s team of legal nerds have added teeth to portions of the criminal code and other statutes. But who will be targeted?
For some time, Russia only had a General Prosecutor’s Office, and it alone was responsible for initiating criminal investigations and prosecutions. That was until early 2007, when then-Pres. Putin decided to create the Investigative Committee (SK or Следственный Комитет), which would take over some of this authority and whose chief would be selected by the President (currently Putin law school chum Aleksandr Bastrykin). The result has been a divided structure between the SK and Prosecutor General, with periodic hints at the creation of a single ‘super-agency’ with sole investigative/prosecutorial authority.
This week, the conflict between the two sides spilled out into the open after a series of aggressive moves, culminating in accusations from SK that Chaika’s son – Artyem Chaika – is involved in the illegal ‘underground’ casinos that have recently come under fire. Upon hearing this, Chaika reportedly went straight to Medvedev and requested a meeting. According to meedia reports, Medvedev sat the two sides down yesterday and insisted that the conflict stay out of the public eye and that the junior Chaika be left alone (all very Putinesque). Notably, the Chaika case is likely to end ‘only’ with the firing of the Moscow prosecutors who initiated the case, because “their last names came out during the scandal.”
Some analysts in Russia have suggested that the scandal could result in the firing of both Chaika and Bastrykin. If Medvedev were to take such a step, it would be a significant demonstration of his power and raise his profile going into 2012. Medvedev is not close to either Chaika or Bastyrkin, and there isn’t really anyone on deck for Team Medvedev and could fill the role of Russia’s top prosecutor (though Chuichenko, Konovalov, and Vinnichenko come to mind). So letting each side punch each other out is also good for Medvedev.
The last time there was a similar dust-up between the siloviki factions was 2007, when it was the FSB vs. Federal Narcotics Service vs. Investigative Committee vs. Prosecutor General. Then (and now), the tensions boiled over due to the uncertainty of the post-Putin transition (this was before Putin announced his choice). In the midst of the conflict, Putin named Viktor Zubkov as Prime Minister, which turned out to be a wildly successful move – it was inconsequential enough to not affect any interests, yet strange/unexpected enough to convince the warring parties that they all had the same amount of information (zero).
So is it Medvedev’s turn to play a wild card like Zubkov? Maybe. But the current situation differs because the question is whether it will be Medvedev or Putin, and their Odd Couple routine seems to be losing its magic. So the only reasonable option is to unexpectedly introduce a third individual in a way that would keep open the question of Medvedev or Putin or the new guy. For example, Medvedev could buy time this way if he appointed Putin to an ‘inferior’ post but replaced him with someone like Igor Sechin. In any case, I continue to believe that Medvedev will probably stay on for a second term and that Putin is cooperating or even directing the ‘signalling’ to the various factions.