The political situation in Russia is showing increasing signs of instability, caused in large part by the fact that the ruling tandem of Medvedev and Putin has still not reached a decision on which of the two men will run as a presidential candidate in March 2012. Whether or not Medvedev and Putin are themselves personally at loggerheads (which they have repeatedly denied), their respective supporters in the upper levels of the Russian government are openly sparring. Russian political observers speak of a “war between the clans.” Medvedev’s allies have already started a campaign to undermine Prime Minister Putin and weaken the support for Putin in the Russian Parliament. And Putin is fighting back by making strong and authoritative statements in public that suggest he intends to remain on the political scene well into the future.
As usual, accusations of corruption are flying and contributing to the atmosphere of frenzied speculation in the Russia media about Russia’s political situation. Almost a month after the report about Putin and corruption that was released by Boris Nemtsov and other members of the People’s Freedom Party (see my NYRB blog, dated April 14, 2011), a new and even more sensational publication has appeared. The report, authored by human rights activist Marina Litvinovich and others, is entitled “Power of the Families—2011” (vlast’ cemei—2011) and is available on Litvinovich’s new website: election2010.ru. It features a list of leading Russian government officials and detailed documentation about their business ties, and wealth, along with that of their families. Not surprisingly, the information paints a picture of corruption, abuse of power and influence peddling and it has caused a huge stir in government circles and the blogosphere. Adding to the sense that the government is in crisis is the sharp decline in popularity of the Russian leadership. Since January 2010 Medvedev’s approval rating has dropped from 62 to 46% and Putin’s from 69 to 53%. The unexpected news conference that President Medvedev has announced for May 18 may be an effort to boost his ratings. He also might use it as an opportunity to finally reveal his future political intentions.