Has Libya’s Majnun come between Russia’s Tandem?

Posted on 21 March 2011

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2012 will see who gets to stay in the Kremlin

So it’s come to this. Fork in the road. The tiny cracks that were once so easily “paperoverable” have festered and are conspiring to part the wall apart. Maybe.

Although there have been a few very, very played-down cases of ruffled feathers between Russia’s ruling tandem, this is the most public negative comment President Dmitry Medvedev has made against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to date.

Medvedev is quoted as having said Putin’s description of the UN resolution on Libya – which he described to TV Zvezda as “medieval calls for crusades” – was “unacceptable”.

It’s no secret that the two men have had a different take on a number of things.

Putin’s past is rooted in the KGB and prides himself on the macho, teetotal, responsible, family-man tsar image. Just look back at the Soviet propaganda posters.

(A linguistic tangent: tsar/czar, Caesar and Kaiser all have the same root)

Medvedev is a lawyer by trade – he likes details, he doesn’t go in for extremely “loud” announcements – even though he did at the beginning of his career when he was copying Putin – in fact you could mix up his speech for Putin’s if you weren’t looking at who was talking.

Admittedly there haven’t been as many songs written about Medvedev though (I’m thinking specifically of that pop classic “I Want A Man Like Putin“).

Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi has been known for years by most Arab countries as the Majnun (مجنون) – the Madman.

Although Russia believes this particular majnun is wrong in his actions (they recently banned Gaddafi and his family from entering Russia), they abstained from UN resolution 1973. However, they didn’t use their veto.

Not totally surprising that this apparent first major break in Russia’s solid tandem has occurred over an international topic, rather than a domestic topic likes pensions, the army, or the prickly topic of democracy in Russia.

Gaddafi is known in the Arab world as the "majnun" (مجنون) - the "madman"

In international affairs Medvedev has been given a longer leash, has got used to having his own stage alongside the likes of Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and David Cameron.

You might think this could have gone to his head, knowing that he can still stand for another term as president.

But far from Medvedev being the one to create the distance – it’s probably more likely that it was Putin’s toughtalk over the UN resolution – meant, of course, to boost his own popularity back home – that was designed to drive a wedge between him and Medvedev. And it would seem that Medvedev has fallen for it… hook, line and sinker.

But are the cracks really starting to show in their relationship – or is it all just staged drama?

Next year Russians will take to the polling stations to vote for their next president. Medvedev can stand again. Putin could return for another double stint in the Kremlin – and with the new longer presidential terms, he’ll be around for a while.

We have to question whether we are meant to see a mini-quabble now – that Putin will win in the eyes of the Russian people – that will let him return unchallenged to the presidential throne in 2012.

Don’t be fooled by this squabble’s commonplace appearance – the cogs of the mighty PR machine behind the Putin-Medvedev tandem are still grinding and are getting progressively better oiled.

It’s all part of the master plan – and any feigned infighting is likely to be highly choreographed.

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