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Expected Russian "Tandem" Reshuffle

By Ernest Petrosyan
Monday, September 26
Russian PM Vladimir Putin has accepted President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal, as had long been anticipated, to run in the 2012 presidential elections. Medvedev made the proposal at a convention of the United Russia (UR) party in Moscow. PM Putin in his turn also responded by putting Medvedev to lead the UR party election list, replacing Putin in the PM position

“This is implicitly a very responsible proposal, and I am ready to take it. Taking into consideration the offer to lead the party list in the position of PM I consider it to be right for the congress to support the party’s leader Vladimir Putin as the party’s presidential candidate,” announced Medvedev.

“I want to say directly: an agreement over what to do in the future was reached between us several years ago. However, I would like to say that it is not important who will sit where, but it is important how we will work,” stated Putin sincerely.

This decision caused a broad and eclectic resonance among the international political elite. The senator and former presidential candidate John McCain spoke scathingly about the nomination of Putin for president. "What a surprise – the shocking news – Putin again nominated for president", wrote the politician on his Twitter blog on Saturday night.

A White House statement regarding Putin’s presidency remained optimistic. It made clear that President Barack Obama would press ahead with efforts to repair relations regardless of who takes over in the Kremlin. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama's diplomatic outreach to Russia, which the president declared from the outset to be a centerpiece of his global agenda, did not depend on "individual personalities" at the top. "We will continue to build on the progress of the reset whoever serves as the next president of Russia because we believe that it is in the mutual interests of the United States and Russia and the world," Vietor said in a statement.

The news about the Kremlin reshuffle was predictable and frustrating for the Georgian political elite. “As recent statements showed, Putin and Medvedev are the same political figure. A civilized country cannot have relations with such people,” said David Darchiashvili, the Chairman of the influential Parliamentary Committee on European Integration.

Ghia Nodia, the Chair of the Caucasus Institute for Peace and Development is also skeptical. “When Medvedev assumed the Presidential Office there was an illusion that something would change. Russia’s adverse policy towards Georgia will continue,” said Nodia to The Messenger.

As Georgian political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze says, Putin was the only alternative to replace Medvedev, and so that is what happened. As for the possible consequences for Georgia, it will depend not only on Russian-Georgian relations, but the wider world context as it did in 2008 when the two countries went to war. “What happened in August 2008 was Russia’s severe response to various political processes, namely the Kosovo recognition and location of the US anti-missile system in Europe, thereby Russia tried to counterbalance worldwide processes."

For now it is difficult to predict Putin’s policy towards Georgia. "It might be improved to some extent, to improve Putin’s political image on international level,” Sakvarelidze told The Messenger.

Putin’s antagonistic policy towards Georgia and Georgians has become a heavy burden. Starting from the 2006 spy scandal, this was later transformed into a politically imposed embargo on Georgian products, the cutting off of all links with Russia created visa restrictions for Georgian citizens, and the expulsion of about 4,000 Georgians from Russia in cargo planes. However, these actions were much more “liberal” in comparison to Putin’s policy to openly support the separatists regimes in Georgia’s breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, by denouncing the CIS embargo agreement on Georgian separatist regions, and giving those regions the green light for various military provocations, which eventually ended with Russian military intervention in the five-day 2008 August war. This war ended with the recognition of the independence of the breakaway regions and further military occupation by Russia.