Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Medvedev vs. Putin: let the battle begin...

Funny, and yet so sad. The Russian "leadership" certainly knows how to make headlines, and (perhaps. intentionally) it has been getting increasingly better at that. I'm am sure that you have come across news stories that celebrate the "split partnership" between Medvedev and Putin over Libya (if you've been following the news these days, that is).

Here's a classic M vs. P, from Euronews:

Surely, an exciting development to follow, especially after all the speculation regarding the relationship between the two. With presidential elections just a year away, some sort of public "fallout" was bound to happen. And this might be the first major - rather, blunt - sign, despite Putin's downplaying of all the hype it has caused.

The "terms" of their relationship was probably one of the most common question that both, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, were asked by reporters, especially foreign ones. Over the past two years, Medvedev has been making his pro-Western tendencies increasingly more conspicuous - even if just through deeds (which, I'd argue, matter more than mere words); while Putin, who was initially seen to belong to the "stability" camp, has been rapidly drifting towards "Oriental despotism".

Medvedev has effectively joined the American "Reset" initiative and has set out on an ambitious modernization project for the country. Just several weeks ago, at a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the abolition of serfdom in Russia by Czar Alexander II, the President made his stance and views clear. He said he is committed to progress (and past evidence shows that he often associates "progress" with the "West").

Putin, on the other hand, seems to be desperately trying to gain brownie points for his macho PR appearances, and increasingly hardline stance against the West. Of course, he can still rely on some significant public support, but given the recent developments, he might be getting worried about losing influence. And perhaps, rightly so.

Here's his actual statement on the Libya issue:

Now, to be fair, many of the articles that appeared on this "exchange" between Putin and Medvedev failed to mention that Medvedev did indeed deplore the high rate of "collateral damage" and the loss of civilian life. However, he emphasized the "thorough process" of decision-making and the constant consultations among the major actors and stakeholders in the Libya issue. Indeed, he did also make a strong and quite bashing remark regarding Putin's "Crusaders" talk. Take a look:

Perhaps not the best image for a "unified duo", who were desperate to demonstrate harmonious co-existence so far. Nonetheless, it can be seen as a positive development for Russia's public diplomacy itself, as most of the Western coverage that I saw seemed to be emphasizing the positive aspect of this disagreement, at least from a Western perspective.

Whether or not this is indeed a major "split" can be irrelevant; however with the date drawing increasingly closer, such play on perceptions will - most probably - get increasingly bitter, too. And this is where their respective public affairs and PR advisors/managers will have to show the best they've got. It is their battle as well, after all.

If curious, here's Medvedev's entire statement in Russian. You can find the text in English on Kremlin's official website.


UPDATE 3/23/2011 [1:50 PM]: I came across a really amusing article analyzing - in all seriousness - the inconspicuous complexities of the issue. It's a funny read, which I recommend!

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