News / Europe

Putin-Medvedev Job Swap Plan Draws Mixed Reaction

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walk at the residence in Zavidovo, in the Tver region, Russia, September 24, 2011.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walk at the residence in Zavidovo, in the Tver region, Russia, September 24, 2011.
James Brooke

Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, plans to swap jobs next year with President Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev, who succeeded Putin in 2008, proposed the move Saturday at the annual congress of Russia's ruling party.

The carefully choreographed job swap between Putin and Medvedev plays again and again on Russia’s state-controlled TV. Off-camera, though, not everyone is applauding.

The day after the announcement, protesters were chanting, “Russia without Putin.”

Ilya Yashin of the opposition Solidarity movement spoke at the rally in central Moscow. He said that Medvedev’s job was merely to keep Putin’s seat warm until the Russian constitution allowed him to return to the Kremlin.

In addition to charging the Putin government with corruption, Yashin faults Russia’s strongman with presiding over an ever-widening gap between Russia’s rich and poor. He said Russia leads the Forbes billionaires’ list, while 20 million people live in poverty.

Anti-Putin rally

But in a city of 12 million people, only 250 people showed up for an anti-Putin rally. And some, like Sergei Nikolayevich, a retired Army officer, were not convinced. He said he is not concerned about the political situation because of Russia's strength in oil and gas.

At a park across the street, most strollers do not want to talk about politics.

Moscow protest

The tandem: "Neither here nor there" at Moscow protest, Sept. 24, 2011. (VOA - Y. Weeks)

Vladimir Aristarkhov, a publishing house employee, said he plans to vote for the opposition Communist Party, out of protest. He worried that Putin and Medvedev could cling to power for a quarter-century.

Referring to the comedy duo in the Austin Powers spy movies, he said, “Our local version of Dr. Evil and his Mini-Me will stay in power as long as they can.”

Soviet-era redux

Vladimir’s buddy, Dima, a freight loader, worried that Russia now faces the kind of long-term stagnation that his parents lived through during Leonid Brezhnev’s 18-year rule of the Soviet Union. Dima said Russia will continue stagnating because Putin plans to stay in the Kremlin for another 12 years.

The Internet TV website, Dozhd, ran a poll asking site visitors the best reaction to a return of Putin to the Kremlin. The most popular option - emigrate.

Andrei, a 34-year-old IT worker, is staying. But he is not happy with the prospect of Putin continuing to stay in power.

“It makes us similar to the USSR - because we have one party, one government, one leader,” he said.

Andrei also worries that Russia’s biggest advantage - its oil and gas supplies - also is its Achilles Heel. “We are very dependent on the price of oil and gas, and this makes our economy very vulnerable,” he said.

Andrei and others say that if a worldwide recession knocks down oil and gas prices, Russia’s carefully choreographed political transition could face a reality check - from Russia’s streets.

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