Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Trouble Bubbling in Russia?

Gary Kasparov predicts Russian uprising

With Russians increasingly feeling the pinch of the economic crisis, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may be set to face some unexpected opposition.

But that opposition may not necessarily come from the Russian people -- the United Russia party has enjoyed spectacularly strong support from Russians ever since Putin helped engineer its genesis by uniting hundreds of smaller right-of-centre parties. Instead, that opposition may come from the most unlikely source imaginable -- from Putin's own hand-picked President, Dmitri Medvedev.

A worsening economic situation in Russia -- one that has Russia's oil oligarchs hemoraging money -- may be making Putin particularly vulnerable.

"It's a very fragile system, and Putin could well become a scapegoat for a lot of people inside the elites," muses Solidarinost leader Gary Kasparov. "Whether or not he genuinely wants to, we could see Medvedev emerge as a sort of perestroika leader."

Signs of a rift between Putin and Medvedev have been creeping into public view recently.

Medvedev recently questioned many of Putin's accomplishments during his time as President.

"It's easy to work when there are high revenues, above all from oil and gas exports," Medvedev recently said. "It's like you're not doing anything yourself, yet the profit just keeps coming in. That's great. But now it's important, first, to show that we can learn to spend money – budget money – rationally, and second, to be competent managers."

Of course Putin didn't always benefit from sky-high oil and gas revenues. He first came to office in 1999 when the Russian ruble had collapsed and the Russian economy was at an all-time low.

But Medvedev has been criticizing Putin an awful lot lately. He may be eyeing his Prime Minister as particularly vulnerable.

Medvedev has even ordered revision of a bill that would define treason in a manner that could cast political opposition as treasonous. This was one of Putin's bills.

"This was a key piece of Putinist legislation," says Kasparov. "It would've meant that people like me could easily be rounded up and arrested for treason. It's very significant that Medvedev and his allies have blocked it."

This is a significant change from less than two months ago when Medvedev helped push changes to Russia's Presidential term that would clearly pave the way for Putin to re-take the Presidency and hold it for another twelve years.

Putin's own role within the United Russia party -- he's always kept the party at arms length as much as possible -- could even turn out to be a serious liability for him if a power struggle with Medvedev really does materialize.

For his own part, Kasparov doesn't rule out the possibility of a mass revolt against Putin and Medvedev.

"People have had a stable life and still think that things will get better again," says Kasparov. "I expect the first waves of protests to start in earnest in March or April."

If Medvedev catches signs of such a revolt ahead of time, one can imagine that it would only hasten any machinations against Putin. But by the same token, Putin is known to be an extremely savvy political operator. There's no way he'll allow himself to be scapegoated without a fight.

Whether the Russian people turn on Medvedev and Putin or the two of them turn on each other, it's certain that the real winner will be Gary Kasparov and Solidarinost.

One can count on the Chess Grandmaster being prepared to take advantage.

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