I found two articles this past week on the Tandem, and its continued viability. The first was by Andrei Kolesnikov of Novaya Gazeta, published by Open Democracy. In his article, Kolesnikov cites examples of tension within the Tandem ranging from Okhta Centre in Saint Petersburg (a win for Medvedev, per Kolesnikov) to Khimki (a win for Putin), and, of course, the sacking of Yuri Luzhkov (a win for Medvedev).
Kolesnikov explains the theory behind the Tandem thusly:
This model was initially built on the principle of complementarity [sic]: the Prime Minister works with simple people, nurturing the image of a pragmatic manager, while the President works with a more sophisticated audience, which stands to attention at the words “gadgets” and “modernization”…. But precisely because the two heads of state did not reach an agreement beforehand as to which of them would stand for the presidential election in 2012, a split in the tandem is inevitable. Or—given the unpredictable nature of Russian politics—almost inevitable.
In short, the rules of the game did not provide for any opposition.
Kolesnikov brings up a good point. The Tandem was always intended to be a temporary fix. There was never a possibility that it could be used indefinitely. The very nature of the Tandem is unstable. Something that is the opposite of everything Putin has ever said or preached (to the extent that Putin is a preacher). How can Putin advocate an unstable system like the Tandem, and still maintain his credibility with all of Kolesnikov’s so-called “simple people”? He can’t.
And because the Tandem is both unstable, and temporary, they are essentially back to square one, or where they were about four years ago when the clan wars happened. While the clan wars were fun (or at least a source of entertainment) for those of us watching from a distance, I doubt it was very fun for those participating in it.
And why did the clan wars occur? There were several reasons, but the main reason was because they did not know what they were going to do when Putin had to step down as the Constitution dictated. And they still don’t know. So they are, quite naturally, panicking. And everyone wants a piece of the pie, as Tom DeWaal said in the second article I found on the tension in the Tandem:
Russian leaders are not fully autonomous actors, but the patrons of big client networks. If Medvedev or Putin has occasional thoughts of retiring to spend more time at the dacha, that is anathema to their closest aides, who will lose far more than their bosses, both materially and politically, by being ejected from the seat of power. So although Medvedev and Putin use every opportunity to declare steadfast loyalty to one another, their apparatchiks are already engaged in covert warfare. Already loyalists from each camp have begun to send out their signals that their man would like to run for president in 2012.
I can see this ending terribly. And I am kind of worried about it. This could turn out to be worse than the clan war of 2006-2007. Unless they come up with yet another temporary fix. At least this time they’ll have 6 years to come up with another fix after that.
I guess the real question is: how long can Putin keep playing the clans off each other before someone (or a group of someones) snaps, and blows the whole thing to smithereens? The only thing saving them at this point seems to be the fact that all that money is addicting.
P.S. After I wrote this, Brian Whitmore, over at The Power Vertical wrote a piece claiming that the Tandem has essentially boxed themselves in, and have no choice but to let the Tandem continue. It is an interesting theory anyway.