Medvedev takes on Putin over Libyan war
By Jason Bush
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
MOSCOW — The Libyan conflict has widened the rift between Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin in what could be a turning point for Russia’s political future.
Medvedev broadly supports the Western position on Libya, and has ensured that Russia simply abstained, instead of using its veto power, over the U.N. Security Council resolution for a no-fly zone. Putin, on the other hand, has called the resolution “fundamentally mistaken”.
This earned him a surprisingly strong rebuke from the president, in the strongest sign yet that disagreements between the two leaders are far from superficial, contrary to popular Western belief. In fact, the ideological divide separating them becomes clearer by the day. The division of power has been unstable and unclear for a while. Turf wars between their respective staffs are routine, and the voicing of their disagreements have become more common.
Medvedev has positioned himself as a champion of liberal values, seeking to align Russia with the West to attract investment and has made statements about the necessity for his country to abide by the rule of law. Putin, on the other hand, has echoed the views of Russia’s security and foreign policy establishment, deeply-rooted in the old Soviet mistrust of Western intentions.
Medvedev’s put-down of his prime minister shows not only that he can make his own decisions — his view, after all, prevailed in the Libyan case — but that he feels he’s ready to fight the fight.
The Russian president is now facing a backlash from conservative officials. But few should doubt that he intends to run for a second term next year. The big question is what Putin thinks about Medvedev’s ambitions. He has previously hinted at returning himself to the Kremlin. Lately, it has seemed more likely that he won’t, instead giving a freer rein to Medvedev.
That should please investors, who definitely prefer Medvedev’s reformist rhetoric to Putin’s anti-Western jibes. But they will remain cautious until the uncertainty over who will rule Russia, and how, is resolved once and for all.