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Updated: December 2, 2010 04:50 IST

U.S. believes Putin's in charge in Russia

Luke Harding
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Former Russian President Vladimir Putin, center left, and President Dmitry Medvedev, in Moscow's Kremlin. FIle photo
AP Former Russian President Vladimir Putin, center left, and President Dmitry Medvedev, in Moscow's Kremlin. FIle photo

The leaked cables suggest Putin will decide whether Mr. Medvedev serves a second term, whether he will return to the presidency himself or give the job to someone else.

Vladimir Putin still pulls the strings in Russia, with President Dmitry Medvedev a more junior figure who “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman”, U.S. diplomats have said in frank dispatches from Moscow released by WikiLeaks.

Since Mr. Putin stepped down as president in 2008, political analysts have been scrambling to assess whether he - or his handpicked successor, Medvedev - is Russia’s real leader. After leaving the Kremlin, Mr. Putin immediately became prime minister.

Secret diplomatic cables seen by the Guardian reveal the U.S. emphatically believes Mr. Putin to be in charge. They also suggest Putin will decide whether Mr. Medvedev serves a second term, whether he will return to the presidency himself or give the job to someone else.

In a dispatch sent in February 2010, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Beyrle, dubbed the Putin-Medvedev pairing “Russia’s bicephalous ruling format”. He made clear that he saw Mr. Putin as the more important of the two heads.

“Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin work well together, but Mr. Putin holds most, and the best, of the cards in the tandem relationship. His return to the Kremlin is not inevitable, but should things remain stable, Mr. Putin remains in a position to choose himself, Mr. Medvedev, or another person as Russia’s next president.” Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev have left pundits guessing as to their intentions before an election in the spring of 2012. Both have indicated they may stand again as president. Putin stepped down after two four-year terms, in accordance with Russia’s constitution. This has now been changed, giving the next president a six-year stint.

The U.S. ambassador illustrated Mr. Putin’s supremacy by retelling a joke doing the rounds in Moscow. “Mr. Medvedev sits in the driver’s seat of a new car, examines the inside, the instrument panel, and the pedals. He looks around, but the steering wheel is missing. He turns to Mr. Putin and asks: ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich, where is the steering wheel?’ Mr. Putin pulls a remote control out of his pocket and says: ‘I’ll be the one doing the driving.’ ” U.S. officials advised that looking for splits in the Putin-Medvedev tandem was a waste of time. They also said gullible Europeans and Americans who believed Mr. Medvedev was more enlightened than Mr. Putin were probably fooling themselves.

“A search for evidence of dissonance between the two leaders is either the forlorn hope of western-leaning liberals ... or a legacy of ‘Kremlinology’ that presupposes inter-leadership conflict as the sine qua non of Russian politics,” according to the deputy U.S. ambassador, Eric Rubin.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010

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