Yeltsin's Russia adopted mainly western ideas; the Russia of Putin-Medvedev is trying to come up with a model of its own. But can the two leaders agree on what the model is?by Mark Leonard / October 20, 2010 / Leave a comment
From his garret office in a smart block on the banks of the river Moskva, Gleb Pavlovsky has a bird’s-eye view of Russian politics. Literally: a telescope in the corner of the room looks right into the Kremlin. With a moon-shaped face and round body, Pavlovsky looks like a teddy bear, but he is not so cuddly. The architect of Vladimir Putin’s 2000 and 2004 presidential victories, Pavlovsky is co-founder and president of the Foundation for Effective Politics, a consulting organisation which is a trailblazer of post-Soviet politics. During the many election campaigns it has helped run, the foundation has pioneered dubious tactics: setting up parties with similar names to established ones, running fake candidates, publicly attacking the reputations of others, and spreading compromising information about political enemies. Yet Pavlovsky sees himself as an intellectual rather than a machine politician. And now he is grappling with his hardest project yet: transcending the Putin consensus that he worked so hard to bring about in order to build President Dmitry Medvedev’s profile as a modernising alternative.
Although Putin oversaw an often brutal and kleptocratic regime, his era has not just been about accumulating wealth and power. Alongside the former spooks and hard men who helped him suppress dissent, he attracted an army of intellectuals to his side—many of whom, like Pavlovsky, are former liberals. These thinkers have been engaged in a parallel quest to develop a Russian state with a distinct ideology.
Putin’s consensus was built in three main steps. First, he sought to reinvent Russian politics by building a system of “responsive authoritarianism,” alert to what people wanted and, for a while, able to give it to them. Second, he developed a new economic model, seizing assets from oligarchs to create a form of state capitalism. Third, he used these assets to restore Russia’s status as an energy superpower.
There is now a heated debate about all three strands of the Putin model, which has divided the country into two main factions. But the split does not pit the government against the opposition. Rather it is an argument within the elite about the best way forward—and it will come to define Russia’s political system, its economic model and its foreign policy
In September, the contest burst into the open when Putin gathered his favourite thinkers on a boat for a discussion on stability. Less than a week later, Medvedev organised a…