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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Russia on the ropes part II: Batman returns? Or will clumsy Robin change into Mighty Man?

A little more than two years ago, I posted Russia on the Ropes, my first article on Minyanville on the gas wars between Russia and the Ukrain. Now it is time to go “back to the USSR”.

Not that there is a lot going on at this moment, but it is good to keep the country on your radar: In 2012 the presidential elections will be held there and Russia is currently sending mixed signals on the war in Libya. It might be that a battle for power is pending there.

Russia, the country that stretches about one third of the earth’s perimeter at that Northern longitude, is a country of which a lot of things can be said: It is a country that lots of people love to hate or hate to love. Others just love it:
-     Former superpower and now wannabe superpower
-     Home to some of the extremely rich and not so famous and to zillions of beautiful women.
-     A country where the most expensive restaurant is considered the best restaurant to hang out with your friends, if you can afford it.
-     And where bad taste is sometimes considered good taste (see picture)

Statue of Peter the Great in the river Moskva.
Arguably the ugliest and with +/- 65 yds one of the largest statues in the world.
Picture courtesy of

-       Former home of my lovely wife and some really good friends
-     And finding spot of:
o    almost all precious metals as gold, silver, platinum and palladium
o    rare earth minerals
o    diamonds
o    oil
o    natural gas

It is a country where communism ruled, only to be replaced by Wild West capitalism in the nineties and afterwards by a kind of democracy under President Vladimir Putin that reminds strongly of dictatorship. Current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitriy Medvedev were referred to as Batman and Robin by US diplomatic cables. Truly, I can’t blame the Americans for providing this connection, as it was spot-on initially.

Medvedev was the ideal transitory figure, enabling Putin to become the next president of Russia, as it was not allowed by the Russian constitution to be president three times in a row:
-     Both were good friends that shared the same university of St-Petersburg
-     They had a kind of ‘master and disciple’ relationship
-     Both had a strong connection to the secret service and to Gazprom, the Russian gas moloch.

What could go wrong?!

But when Medvedev became the next president, I had an argument with my wife, who is a historian and studied at the same university as Putin and Medvedev, of which she was very proud. And this argument can only be settled in 2012 when the next Russian presidential elections are there:

She stated that Medvedev will step aside without a frown and Putin will become the next president of Russia.

I stated that as Medvedev got a taste of the power, he would be unwilling to leave the presidential office voluntary.

And boy… do the signs look promising for my side of the bet. Some headlines of the newspapers over the last 1.5 years:

I must admit: it doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a political system so opaque as the Russian, one swallow could make summer after all. And although the Russian elections are only in 2012, these signals might point out that Medvedev won’t step aside so easily as everybody thought.

Who is who in this might-be internal clash:
-     Putin is a gung ho-politician, extremely macho and with a bad taste for jokes and speeches. He tries to overpower and sometimes brutalize his opponents and is model for the new self-confidence of Russia. Behind this macho façade an intelligent and inquisitive mind is hiding. He is certainly not someone you should underestimate.

-     Medvedev is the good cop, compared to bad cop Putin, younger and less loaded with the communist past. He seems more accessible to Europe and the USA and he seems to be more of an Atlanticist. His moderate attitude makes it much harder for people to get at odds with him.

Further Medvedev is almost faceless: he has been President of Russia for four years now and although my wife and I watch the Russian news quite often, I can’t remember anything significant of him. He DOES look like Robin.

Most Russians would say that Medvedev virtually doesn’t stand a chance against Putin, who seems so much more powerful in his appearance. But this disadvantage could easily turn into an advantage as it comes to international relations. Medvedev is so much more acceptable as president of Russia than Putin and by being elected, he could bring stability and prosperity to Russia in the form of international companies and contracts.

Summarizing, multinational companies would be smart to keep the Russian elections on their radar. Betting on the right horse can further enable their access to Russian’s valuable possessions, while the wrong horse could mean the door would be locked up.
And it could be that the right horse is Dmitriy Medvedev. 

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