Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) and President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow on Feb. 23
Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin confirmed March 2 that he would appoint current President Dmitri Medvedev as premier once he resumed the presidency. Putin first announced the job swap plan in September 2011, saying they had discussed the plan for years. However, since then, Medvedev and Putin have been quiet on the issue, and many within Russian media and political circles came to believe that Putin was not serious about the plan and was considering other candidates for prime minister.
The premiership's responsibilities and power have shifted over the years. Russia's prime minister oversees the organization of the teams that will address political, economic and security issues and is meant to balance the competing agendas of the Kremlin's political clans.
Rumors began surfacing in the Kremlin that Putin was considering bypassing Medvedev for the premiership because Medvedev was increasingly seen as weak and did not offer much of a strategy to address Russia's growing social, political and economic problems. Furthermore, the more liberal Kremlin clan -- the civiliki, from which Medvedev derived support -- fell into disarray. Kremlin rumors indicated that Putin could turn to former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who left the Kremlin after a falling out with Medvedev and has spent the past few months working with anti-Kremlin protesters. By appointing Kudrin as prime minister, Putin could have pacified the protesters and brought Kudrin's much-needed sharp economic and financial strategies back to the Kremlin. However, Stratfor sources say members of the siloviki clan (who are mostly security hawks) pressured Putin to keep any politician who has flirted with the opposition out of the Kremlin.
Putin's decision on prime minister came down to who would be the least controversial choice going into a politically volatile environment over the next few months. Putin has said that after the election, he will implement a large-scale restructuring and purge of the government, including his elite inner circles. Moreover, some are concerned about the balance of power within the Kremlin under Putin, as the civiliki clan does not have any leader or unifying force, while the siloviki have reconsolidated. Appointing Medvedev as premier is a way to keep the siloviki at bay while rebuilding a power base for the civiliki.
However, Putin's decision could be short-term. Previously as president, Putin went through four premiers -- Mikhail Kasyanov, Viktor Kristenko, Mikhail Fradkov and Victor Zubkov -- changing premiers to meet the needs of the strategy being implemented, either domestically or internationally, and to maintain the balance of power within the Kremlin. For example, Putin appointed Fradkov, a tax chief and Kremlin outsider, when the government was consolidating control over the economy and the Kremlin clans were battling. Zubkov, a financial strategist, was named premier when Russia faced a financial crisis.
Regardless of who is prime minister, Putin will remain in charge. The premiership is important, however, in that it helps keep a balance within Putin's government -- something that is key to Putin's control.