The fallout from Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he plans to return to the Kremlin is being felt throughout Russia, with a key liberal official indicating that he plans to quit the government.
The finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, a darling of the west because of his commitment to the free market and fiscal conservatism, said he would refuse to serve under Dmitry Medvedev, who is due to replace Putin as prime minister. His departure would deal a severe blow to liberal elements inside the ruling regime.
“I do not see myself in a new government,” Kudrin said during a visit to Washington. “The point is not that nobody has offered me the job; I think that the disagreements I have [with Medvedev] will not allow me to join this government.”
The reformist minister said disputes about spending were to blame and it was unclear why he blamed Medvedev when Putin has the final say over the country’s economic path.
return to the presidency was widely expected, the announcement, at a congress of the ruling United Russia party on Saturday, caught many off guard – even Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said in an interview: “We were totally unprepared for what was announced. It was their bilateral decision – and then they didn’t alert anyone about it.”
Others expressed dismay. “There is no reason for happiness,” tweeted Arkady Dvorkovich, another liberal politician and economic adviser to Medvedev, as the congress came to a close on Saturday.
The prospect of two more terms for Putin exacerbating creeping social and economic stagnation prompted comparisons with the long rule of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Around 300 people went on a protest against the decision in central Moscow.
Putin’s announcement that he planned to run for president in March’s vote confirmed the widely held view that he is Russia’s foremost ruler. In recent years, he has fashioned himself as a “national leader”, and was referred to as such several times at the party congress.
Medvedev’s political fate appeared less clear. The announcement of Putin’s return turns him into a lame duck. “He is the person we still have to call the president of the country, but we already can’t twist our tongues to do it,” wrote Moskovsky Komsomolets, the country’s most popular tabloid. Medvedev told the congress he would accept a post as prime minister.
Yet some analysts speculated that Kudrin’s departure from government signalled the possibility that he would either become prime minister or move to a post inside the Kremlin. Despite his liberal leanings, Kudrin remains an ally of Putin and works to balance the hardline elements within the regime, known as siloviki.