The Kremlin said it had discerned the roots of a defamatory campaign against Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. As RBC reports citing two high-profile officials inside the Kremlin, Medvedev’s opponents have launched a coordinated campaign, in the media and on social networks, trying to discredit the PM and get him to resign.
As we noted previously, a furor erupted after Medvedev, talking at a forum, recommended Russian teachers unhappy with their low salaries go into business instead.
Two days later, a petition addressed to Vladimir Putin, calling for Medvedev’s resignation appeared on Change.org. Initiated by Alexander Li, who had not previously filed any petitions on the website, it had scored over 270,000 signatures at time of writing. The petition says the following:
The Government should be headed by a professional, intelligent man who feels for his country. What we see now is quite the opposite. A de facto brand-face of Apple, a man who falls asleep at the Sochi Olympics’ opening ceremony and recommends teachers to “somewhere, somehow make extra money to survive” should not be the head of the Cabinet. Fish starts to rot at its head, so maybe that’s where the ministries’ “effectiveness” comes from?
The Kremlin officials RBC anonymously talked to are sure that specially trained people on social media were monitoring and waiting for Medvedev to say something wrong, to take it out of the context and use against the PM. RBC’s sources assume the attack was designed by either someone who wants to take the PM’s position or opposition forces who want the United Russia party to get less votes in the Duma elections in September. (Medvedev is the party leader).
The only person in the Russian Government who has been frequently alleged to be desperately wanting to become Prime Minister is former Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin. Furthermore, Kudrin had a public fight with Medvedev in 2011, after which he was fired from the Ministry. Since then the two are said to be the worst of enemies.
And despite his airbrushed image as a likable liberal, Dmitry Medvedev is known for his authoritarian rancor: there are a number of people in Russia who have lost their positions, including in the media, for displeasing him. The same goes for Kudrin: despite his public image as a self-effacing liberal civil servant, the man is known for his high ambitions, and in particular for his burning desire to get the PM’s position.
After being fired, Kudrin stayed out of public service for a while, before joining the Presidential Economical Council as a deputy. (The Council’s head is Vladimir Putin).
Recently, Russian media has been running stories on First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov’s extravagantly luxurious lifestyle. Meduza talked to journalists who said Shuvalov also had pretensions to the Prime Ministership, although it was described as being the normal desire of a bureaucrat for promotion.
Nevertheless, Igor Shuvalov is never named publicly as a possible replacement Prime Minister—unlike Alexey Kudrin. Therefore, it stands to reason that if someone in the Kremlin does think that a defamation campaign is being waged against Medvedev, he or she suspects Kudrin as a mastermind. Nevertheless, earlier last week, even before Medvedev’s most recent public foul-up, Timothy Ash wrote in the FT that Putin would soon replace Medvedev with Kudrin. On the other hand, if the Kremlin sources meant that the opposition is behind the campaign, it is unclear why the normal jostling and competition of politics is being described as a frame-up.
At the end of the day, there might be no campaign at all. As Duma member Dmitry Gudkov wrote on his Facebook account, there cannot be no campaign against Medvedev because the PM perfectly meets Vladimir Putin’s need for a whipping boy. This, and the fact that Dmitry Medvedev entertains people with his statements every once in a while (like two month ago when he told retirees in Crimea “There is no money, but your cheer up, and have a nice day!”) suggests that if there is a campaign, the source of it might be Prime Minister Medvedev himself.