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‘Vice President Medvedev’ Russia’s prime minister is about to become Putin’s deputy in the Security Council. What does that mean?

Source: Meduza
Sergey Savostyanov / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Vladimir Putin has offered Acting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who resigned the prime minister’s post on January 15, a new position as the deputy chair of Russia’s Security Council. This will make Medvedev deputy to Putin himself: Russia’s primary security law dictates that the Security Council is always chaired by the president. Medvedev’s former position, meanwhile, will be occupied by Federal Tax Service head Mikhail Mishustin.

Federation Council member Vladimir Dzhabarov has already compared Medvedev’s new role to a kind of vice presidency. Nonetheless, one source close to Medvedev’s government said the acting prime minister knew nothing about Putin’s planned constitutional changes or about his upcoming job change until Putin’s January 15 address to the Federal Assembly. The two agreed to the switch only afterward during a private meeting. As a head of government, Medvedev already had an ex officio role in the Security Council, and some of the council’s members retained their positions even after Medvedev and his government resigned, including former Internal Affairs Minister Rashid Nurgaliev and Sergey Ivanov, Putin’s former chief of staff.

Two sources close to the presidential administration told Meduza that in recent months, Medvedev and Sergey Kirienko, Putin’s deputy chief of staff, have been grappling for control of Russia’s domestic politics. Medvedev wanted a guarantee that the United Russia party, which he leads and which dominates Russian politics nationwide, would receive a constitutional majority following the next State Duma elections, while Kirienko advocated for several new parties to be pushed into the Duma in order to create a broad pro-Putin coalition. Ultimately, a number of individuals loyal to Kirienko joined United Russia’s leadership team. Meanwhile, governors who ran with support from Putin’s administration actively worked to promote their own agenda in the State Council. Their ideas contradicted those of the federal executive branch and even criticized Medvedev’s cabinet openly.

As he resigned his prime minister’s post, Medvedev said, “We, as the government of the Russian Federation, must present the president of our country with the opportunity to make all necessary decisions, and in those circumstances, I believe that it would be right in correspondence with Article 117 of the Russian Constitution for the government of the Russian Federation in its current composition to submit its resignation.” Nonetheless, as Higher School of Economics constitutional law expert Ilya Shablinksy explained to Meduza, “There are no legal reasons for the government’s resignation” because none of the constitutional changes Putin proposed obligate the current government to yield its authority.

Medvedev’s appointment to the Security Council entails some legal obstacles. In the same security law that grants Putin the council’s leadership, there is no provision establishing a role for a deputy chair. The law only provides for a chair, a secretary (currently Nikolai Patrushev), permanent members, and members. On one hand, Article 13 of that same law grants the president the duty of confirming a directive that sets the foundation for the Security Council’s work, and Putin could theoretically include a deputy chair position in that directive. Immediately following the announcement of Medvedev’s new political path, Putin clarified that “if changes will have to be made to current law,” he is prepared to make those changes. The fact that some formalities in the transition process have not yet been planned confirms that the events of January 15 developed spontaneously as far as Medvedev is concerned.

Exactly what powers Medvedev will have as Putin’s deputy in the Security Council is also unclear. By law, the council is charged with preparing presidential decisions concerning security, foreign policy, the defense industry, and military collaboration. The Security Council’s powers are exclusively advisory, but its current secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, has a reputation as one of Russia’s most influential siloviki, or security and intelligence officials. At least on paper, Medvedev will be above Patrushev in the council’s hierarchy. In addition, as anonymous sources have told RIA Novosti, the former prime minister will retain his current position as the head of United Russia.

Political scientist Konstantin Gaaze believes that the decision to transfer Medvedev to the Security Council was unplanned “because otherwise, what would the problem have been with sitting there till September, preparing a referendum [on Putin’s proposed constitutional changes], and resigning after that?” Gaaze told Meduza that Medvedev likely “lost it” and was unable to hold his ground as premier, making his new position no more than “a golden parachute.” However, Gaaze said he could not rule out the possibility that Putin is sending Medvedev to oversee the same siloviki who have “drunk his blood” over the last 10 years.

Carnegie Moscow Center expert Tatiana Stanovaya called Medvedev a “toxic figure.” “I think Putin believed appointing him as, say, the head of Gazprom or the Constitutional Court would have been a relatively dangerous option because Medvedev sparks a lot of conflict, and a significant portion of the elite does not accept him. Giving Medvedev some kind of actual territory to work with real authority to boot would have been dangerous for Putin himself,” she said. On the other hand, Stanovaya said, being Putin’s deputy will give Medvedeva a kind of protection: “Anyone who attacks Medvedev will essentially be attacking the president.” However, Stanovaya argued that the Security Council vice chair is unlikely to have any significant legal powers.

Regardless of his new position, Medvedev has the right to receive a number of benefits as Russia’s former president, a role he filled from 2008 to 2012. Russian law guarantees former heads of government state-provided security guards, public funding, and certain benefits for family members. Former presidents also enjoy legal immunity, but that immunity can be revoked if the former president faces charges of committing a felony.

Analysis by Dmitry Kartsev with assistance from Andrey Pertsev, Pavel Merzlikin, Kristina Safonova, and Maxim Solopov

Translation by Hilah Kohen

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