For quite a while now the Kremlin has been preoccupied with creating and managing a loyal ‘opposition’ to itself. Credit for the idea seems to go to Vladislav Surkov, the president’s first deputy chief of staff under both Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. In 2006 Surkov met with Sergei Mironov, the leader of a small centre-left party and chairman of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house. Surkov spoke of the need for a two-party system: ‘Society needs “the second leg” to shift on to, when the first one gets stiff.’ The second leg took the form of A Just Russia, created from the merger of several smaller parties to attract the votes of ‘the left with strong nationalist inclinations’. United Russia was to remain the dominant leg, of course.
Any number of reasons have been put forward to explain why the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, sacked Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, last week. Some commentators have put it down to an interview Luzhkov gave to Rossijskaia Gazeta in early September, in which he challenged Medvedev from what was thought to be a pro-Putin position. Others say it’s because Luzhkov failed to cut short his holiday and return to Moscow when the city was engulfed in smoke from the summer’s wildfires. Still others say it’s because Medvedev wanted to show that he was serious in his struggle against corruption, for which Luzhkov was notorious. Many think that it’s so the Kremlin can establish control over Moscow’s corrupt electoral mechanisms before the 2011 national elections. Almost all speak about a redistribution of capital flows between Russia’s various power groups.