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The ongoing presidential campaign in Russia has been described
The ongoing presidential campaign in Russia has been described as the flabbiest and most boring in the country's post-Communist history.

There are only four candidates, two of whom - the political survivors Gennady Zyuganov (the Communist Party) and Liberal Democratic leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky - have been on the political scene too long. They have lost their appeal and so have slim chances of winning the election.

The third candidate is Andrei Bogdanov, leader of the tiny pro-Western Democratic Party, which exists only on paper. He has been chosen for the race by the Kremlin spin-doctors because it would be good to have a candidate representing the democratic ideology without threatening the elite.

In this situation, victory by First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, whose nomination was supported by President Vladimir Putin, is almost assured. Medvedev will most likely win in the first round and with a huge margin.

But it would be too simple to blame the presidential campaign's blandness on the Kremlin spin-doctors alone.

The majority of Russians want change, but a change that would be gradual and would not dramatically worsen their living standards, as it happened in the 1990s, and would not spur political tensions. Medvedev matches these expectations perfectly. He represents the ruling elite and so will not try to enforce rapid change, the people think.

At the same time, he has indicated in his election speeches that he will reform the spheres where the people want change most urgently. It is the social sphere, where the gap between the rich and the poor keeps growing, while access to quality healthcare and education remains narrow for the general public. Another sphere concerns relations between the people and the state, where bureaucrats' arbitrary rule at all levels of the power pyramid is growing stronger.

This is why Medvedev has launched the battle against "legal nihilism." The presidential team has opted for a conflict-free strategy for the election campaign largely because the majority of Russians associate the race with soft positive expectations, which does not imply tough election confrontation, a battle of positions, or harsh debates.

This is a major feature distinguishing the presidential race from the December 2007 parliamentary elections, when the dramatic rise in inflation stripped the pro-Kremlin United Russia party of positive instruments. By the end of the campaign, it resorted to harsh confrontation with the parties the people firmly associate with the difficult 1990s. They were accused of planning an "oligarchic revenge" and of serving U.S. interests.

Today nobody is quarrelling, and it looks as if each candidate is busy trying to play his role best. This seems to suit both the puppeteers and the audience.

In fact, none of this matters. The most important question is whether Medvedev can form a team capable of doing what the people expect it to do. The answer to this question largely depends on goings-on behind the scenes of the presidential campaign, on the silent battle for seats in the state apparatus and for control of the most profitable assets of the national economy, waged by powerful interest groups in Putin's team.

The outcome of this battle is not clear. Besides, as Putin indicated at the extended meeting of the State Council on February 8, he plans to play an active role not only in politics, but also in formulating and implementing the priorities as outlined by the people.

We will know how all of these elements will influence the policy of the new Kremlin boss only after the elections.

Andrei Ryabov is an expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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