Meet The New Boss

Putin picks non-FSB technocrat Dmitri Medvedev to be his appointed successor, over the somewhat better-known Sergei Ivanov who has more of a Putin-style background in the security services. Much baseless speculation as to the meaning of this can be found in the newspapers. Rather than engage in more of it myself, I thought I might look at the New York Times's coverage of when Boris Yeltsin first picked Putin to be his designated successor:

''I don't think we should blow this out of proportion,'' said James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman. ''We have focused our policy on the policies of Russian reform and the policies of the Russian Government, not the personalities.'' But he added, ''We do have some experience with Mr. Putin and have a constructive relationship with him.'' [...]

Even if he proves to be more effective political player, few observers today gave Mr. Putin a real chance to become a viable presidential candidate, given the depth of popular antipathy to his mentor. For more than a year, Mr. Yeltsin's popularity rating has been in the single digits, as broad swathes of the Russian population -- from disgruntled pensioners to disgusted entrepreneurs -- blame him for economic stagnation and rampant corruption. [...]

As he demonstrated today, Mr. Yeltsin is still willing to wield the considerable power vested in his office to try to turn the political tide. As in the hard-fought election campaign of 1996, he and his administration can still use or withhold money from the federal budget to reward or punish wayward regional leaders. [...]

Analysts here are divided over Mr. Yeltsin's motives. Some argue that he is intent on bequeathing to Russia, as his parting legacy, a Government and a President who are committed to completing the country's transformation into a functioning democracy, with a market-based economy. The rise of a Primakov-Luzhkov team, backed by a coalition of Soviet-era industrial directors and some of Russia's more autocratic governors, is seen by Mr. Yeltsin's circle as a threat to those goals.

That fairly unprescient article did end on an important note of caution: "a year is a long time in Russian politics, in which alliances and promises can evaporate as quickly as they are made." Basically, though, American analysis of Russian politics seems to be like the old adage about Hollywood's understanding of how to make hit movies: Nobody knows anything.