Georgia Splits the Kremlin

Neither Vladimir Putin nor Dmitry Medvedev wants to invade Tbilisi, much as they may despise Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. But their stance is being increasingly challenged by nationalists who care not a whit about Russian plutocrats vast personal property holdings in the West.

MOSCOW – Dmitry Medvedev inherited the post of President of the Russian Federation from Vladimir Putin, and while Putin moved down the pecking order to become Prime Minister, speculation has abounded from the start of Medvedev’s presidency about an eventual split between Russia’s two highest leaders. The first days of the conflict in Georgia crushed this hypothesis.

Indeed, Putin and Medvedev have worked in perfect tandem with respect to Georgia, cooperating and skillfully performing their different roles, with Putin cast in the lead role of the menacing god of a Russian reckoning, and Medvedev in the supporting role of a possible humanitarian peacemaker.

But the Georgia crisis revealed a new strategic force in the Kremlin that opposes both Putin and Medvedev. We still cannot name its players, but we are aware of its interests and impact on events in the same way that astronomers discern a new but invisible planet by recording its impact on known and visible objects in space.

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