Georgia Splits the Kremlin

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.

One indication that something new is affecting Russian policy is provided by those loyal Kremlin pundits who are known for their gift of unmistakably guessing their masters’ changing moods. One after another, they have appeared on television and radio to denounce “provokers,” whom they dare not name, for “planning the incursion of Russian troops all the way to Tbilisi and the establishment there of a pro-Russian government.”