MOSCOW — Three and a half years ago, the rock bands Mashina Vremeni and Chaif led the celebrations for Dmitry Medvedev’s election as president with a gala concert on Red Square.
Disillusioned and frustrated, they now they won’t be doing the same for Vladimir Putin if, as is widely expected, he wins Russia’s presidential elections in March of next year.
“I don’t really like what is going on at the moment,” Andrei Makarevich, the front man for Mashina Vremeni, tells RFE/RL’s Russian Service. “They’ve already told us who will be president. The problem is not that it is Putin. Rather, it is the feeling that we’re being robbed of what was left of our electoral rights.”
The revolt of the rockers is just the latest manifestation of discontent regarding Putin’s decision to return to the presidency, which was announced at a congress of the ruling United Russia party on September 24. At the same congress, Putin proposed that Medvedev lead United Russia’s party list in elections to the State Duma in December and then serve as his prime minister.
The role reversal confirmed a long held belief that Putin handpicked Medvedev in 2008 as a weak successor whom he could easily sweep aside four years later.
Despite proclaiming a desire to continue as president earlier this year, Medvedev now says he and Putin had actually agreed long ago that his mentor would return for a third presidential term.
Mashina Vremeni front man Andrei Makarevich meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the Rhythm Blues Cafe in Moscow in October 2010.
This admission was the last straw for Mashina Vremeni and Chaif, both of whom performed at a concert titled “I Choose Russia!” to celebrate Medvedev’s March 2008 election.
Vladimir Shakhrin, Chaif’s front man, says he now feels particularly betrayed by Medvedev’s admission that it had always been the plan for Putin to retake the presidency in 2012.
“I feel like the 2012 elections have already come and gone,” he says. “We had hoped for a different story and thought a different outcome was possible. When Dmitry Anatolevich [Medvedev] said that, ‘In principle, we decided all of this in 2007,’ it just killed me. He should never have said that.”
Shakhrin adds that he felt “uncomfortable” when he watched last weekend’s televised United Russia’s congress, in particular when delegates greeted every statement by Putin and Medvedev with a standing ovation and cheers.
Other manifestations of dissent and discontent have also become visible since Putin’s return was announced.
A day after the congress, Russia’s long-serving and highly respected finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, told journalists that he would not work in a Medvedev government due to disputes over government spending. In a bid to stamp his authority on the situation, Medvedev quickly called for Kudrin’s resignation, which he tendered on September 26. Kudrin is credited with steering Russia out of the global financial crisis of 2008 with his insistence on a conservative fiscal policy.
Moreover, Fyodor Bondarchuk, a prominent film director, spoke frankly at the United Russia congress on September 23, the day before Medvedev and Putin announced their intention to switch places.
“We’re tired of these endless meetings,” Bondarchuk said. “A large part of the population is ready to explode. The situation is boiling over. People are indignant. They are tired of corruption. Have you all lost your minds?”
The video of Bondarchuk’s outburst quickly went viral on YouTube:
In a bid to shore up his popularity for the remainder of what is now a lame-duck presidency, Medvedev on September 30 gave a primetime interview to Russia’s three federal channels. Explaining his rationale for stepping aside, Medvedev said simply that Putin is more authoritative and wields more popularity.
According to the independent polling organization the Levada Center, both Medvedev and Putin have popularity ratings of more than 60 percent, with Putin generally higher and nearing 70 percent.
Some analysts speculate that Medvedev will play the role of the “fall guy” when he becomes prime minister because he will be responsible for initiating unpopular reforms to Russia’s pension and social service system.
Moreover, Russia’s resource-dependent country looks increasingly vulnerable as the price of oil falls and a potential global recession looms.
Despite his disillusionment, Makarevich, 57, said he had no regrets about having played at the concert in 2008 in honor of Medvedev.
“I am probably just incorrigibly naive,” he says. “I pinned some hopes on Medvedev.”
RFE/RL’s Russian Service contributed to this report