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Who is really running Russia?

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That street wisdom reflects the past thousand years of Russian history, in which the country has always been ruled by a single strong leader. Rare moments of divided authority have usually been times of threatened civil war, most recently in 1993 when gridlock between President Boris Yeltsin and his elected parliament culminated in gunfire and the subsequent restoration of near-total Kremlin power.

Hence the widespread skepticism last year when Medvedev was vaulted into the Kremlin in a controlled election and Putin moved offices but kept the spotlight he had previously enjoyed.

'Medvedev is a general with no army'

Under Russia's 1993 Constitution, the prime minister is an appointed technocrat who serves at the president's pleasure. In the past, most have toiled in the Kremlin's shadow. But Putin's daily activities have been covered by Russian state TV as fully as Medvedev's. At times of emergency – such as the recent war with neighboring Georgia – Putin has taken center stage.

Both men have repeatedly insisted that their "tandem" is working well. So far, events have borne out that claim.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, one of Russia's top experts on its political elite, says that if one ignores the terms of Russia's Constitution and looks at who actually holds the levers of power, the apparently peaceful relationship makes sense.

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