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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fathers and Sons

Two questions hung over Russia: Whom would President Vladimir Putin appoint as his successor? What role would Putin play in that successor's government? We now know the answer to the first, and, to some extent, to the second. But these answers generate as many new questions as they put old ones to rest.

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev may be no more than the face Putin wants on "post-Putin" Russia, but it's an interesting choice in itself: young, business-oriented, with a background in the intelligentsia, not intelligence. As a West-appeasing choice, the slightly Clintonesque Medvedev -- rock-loving, boyish, unsteady -- was a smart move.

As a signal in domestic politics, the choice of Medvedev is less easy to read. Was this a signal to the siloviki to cease their internecine warfare or risk getting cut out of the game? Or perhaps he decided that it was impolitic to have too many ex-KGB people out in front -- better to have Medvedev serve as an amiable frontman while the same crowd maintains control in back.

Medvedev was also chosen because he was controllable. Though he and Putin are both from Leningrad, their backgrounds couldn't be more different. Medvedev was an academic and the only child of academics. Putin grew up in a slum battling rats for fun when not watching KGB thriller movies and dreaming of espionage glory. There's no question who'll be calling the shots.

People in the know describe the relationship of Putin and Medvedev as that of father and son. It was Putin who brought Medvedev up from local St. Petersburg government to the heights of power -- head of Gazprom and first deputy prime minister. In fact, Medvedev's willingness to accept United Russia's selection as its candidate for president is the ultimate sign of loyalty to Putin.

But can he? Power not only corrupts, it awakens latent talents unsuspected by others and by the person himself. That shouldn't be too much of a problem with Medvedev, who has no power base, although presidents can acquire those fast enough. Medvedev should be worried about Putin. Even if Medvedev is only a figurehead, he will still be the one who will attend certain high occasions of state. His office will be in the Kremlin, Prime Minister Putin's will be in the White House. How much does Putin need the trappings and glory, and how much will he content himself with the satisfaction of power itself? His KGB background shaped him for the latter, but his eight years on the world stage could have offset that.

A lot of Russian history is about fathers and sons. The revolutionaries were rising up against the paternalistic tsar as much as tsarism. Dostoevsky's classic novel "The Brothers Karamazov" centers on the slaying of the father. Consumed by suspicion, Russian leaders like Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Josef Stalin sent their own sons to their deaths. So, to describe the Putin-Medvedev relationship as father-son is not necessarily touchy-feely.

The personal elements of trust and loyalty will matter because Putin has stated that he does not want to fiddle with the Constitution. If his intention is to return to the presidency during Medvedev's term or immediately after, Putin would not want to formally shift too much executive power to the prime minister only to have to shift it back. But if his plan is to remain for a long time as prime minister, then he will no doubt want much of the presidential power shifted to him on an informal basis -- a situation whose inevitable ambiguities can lead to all sorts of misunderstanding.

Medvedev is on record as favoring a strong presidency and is known as one of those mild-mannered intelligentsia types who can become intractable when points of principle are concerned. And it is around that point where the father-son drama could play out.

Richard Lourie is the author of "A Hatred for Tulips" and "Sakharov: A Biography."