When Vladimir Putin decided against challenging the Russian constitution and chose not to run for a third consecutive term as President, he instead picked Dmitry Medvedev as his replacement — and arranged to keep him in check as Prime Minister instead.  Apparently Medvedev has become a little too independent for Putin’s taste now, as the Australian reported today.  After public criticism from his protegé, Putin has decided to push Medvedev aside and get the presidency back:

RUSSIAN Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has decided to run for the presidency next year, raising the possibility of a power struggle with his protege Dmitry Medvedev, the incumbent Kremlin leader, say highly placed sources.

The once-close relationship between Mr Putin, the tough-talking former KGB officer who has inspired a personality cult, and Mr Medvedev, a softly spoken Twitter enthusiast, has become increasingly fractious amid speculation in Moscow that the younger man wishes to stand again.

Insiders familiar with both leaders said Mr Putin, who served eight years as president before becoming Prime Minister three years ago, had begun to lose confidence in Mr Medvedev’s loyalty.

Under the constitution, Mr Putin’s move to reclaim the presidency could see him rule for two consecutive six-year terms until 2024, when he will be 72. If so, he would have served as prime minister or president for 24 years in all.

What triggered this split?  It’s been a long time coming, it seems.  Medvedev has chafed under the tutelage of Putin, and the conflict broke out into the open last week.  Medvedev said publicly that “[a] person who thinks he can stay in power indefinitely is a danger to society.”  Lest one thinks that Medvedev referred to Libya or Yemen with that comment, he followed it up with this context: “Russian history shows that monopolizing power leads to stagnation or civil war.”

Medvedev’s right, of course, but Putin’s not old enough to have lost any of his political support.  If control of the Russian autocracy comes down solely to a contest of wills, Putin will win it easily.  Unless Medvedev wants to lead yet another Russian revolution against Putin — and he might find some willing to go down that road with him, if he so chose — Putin will continue his reign as a modern tsar in either the guise of the presidency or as Prime Minister until he dies.