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Medvedevs Liberal Hot Air

Published: January 22, 2014 (Issue # 1794)


Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev often looks like the odd man out in the government he heads. Many people expected him to be retired to some meaningless sinecure once his four-year stint as figurehead president ended in May 2012. Yet President Vladimir Putin is keeping him on. The question is why.

Medvedevs presidency was not a success by any measure. His early liberal agenda, which stirred hope among some members of the intelligentsia, quickly proved nothing but hot air. He was ineffectual, timid and maladroit in his public appearances. His infantile delight in high-tech gadgets and the social media was ridiculed, and his love of 1960s British rock bands made him look like a latent teenager.

The low assessment of Medvedev is probably the only thing the opposition and Putins supporters share today. Putin himself often seemed irritated by Medvedev during his proteges presidency. Since returning to the Kremlin, he pointedly curbed the modernization program Medvedev advocated. Some of the oligarchs who supported the former president felt pressured.

So far, Medvedevs tenure as prime minister has done little to dispel the impression of him as a nonentity. Putin has criticized the work of Medvedevs government, expressing impatience with its failures to implement his May 2012 directives on social programs and the economy.

Medvedev must also be a constant reminder to Putin of his failure to create a viable successor. In 2007 to 2008, Putin was determined to retire from politics. He wanted someone who would be able to assume power but remain loyal and allow him to enjoy his considerable fortune unmolested something Putin himself had scrupulously done with regard to former President Boris Yeltsin. After months of trying to choose between former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Medvedev, Putin opted for the latter as more trustworthy of the two. But, despite Putins best efforts, Medvedev did not become a true political leader, necessitating Putins return to presidency.

Putin is no longer thinking of a successor and is likely to stay on for the remainder of his current six-year term as president and the next that is, at least until 2024. It is not clear who will succeed Putin after that, but it certainly will not be Medvedev. Most likely, Putin has other plans for Medvedev.

First of all, there is the economy, which stagnated in 2013 and may suffer a recession this year. If oil prices fall, the economic downturn may prove severe. It would seem that Putin does not expect a major economic debacle, throwing money around as if there is no tomorrow. For example, he is providing billions of dollars in loans to Ukraine and Belarus and assuming the huge financial burden for the Sochi Olympics. He is also keeping Medvedev at the helm, which is not a wise decision if he expects stormy weather ahead. At the same time, however, if the economy does hit the skids, Medvedev and his government could always be used as a scapegoat, while respected former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin could be then brought in to deal with the economic crisis.

Medvedevs lingering liberal image could also come handy if Putin clamps down on dissent after the Sochi Olympics, as many in the opposition fear. Medvedev could then be blamed for undermining the state. By the same token, if the recent small-scale amnesty were to be followed by other steps designed to achieve reconciliation at home and burnish Russias image abroad, Medvedev could once again be put forward as a reformer. But in any case, Putin will remain as the countrys tough and uncompromising national leader.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, lives in New York. His detective novel Murder at the Dacha was published by Russian Life Books in 2013.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Sunday, Nov. 23


Get in the holiday spirit at todays Winter Bazzar at the Astoria Hotel. Featuring gifts from around the world such as French eclairs, Dutch cheeses and Indian jewelry, the annual event organized by the International Womens Club will feature 18 international stands and raise money for charity through the sales of a diversity of products that further illustrate the citys international connections.



Monday, Nov. 24


Dr. Axel Schulte, Department Head at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Dortmund, Germany, is the featured speaker at the SPIBA Industrial Committee lecture on The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Digitalization of the Supply Chain. The event begins at 4 p.m. at the Graduate School of Management at 3 Volkohvsky Pereulok and registration is required by Nov. 21 either by emailing office@spiba.ru or calling 325 9091.



Tuesday, Nov. 25


Tag along with AmCham during their Industrial St. Petersburg Tour program today. This incarnation of the ongoing series will visit Philip Morris Izhora and include an Environmental Health and Safety Committee meeting.


Find out how to expand your business east during the Business With China forum beginning today and concluding tomorrow at the Lenexpo convention center. The largest Russian forum dedicated to business with the Asian giant, topics that will be discussed include logistics, customs clearance, trade financing and many more.



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