President Dmitri Medvedev made his debut before his G8 counterparts with the idea of turning the ruble into a global reserve currency and reforming the global financial system. RBC Daily observes that the “launch” of President Medvedev at the G8 summit in Japan didn’t seem to disappoint the West. Alexander Rahr, program director for Russia and the CIS at the German Council on Foreign Relations, says that the world’s political elites see Medvedev as representing new hope. Rahr told RBC Daily: “The West has developed a reflex reaction: when new people come to power in Russia, that’s good. It’s precisely how Putin was perceived during his first two or three years – it wasn’t until later that criticism of Putin began. It’s also important that Putin wasn’t present at the summit: a sign that the new president of the Russian Federation is a self-sufficient figure.”
The first evaluation of Medvedev at the summit came from the president of the United States. As the International Herald Tribune reports (translated into Russian at Inopressa.ru), “President George W. Bush looked into the eyes of Russia’s new president, Dmitri Medvedev, on Monday and saw, he said, ‘a smart guy.'”
“You know,” Bush said, “I’m not going to sit here and psychoanalyze the man, but I will tell you that he’s very comfortable, he’s confident, and that I believe that when he tells me something, he means it.”
Handelsblatt (translated into Russian at Inopressa.ru) says that Moscow is launching a “charm offensive.” Medvedev wasn’t even entirely serious about the tree-planting ceremony that was part of protocol for all G8 summit participants; he skillfully used the ceremony as an opportunity for joking with his counterparts: “The newcomer to this club is making it clear: I’m among equals here.”
“He does indeed want to be part of the G8,” said a participant in the talks. And Medvedev doesn’t want to be an outsider – which is why he is prepared to compromise on content. A source close to the summit said: “For example, he was supposed to compromise on measures related to Zimbabwe – and he did.”
La Repubblica (translated into Russian at Inopressa.ru) analyzes the behavior of Russia’s current and previous presidents, noting that Putin had to convey to the West that “Russia is back” and intends to reclaim its great power role – and to do that, Putin had to speak harshly. But Medvedev has no reason to continue along those lines, since everyone now acknowledges that Russia is back on its feet. Moreover, Moscow can no longer afford such outbursts. Economic growth and modernization require financial and technological input from the West. According to La Repubblica, this partly explains why Putin promoted the smiling Medvedev, entrusting him with the task of easing tension in Moscow’s relations with the United States and Europe.
Igor Yurgens is vice-president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and head of the Contemporary Development Institute (known as the president’s think-tank). In an interview with The New Times, Yurgens emphasizes that Vladimir Putin is aware of Russia’s urgent need for modernization, and knows how difficult a task this is at present, “during one of the best economic, social, and political periods in Russia’s history.”
Yurgens says: “What does it mean to say ‘Let’s tighten our belts and roll up our sleeves!’ during these prosperous years? The bureaucracy, the clans, the financial-industrial groups who have already claimed a piece of the action – do you think they’d be happy? Of course not.”
Yurgens points out that Putin has “his extremely high personal popularity,” and “only Putin is capable of buying some time from the clans in order for Medvedev to implement a national modernization program.”
Yurgens illustrates Russia’s internal split with the example of soccer and ice-hockey victories: “When the Russian team wins, some people are out on the streets shouting ‘Hurrah for Russia!’ But there are others who take pleasure in something entirely different: ‘We beat them!’ And the latter are in the majority. This split is real, and Putin is acting as guarantor for modernization taking place with a minimum of internal conflicts and upheavals.”
All the same, talk of modernization seems somewhat strange when compared with the interim results of the Russia’s Name project organized by the Rossiya television network.
Gazeta.ru notes that this project was planned as a voting game in which the organizers appealed to participants as follows: “Don’t be indifferent to our country’s history, which is being renewed before your eyes.”
And the symbol of this present-day renewal turns out to be none other than Stalin. As Gazeta.ru reports, an online poll put Stalin in the lead by a substantial margin – ahead of singer Vladimir Vysotsky, Lenin, Tsar Nicholas II, Ivan the Terrible, poet Sergei Yesenin, St. Sergius of Radonezh, Pushkin, and Alexander Nevsky (the most prominent Russians, in descending order, according to the poll).
For many years, says Gazeta.ru, the political process in the USSR came down to a battle between the Stalinists and the anti-Stalinists. And who would have guessed that this battle is being revived with new force – capturing the imagination of the Internet generation, which some see as a support base for the youthful and dynamic Dmitri Medvedev.
Instead, the Internet turns out to be a support base for the unyouthful and no-longer-dynamic Stalin.