Dmitri Medvedev: the reassuring candidate

The general trend in our relations with the West (with America, to be blunt) is clearly negative, and sure to remain that way in the foreseeable future. The problem is that some people believe democracy and the free market in Russia can’t survive without good relations with the West.

The nomination of Dmitri Medvedev can only be regarded as unexpected in the context of the whole “guess the successor” mega-game that preceded it. Well, no one could have imagined that the very first person to be identified as a potential successor would actually turn out to be the successor. In fact, what the choice of Medvedev means is this: a demonstration that policy course continuity will be complete – almost absolute. The choice of anyone else from the list of potential successors would have signaled some sort of adjustment in the policy course. Medvedev, like Putin, is a convinced Europeanist, a Westernizer – in terms of his mindset and cultural preferences (but certainly not in his political orientation). The same cannot be said of the other potential successors. In this context, Medvedev is a “message”: signaling that any hopes (or fears) of a change in policy course are futile.

The choice of Medvedev means that Putin isn’t leaving politics. It means that he will remain the political leader – the guarantor for the policy course. Moreover, there is every reason to assume that Putin won’t give up operational management functions either. In that event, a Putin-Medvedev tandem would be entirely natural. And in this context, the proposal that Putin should become prime minister is also entirely natural, even with all the flaws in that construct. In other words, it should be acknowledged that the Medvedev option is the most stable, most peaceful, and least surprising option. That’s what most citizens want, basically, and most members of the elite.

There’s another current tactical purpose in nominating Medvedev, although this probably shouldn’t be over-emphasized. A kind of neurosis has been brewing in the Russian business community – and the non-business community. People are expecting the authorities to launch crackdowns and tighten the screws. The point here is that the general trend in our relations with the West (with America, to be blunt) is clearly negative. And it’s sure to remain that way in the foreseeable future. Think of the missile defense elements in Europe, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, Kosovo, Ukraine and Georgia, the unprecedentely rude reaction to our recent elections… It’s a routine situation, really, with no intrinsic excesses; but a substantial proportion of our enlightened public believes that all democracy in Russia is entirely a product of international monitoring, and the market economy is the product of efforts by specialized branches of “the Washington party committee.” This respected public is generally inclined to respond with panicky apprehension to any chill in relations with the West – especially since there are many well-wishers prepared to help this along. Think of the much-discussed interview with a certain odd personage, showing every sign of being a con-man, who told the story of how the Kremlin administration ordered him to carry out “velvet reprivatization.” What’s noteworthy here isn’t so much the bragging interview itself, as the fact that it’s been so widely discussed. In a speech to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, President Putin had to explain that state capitalism is “not our choice” and that state corporations, like other means of state participation, are an essential tool for rebuilding the economy, and can be privatized or even demonopolized after certain goals are achieved. After all, one point remains axiomatic: the state cannot pump its money and resources into private companies.

So Dmitri Medvedev’s candidacy is also intended to have an immediate psychotherapeutic effect. Medvedev, with his reputation as an economic liberal and a strong state proponent, is certainly no enemy of private enterprise. And Medvedev is certainly prepared to subscribe to all of Putin’s harshest statements against opponents in Russia and abroad; but it’s clear that he would never subscribe to panicky fantasies or provocateur-inspired interpretations of such declarations. That much is obvious, even to our political neurotics. Medvedev is a relaxant, a medication for the neurotics. Well, the neurotics are our people too, and they need our protection.