President Dmitry Medvedev should start keeping his number one promise to Russia: one to bring down corruption and reintroduce supremacy of the law.

The war in the Caucasus, one following which Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states, was fought a year ago. Dmitry Medvedev himself used to say that the war had greatly changed his plans and interfered with implementation of his program. At first sight, the determination with which Medvedev acted in the matter of recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia proves him a man capable of doing what he thinks is right and knowing exactly what he wants. After all, neither Boris Yeltsin nor Vladimir Putin before him had displayed the necessary stamina. And yet, the year that passed leaves the impression that this feeling was probably premature after all. The international community never found out what Medvedev’s program was about (the one the conflict in the Caucasus had interfered with). The president himself in the meantime began resembling a moldable figure changing shape under whatever pressure was applied.

Defeat in the war delivered a crippling blow at Mikhail Saakashvili who had become the president of Georgia on the strength of a solemn promise to restore its territorial integrity. Promises to reconquer Abkhazia and South Ossetia had made Saakashvili more than the president. They had made him a bona fide national leader. Saakashvili failed in his most important promise to the people. Medvedev’s decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia destroyed Saakashvili as the national leader.

Medvedev in his turn never promised Russia to defeat Saakashvili. He did not owe presidency in the first place to the oaths to defend Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia. It is only logical therefore that triumph in the Russian-Georgian war never earned him additional political mileage in Russia or made him a public politician. Medvedev had different promises to make to Russia: namely to deliver a crushing blow at corruption and make Russia a country where the law reigned supreme. After the lawlessness of Yeltsin’s and Putin’s periods, after the era of the so called legal nihilism, his promises touched something in Russian society and earned Medvedev its sympathies and support. In fact, these promises gave Medvedev a chance to become a national leader.

Nobody has expected Medvedev to lead Russia out of the crisis which is absolutely understandable. Keys to the door leading out of it are located far thousands kilometers from Moscow. Moreover, a look from abroad plainly shows that Medvedev himself is not exactly part of the economic life of the country. Nobody has expected him to develop a fully fledged state. (After all, this endeavor even defied his predecessor who had concentrated precisely on it.) Nobody has expected Medvedev to restore Moscow’s clout in international affairs because both the internal and external demands for it are absent. Few have really counted on liberalization because everyone knows who made Medvedev his successor. Sure, personal success of Medvedev the functionary depends on how long he succeeds in maneuvering between risks and conflicts and staying at the pinnacle. His political success in the meantime directly depends on how he succeeds in keeping the promise that made him the president: one to bring down corruption and introduce supremacy of the law.

The year following the war in the Caucasus was ample time to make progress in this direction, but progress is precisely what is sadly lacking. Corruption in Russia keeps growing and expanding. Average size of bribes increased along with the frequency of crimes committed by civil servants and law enforcers. Ditto inequity before the law. It did not even happen with Putin in the driver’s seat, Putin who had never lifted a finger to restrict corruption even within his own team. It happened in Medvedev’s days, the days of the president who proclaimed the war on corruption his number one priority. His mission. Medvedev is losing his major war – and does not differ from Saakashvili that much from this particular standpoint.

The state itself is the principal source of corruption in Russia, and Medvedev is the head of state. Fighting corruption relying on the corrupt state itself wrong. Fighting corruption by expanding economic powers of the horrendously bloated state machinery is wrong. This is Medvedev’s Catch 22. A moldable functionary will come up with one way out, a popular blogger with another. A national leader in his own name will find a third way out. The time when Medvedev can really make up his mind is running out fast.