President Dmitry Medvedev met with the Valdai Club.

American political scientist Nikolai Zlobin, Russian and Asian Programs Director of the Global Security Institute (Washington), was among those present. It had been Zlobin who had asked Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at an analogous meeting a week ago if he and Medvedev would vie for presidency in 2012. Putin had promised to avoid a conflict of interests then.

Needless to say, everyone wanted to hear what Medvedev had to say on the matter. Zlobin complimented the president on the courage it must have taken to publish a piece on the necessity of modernization. He asked what the president himself thought about the tasks he had outlined in the piece considering that their implementation would clearly extend beyond 2012, the year his current term of office was slated to end.

“As a more or less consistent man, I always try to finish what I start,” Medvedev replied. He added that he never made guesses if he could help it because it was “easier and better” that way. “Sure, there ought to be a plan and yet… I never try to take a long shot with regard to myself. As for how Putin answered this question, I’d say that it makes sense,” the president said. Medvedev said that he was surprised to hear in the wake of Putin’s statement what he called “bizarre speculations that Putin is allegedly dividing the electorate and deciding for the people how it should vote. He said something altogether different. He said that there was a certain team and that our ratings, mine and his own, were fine for the time being.”

“Putin’s rating is the highest. He is popular. My rating is not so bad either, and we should be thinking about it. If we are unable to, then some other people will replace us. It does not mean that we foreclose anything. Being responsible people, we are supposed to reach agreements. As for my personal plans, I’ll formulate them when the time is right. Have no worries on that score. I care what happens to me,” Medvedev said.

“Neither Putin nor Medvedev want to be knocked together.. Anyway, I think that Putin was less closemouthed on the subject,” said Alexander Rahr, Director of Russian and Eurasian Programs of the German Foreign Policy Society.

Rahr asked Medvedev if there was a chance that the next president of Russia would represent some political party. Medvedev answered in the affirmative. “Sure, I can imagine a party president in Russia. It might even come to pass in the next election in 2012. We’ll see. This trend exists, and voters appear not to mind,” Medvedev said.

Fyodor Lukianov of Russia In Global Politics suggested that looking for any hints or hidden meanings in Medvedev’s words was pointless. “I can only draw one conclusion, that both are heartily fed up with these questions,” Lukianov said. “Hence their vague answers that commit nobody to nothing.”

What political scientists this correspondent approached before the meeting with the president admitted wondering what exactly Medvedev had tried to say with his “Forward, Russia!” manifesto published in the liberal Gazeta.ru last week. “I believe that last Thursday was the first day of Medvedev’s presidency. After all, he had become the head of state without actually fighting for it. He became the president just because Putin had asked him to,” Zlobin said. “It’s time he got down to practical work. Without it, he will remain a one-piece president forever.”

Rahr agreed with Zlobin. “Medvedev has several weeks at best to promote his own men to key positions in the upper echelons of state or his whole presidency will be a failure,” Rahr said.

Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation said that it was of paramount importance for Medvedev now to decide who his friend and foe were. Cohen warned that Medvedev’s criticism of “the oil-based economy” could and probably did make him serious enemies in the fuel and energy complex and within security structures. “Also importantly, Medvedev should decide how far he is prepared to go,” Cohen said.

“Reforms in Russia require two conditions: the authorities should be prepared to throw their weight and apply pressure and society itself should be the authorities’ willing and enthusiastic ally. The question is the extent to which Medvedev is prepared to stir society. After all, when one stirs society, he should always remember that consequences of this course of action might be unpredictable,” Cohen explained.

Theses of Medvedev’s piece were discussed at the meeting as well. “By and large, it was a sketch of the next Message to the Federal Assembly,” Medvedev said. “It was an invitation to a discourse… something emotional, something calculated to reach deep down and touch something there. Conservation of the existing state of affairs is not what we are supposed to be after. We need modernization of economy, political life, and social life as well.”

“Putin’s central idea was that he was helping the country recover from the crisis, Medvedev’s is that Russia needs development,” Rahr said.

The president made a number of significant statements at the meeting. He said, for example, that there would be no return to gubernatorial elections. “I myself was among those who designed this very mechanism of appointment of regional leaders. I think that this is what we need and I do not think that the situation is going to change so dramatically as to warrant a change of mind,” Medvedev said.

Another statement was a message to business circles. “Time we altered our thinking. Dealing in raw materials is a blind alley. Collapse of the national economy will be even worse in the next crisis,” he said.

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