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The Way of the President

President Medvedev’s term is coming to an end. The majority of Russian public as well as Russian establishment has a rather low opinion of the results of this term. Those who praised him “in advance” have drastically changed their attitudes since then, bashing Medvedev for not fulfilling their high expectations and hopes. The good old national pastime of putting yet another leader on a pedestal before metaphorically throwing him face first into the ground continues. Gorbachev, Eltzin and now Medvedev have already been through this, with Putin by the way, about to follow suit.

In general I consider that Dmitriy Medvedev was not a bad president. Undeniably he could have done a lot of things better and some of those he shouldn’t have done at all in the first place. But considering the current political conditions of Russia he faired rather well as a politician – failing and succeeding just enough to be better than bad. I will not go into a  detailed analysis of Medvedev’s term in this article, but would like to mention that such task is not as straightforward as a number of “too fast to judge” commentators are making it to be.

At first it seemed that Medvedev had overestimated his own abilities as a President. He had gone seriously overboard with formulating a number of impracticable goals and missions and in addition to that it took him quite a while to realize the objective limits of his power. However we can’t really blame Medvedev for not fulfilling the high hopes which followed his becoming the president in 2008. After all it was not his personal responsibility to fulfill the random and sometimes groundless expectations of the public, just as much as he can’t blame the public for not fulfilling his expectations.

In the “Russia- forward” article Medvedev managed to grab the slogans of the opposition and make those his own. He said many things that I, for example, was not expecting from Putin’s direct successor - that alone is quite commendable. On the other hand of course, the majority of Medvedev’s bright ideas either never saw an adequate implementation, or were bastardized beyond any recognition, which can be blamed on Medvedev himself just as well. However I’d rather not put all the blame just on him. Naturally it is easy to make the leaving president a scapegoat, but that would be a typical example of immaturity and common irresponsibility traditionally displayed by Russia’s national elite, who should share the blame as well. Medvedev had this fictional Russia in his mind the president of which he wanted to be and that Russia looked like a country that many Russians would have liked to live in. However no one could answer the questions of how to get from the real-life Russia to that mystical Wonderland. Russian establishment and leadership turned out to be lacking intellectual capabilities to tackle the obstacles in front of them and to really show the way. Seems to me that it was not entirely Medvedev’s fault, as he fell just another victim of the situation in general.     

On the other hand it’s important to note that Medvedev reached new heights in foreign policy in comparison with Putin. Although not being decisive at times, he did manage to make Russia an active participant in the creation of the new world order, instead of defending the old one, like Putin had done before. It was Medvedev with his recognition of Abhazia who dealt the final blow to the Yalta system, putting Russia and the West on the same page when it came to the international politics game. Thanks to Medvedev’s efforts Russia became much more synchronized with the main players on the global arena.

Medvedev’s merits and successes are commonly not taken seriously these days, but one must accept the fact that today Medvedev is the second most powerful politician in Russia. His administrative resource is the biggest one after Putin’s and will continue to be such in the future. In addition Medvedev is Putin’s closest man, who has proven his personal and professional loyalty through action. Medvedev is tenacious, smart and ambitious, although it did take him a long time before he could figure out his own way as the president. Also with his boyish love for gadgets, internet and photography he has somewhat compromised the traditionally fearsome status of the country’s leader, which only proves that despite his close relations with Putin, he is a completely different type of politician - one that looked slightly out of place carrying the unofficial status of a “Russian Tsar”. On the other hand however Medvedev looked very natural together with leaders of other countries, such as Obama or Sarkozi, which says a lot about his success as the true representative of the state on the international platform.

All in all it’s clear that Medvedev lacked political experience when he became the president, but in 2008 - who didn’t? Except for Putin himself of course. Any successor of Vladimir Putin’s would have had the same problem.

As for all the “predictions” of Medvedev’s term as the prime minister being cut short in the future – they are meaningless. Putin will not benefit in any way, should Medvedev leave the position of prime minister any time soon after the appointment. If for Medvedev – Putin’s support was essential for his political career, then for Putin supporting Medvedev was essential for his return to Kremlin. Why would they break up the tandem considering the mutual benefits that they reap from it? On the contrary, with Medvedev at the head of the government Putin will not need to worry about finding appropriate candidates for the prime minister’s seat. Medvedev will be the prime minister that Putin needs him to be, and he will stay at that position as long as Putin needs him to. While in case that they do part ways, I don’t see reasons why Medvedev can’t continue building his political career in the future – he is young, ambitious and experienced enough. And considering that no one is perfect – it seems to me that he did a decent job being a president.

Published in SNOB on April 28, 2012

Translated by Gennady Gladkov

Read in Russian: http://www.snob.ru/selected/entry/48565