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Medvedev the Puzzler

After the front page story in today’s Financial Times – the Gleb Pavlovsky argument that the president may start to edge out Putin – we have this think piece from Cliff Levy at The New York Times which is likewise bewildered by Dmitry Medvedev’s liberal gestures.

About a year after becoming Russia’s third president, Mr. Medvedev remains something of a puzzle, and the financial crisis has only deepened the questions about his intentions. Is he the affable front man for the business-as-usual hard-liners in the Kremlin, a puppet president who offers soothing remarks, but little else? Or is he a genuine reformer who is edging Russia away from the more heavy-handed practices of Mr. Putin, but needs time to make his mark? (…)

“It is no secret that there is a seriously distorted perception of human rights activities in our country,” Mr. Medvedev said at the meeting, issuing the kind of apology rarely, if ever, heard from Mr. Putin.

“Many officials are now under the impression that all nongovernmental organizations are enemies of the state and should be fought, so that they do not transmit some sort of disease that may undermine the foundations of our society,” Mr. Medvedev said. “I think such an interpretation is simply dangerous.” (…)

“For now, Medvedev is just pronouncing nice words,” said Aleksei K. Simonov, who is president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation in Moscow, which promotes media freedom, and was at the meeting. “And he has done a lot of that. But there has been a complete lack of deeds.” (…)

“We so want to believe that things are getting better that we sometimes confuse our expectations with what is really happening,” said Irina Y. Yasina, an analyst at the Institute for the Economy in Transition in Moscow, who was also at the meeting with Mr. Medvedev. “We so want to believe that there is a big difference between Putin and Medvedev. And sometimes our hopes prevent us from seeing the reality.”