Medvedev’s Gentle Grumbling

medved112310.jpgThere’s not much to object to in President Dmitry Medvedev’s most recent video blog statement, which is being interpreted as a preview to his address to the Duma next week and a continuation of his ideological development kicked off by the “Go Russia!” article.  Of course, the speech could be considered courageous and even visionary if only there were any chance that he could produce the changes that he says Russia needs.  However his record on converting rhetoric to reality is unfortunately well established.

Here is the paragraph that everybody is talking about:

What do we want to achieve? We simply want to make our political system more fair, more flexible, more dynamic, and more open to renewal and development. It must enjoy the confidence of our electorate. It is no secret that for some time now signs of stagnation have begun to appear in our political life and stability has threatened to turn into stagnation. And such stagnation is equally damaging for both the ruling party and opposition forces. If the opposition has no chance at all of winning a fair fight it degrades and becomes marginal. If the ruling party never loses a single election, it is just coasting. Ultimately, it too degrades, like any living organism which remains static.

For these reasons it has become necessary to raise the degree of political competition.

To see Medvedev mention “stagnation” three times in a row, which quicklycalls to mind the drifting of the Brezhnev era, might be interpreted asa gentle criticism of Vladimir Putin. But this is hard to swallow, foras many times as we have been asked to believe that there exists a”rift,” a “split,” a “divide,” or that “a wedge” could be driven betweenthem if we could somehow change how we view Russia (i.e., the reset) toelicit this promising behavior.

Instead, there is of course no rift, or at least nothing beyond a usefulruse.  Russian politics increasingly represents a cornygood-cop-bad-cop routine, with Putin getting the choice role, able toconsistently say what most Russians want to hear – how great the countryis, how great the state is, and how boundless the pride.  Medvedev getsto be the bad cop, consigned to dirty work of having saying somethingdepressing but true – that Russia’s current political system is rottento the core, and that the country shouldn’t continue to pretend that itis unaware of institutional stagnation.

On the other hand, it seems unfair to complain that all we can hope for is the president’s gentle grumblings.  Medvedev is taking direct shots at United Russia, describing the top party officials as “complacent and irresponsive to others’ needs.”  Maybe having a bigger role for a fake opposition party like A Just Russia would be good for “political competition,” but it is difficult to envision the overnight development of any genuine tolerance for partisan dissent on behalf of Kremlin elites – but rather only those who think it would look better from the outside to pretend it were that way.