Following their extended interview with Russia’s president-elect Dmitry Medvedev, the Financial Times is running an editorial supportive of his stated ambition to reinstate rule of law as his top priority. They write: “Mr Medvedev faces a choice. If he sticks to his plan to embed the rule of law – facing down those who want the Kremlin to keep a monopoly on power – his election may herald a bold new start for Russia. But if he falters, his presidency will be a wasted opportunity, one whose sole legacy is to consolidate Mr Putin’s rampant authoritarianism.”
From the Financial Times:
Medvedev unveils a worthy ambitionWill Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency mark the start of a promising new chapter in Russian history? Three weeks after his election victory, we cannot tell. Mr Medvedev offers a more attractive and approachable image than that of his KGB-bred predecessor, Vladimir Putin. But the 42-year-old president-elect is an unknown quantity while Mr Putin, as prime minister, is destined to remain a powerful Kremlin figure. Russian politics has always been mysterious and enigmatic – rarely more so than today.Mr Medvedev’s interview with the Financial Times, published this week, was therefore an opportunity to unveil a personal prospectus. It was an opportunity he grasped. Mr Medvedev said he would work in “tandem” with Mr Putin but would himself be master of domestic and foreign policy. He made clear that he would defend Russia’s national interest abroad. But the interview revealed, above all, serious ambitions for domestic policy reform that deserve the west’s attention.Mr Medvedev’s singled out his commitment to embedding the rule of law in Russia. The goal is worthy of support. It may not address western concerns about the lack of democratic rights in Russia. But the term “democrat” became a dirty word in Russia during the chaos of the 1990s when Boris Yeltsin led a dash to the market economy.Mr Medvedev emphasises instead the need to create a functioning legal system, with an independent judiciary and courts. If this could be achieved – and it is a mammoth task – it would have huge implications. It would strengthen Russia’s economic culture, eliminating bribery and corruption. It would also be the seed-bed from which democracy could thrive, giving opposition parties an opportunity to defend themselves against the Kremlin’s attack.Many, of course, will doubt whether Mr Medvedev can succeed. Mr Putin started out as president with a similar promise to establish a “dictatorship of laws”, ending up with more of the former than the latter. Russia’s looming economic problems also present a challenge. The slowdown in global growth may reduce energy prices with a knock-on effect for Russian oil revenues. Mr Medvedev’s time may therefore be consumed dealing with economic problems.Still, Mr Medvedev faces a choice. If he sticks to his plan to embed the rule of law – facing down those who want the Kremlin to keep a monopoly on power – his election may herald a bold new start for Russia. But if he falters, his presidency will be a wasted opportunity, one whose sole legacy is to consolidate Mr Putin’s rampant authoritarianism.