Medvedev’s Iron Teeth

medved031308.jpgFrom Tony Barber on the FT’s Brussels Blog: “It should come as no surprise that Putin played up Medvedev’s tough qualities. I vividly recall being in Moscow in 1985 when Andrei Gromyko, the long-serving Soviet foreign minister, recommended Mikhail Gorbachev for the Communist Party leadership after Konstantin Chernenko’s death. “Comrades,” Gromyko said of Gorbachev, “this man has a nice smile but he has teeth of iron.”This is not to say that Medvedev is a closet liberal whose heartfelt wish is to emulate Gorbachev. Do not forget that, for many Russians, the Gorbachev era is remembered as a time not only of new and exciting freedoms and the end of the Cold War, but of economic chaos, food shortages, a totally misconceived anti-alcohol campaign, rising nationalism, violent separatism, public disorder and, in the end, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Medvedev will take lessons from that experience just as much as from the corruption and continuing economic upheavals of the Yeltsin era. As chairman of Gazprom, he can hardly be unaware that Russia’s economic revival under Putin owes almost everything to a bonanza in oil and gas revenues, and little to modernisation and innovation in Russia’s industrial and service sectors. All this supports the argument that Medvedev will introduce changes – to the Russian economy, to the Russian state’s treatment of its citizens, and in time perhaps to Russian foreign policy. But he will do it in his own, very personal, very Russian way.