NYT Editorial: How the New President of Russia Can Show Power

An editorial in today’s New York Times makes the familiar point that Dmitri Medvedev is relatively weak within the administration, and does not possess an independent base of power outside of Putin’s favor. The newspaper argues that one unconventional way for Medvedev to show his mettle and prove that “he is his own man” would be to insist “that the Kremlin lift restrictions on the press, nongovernmental organizations and opposition political parties so that there can be a real presidential race.” Isn’t it much much too late for this line of thought?

From the New York Times:

Politics, Putin-StylePublished: December 12, 2007The Soviet-style guessing game over Russia’s presidential succession seemed all but decided this week when President Vladimir Putin endorsed the candidacy of his loyal protégé, Dmitri Medvedev, and then Mr. Medvedev announced that, once elected, he would appoint Mr. Putin to be his prime minister.Commentators in Russia quickly declared that the Russian people craved stability — and Mr. Putin — far more than democracy, and that this was what they wanted. Of course, Mr. Putin dominates Russian television, most of the rest of the news media and all of the country’s political system, so anyone who doesn’t bear his stamp of approval is bound to look like a risky unknown.The situation could have been worse. Mr. Putin is barred by the Constitution from running for a third term, and there were fears that he, or his allies, might find a way to tear up the charter so that he could stay on. We are relieved that he apparently has decided against that particularly wrongheaded move.Mr. Putin could also have chosen someone, like himself, from the thuggish intelligence services. Instead his heir apparent, currently a deputy prime minister and chairman of the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, is a former law professor with a reported fondness for the West.Mr. Medvedev is credited with doing a decent job of distributing the windfall profits that have pumped Russia’s economy in recent years. He has also spoken in favor of Russia’s integration into the world economy and raised questions about the value of an economy dominated by state-owned enterprises. That did not stop Gazprom, under his leadership, from using its gas supplies to try to blackmail politically obstreperous neighbors.Perhaps most important, Mr. Medvedev owes his entire political career to Mr. Putin and is seen as a relatively weak figure with no independent power base. That suggests that Mr. Putin will continue to wield the real power long after the March election. We hope that will not be the case.Mr. Putin outgrew his patron, Boris Yeltsin. And perhaps, Mr. Medvedev will outgrow his and reverse the authoritarianism that has been the hallmark of Mr. Putin’s eight years in the presidency.He can start proving that he will be his own man by insisting that the Kremlin lift restrictions on the press, nongovernmental organizations and opposition political parties so that there can be a real presidential race.Along with the prosperity that oil has brought, there is still a strong base on which to build a real democracy that could offer Russians true, long-term stability. Anyone who has followed Russia’s arduous path over the past two decades understandably will be wary of putting great faith in Mr. Medvedev as a democratic reformer. We hope we will be surprised.