Lilia Shevtsova writes on Dmitry Medvedev in the Washington Post today in a bid to dispel some of the assumptions that are commonly made about the ostensibly reason-led, anti-corruption, reformist President. Perhaps in pretending that Medvedev fits these labels, it is easier to deny that he and Vladimir Putin are both cogs in the same machine, she says.
Medvedev tirelessly speaks out against corruption, but during his presidency, corruption has become a way of life here and graft has reached an estimated $300 billion annually. He talks about improving the investment climate, but independent observers say that it was people close to Medvedev who launched the raid against Domodedovo, Russia’s most profitable airport — an effort that has been likened to the state’s takeover of Yukos. Yes, Medvedev has forced government officials and people close to Putin from the boards of state companies, but will state control of those businesses be weakened if their replacements are selected by the same Putin team?
Those who hope that Medvedev will pursue a softer line in foreign policy should recall that it was Medvedev who presented himself as a “war president” and took responsibility for the Russia-Georgia conflict. It was Medvedev who threatened Ukraine and its former president Viktor Yushchenko. It was Medvedev who opened the spat with Japan about the Kuril Islands. And it was Medvedev who speculated when the Arab uprisings began that “certain forces were preparing the same thing for Russia.”Why, then, do so many people insist that Medvedev is a reformer? Hope that Medvedev would set in motion liberal transformation allows his Russian supporters to remain loyal to the country’s authorities without losing their dignity. This would be harder if they admitted that there is no real difference between Medvedev and Putin as far as the system of government they run. As for those in Western political circles, hopes of a reformist Medvedev form the foundation of the “reset” policy; without these hopes, this policy would crumble. And in both cases, the myth of the “good tsar” Medvedev has roots in the fact that neither side believes that Russia can achieve reform through democratic means but that it must be imposed from above.