NIkolai Petrov’s article in the Moscow Times about the president’s recent address to the Duma is pretty much spot on. It was very disappointing to hear such a weak and unguided speech from Mr. Medvedev, which focused on the soft topic of “children,” while virtually abandoning the reform and anti-corruption agenda. It appears that his attempt last week to begin to introduce the topic of political competition and the prospect of stagnation was not well received among the elites, requiring a last minute change to tone down the speech. That’s what we suspect, for what it’s worth.
Medvedev’s public speeches often seem somehow removed from time and space, but never more so than in this state-of-the-nation address. He could have given the exact same address a year ago, or two years ago; at most, he would have needed to fire a police chief from a different region. This year it was Krasnodar. The text was thoroughly cleansed of the specific names and events that most effected the country this year: Kaliningrad, Katyn, the Khimki forest, Luzhkov’s firing. Instead, we got euphemisms and sidesteps.
The timing of the address is also important. Former President Boris Yeltsin used to give them in February, at the start of the year, like in most other countries. Under Vladimir Putin, the annual presidential address was pushed forward to the spring, while Medvedev has moved it all the way back to late autumn. We’ve gone from spring to fall plantings, all while hoping for the same harvest. That means the state-of-the-nation addresses are not setting out an agenda for the government, but rather trying to keep up with the decisions that have been made and implemented by the government. As a result, Medvedev’s next address might not even take place. What would it be about? On the eve of the elections?
If anyone had any doubts about whether Medvedev would do something to stay on for a second term, this address should put them to rest.