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The Russia Repetition Syndrome

medvedev112509.jpgSay what you will about the Putin-Medvedev diarchy, but there’s no doubting the success they have had in keeping the media running circles around their own script.  In fact, reading this CSM editorial (and many others), I get that familiar foggy sense of déjà vu … aren’t these the same questions we were toiling over last year also?  This repetition syndrome may be the objective in and of itself – so long as we keep talking about whether or not Medvedev can or wants to carve out an independent role from Putin to pursue reform, we distracted from the less interesting interesting fact that not much is changing in Russia.

He’s railed against state-run corporations and Russia’s unhealthy addiction to fickle revenues from natural resources. He’s warned about a foreign policy in which Moscow puffs up its chest (Soviet style?). A lawyer by training, he’s come out swinging for rule of law, and he lectured United Russia – widely criticized for fraudulent regional elections in October – that it must learn to win elections honestly. Fighting worsening corruption is also high on his list (an estimated third of Russian gross domestic product goes to paying bribes).

All of this in the name of “modernizing” Russia – and all welcome by the West if his ideas are fulfilled.

But Russia’s youthful, Internet-savvy president has taken pitifully few steps to back up his shake-things-up rhetoric, which stretches to the beginning of his presidency. He makes a dash here and there – this week, for instance, he ordered an investigation into the prison death of a lawyer who advocated for greater transparency in Russian business. He also fired the Kremlin’s longtime media adviser – a Putin ally – for abuse of office.

Medvedev’s inaction prompts speculation. Is he truly interested in a different direction from Putin, but simply not in a political position to carry out his plans? Or is he merely Putin’s valve to vent frustrations within a managed democracy? Perhaps the two are really on the same page, but trying to satisfy different audiences.