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Will President Medvedev Really Break with Putin and Liberalize Russia?

In recent months, there have been a few indications that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev might break with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - the authoritarian leader who handpicked him for his current position - and liberalize the country's economic and political system. In today's Wall Street Journal, however, Russian opposition leader Gary Kasparov, the former world chess champion, writes that a Putin-Medvedev breakup may be less likely than many Westerners hope:

It has become fashionable to speak of change and liberalization in Russia under President Dmitry Medvedev. May 7 marked his one-year anniversary in office. He has recently granted an interview with an opposition newspaper, allowed a few human-rights activists to criticize Russia's regime, and even started a blog. There is also a new administration in Washington that wants a fresh start with foreign powers.

However, Mr. Medvedev's gestures have not been matched by policy. It is more appropriate to think of Russia as living under Vladimir Putin's ninth year in power. Mr. Putin is now prime minister but still in charge. His agenda of oppression and plunder is still the course in Russia. The Kremlin's willingness to install its candidates in office [without free election] and persecute its opponents remains undiminished.

If Medvedev does make a decisive break with Putin, Kasparov believes it will likely be because of political pressures created by the global recession rather than because Medvedev genuinely wants liberalization:

There are optimistic rumors in the West of a potential rift between Messrs. Medvedev and Putin. With the steep drop in energy prices, the Russian economy in free fall, and the need to find a scapegoat, a clash is likely. But it will not be because the two men differ significantly in matters of morality and power. We have seen enough to recognize that they are both enemies of democracy, open competition, and free expression.

That seems roughly accurate to me.

rosetta's stones:
Ya' know, that hick Bush looking dreamily into Putin's KGB eyes and waxing him as founding father could turn out to be the best move our body politic could have made then. Sure, Putin was mouthy when the petrocash was flowing, and probably offed a few of his enemies around the globe, but do we really want to be openly challenging a country that's as demographically and socially and economically challenged as this one? We're patient with a lot of bad players around the planet, what's so different about this one?
5.13.2009 5:17pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
At least this time you managed not to claim the commies still have a stranglehold on Russian politics. Just your every day authoritarian government here, ideological only so long as that serves the aim of those in power.
5.13.2009 5:29pm
Ilya Somin:
At least this time you managed not to claim the commies still have a stranglehold on Russian politics. Just your every day authoritarian government here, ideological only so long as that serves the aim of those in power.

The people who control Russia are former communists, but they are no longer ruling a communist state. Rather, Russia is controlled by an authoritarian regime whose official ideology is mostly nationalistic. I have never claimed otherwise.
5.13.2009 5:31pm
M (mail):
The question you'd have to ask here is, who or what would Medvedev's power-base be? Without someone backing him, he can't move against Putin. Putin was able to get around Yeltsin and Berizovsky, the people who put _him_ in power, because he could draw on the FSB to provide him with an independent power base. But Medvedev doesn't have one- he has no special popular support, no ties to the army, no support from United Russia or the other parties, no FSB support, not even deep connections with the young brownshit groups (Nashi and the like) that the government likes to use. Without a power base that is independent from Putin he can't do anything. There is some talk, though, that many in the FSB who became rich under Putin blame him for the down-turn. (As if he controlled oil prices! He didn't make Russia rich and he didn't make it poor, either, and they wouldn't have supported meaningful reform.) Some suggest this group might turn on Putin and throw their support behind Medvedev. If so, Putin might try to use his popular support and United Russia to fight back. It could be very dangerous if it happens.
(And Ilya, you quite clearly did over-state the influence and importance of communism in your last several posts. It's a deeply marginal position there.)
5.13.2009 5:52pm
geokstr (mail):

Ilya Somin:

At least this time you managed not to claim the commies still have a stranglehold on Russian politics. Just your every day authoritarian government here, ideological only so long as that serves the aim of those in power.


The people who control Russia are former communists, but they are no longer ruling a communist state. Rather, Russia is controlled by an authoritarian regime whose official ideology is mostly nationalistic. I have never claimed otherwise.

"Commies", at least the ones at the top, pretty much didn't believe that ideological crap in the past either. They sure knew how to use the trappings of Marxism to keep power though, because that's all that communist theory is good for anyway. It's a totally useless system for actual application to the real world, much like its twin sister, socialism. They are great justifications and rationalizations though for why the government must force everyone in the entire society to follow their orders or else.

I'll bet that now that Russia is being called an "authoritarian" state instead of communistic, even though not much else has changed than the labels, it will be defined as "right-wing" and even "conservative". Back just after the wall fell, and there was an abortive attempt by the military to depose Gorbechacv and reimpose communism. Anyone out there recall what the media here called the participants in the coup?

That's right - "conservatives".

Sometimes you can't even make this sh*t up.
5.13.2009 6:56pm
sputnik (mail):
no
5.13.2009 8:31pm
Gringo (mail):
Which reminds me of the joke circulating last year.
Putin and Medvedev sit in a restaurant. Putin: "I'll have the steak." Waiter: "And what about the vegetable?" Putin: "He'll take the steak too."
5.13.2009 10:05pm
ed in texas (mail):
The current situation was described to me by a russian aquaintance as "less of a parting of the ways, more of a 'good cop / bad cop' play".
5.14.2009 1:16pm

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