After the abdication in favor of the presidential candidacy of Vladimir Putin in 2012, current President Dmitry Medvedev received as reward the first place on United Russia party list in parliamentary elections in two months, which would secure his nomination for prime minister. After the ex-leader Right Cause party Mikhail Prokhorov’s repudiation from the Commission for Modernization followed the scandal led to the resignation / dismissal of Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin. An unsuccessful attempt to Medvedev’s enough to somehow preserve his chances for the post of prime minister. Chances that seem likely to decrease, as analysts noted after recent interview of Prime Minister Putin with three main television channels in the Russian Federation. More specifically, Putin said in the interview mentioned almost in passing that the Medvedev’s appointment as head of government will depend on how its actions will contribute to the success of the party “United Russia” in the parliamentary elections in December. “If the voters vote for this (United Russia election) list and we manage to form an effective parliament in which United Russia retains its leading position, then – building on this parliament, relying on this victory – Dmitry Anatolyevich (Medvedev) will be able to form an effective government,” Putin said. In other words, Medvedev not only was kneeling by his powerful partner, but could be liable for any failure of the ruling party in elections. The support for United Russia is much higher than for any other party and its potentially strongest liberal opponents are barred from running in the election but opinion polls and recent regional election results have indicated United Russia could have trouble keeping the two-thirds majority needed if it wants to change the constitution. In May, Putin formed the All-Russia People’s Front, a nationwide coalition of supporters, as backing for United Russia dwindled. The party’s popularity has slipped to about 40 percent after it won almost two-thirds of the vote in 2007. The 46-year-old Medvedev has kept the presidential seat warm until Putin can be re-elected next year and now has much to prove to voters after failing to carry out many of his promises as president or emerge from Putin’s shadow.
How did Medvedev to bury the chances of a new mandate and to comply willy-nilly the agreement made with Vladimir Putin four years ago?
Let’s take a look at the main objectives set for the start of Medvedev’s term in the Kremlin office, and to what extent they seem to have materialized or not. For this I called to two experts in the field: Evgeny Mincenko, Director of International Institute for Political Expertise from Moscow and Vilhelm Konnander, specialist on politics and security in Russia and Eastern Europe from Stockholm and former President of the Swedish Society for the Study of Russia, Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I asked them to give a score (1-5 points) on the agenda following objectives realization of President Medvedev:
– Justice Reform
– Fight against corruption
– Improving the investment climate
– Respect for human rights
– Perception of Russia abroad
According to Evgeny Mincenko, the justice reform – a priority objective taken by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, immediately after the presidential election on 2 March 2008, may receive at most 1 point. Functionality and applicability unconditional letter of the law was and is one of the main leitmotifs of the measures taken so far by Medvedev, both internally and externally, but beyond words, concrete results have appeared only sporadically. In change, concerning Medvedev’s justice reform, Vilhelm Konnander told us that this is one area where Medvedev’s policies have been moderately successful. “It is also an area that has been a priority to the government. Thus, since 2006 there has been a slight improvement in the rule of law in Russia. Medvedev has simply had the guts to do some of the things needed to improve the situation – including sacking high-ranking officials. I would give Medvedev a 4 out of 5, for at least trying so hard for making the situation move in a positive direction.” Also about the fight against corruption he said: “Turning to corruption, this is a constant source of trouble and grief. Since 2003, there has been little improvement concerning corruption, and since 2005 the situation has only got worse and worse. Of course, this is a problem inherent in the Russian system, and cannot be blamed simply on Putin or Medvedev. However, the rise of Russian bureaucracy, growing out of proportions, is a recipe for disaster. The more bureaucrats, the greater corruption. Attempts to cut down on red tape have so far not been successful. Medvedev – as indeed Putin – would get a 0 in my opinion.” A little more generous, Evgeny Mincenko gave to the victories in the fight against corruption 1 point. In conditions of crisis, but also the need of foreign investment, president Medvedev puts more emphasis on changing Russia’s reputation and its close Western terms, the state chapter of law, justice and fighting corruption. The objectives are mainly contained in the document “Modernisation Partnership” signed with the EU.
But, really, what’s the use of Medvedev? “In essence, that is the core question of Medvedev’s presidency, insinuating that Medvedev would be nothing without the seemingly omnipotent Putin. In this view, Medvedev’s recent nomination of Putin for the Russian presidency is but a measure to put things back in order. It is true, tandemocracy will be preserved if Medvedev assumes Putin’s role as Russian Premier, but such a swap might merely be a temporary solution, leaving it open for Putin to depose of Medvedev in case reform policies turn sour” said Vilhelm Konnander. He added that: “This is what we all too often are led to believe when ranking or reviewing Russia during Medvedev’s presidency. So, all of a sudden, the entire question seems irrelevant and obsolete, as Putin is destined to move back into the Kremlin come March next year. Still, reviewing how roles and responsibilities between President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have been both divided and shared since 2008, one might well reconsider the initial question: “What’s the use of Medvedev?” – The use of Medvedev is all too obvious by his role of Russian reformer. He simply tries to do what Putin is unable to do himself. In simplified terms, Putin is the balancer, trying to keep stability in order to widen the room for reform. The success or failure of reform is very much related to Putin’s performance. So, regarding Russian reform policy is as much an assessment of Putin’s power as it is of Medvedev’s policies. Without Medvedev, Putin would be left to his own devices in both trying to balance diverging political and economic interests, and trying to reform the country.” If from Moscow some aspects are seen in a worse registry than to the West (faced with its own problems by the economic crisis), the business climate as much interest and foreign investors. Evgeny Mincenko gave 2 point to the improving the investment climate objective, while his European colleague pointed 3. The economy, linked and, of course, vulnerable to fluctuations in global energy prices, suffered from its customers’ economic crisis in 2008-09 but used funds it had saved for ato get through. It has bounced back but foreign investors are still wary, and the rouble proved its weakness, and stocks have been under pressure for weeks. Russian assets trade at big discounts to other emerging markets. “As for investment climate, a combination of the WGI factors, would indicate an overall decline in preconditions for making business in Russia. Whether this should be attributed simply to decreased governance capabilities or to general economic decline may be a matter of dispute. Taken that government effectiveness has been relatively stable since 2008, and that we have only seen a slight decline in regulatory quality – all preconditions for making business – Medvedevs presidency would get a 3, given the great challenges and difficulties posed by economic crisis” commented Konnander about his score. Remember, despite much talk of creating a more hospitable business environment, Russia today ranks 143rd out of 179 on the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. It ranks 154th out of 178 countries in Transparency International’s most recent annual Corruption Perceptions Index.
But when we talk about human rights, the vision seems to be somewhat different. There is 3 points from Russian expert Evgeny Mincenko, while Swedish expert Vilhelm Konnander gave only 1 point. Why? Because “turning to human rights, Russia has been moving down a slippery slope for quite some time – at least over the last decade. A parallel to WGI’s indicate “Voice and accountability” shows a constant decline since 2002. Most probably, this is an effect of an increase in political stability – at least if I am to believe my own analyses since 2008. Human rights are at a low, and would get a 0, if matters could not get worse, so I guess it would have to be a 1″ explained Konnander his option. In change, when spoke about the perception of Russia abroad, Mr Konnander thinks “it is really something that is so deeply subjective, that there is little to be said. For ages, views seem to diverge between those of Russophobes and Russophiles, and there is little constructive to add to such positions. A qualified guess is that impressions of Russia are rather confused. With Obama’s Russia reset and Medvedev’s “liberal” outlook, the perception of Russia has probably improved on this basis, but at the same time this is balanced by uncertainties about what success Medvedev’s policies might have for now and in the future. Is there any continuity to reform? Furthermore, the situation has not got better by Putin looming about the walls of the Kremlin in preparation of an eventual return to presidential power. Putin’s return to the presidency will rather worsen than improve perceptions of Russia abroad.” On this objective, Mincenko gave the most points – 4. He not forgot that the Medvedev’s warmer relations with the West didn’t yield tangible results. Russia has still not become a WTO member. Despite the reset, the United States continues to build its missile defense shield in Europe and now Turkey. What’s more, many Russians feel that Medvedev betrayed Russian interests and global peace by not trying to block NATO’s military intervention in Libya. Russia has reasons to think that only strength commands respect. None of the objectives in discussion did not receive maximum – 5 points from the two experts.
Most political analysts and commentators say it seems unlikely at this stage that Medvedev will not become prime minister, but it cannot be ruled out. They say there are greater doubts over how long he will be able to hold on to the post, even though his popularity ratings are strong and not far behind Putin’s (41/50 percents). “Medvedev is using Putin’s tested pre-election tricks as he has little time left to come up with something new to bolster United Russia’s ratings,” said Evgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Analysis. Another potential problem for Medvedev is the threat posed by former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who covets the premiership. But Vilhelm Konnander wanted to mention that: “What is too often overlooked or ignored, is the extent to which the Russian government has actually gone over projections of the future. The challenges are overwhelming, but analysis and discussion have also produced plans and political initiatives to at least try to deal with the problems on a strategic level. One well-known initiative was the Putin plan, which was one of the stepping stones of Medvedev’s reform policy. Regrettably, much of these dicussions and policies have been discarded by Western analysis as merely Potemkin villages. Assessing Russian reform policies, one of the most comprehensive international indexes is the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI). Reviewing Putin’s two first presidencies, it is evident that – since 2003/4 – all indicators but one portray a downward slope. The one thing Putin acchieved was political stability. In all other areas, figures are either negative or relatively stable. The overall picture is one of stagnation.” Although Kudrin has been stripped of his role, he is — like Medvedev, but also like Secin, Shuvalov or Ivanov – a long-time Putin ally and the prime minister has said he will remain a member of his broader team. Team that in May 2012 will move to the Kremlin and will supervises activity of Prime Minister Medvedev’s government. Government that will have to take many unpopular measures that are needed, but normally will be postponed until after elections. Such comments by Putin, and Kudrin’s resigned, can threats Medvedev’s confidence. According Vilhelm Konnander: “To sum up, I would deem Medvedev’s performance as rather good, given the preconditions for reform policy. As we have seen for ages, Russia is a complex matter, and ruling Russia is a task of qualified statecraft, which few of its leaders have ever been able to master. It is true, figures are not impressive, but the use of tandemocracy is still evident. Even if it involves many factors that many would be and indeed are very critical of, what alternative is there for Russia – now and in the immediate future?”
The attempts of Medvedev’s team to build its own right political strategy to give him a chance for a independent career, without Vladimir Putin’s direct support, failed miserably and deserves a separate discussion.
For the majority citizens of Russian Federation, Medvedev’s presidency was characterized by liberal and technocratic ideas but did materialize nothing. His strategy to fight corruption by admitting the problem did break the taboo on discussing corruption, but thereby also increased public perception of the scale of corruption and open anger with the state of affairs. Medvedev’s team strategy counted on the empowerment of society. In a way the Russian people let him down. Thus it can not be a surprise that some Russian citizens have already accepted the idea that a strongman can be a better option.
Gabriela Ionita is editor to Cadran Politic, analyst in the field of International affairs (mainly connected with the Russian Federation and Community of Independent States). Also maintains a frequently updated blog Power&Politics World. She graduated from the National School of Political and Administrative Sciences – Bucharest, specialization in Communication and Public Relations. Ms. Ionita lives in Bucharest City. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily coincide with ones of ORIENTAL REVIEW editorial.