In Putin's shadow, Russia inaugurates Medvedev
The new president, a savvy lawyer who likes Led Zeppelin, faces rising corruption and decaying national infrastructure.
(Page 2 of 2)
"This one-party system is good for Putin and his circle, but it's becoming a huge headache for Russia," says Alexei Malashenko, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "A prolongation of [Putin-era] authoritarianism can lead us back to Soviet times. Medvedev needs to get some liberal opposition into the system, or else he'll be controlled by Putin."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Thanks to a youthful lifestyle (see sidebar), plus a few favorable public references to free markets and democracy, some observers have hailed Medvedev as a closet liberal. Others say his views, which remain largely unknown, are best judged by his loyal service in a Kremlin administration under which direct election of representatives was replaced by appointments; journalists faced increasing pressure to toe the official line; and civil society was restricted, sometimes severely.
"I really doubt that Medvedev is a liberal; like Putin he's probably more of a pragmatist," says Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the independent Panorama think tank in Moscow and coauthor of a book on Putin. "I expect him to exhibit the same authoritarian inclinations that Putin did."
Mr. Markov argues that Medvedev could act to correct deficiencies in Putin's legacy rather than by confronting his former boss.
"Russian gross domestic product grew by 80 percent under Putin, but Russia's mileage of good paved roads, for example, has decreased by 3 percent in the same period," he says. "Medvedev can make his mark by finding ways to use our gas and oil profits to build infrastructure and high-tech industries."
For the past eight years Medvedev has served as a top official of the state-run gas monopoly Gazprom, as Kremlin chief of staff, and deputy prime minister in charge of social projects. The first Russian leader too young to have had an official Soviet-era career, he owes his imminent position as president more to bureaucratic machinations than the give-and-take of public politics.
Although he was handpicked by Putin, under whom he worked in the St. Petersburg city administration before being brought to the Kremlin in 1999, most experts believe Medvedev is no lightweight. A law professor and author of two legal textbooks, he managed to become wealthy during the turbulent 1990s by working as a legal consultant to businessmen.
"Medvedev is a real professional lawyer, and [until he came to Moscow in 1999] made no secret of the fact that he is a millionaire," says Mr. Pribylovsky.
But despite his experience, he's had little public exposure. To move out from under Putin's shadow, Medvedev will have to assert himself quickly and firmly, experts say.
"Medvedev has to take the reins of government into his hands, create his own team, and clarify his relations with Putin," says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who studies Russia's political elite. "Right now Russia's bureaucrats are waiting, trying to figure out how power will fall and fearing for their own futures. They need a clear signal from the top, one they can understand. They're used to obeying, and once it's made clear [who is in charge] they will follow."
Russia's Constitution and political traditions may seem clear, but experts say too little is known about Medvedev's character. "Does Medvedev have the political will to make himself the real president?" says Nemtsov. "This remains the key mystery."