Three years ago, in early May, Dmitry Medvedev took his oath of office, becoming the third president of the Russian Federation. The Valdai International Discussion Club asked some of its members to share their impressions and thoughts regarding Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency.
Sheng Shiliang, Chief researcher with the Center for Global Challenges Studies, China:
Over the three years of Dmitry Medvedev's presidency, I have had the honor to talk to him on several occasions. I can say that his openness and informal manner greatly appeal to me, as does his sense of humor. I also value his “great pragmatism” and conviction that freedom is better than non-freedom.
Maturing into his role, Medvedev also demonstrated a clear understanding of the long-standing problems his country faces as well as his resolution and consistency in tackling them.
In fact he has been lucky. His predecessor, Vladimir Putin, has given Russia a forward momentum and laid solid foundations his successor could rely on. At the same time, Medvedev has made an important contribution to the country’s political, economic, social and diplomatic life.
He “forced Georgia to peace,” slowed down NATO’s eastward expansion and prevented the CIS countries from being drawn into that process. He started building a Russian version of Silicon Valley, encouraged the modernization of the national economy, launched a high-profile crackdown on corruption, made the courts more independent, and began reforming the innovation sectors. It was his government that directed funds to boosting the birth rate, and succeeded in slowing the population decline. He should be given credit for resetting U.S.-Russian relations and Russian-European relations, consolidating the Asia-Pacific focus of Russian diplomacy and greatly improving Russia’s international image.
But his luck has failed him elsewhere. First, he had to follow in the wake of his famous predecessor’s achievements and struggled to surpass his influence; second, the first years of his term in office were plagued by the global economic downturn, and he was compelled to adopt stringent measures right after a spell of rapid growth, which could not fail to have an impact on the rising standard of living. But none of that could halt Russia’s revival.
Some claim Medvedev and Putin are now at loggerheads. There have certainly been some verbal skirmishes between the two men lately. Both said, on April 12 and 13, that they do not rule out running for president in 2012. Russian and foreign sources point to the different political trends and interests represented in the ruling “tandem,” which is bound to split some day.
From my perspective, both members of this tandem are true Russian patriots. Both are devoted to their country’s intensive development, even though they might differ on strategies, methods and means. Confucius once noted that “men of virtue” cannot all be alike, his point being to stress that it was entirely possible for two men to be radically different from each other, but for them each to still be real “men of virtue”.
In 2008, Medvedev and Putin ensured a smooth transfer of power from the one to the other. I think that a fitting solution will also be found in 2012.
Robert Legvold, Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus, Columbia University and Director of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative, USA:
Fairness makes it impossible to judge Dmitri Medvedev's presidency in isolation from the power structure in Russia. The tandem in which the Prime Minister holds major, if not ultimate power, means that President Medvedev has been, at best, able to influence the agenda, but not shape it. And, accuracy, makes it impossible to separate entirely any judgment of Medvedev's domestic policy from the effects of his foreign policy, because one bleeds into the other.
What one can say is that Medvedev has struck themes that give a progressive cast to the direction in which Russia needs to travel, particularly, when it comes to the excessive weight of the bureaucracy, the inefficient intrusion of the state into the economy, the level of corruption suffusing the system, and the urgent need to modernize infrastructure and an antiquated industrial model. What one cannot say is that the themes struck have been translated into tangible results.
Given the structure of power in Russia, however, until and unless Medvedev and Putin are on exactly the same page—and in tone, emphasis, and perhaps substance that is not true today—clear cut progress on Medvedev's ostensible agenda will simply not happen. Thus, it makes more sense to judge the impact of his leadership by two other standards: first, what is the nature and range of the small steps that he has taken. Second, how has his foreign policy advanced Russia's domestic agenda.
On the first score, nudging Russia's state capitalism from the overt control by state officials over key corporations, while scarcely transforming the relationship between power and property, is a step in the right direction. As are various measures to improve the quality of the judiciary and expose corruption within it. While the package of laws in the 2009 anti-corruption legislation will not, without a vastly greater effort, begin to reverse a deepening crisis of corruption, many specific measures are well-framed and the basis for fighting the problem, if the will to do so emerges. Similarly, many of the specific elements in Medvedev's modernization program are more realistic and appropriate for the task than anything previously produced, even if for the moment they face vast system inertia and bureaucratic resistance. Thus, success, if Medvedev is to have it, certainly will not come soon—not in this presidential term—but rather will be at best the uncertain cumulative effect of small steps persistently pursued.
What he has accomplished, however, is to improve the external context in which he sets about his vision of a less corrupt, more open, modernized Russia. The reversal of an eight-year steady deterioration in Russia's relations with the United States and the European Union has been essential in giving any hope of seeing Medvedev succeed in the goals he articulates. It might, to take one example, be noted by the many Russian pundits who see his modernization campaign as futile or, worse, a cynical and empty slogan, that the shift in Russia's relations with the West has led both the EU and the Obama administration to buy into a "modernization partnership" and a "strategic innovation initiative" with their country.
Andrei Baklanov, Head of the International Affairs Department of the Federal Assembly’s Federation Council, Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Russian Diplomats Association, Russia:
In my opinion, Dmitry Medvedev’s most significant achievement after three years in office was the calm and confident style he developed in addressing the effects of the global financial and economic crisis, which erupted less than a year into his presidency.
Essentially, Russia has emerged as one of those countries least affected in its aftermath.
Nonetheless, I believe that we should act more decisively in implementing policies aimed at strengthening the stability and predictability of the country’s economy.
I am specifically referring to problems in the energy market. I have been studying pricing trends in the hydrocarbons market for many years, and I would like to underscore that high oil prices favorable to Russia and other hydrocarbon producing nations have always been followed by a sharp price decline.
Therefore, we need to create an entirely different new formula for how the oil market should operate. To this end, we should more actively use existing institutions, specifically, the International Energy Forum, headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is a unique organization, whose mission is to coordinate the pricing policies of all member states, including producers and exporters of energy resources.
I am confident that, building on the achievements of recent years, we will succeed in creating a new international economic and financial environment that will be more conducive to our economic development.
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