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Russia: Medvedev a Liberal? CA Implications

In connection to Monday's discussion of the power dynamics between Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and newly-elected President, Dmitry Medvedev, I want to now examine Medvedev's liberal credentials. This of course will be discussed in the context that as President, Medvedev will most likely be playing a deferential role to Putin's Prime Minister Office, but nonetheless he will have and most likely obtain greater power as his term proceeds. Medvedev's views of governance, civil society, foreign policy, and Russia's place in Europe, Eurasia, and in world politics, should shine a light on his future policies toward Central Asia. Future posts will go into specifics on Medvedev, Putin, and Russia's policy toward the CA region under this new political alignment.



Though many scholars and journalist see a novel, and in some ways liberal, background in Dmitry Medvedev, most still predict that he will largely be just another Russian autocrat and/or Putin's lapdog. The fact that Medvedev was never a Communist Party or KGB member, does not dissuade them from their beliefs. Nor the fact that in his time as Deputy Prime Minister, his initiatives included: an independent judiciary, an independent public television, and parliamentary oversight of the executive branch. It is widely viewed that Medvedev will continue Putin's authoritative domestic path and aggressive foreign policy towards the West.


Journalist Pavel Felgenhauer argues that there will be little if any "liberalization' or "thaw' in Russian foreign or domestic policy during Medvedev's new reign, as he believes Putin will amass all the nation's power and money in his Prime Minister's White House. Putin sent this message to the Russian and world public when he stated at a press conference with German Chancellor Merkel on March 8; "Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev is freed from the task of having to prove his liberal views, but I can tell you that he is just as much a Russian nationalist in the good sense as I am. I don't think our partners will find him any easier to deal with." Analyst Victor Yasmann, from Radio Free Europe, asserts that Medvedev will deceptively put on an exterior "face' of liberalism to appease European and Western diplomats and businesses in order to promote Russian economic and political interests abroad. Both of these observers largely dismiss elements, his earlier mentioned initiatives and lack of security and Communist credentials, suggesting a more liberal, moderate Medvedev, and instead focus on his chairmanship of Gazprom over the last four years and his closeness to Putin.



Not all view Medvedev as a puppet of Putin or as the newest member in a long line of iron-fisted Russian leaders. Former US State Department special assistant for policy on the Soviet Union, Nicolai N. Petro, sees Medvedev as a "young, dynamic, liberal and patriotic leader' who offers a "singular opportunity to re-engage with Russia.' Petro catalogs Medvedev's liberal policies; his work in judicial and legal reform, promotion of financially liberal policies, emphasis on a pragmatic foreign policy, and the importance he places in civil society and in NGOs ability to foster them. Petro, and he argues that Medvedev sees the situation similarly, sees the Yeltsin and Putin eras as a necessary period of consolidation, where the Russian government needed to re-establish central authority, shore up the domestic economy, and liberate politics and the media from the control of oligarchs who had been in place for decades during the Soviet reign. He argues that now that the situation has stabilized, Medvedev can "shift the focus' from "consolidation to liberalization.'


Unfortunately, Yasmann and Felgenhauer's analysis of the current and future state of Medvedev/Putin's administration is the most likely scenario. History is hard to ignore when analyzing Russia's present and in predicting its future, and liberalization does not appear strong in either. If one follows this belief, that Russia will continue to be more autocratic than a liberal society and government, its policies toward the Central Asian states should not change much in the near future. After all, Medvedev, as Chairman of Gazprom for the last four years, played an integral part in Russia's energy, economic, and energy dealings in Eurasia and no one should predict any significant change in Russia's policy. The authoritative leaders in Central Asia, specifically Karimov in Uzbekistan, Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan's Berdymukhamedov, should expect a supportive and protective Russian government that will care more about stability in the region than in any type of political "openings.'


Is this assessment of Medvedev accurate? Or is he more liberal than most scholars and journalist give him credit for? If Medvedev is in fact more liberal, will he have the power to change Russian domestic and foreign policy? For that matter, what would a more liberal Russian stance toward Central Asia or the world look like?


Correction: It was brought to my attention that I misrepresented Freedom House Rankings on several earlier posts regarding each Central Asian nation. I mistakenly listed each nation's score: Political Rights out of 10 and Civil Liberties out of 15. This was inaccurate, for each nation is given a score from 1-7, with 1 being the most free and 7 being the least. The corrections have been made below and I apologize for any confusion.



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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