Dmitry Medvedev sat down with Financial Times for an extensive interview. What was he asked immediately? Not surprisingly, his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, arguably the most intriguing one in the modern political world.
Before Medvedev became president, he worked under Putin for years. Mostly recently, he was Putin’s First Deputy Prime Minister.
When Putin ran into the constitutional limit for consecutive presidencies, he endorsed Medvedev to succeed him. Almost immediately, questions erupted over their relationship.
Is Medvedev just Putin’s puppet? Does he actually hold any power? Will he ever dare to oppose Putin? Will he run for a second term (against Putin)?
Medvedev addressed some of the issues in the interview.
He won’t tell public whether or not he’ll run for a second term (he wants to “keep up the intrigue”).
He won’t run against Putin (they’re “old friend[s]” and “one and the same political force”).
He claims his political differences with Putin hasn’t become deeper (Medvedev is more liberal and pro-West than Putin).
From these comments, it seems clear that Medvedev has no intention of challenging Putin personally.
However, Medvedev, far from a puppet, is not shy about challenging the status quo of the Russian economy and political system. For example, he ardently endorsed more political competition, more diverse representation in the State Duma, and less government in the economy.
Because Putin is in part responsible for the status quo and espouses more conservative views, Medvedev’s call for reforms could be seen as indirectly challenging Putin.
Moreover, he may taken a subtle shot at Putin and his cult of personality during the interview by urging Russians to depend on themselves instead of putting “all their hopes in the kind Tsar, in the state, in Stalin, in their leaders.”
However, all of Medvedev’s talking won’t mean a thing if he’s unwilling to confront Putin and wrest power from him. If Putin announces his presidential candidacy and Medvedev meekly steps aside, what real use will his rhetoric of reform be?