When Dmitri Medvedev was elected Russia’s new president on Sunday, the west issued a huge collective shrug. His victory was a foregone conclusion, given the endorsement of outgoing president (and incoming prime minister) Vladimir Putin, and most analysts assume that the new president will continue to take orders from his predecessor—that power will merely shift from the Kremlin to the White House (the Russian seat of government). Certainly, Medvedev’s victory speech, in which he vowed to continue Putin’s work, did nothing to dispel that view.
Yet there is an alternative, more optimistic take. In a new web exclusive for Prospect, Kiev-based academic Andreas Umland argues that there are reasons to believe that a Medvedev presidency could see Russia put the brakes on its slide towards authoritarianism. In 1989, before entering the political mainstream, Medvedev was associated with the electoral campaign of a pro-democracy activist agitating for a seat in the USSR parliament. And much more recently, a series of comments he has given in speeches and interviews suggest a man far more comfortable with the language and ideas of liberal democracy than his predecessor.
Umland acknowledges that before putting any kind of reformist programme into action, Medvedev will need to consolidate his hold over the presidency and ensure that he is able to exercise the constitutional powers vested in him after his election victory. But if he is able to prove equal to this task, we may one day see the March 2008 election as the point at which Russia elected its second Gorbachev.
Also this week: as Peter Hall’s production of Uncle Vanya begins its national tour, Lesley Chamberlain asks what Chekhov would have made of modern Russia.
Look out later for Alex Renton’s first-person reportage from Gaza.