Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Medvedev presidency

Time for yet another book review. This time the book I want to tell you about is about Russia and it's current president Dmitri Medvedev. The book is written by Arto Luukkanen and titled "Medvedev - Venäjän isäntä vai Putinin renki" (Medvedev - Ruler of Russia or Putin's servant? [free translation]). The book recaps the story of Medvedev's road to power and his relationship with Putin. Since the book is about very recent events the analysis in the book isn't that in-depth. The book is more of a narrative about what has happened in Russia during the past ten years. It is truly surprising to realize how many note worthy events there have been during the Medvedev presidency and how many of them I have forgotten.

I really liked the book. Reading it was a bit like reading a thriller. The book sheds light to structures of Russian society that get virtually no coverage in the media. As a good example of this is the short introduction on the Russian newspaper landscape and what kind of organisations and people can be found behind different newspapers. Various Russian think tanks are also covered and who they support. Out of the many Russian bloggers Luukkanen mentions Aleksey Navalny who has gained popularity for his campaigns against corruption and revealing government misconduct. You can find his blog here. One thing that amazes me after reading the book is the fact that we in the west do not know by name that many people from the Russian ruling elite.

The book explains very well the basic structure of Russian politics and gives you an idea about the different political tendencies.*  Particularly the rise of securocracy is extremely intriguing and at the same time extremely worrying. The big dilemma of Russian politics seems to be (and is) the need for immediate and swift modernisation versus the stability (or stagnation) of society that is needed for development.

Since the securocracy rose to power the conditions in Russia have stabilised and the standard of living rose until the financial crisis of 2008, but now the infiltration of ex-intelligence operatives to all regions of Russian society threatens to prevent all meaningful modernisation efforts. To make things more complicated the different security branches are not exactly friends are there are different factions inside the security services. The securocratic elite has in few years become more of an obstacle than enabler of modernisation. For them everything is fine as long as money flows in their pockets and no one questions their rule.

Did Medvedev rule Russia at any point? What were his goals and did he achieve any of them? In my opinion Medvedev clearly had some vision on how he wanted to modernise Russia, but the brief war with Georgia and the financial crisis postponed the start of the reforms. Also Putin and Medvedev seemed to have disagreement on the speed of reforms. In my eyes the bad guy here was Vladislav Surkov who is widely seen as the main ideologist in Kreml. He was appointed as the First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office by Putin in 2008. Surkov was the one who critised Medvedev(!) for being too ambitious with his plans for modernisation. Maybe the situation was such that there were two against one and Medvedev had to back down. Further more the book suggest that the battle for presidency started already in 2010. Medvedev supporters are/were mainly Moscow's think tanks and parts economic elite who thought that the liberalisation of political life is necessary. However Medvedev was not able to gain the support Russian regions. At the end it seems that even tough Medvedev tried there never was enough room to for him to accomplish anything of significance. 4 years is too short time in Russian politics and changes don't happen gradually, but are more like earthquakes that change everything in a heartbeat. It seems that for now Putin is back in helm and that is how it is going to be for the next 12 years.

I learned a bunch of new things reading the book and had leave out a lot of details that were worth mentioning. I believe that the book equipped me with information that enables me to look at what happens in Russia more objectively and to better understand what happens in Kreml in the future.

*Wikipedia also has an article about the topic, but I am not sure how accurate it is at the moment. Should give you some leads if you want to know more.

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