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Seizing the Medvedev Moment

By       Message Nicolai N. Petro     Permalink
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Russia will eventually obtain the world's respect "not through strength, but through responsible behavior and success", he says. Until then, he proposes that Europeans recall the history of the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community [16] - distant forerunner of the European Union - and consider an "asset swap" with Russia that will guarantee energy security for the entire continent and promote "the best form of partnership."

An arrangement whereby Russian investment in refinery and distribution in Europe could be exchanged [16] for European investment in oil-and-gas extraction in Russia would, says Medvedev, create a "virtuous cycle" that bolstered economic efficiency and security throughout the continent. "The Europeans say that we are putting them in a tight corner because they come to depend too much on deliveries of Russian gas. Let us exchange assets then, and we will be dependent on them too."

One likely leitmotif of Russian foreign policy under Medvedev is thus already apparent: security is enhanced when countries share risk. This model, moreover, can be extended to other areas: economic [17], political, and military.

A pivotal choice

It is tempting - especially for western observers - to regard liberal rhetoric and policy in Russia [18] as a dramatic break with the past. Medvedev himself does not see it that way. His argument is that amid the chaos of the 1990s, the government had to concentrate on core tasks of responsible governance: re-establishing central authority, forging a "unified legal space," shoring up the domestic economy, liberating politics and the media from the control of oligarchs, and laying the foundations for an independent foreign policy. In all these areas, Medvedev not only agreed with Putin's policies - he played a key role in formulating them.

Now that the situation in the country has stabilised, however, it is time to shift the focus from consolidation to liberalisation. If, during the 1990s "screws were, perhaps, screwed on too tight," now they can be relaxed. The watchwords of Medvedev's approach to politics, both then and now, are "flexibility" and "pragmatism."

This perspective casts severe doubt on the conventional view of Medvedev as a lackey blindly carrying out Putin's bidding [19] - but also on the notion that he will develop policies at odds with those that he has been carrying out over the past seven years.

Indeed, it appears that most foreign analysts have simply underestimated the Russian government's ability to conceive of and carry out its own strategy of democratic modernisation (the "Putin plan"), and also completely missed its purpose. Medvedev described the latter as: "an effective civil society composed of mature individuals ready for democracy." Gleb Pavlovsky [19] Medvedev's long-time political advisor, says that the result of the west's ignorance and misunderstanding [20] is that essentially it "slept through Russia's rebirth".

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In this light, Medvedev's rise is a portent of the historic challenge that Russia's first truly post-Soviet [20] generation is about to face: the creation of Russia's first truly liberal society.

For the west, this young, dynamic, liberal and patriotic leader offers a singular opportunity to re-engage with Russia. But it is an opportunity that can be realised only if the west awakes from its long, post-Soviet slumber.

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[1] http://www.kremlin.ru/eng/articles/V_Putin_eng.shtml
[2] http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/PETREB.html
[3] http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=4181%23author%23LEFT:%2520138px;%2520POSITION:%2520absolute;%2520TOP:%2520324pxLEFT:%2520138px;%2520POSITION:%2520absolute;%2520TOP:%2520324px
[4] http://www.opednews.com/author/author6199.html
[5] http://www.npetro.net/
[6] http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/view/30000/predictable_victory_for_medvedev_in_russia
[7] http://www.russiaprofile.org/resources/whoiswho/alphabet/m/medvedev.wbp
[8] http://www.euromonitor.com/Housing_Russia_becomes_a_state_priority
[9] http://faculty.cua.edu/Fischer/ComparativeLaw2002/Russian%2520Federation%2520Website.html
[10] http://www.gazprom.com/eng/articles/article8511.shtml
[11] http://www.gazprom.com/eng/articles/article8822.shtml
[12] http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?event_id=179971&fuseaction=events.event_summary
[13] http://www.russiavotes.org/president/presidency_electoral_system.php?PHPSESSID=b930691dd1def289a14f0530ced79ace
[14] http://www.ruvr.ru/main.php?lng=eng&q=23561&cid=56&p=28.02.2008
[15] http://www.russiaprofile.org/page.php?pageid=CDI+Russia+Profile+List&articleid=a1203095228
[16] http://europa.eu/scadplus/treaties/ecsc_en.htm
[17] http://www.euromonitor.com/Russia
[18] http://www.euromonitor.com/factfile.aspx?country=RU
[19] http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2008/02/35971ae1-b80b-4b12-b2f5-a0c107b435ac.html
[20] http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/numbers/21/1147.html

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Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. He has served as special assistant for policy in the U.S. State Department and as civic affairs advisor to the mayor of the Russian city of Novgorod the Great. His books include: The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard,1995), Russian Foreign Policy (Longman, 1997), and (more...)

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