Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.
Medvedev’s speech will be mined to serve the current ruling theme of Russian coverage: is the Duumvirate about to split? But Putin and Medvedev have been a team for some years and they claim to be carrying out the same program. Considering that Putin could be President today had he wanted to be, that he chose Medvedev and that the two claim to be in accord, more effort should be spent in seeing where they agree than looking for invented differences. Medvedev took the opportunity of the anniversary to situate the present course of reforms in Russian history and make a claim that it is a continuation of the Tsar Liberator’s policy. Far from espousing opposing views, one can find many of Medvedev’s points in Putin’s speeches.
One of Medvedev’s major themes was that neither the “fantasy about our nation’s special way” nor “the Soviet experiment” proved to be “the most viable, long-lived ideas”; rather, he claims, the “normal, humane order” of Aleksandr II was the correct course. Neither Nikolay I nor Stalin was correct. Putin described communism as “a road to a blind alley” (1999) and “Our goals are very clear. We want high living standards and a safe, free and comfortable life. We want a mature democracy and a developed civil society” (2004). Not so different.
Medvedev’s other emphasis was the importance of freedom: “The aim of modernisation and progress has always been to enhance freedom in society.” Here is Putin: “Meanwhile, it is not possible to have a strong state without respect for human rights and freedoms” and “Our essential task is to learn how to use the state levers for ensuring freedom, freedom of the individual, freedom of entrepreneurship, free development of civil society institutions.” (2000) And “our goal is for our civil society to mature, grow, gain in strength and understand its own strength. (2010)” So, again, not so different.
Other points of agreement can be found. In 2000 Putin said “Many of our failures are rooted in the fact that civil society is underdeveloped”. He praised modernisation in 2007: “Our task is to diversify the economy and make it more innovative.” He too wants Russia to become more “European”: “real integration into Europe [is] our historical choice” (2003). Many more quotations that march with Medvedev’s speech could be enumerated if space limitations did not preclude them.
When Putin became President, a common descriptor of Russia was “free fall” and Putin saw “strengthening the state” as the necessary pre-condition for everything else. While this made sense then, I have believed for some time that the control must now be loosened and that is evidently Medvedev’s task. There is nothing to suggest that Putin disagrees with that and much in his speeches over the past decade to show that he agrees.
Clearly there is a difference between rhetoric and achievement: realities intervene and priorities change. But, on a rhetorical level, we can see that the important points of Medvedev’s speech are in accord with earlier statements by Putin. There is no reason to assume that the one contradicts the other.
I operate on the assumption that Putin and Medvedev have worked as a team for some years, that they are still a team and that they are following the same general plan whose outline can be seen in Putin’s essay of 1999. This is, after all, what they say they are doing. Until I see real evidence, rather than mere speculation, I will take them at their word and continue to assume that they are generally in agreement on means and ends. Same plan, new phase.