THE PROGRAM, MEDVEDEV. On Saturday Medvedev laid out some of his program in an interview. He began by declaring that he and Putin were a team “That is especially true since we have very close political approaches, we are allies and in everyday life we are close friends”. His prevailing theme is: “our country really needs modern development and gradual but steady reforms.” Once again we see the caution that predominates in their attitude; understandably I believe. He is currently pushing the idea of what he calls “extended government”. I’m not quite sure what he means by that but make a guess from things he said. He referred several times to an incident one of his questioners brought up – the improvement of local tram service that had come about only after his direct intervention – and emphasised that that was a serious defect in the way government worked in Russia: “Everything gets done this way here, it seems. It doesn’t matter who is president; you just have to make your voice heard at the very top, and then things will start to move. But we need to change this kind of decision-making system”. When we add to that his repeated references to the importance of the New Media in enabling two-way communication between government and people (“[In Russia] historically the authorities have been far removed from the people”) I assume that his “extended government” idea involves much more feedback (another word he used a lot). But we will see if the idea is fleshed out. So, his message is that it’s the same Team with the same Program. But slow but steady is the word.
THE PROGRAM, PUTIN. Putin’s similar interview was on Monday. Confirming my suspicion that caution is the ruling passion of The Team, he reminded his listeners of just how bad things were in the 1990s and said: “When the country faces hard times and is steering itself out of crisis, political stability is essential.” And “We survived a very difficult period in the 1990s. Only in the 2000s did we begin to rise up and establish internal peace.” Will Medvedev’s initiatives continue? “We are on the same page on strategic matters” and, later. “I want you to understand that we are doing this together”. He re-stated the larger aim, unchanged from many previous speeches: “Our main task is to ensure this country’s development and to improve people’s living standards” and enumerated the tasks as: “a stable political situation at home” with “an efficient and growing economy” “a fully secured defence capability” (a passage, by the way, that will be taken out of context; read it: just over half way down the page, answering Kulistikov). And he reiterated a favourite Medvedev theme that the economy is far too dependent on energy exports and must be diversified. Altogether quite complementary to Medvedev’s interview and, again, the emphasis that they are in agreement on the big issues.
THE DECISION. The two interviews shed a little more light on the decision to switch places. It now appears that the switch was more conditional than first we heard. Medvedev intimated, as he has done a couple of times, that the fact that Putin’s popularity was higher was the decider. Putin intimated that Medvedev had set his style and strategic program and that as PM he can put it into effect. And through both interviews run the themes “stability” and “caution” and “cooperation”. The other great theme was that the job was not finished: improvements to be sure, but not there yet and a deep conviction that it could all fall apart yet.
FREE TRADE. Putin announced that many CIS members had agreed, after years of negotiations, to set up a free trade zone which he hoped would be signed by the end of the year. They are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine. The original proposal came from, he said, President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan about ten years ago. Nazarbayev has, indeed, been calling for closer economic ties for 20 years. In his interview he emphasised that this was a free trade zone (“We will put to use the competitive advantages that we inherited from previous generations, and we will transfer them to a new modern base”) mentioning the EU and NAFTA as examples. Not the re-creation of the USSR: “We are not interested in taking on excessive risk or creating extra work for countries that are lagging somewhat behind for various reasons”. (Indeed, what strength, by any scale of measurement, would Russia gain from absorbing, say, Tajikistan? Or Ukraine or Belarus, both of which are seeking loans to keep afloat? Territory yes, but at what cost? Unwilling populations, debts, economic stagnation; where’s the gain in that?)
CHECHNYA. Kadyrov announced that a commission of clergy and elders had, over the past year, resolved all blood feuds. If true, this is a substantial achievement.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)