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Beyond Putin

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
by Andrei Vavra
RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jan 26, 2007
A forum in Davos implies debates on global problems. However, there are no plans to discuss Russia in 2007, although the attendees are bound to show interest in this country. The most promising Russian politician and Vladimir Putin's probable successor -- First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev -- heads the Russian delegation in Davos, thereby substantially elevating the status of the Russian presence there.

This fact shows that we are attaching great importance to the forum, planning to reach certain objectives, and linking it with certain expectations. This is not yet Medvedev's presentation, but his trial run as a presidential candidate in the international arena.

He will most certainly be asked questions about Russia's energy strategy. He will possibly be asked to talk about his area of expertise -- national projects. But nobody expects him to make detailed speeches and program statements; in today's Russia only Putin can explain everything. The main thing is the opportunity of looking at the potential president from all sides.

The state and power are not simply institutions -- they are personified, all the more so in Russia. Management strategy, lists of priorities, and the very atmosphere of life largely depend on a national leader's personality. This is why the character of Russia's future president is so important. What do we know about Dmitry Medvedev as a person and politician? He will certainly draw special attention; attendees in Davos will try to understand his character, manners, and reactions, and note every nuance in order to find his strong points and soft spots, which would reveal his psychological features. Eventually, this will help them predict what new accents Russian policy may acquire with his advent to power.

Medvedev will find himself in front of hundreds of photo and video cameras. The Russian media are extremely kind to the first deputy prime minister, and eager to present him from the best possible angles; sometimes he can be mistaken for Father Frost, bringing presents to his compatriots. But here he will be watched with the cold eyes of a hunter.

To sum up, Medvedev's visit to Davos is bound to give much food for thought to comments by analysts, political scientists, and all experts on Russia. They will make and multiply his visual and audio images. For us, the main question is: will they see Medvedev as an independent politician, or an obedient follower of Putin's cause? What balance of strength and intellect will they reveal in him?

Let me repeat that nobody expects Medvedev to give detailed answers -- the time is not yet ripe for them. It is enough for him to make hints with their seductive charm of an enigma. He has to be definite on only one point. The notion of "a man of power" is particularly popular in our political discourse. Other countries give a different interpretation to this term. For them, a "man of power" is not one who resorts to tough measures, but who achieves results by being persistent, flexible, and diverse in his choice of means. Unfortunately, the Russian scene does not give politicians many opportunities to practise flexibility and diversity.

Medvedev is expected to demonstrate the long-awaited "soft power" in Russian policy. It will be welcomed with relief, and will make for more comfortable negotiations with this country on a whole range of issues. The Westerners want to see some new features which would testify to the emergence of a new generation of Russian political leaders.

In effect, the matter deals with a change in the design of packaging, with new ethics in upholding one's own interests.

Will Russia find it hard to meet these expectations? Not in the least. The political reality is harsh for everyone, and there is no point in expecting more.

(Andrei Vavra is a political commentator at RIA Novosti. This article was reprinted with permission from the news agency.)

Source: RIA Novosti

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