Baku, May 6 – Even before Dmitry Medvedev becomes Russia’s president tomorrow with Vladimir Putin as its prime minister, the Western media have been filled with reports that suggest the two men will inevitably come into conflict, the product, one Moscow analyst suggests, of a baseless but “well-coordinated” effort by some Western countries.
In an article posted on the Strategic Culture Foundation website today, Andrei Areshev argues that while it is of course the case that “when there is no real news, it is necessary to dream them up,” the current effort to set Medvedev and Putin at odds reflects the “desire of certain circles” in the West for just that outcome (www.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=1374).
Some of the Western commentaries that have appeared, he points out, call attention to the very different backgrounds of the two men – Putin coming out of the KGB while Medvedev has worked in the economy – or to the different challenges Russia faces now as compared to when Putin came to power in 2000.
Others suggest that the division of power between the two men is unsustainable, that Medvedev will not be content to remain the junior partner in the “dual power” arrangement the two men have created and will thus soon seek to make use of the powers of office to build his own power at Putin’s express.
And still other Western articles say that various individuals and groups in the Russian Federation will seek to use what they will say as a transition or even interregnum to press their own agendas, something that will force the two men to take sides, quite possibly against each other, however committed they say they are to avoiding that.
But Areshov continues, such “analyses” miss the three most important aspects of the current situation: First, Putin chose Medvedev because the two men have a long and, according to him, successful experience of working together. Had Putin not been confident in that, the outgoing president would have made a different choice.
Second, Medvedev has made it clear that he will continue Putin’s course, seeing the stabilization that the Russian Federation has achieved over the last eight years as being the product of his predecessor’s policies and believing that any radical shift could trigger the emergence of more problems.
And third, the two men have divided power in ways that mean they will be driven to cooperate with one another rather than fight, thus making what some call an unsustainable “dual power” more like the relationship between the president and prime minister of France than between two leaders each seeking the top job.
Areshov is certainly wrong that such coverage in the Western media is the product of the efforts of some behind-the-scenes conspiracy by those who want to weaken Russia. And he is almost certainly mistaken that President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin will be able to “cohabit” in Moscow without any problems.
But what is most obviously missing in his analysis is his neglect of what is likely the most important factor behind such Western coverage – the desire of many in the West once again to convince themselves that the latest new leader in Moscow will transform Russia and convert it into a close ally of the West.
Some years ago, Edward Lucas of “The Economist” summed up this attitude in the following way. When Gorbachev came to power, he wrote, many in the West decided that he would make his country into a democratic partner of the West. They were disappointed. But when Yeltsin appeared, they made the same assumption, only to be disappointed.
Consequently, Lucas, long one of the most insightful observers of the Moscow scene, said eight years ago, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that people in the West would express the same set of hopes or that they were fated to experience the same or even greater disappointments.
Now again there is a change of one kind in the Kremlin, but there is little evidence that there is any change in Western hopes about Russia, hopes that are morally attractive to the extent they lead Russians and Western governments to work for genuine transformations but that are doomed to the same failure as those in the past if one or the other or both do not.
And what is most unfortunate about that probability is that both articles like Areshov’s – and they are legion among supporters of Putin and Medvedev in Russia – and those in the Western media that the Moscow analyst criticizes are perhaps the most compelling reason to think that the pattern Lucas pointed to will continue to hold.