February 29, 2008


Putin’s Anointed Heir Shows Hints of Less Icy Style (C. J. CHIVERS, 2/29/08, NY Times)

Now, Mr. Medvedev, the presidential successor personally selected by Mr. Putin, is creating his own public identity according to a choreographed script. And here, in a mix of Soviet and Russian symbols, the man rising to Kremlin power avoided the stern themes that have often accompanied Mr. Putin’s appearances.

He wanted to talk about living conditions, for soldiers and civilians alike. “Let’s talk about the problems that exist,” he said to the soldiers beside him before a bank of television cameras. “Let’s have a normal conversation. Please.” [...]

As he has become the country’s second most-watched man, he has implicitly presented himself as both a Putin loyalist and a president-in-waiting who will wield power in a manner more gentle than the world has seen under Mr. Putin’s brand of rule.

Whether this is a pose is an open question. Mr. Medvedev, in commentary outside of official Russian circles, has been cast as a puppet, a president who will labor according to Mr. Putin’s command.

But he has made unanticipated moves. In a speech on Feb. 15, he said liberty was necessary for the state to have legitimacy among its citizens. And he has laid out domestic policy goals in what seems like a communiqué to Russia’s expanding consumer class.

Mr. Medvedev has also struck a campy pose — hamming it up with Deep Purple, the British heavy metal band whose music was popular in Soviet times — that suggested a dormitory-life playfulness that is decidedly not Putinesque.

His words and behavior have raised unexpected but pervasive questions. Does Mr. Medvedev mean what he seems to say? Can he ease the grip on Russian political life that has been a central characteristic of Mr. Putin’s rule?

And if he does, will he clash with Mr. Putin, his principal source of power?

Like the surge, classic fascism is meant to be an interlude, not permanent. For cultural reasons Russia is likely to remain more authoritarian than we, and, as a dying nation, it probably requires less freedom than if it had a potential future. But it can certainly enjoy greater liberty as it fades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 29, 2008 7:08 AM
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