The majority of Russian and Western observers see the man who will become the new President of the Russian Federation this month as an only relatively liberal figure, if not as a faceless opportunist. Some even think that Medvedev will be a second Putin whose rise means merely more of what we have seen during the last eight years. However, Medvedev's early political biography and most recent statements on such issues as multi-party competition, freedom of the press, or Russia's relations to the West point in a different direction. Should the Russian presidential administration come under the lasting and full control of Medvedev, the Kremlin will become a focal point of pro-democratic tendencies in Moscow. This development could lead to a situation reminiscent of an earlier period of transition that gained fame under its Russian name perestroika.
Such a prediction follows from a closer look on Medvedev's curriculum vitae which is dissimilar from Putin's. The outgoing and future Russian presidents are both jurists who grew up and studied at St. Petersburg. Yet, not only has the thirteen years younger Medvedev no known KGB background. He started to be active in politics already during the heydays of Gorbachev's glasnost when Putin was still serving for the KGB in Dresden. Researching for an advanced law degree at Leningrad State University, in early 1989, Medvedev also worked as an election campaigner for his professor Anatolyi Sobchak - then a prominent leader of Russia's emerging democratic movement running for a seat in the USSR parliament. This was, to be sure, only a brief episode in Medvedev's biography. His later posts within the St. Petersburg City as well as the Russian Presidential Administrations and as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Russia's huge gas monopoly Gazprom as well as his work as Deputy Prime Minister of Russia were what determined his political career. Yet, Medvedev's brief involvement in the Russian democratic movement in 1989 is still significant. That was a time when it was not yet entirely clear whether the Soviet system was indeed at its end, and when becoming an anti-communist activist was still something of a risk.
Medvedev will acquire substantial powers within the next weeks. If he is able to consolidate his new position in the following couple of years, we should, at one point or another, expect that he will be trying to change Russia's political system in a direction similar to that in which Gorbachev tried to stir the Soviet Union's. Such a move by Medvedev is by no means destined to be successful as it will encounter stiff opposition by many of Moscow's currently dominant elite groups. Whatever the eventual outcome of such attempts to re-open the Russian political system may be, the period of relative macro-political stability in post-Soviet Russia will soon be over.
[The full text of this comment is attached below. A somewhat different version appeared earlier on the web site of Prospect-Magazine, No. 144, March 2008.]