On May 7th, 2008, the 42-year-old jurist Dmitry Medvedev was inaugurated as the new President of the Russian Federation. The same day, Medvedev proposed Putin as Russia's Prime Minister, and the State Duma duly confirmed the proposal the following day. Whatever these moves may, in the end, entail for the exact redistribution of power in Moscow, they imply that Medvedev will become Russia's official leader. Medvedev's rise means that Russia might have a serious chance to embark anew on a course of political liberalization and democratization. It will provide a welcome opportunity for Western governments and organizations to re-establish trustful relations with Moscow. It, however, also implies that Moscow politics will become ideological again: Medvedev's office may become the focal point of liberal and pro-Western trends, in Russia, while another institution could become the power basis of Moscow's anti-Western nationalists.
In the future, the West will not only have to consider that the formally highest representative of Russia can be counted as a supporter of the catalogue of basic Western values such as political pluralism, division of power, checks and balances etc. The West will also have to develop a strategy for how to behave with regard to the coming re-ideologization of high politics, and power struggles in Moscow. Medvedev's rise and the emergence of a "pro-Western tower" in the state apparatus will not, by itself, entail that Moscow transforms herself into an ally of the EU or NATO. Rather, Russia's domestic politics will again become confrontational in as far as the rise of Putin's young successor with a circle of similarly minded allies in the government around him will mobilize and unite the large anti-Western constituency in various sectors of the Russian elite. We may soon observe the emergence of another, different "tower" in the Russian state apparatus around which Moscow's various anti-Western politicians, publicists and bureaucrats will unite. One fears that the power-hungry cynics around Putin might, in the face of a re-democratization of Russia "from above," go for an alliance with Russia's numerous ultra-nationalist groups and intellectuals like Sergei Kurginian, Aleksandr Dugin and Aleksandr Prokhanov.
While Medvedev's rise as such is good news for Russian-Western relations, it makes a forecast of Russia's future internal development and foreign policies more complicated. The West will have to choose a prudent course of supporting possible pro-democratic changes initiated by Medvedev while not undermining his authority in Russia. Russian public opinion and, especially, Moscow's elite discourse has become anti-Western and particularly anti-American to a degree where demonstrative support by the West weakens rather than strengthens the position of a public politician. Russia's future looks again more promising, yet also more unpredictable than before.
[The full text of this comment is attached below. Earlier versions appeared on the web sites of Russia Profile, 17 December 2007, History News Network, 19 December 2007, and OpEdNews, 6 May 2008.]