The Medvedev Snafu

There’s always been something painful about watching Dmitry Medvedev’s public appearances.

When he took office as Russia’s president four years ago, he laboriously mimicked Vladimir Putin. But instead of appearing tough and decisive, Medvedev ended up looking like a caricature of his mentor. Then, halfway into his term, Medvedev settled into the job and began trumpeting proclamations of reform and progress that didn’t have the slightest chance of being implemented.

The meaninglessness of Medvedev’s presidency became clear to everybody in September, when he voluntarily ceded a guaranteed reelection to Putin. Without as much as a peep, he contented himself with swapping places with Putin and has since become prime minister.

I had to force myself to watch the 52-minute interview Medvedev gave veteran TV journalist Vladimir Pozner last night. The sincerity with which Medvedev defends completely cynical decisions doesn’t make him sincere – or the decisions any more defensible. (Click here for the official English translation.)

Pozner, a rare liberal voice on state-run Channel One, began by expressing surprise on three counts: that Medvedev had accepted his invitation, that the interview was live (at least in the Russian Far East) and that the questions hadn’t been vetted in advance.

In the end, it didn’t really matter what the questions were. I got the impression that Medvedev had a ready justification for each and every indignity that had been foisted upon him.

Why had he agreed to step aside to let Putin run for president? Because Putin had the better electoral chances.

Why had he accepted the leadership of the ruling United Russia party, a political dead weight that Putin is all too happy to jettison? To help make it more democratic.

Wasn’t he the head of a merely “technical” cabinet that would take the blame if the economy worsened? Impossible.

“Every day the prime minister – and I went to the office today – signs dozens of government decisions, resolutions and executive orders that affect the lives of millions of people,” Medvedev said, as if to convince himself of the importance of his new job.

Medvedev did confess that he could understand on an “emotional” level why people had gone out to protest Putin’s return. But from a legal and moral point of view, “we acted absolutely honestly and according to the law.”

Pozner peered skeptically across the studio desk at Medvedev. This was still Channel One. There are limits to what he can say.

During the course of the interview, Medvedev used the word “normal” no less than nine times to describe his actions or those of his opponents.

The problem is that nothing in Russian politics is “normal” anymore – not the way Putin clung onto power, nor the way citizens are demonstrating in the streets. As they say in the U.S. military, it’s a snafu: situation normal, all fucked up.

And the greatest irony is that Putin could have avoided this mess if he’d allowed Medvedev to run for a second term.

(Disclosure: At present, Lucian is mentally but not physically in Moscow.)

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