Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bye baby looking president Medvedev

Dmitry Medvedev, the third president of Russian Federation, in few days will step down giving way to his mentor Vladimir Putin for return to Kremlin. It’s a good time for making assesments of him and his work as president. Of course I have my opinion on these matters but today I came across an interesting article in Russian business daily Vedomosti so I decided to translate it into English in full and spent two hours this morning.

Many assesments from Kremlin insiders and government officials are far from being flattering, in fact the newspaper paints picture of obedient person with weak will who was installed as puppet, “seat warmer” for Putin. I don’t share such assessment though many things said about his personal qualities in the article may well be true. About my opinion please scroll down to the end.


We had a baby looking president. source
Medvedev. Putin's choice

"When Vladimir Putin chose his successor, he really wanted to see at the helm of the country a progressive young man with political ambitions, which would show himself” said former official of presidential administration. “Closer to election they would have sat down and decided who will continue to lead the country." According to him Putin started to examine Medvedev closely as possible presidential candidate, when he was appointed as chief of presidential administration following departure of Alexander Voloshin. "Eventual appointment of Medvedev to the government [as the first deputy prime minister] was a kind of test that Medvedev had passed" he adds. Other Vedomosti sources convinced that Putin didn’t choose future political leader but "seat warmer". From this point of view Medvedev had three important advantages, says a businessman familiar with him - his lack of team, that he always keeps his word and obedience.

Putin was convinced that Medvedev is trustworthy when the latter worked in presidential administration and then in government. Trust was very important because Putin was handing over his fate to the hands of successor. A heir would have formal prerogative to dismiss PM. For Putin, it was important that agreement with Medvedev was honored: you - president, I am prime minister, but no independence, important decisions in the country should be taken by both.

By agreeing to take over presidency Medvedev had not put forward any conditions. Putin had range of several candidates for this post: Sergei Naryshkin (then chief of staff of the government and deputy prime minister), Sergei Ivanov (then the first deputy prime minister), Vladimir Yakunin (head of Russian Railways) and even Igor Shuvalov (then assistant to president). Each of the hopeful Putin somehow started to put forward certain conditions asking for personal guarantees, and Medvedev was the only one who did not raise the subject "and what will be for me," recalls friend of president.

Over the years, while Medvedev was president, many of his close friends and classmates received high posts, moved up the career ladder. Alexander Gutsan now is deputy attorney general, Valery Kozhokar - deputy interior minister and head of the investigative department of the MVD, Nikolai Vinnichenko - presidential representative in the Ural federal district, Anton Ivanov - chairman of the supreme arbitration court, Konstantin Chuichenko – presidential aid, Valery Adamov - chairman of the arbitration court of Moscow, Alexander Konovalov - minister of justice. But they did not become solid team like Putinists. There is not much friendship and mutual assistance between them, in fact, they didn’t behave in coordinated manner tells acquainted with Medvedev.

Medvedev. Image

"Mr President always gave impression of a completely new person. The fact that he was a teacher, has served as guarantee that he can talk to people” said LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. “Immediately you could feel Medvedev’s education, high culture <...> Even more inspiring was his appearance, the manner of speaking, a smile - particularly we have never seen anger".

"I remember Medvedev as president, who communicates freely, without aplomb, without haughtiness. Germans would call him “people’s president who can be touched", he himself could pat anyone. Once I had problems with voice, he looked sympathetic, asked where I caught cold. I said I returned from Uzbekistan, and he replied that tomorrow he is going there" said Alexander Rahr, director of the Berthold Beytz center of German Council on Foreign Relations. "He communicates easily and naturally. A young, dynamic, well-focused and quick witted, as I observed him” said former president of Kyrgyzstan Roza Otunbayeva. “My relationship with him was businesslike, friendly, he was able to listen to, after [political] crisis [in Kyrgyzstan] promptly solved issues of training our officials. Every time we met, he showed himself as modern man".

However anonymous stories paint somewhat different picture: despite of his progressiveness, Medvedev, having received authority, gladly took over all of its old attributes – he was receiving businessmen through the backdoor, coordinated their transactions. “Sometimes he allowed himself to speak rudely to his subordinates”, one of them complained, “at meetings in the government would often say to us: "You won’t start to work only under threat of cricifiction". “It's unprofessional to speak this way” assesses his colleague “more so because many of them worked hard, spent a lot of effort”. “Because of these shouts and rudeness, such an attitude to subordinates, Medvedev has not formed a strong team” said the source of Vedomosti.

President's press secretary Natalya Timakova didn’t agree with such interpretation: "Yes, the president could criticize certain officials for long and meaningless reports or preparing bad drafts but as a rule, he never got personal". According to her, Medvedev has different style of communication and leadership: "President is always reserved, polite, does not allow to transfer his mood, or some of his emotions on others. Raising voice is not his method of leadership. But when president is unhappy with something in your work and tells you that in very calm voice, I assure you - this is a very bad moment. "

"Medvedev has worked as a lawyer for many years - and it left an impression on him: he had formed a code of proper behavior for himself, and he believes that people follow these rules. Yet it’s not true"says a businessman associated with him. “Medvedev has high moral bar and it did not change in the assessment of situations”, according to presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich, "Medvedev reacted very harshly to the discrepancy between words and deeds. If you can’t do – don’t promise. This rule applies to anyone". Did Medvedev himself followed this rule when many blame him now for inconsistency? "Public explanations may be nuanced, some things you can’t talk about (publicly) so it’s different matter altogether” Dvorkovich defends his chief. “I'm sure he never deceived. He just never promises what he can’t do".

Medvedev. Work and intentions

"President Medvedev had one great feature: good intentions" said former government official. Medvedev really wanted to change something in the judicial system and bureaucracy and improve investment climate. "He really wanted even desired these things to do. He saw them as his mission” the source of Vedomosti continued. “But Medvedev was a unique phenomenon. He knew everything and knew how, had sufficient management experience, good relationships with key people, yet he failed to do anything - this is nonsense”. Member of the anti-corruption council Elena Panfilova has mixed feelings in relation to Medvedev: “In some areas I was pleased with him, in other I was terribly disappointed. Like everyone I was hoping for more, but reacted to campaign against corruption with skepticism". Regarding legislation passed by Medvedev he even exceeded expectations of Panfilova: "Such rapid adoption of the law on access to information, about the openness of judicial decisions - I was not expecting. On the other hand, it seemed to me he has good understanding of presidential prerogatives in order to make these laws work. Yet they are still not working".

“Medvedev has pathological inability to govern” said his former colleague, “he does not know how to listen, select best practices. President liked conducting meetings under TV cameras, in public, but real debates with in-depth analysis of proposals and their differences were missing. He was satisfied that everybody else felt like idiots” said indignant official, “but, in fact, it was impossible to work, things were not moving”. Timakova responded that actually only one-third, at best, of meetings that the president conducted, were aired on television, the rest were closed to the press: "For example during global financial crisis, meetings gathered each week, but only parts which concerned people much - such as measures to combat unemployment – were aired. In the last three months there were weekly meetings also closed for press, where they discussed future economic reforms (pensions, banking, health care), at best, they were accompanied by a brief report from the press-service. "

A former top manager of Gazprom was struck by Medvedev's inability to make decisions, even not strategic. "When we started concrete talks he began to wrinkle, as he was afraid to sign important documents, for example, I said to him – it’s chaos going on in Gazprom, positions put on sale, urgently you need to do something about it! And he answered - perhaps, with your assessment something wrong, therefore there is no question to look into" interviewee of Vedomosti shared his memories.

It’s for lack of independence and indecisiveness top businesspeople generally don’t respect Medvedev - several of these businessmen, talking to Vedomosti on condition of anonymity, agreed. In their coordinate system, “if you're the chief, all subordinates must respect you, obey you, and sometimes fear, and you must move your business forward” said one of them. In case of the presidency - it is necessary to move forward the country. “In first few years we had been observing Medved” tells big businessman. “And then we realized that he was not really independent, and the chief continues to be Putin. I still wonder how can you not respect yourself, as Medvedev himself does not mind to play the role when he and everyone around understand the real balance of power". "It’s not true that Medvedev did not take his own decisions!” protests one of president’s friends. “For instance, he managed to increase funding for armed forces by 60 billion rubles, yet he knew Putin was against it". In June 2011, during political crisis in Libya, Medvedev, like Western leaders, said that regime of Muammar Qaddafi "has lost legitimacy", while Putin fiercely defended Libyan dictator and demanded stop of NATO's intervention in internal affairs of this state. Then major legislative initiatives, which have certainly would not be possible in Russia without Medvedev” said Dvorkovich, “ it’s a liberalization of the Criminal Code (His lawyer’s background played role) and initiative of the transition to the formation of substantial part of the army on contract basis – in perspective up to 100%.

Medvedev. People

President of Promagro Fedor Klyuka calls Medvedev "competent expert who knows how to work with people". But several friends of Putin and Medvedev on condition of anonymity, suggested that work with people – exactly is a weakness of President Medvedev. In their view Medvedev and Putin have fundamentally different attitudes to subordinates. One of them describes it thus: "For example, if you are Putin’s man, and you made a mistake, you will still be part of his team, won’t fall out of favor, maybe you will be transferred to another position, maybe to lower, but will not drop out. Medvedev rather uses people: you are needed while you work. He is very technokratic". “Therefore”, the source of Vedomosti continues, ”for many Putin is more attractive chief than Medvedev, Putin won’t give up you, while Medvedev likes to say – it’s your problem, it’s up to you. He never gives a person more than the one deserves in his opinion. None of the Medvedev’s retinue feels complete confidence in the future, that their chief will cover in case something wrong happens". Another friend of two leaders adds: "Medvedev is not so skilled in communication, maybe that's why he has not managed to collect team of the faithful and loyal to him personally, while Putin builds relationships with people in the long term, giving some promises, guarantees, binding people to him by other means. It’s kind of spy recruitment - after all Putin was a spy. "

According to Dvorkovich, if there were problems with some people, Medvedev has always spoken to them directly or send clear signal of what they can do, and what - not. "And if people learned their limits, then they had no problems. Giving one more chance – it’s normal, if it’s not a betrayal” he describes the logic of relations Medvedev has with subordinates. But he can and quite harshly teach a lesson, as stories of his subordinates testify. One example. Medvedev always tries not to be late, can not tolerate when subordinates are late. This is confirmed by Timakova: "Of course, sometimes there are delays of 15-20 minutes - some of the meetings, for example, drag on and then the next event may start late. But president and office of the protocol always take care, so that waiting was minimal. And, naturally, he does not like late subordinates. There were occasions when colleagues were late for the meetings- then meetings started without them, and latecomers were told - thank you, but at this event you’re no longer invited. Sometimes, deputy prime ministers were greeted by closed doors.” Once revenge for delay was more sophisticated. One of the people close to Medvedev tells how he once was late by 15 minutes for meeting with president and then he had to wait several hours in the waiting room. But after he came late on the second time, know what: Medvedev, in knowledge that the official was leaving for a week abroad for rest and treatment, suddenly summoned him to the meeting. The official interrupted his vacation and immediately returned to Moscow, where discovered that he was not in the list of participants.

Medvedev only twice allowed himself to vent anger. Kremlin official said that in well publicized story of Alexey Kudrin Medvedev was angered by several things: insubordination, disloyalty and failure to follow proper procedures in performing his duties. "Kudrin committed two mistakes: he made statement in Washington, not Moscow, and he commented on matter without authorization when his opinion was not sought yet. He said he will not work in the government of Medvedev. It means he was ready to work in the government under president Medvedev and not ready for the government under PM Medvedev where he was not invited yet” argued Kremlin official. "However, after this affair erupted Medvedev met Kudrin and offered him the position of chairman of the Central Bank - the official knows - but Kudrin’s response was negative".

Strained relations with subordinates sometimes escalated into open conflict, which never happened under Putin. And subordinates were not afraid to openly show their contempt for Medvedev. Former government official narrates: "Medvedev has always had difficult relationship with [former Finance Minister Alexey] Kudrin. Their mutual dislike was manifested, for example, in the event that occurred in 2009 - Kudrin then was conducting meeting where either help, or conversion of money for Gazprombank was discussed. Kudrin was inclined to negative decision, but then the government courier brought mail from Medvedev, where there was a resolution in favor of the bank. Kudrin unfolds, squints, and pointedly said, "Well, such poor handwriting"!

However, Medvedev is able to communicate with person whom he disliked him, emphasizes his friend. Putin as result of years of selection has no such people left, while people who were not particularly important under Putin gradually concentrated around Medvedev and gained certain influence on him. Some of them operated hiding behind the name of Medvedev - for example, Igor Yusufov, when he negotiated the purchase of shares in the Bank of Moscow from Andrei Borodin. Man of the Yusufov;s circle denies it, he says, Medvedev didn’t have so-called cronies, including businessmen, "He treated all fairly, never showed any aggression towards anyone or special sympathy." However information to Medvedev is possible to send through the chief of his guard - deputy director of the Federal Security Service, Mikhail Mikheev, said former intelligence officer who knows Mikheev. According to him, because Medvedev has not his own team in Kremlin, he takes for his team members those with whom he familiar relatively long time. "Medvedev trusts Mikheev. And the softness of Medvedev led to different kinds of requests pouring in through Mikheev” the source said to Vedomosti. “With Putin it was not possible. But Medvedev is softer, more understanding".

Medvedev. Hope

But the owner of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Russia - "R-Farm", a member of the General Council of "Business Russia" and "big government" Alexey Repik not disappointedwith the president: "The strategy of the state, set by Putin, allowed the business to concentrate on the development of <..> Politics of Medvedev was continuity, but also brought us a number of nice features: emphasis on youth, innovation, education, and support of entrepreneurial initiatives. " According to him, Medvedev became more actively engage in dialogue with business and business is now ready to build long-term strategies. President of the company "Promagro" Kluka said he was pleased to work with Medvedev: "He knew how to listen and make quick decisions. [In sub-prime crisis], he wisely managed the stabilization fund, and we passed the crisis with small losses compared to other countries. We didn’t expect just one term of his presidency. And programs of modernization begun to stall. Surely we have more democracy and freedom, the country has become more liberal. There were free demonstrations. But he did not have enough time. "

The final decision on Medvedev’s departure from the presidency was taken by him and Putin on fishing trip in August 2011, said a source close to the president. Timakova also said that it became clear that Medvedev will leave Kremlin in late August. It seems the president already regretted that fateful decision. “Kremlin did not expect such a violent reaction of the society”, the Kremlin official has admitted to Vedomosti, “we did not realize at that moment how many people are critical of Putin, and placed their hopes on Medvedev and took his decision as betrayal of their interests. Seeing this reaction, Dmitry Medvedev feels responsible for people who believed in the slogan "Freedom is better than no freedom" and attributed to him some hopes. In many ways, it makes him deal with his career - both political and administrative ", - said the interviewee of Vedomosti.

Familiar to Medvedev person said that at first in September, after declining to be re-elected, Medvedev was confident that he can form the government to his liking, but by November he was told that he may consider only those who will be offered to him and therefore he undergone basic reassessment of everything and everyone around him. “He realized that the government will not be fully according to his wishes, while he will carry burden of responsibility for work of this government. As result, in last half-year Medvedev was under stress. Of course, he thought he would do more. Over the past six months, Medvedev changed very much, retreated into himself" said his friend. Timakova called comments about the lack of independence of the future prime minister Medvedev "premature": "Let's wait for the composition of the government and we will draw conclusions".

original of article in Russian on Vedomosti site

For you to decide whether these anonymous and personal opinions are true or not but the article in leading national newspaper with such plain speak would not be possible in the country which according to US-government financed think tank Freedom House occupies miserable 172 place in the world on freedom of press. Another evidence that Western self-congratulatory ratings (US was on respectable 22nd place after minor European states) are usual propaganda, rubbish.

As for Medvedev I agree with some assesments in the article while I disagree with others. I think Kudrin’s episode is proof that Medvedev indeed was in the beginning of his term a sort of puppet or had just great tolerance.

But in the end especially after December protests he rediscovered his mission, refound confidence. Whether Putinists like it or not but their idol has tarnished (because of corruption) image and natural tiredness of him and his PR team work has grown over the years. Maybe level of discontent with Putin not yet reached critical proportions but soon may erupt again.

And many people who voted for him did so just because of Medvedev, as they put their hopes, their expectations on this small man, so-called “puppet”. Russia has many challenges ahead, the country remains deeply undeveloped and unmodernized. Whether Medvedev will live up to great expectations and meet challenges ahead despite odds against him remains to be seen.

We had also a dancing baby looking president.

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