Dmitri Medvedev may be a Vladimir Putin puppet, but he’s not a Putin clone. The Russian president-elect was carried into the job his predecessor chose for him by a Soviet-style electoral victory, after all credible opposition candidates were kept away from the ballot on various loony charges, some worthy of Third World dictatorships.
The strong-arm tactics weren’t even necessary, given Putin’s current popularity, Medvedev would have been comfortably elected in the first round anyway. Yet, it is worth remembering that Medvedev doesn’t have the same background as Putin. A lawyer by training, he’s a product of post-USSR Russia. In contrast, his mentor was trained by the old-guard KGB, which experienced the end of Soviet times as a humiliation.
The few original ideas Medvedev has expressed in public are interesting. In the only speech he gave outlining his platform, he said that building an independent and corruption-free judiciary is the single most important reform Russia now needs.
Medvedev will choose Putin as prime minister because he promised his predecessor to do so. He knows that in a country such as Russia, power streams from the top down.
The new Russian president doesn’t have a KGB background. For this means he doesn’t have the paranoid world view of the siloviki—the current or former agents of the security forces, who hold positions of power in government and in major companies. He should be able to contemplate reforms with an open mind. But his background is also his main problem. He will have to wrest control of the security forces away from Putin before he can do anything that would run afoul of the existing power structure’s interests. Unless he succeeds in this fight, any hopes for reform will remain subdued, at best.