Poor Execution

The cornerstone of Medvedev’s domestic policy was the war on corruption. The newly-elected President announced the war on that eternal foe only a few days after his inauguration. He said that corruption is a great threat to any state, remarking that: “Most importantly, corruption destroys the public trust in authorities.” This was a shrewd point to make.

 

Medvedev met Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s. He kept up his close relationship with the future Russian President for 20 years

 

In July 2008, a national plan of countermeasures against corruption was adopted. It included three components: modernizing legislation, developing specific measures against corruption, and involving civil society in achieving these objectives. Progress was only shown in the first category: officials were bound to publicly declare their income, citizens gained access to information on the activities of state agencies, and a bill on the transparency of the judicial information was passed.

In reality, the initiative to force officials to declare their income turned out hollow and ineffective: according to Levada-Center polls, only 2% of Russian citizens trust this information. IMR recently commented on the topic.

According to some statistical data, in the last four years, the war on corruption has led to the opposite results. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, in 2008 Russia was in 147th place (out of 180 countries), in 2009 146th, in 2010 154th, and in 2011 143rd. According to a report from the Department for Combating Economic Crimes [under the Ministry of Internal Affairs], the average size of a bribe has dramatically increased: in 2008 it was 9,000 rubles ($300), in 2009 23,000 (~$750), in 2010 61,000 (~$2,000), and in 2011 236,000 (~$8000).

Medvedev’s other showy initiativethe police reformhas also been analyzed by IMR. Overall, the reforms were of a decorative nature. Their most prominent result was the name change: the militsia became the police.

The Skolkovo innovation center was probably the brightest idea Medvedev had. It was a response to the call for brining Russia up to speed in IT, biomedicine, energy efficiency, nuclear and space technologies.

This idea was first state in Medvedev’s message to the Federal Assembly in November 2009. The concept was to create a parallel to California’s Silicon Valley, an innovation complex with a special economic, legal, and tax conditions, where new technologies could be developed and made commercial. An integral part of the complex was a new, internationally-recognized university SkolTech, a joint project with MIT. Basically, the idea was to build a technological Eldorado in the Moscow suburbs. Later, Skolkovo was to be used as an example for creating such areas in other Russian districts.

Skolkolvo received generous government support. In 2010, the project budget amounted to 3.991 bil. rubles (~133 mil. USD), in 2011 support reached 26.892 bilion (~$900 million). Only 3 billion rubles were from private investments. In 2012, nearly 22 billion rubles will be allocated for Skolkovo (~$730 mil.), and in 2013 17.1 billion rubles (~$570 million).

This project has strategic value, which is apparent from the names of the people lobbying for it. Besides Medvedev, these include Vladislav Surkov, Vice Prime Minister of Modernization, Igor Shuvalov, the First Deputy Prime Minister, Anatoly Chubais, president of the Rusnano corporation, and Victor Vekselberg, former head of Renova and current president of the Skolkovo Foundation. International visibility is provided by Nobel prize winners Juarès Alferov and Roger Kornberg, co-chairmen of the Skolkovo Scientific and Technological Council, and by the MIT brand.

According to a number of policy analysts Medvedev was chosen for loyalty, predictability, and manageability.

Medvedev has probably spoken on modernization and Skolkovo more than any other initiative. But the bottom line is that practical results are still few. Hardly any facilities have been built. The first building (The Hypercube) is scheduled to be finished in May. Although nearly 400 companies have been granted space in Skolkovo and allowed to work remotely while the complex is being built, none of these enterprises have yet developed any specific products as of yet.

It had seemed that Medvedev found a potential goldmine when he established ‘innovation’ as the key theme of his agenda. It has advantageously distinguished him from Putin’s rhetoric of stability, which started to bore people. But he had little time to enjoy his find: last year Putin announced the creation of the Strategic Initiatives Agency, which would support innovation projects. Thus, Putin sent a clear message that there can only be one leader in the country, regardless of the positions and agendas of others.

A package of political reforms introduced by Medvedev this winter put the period on his empty domestic policies. The reforms included a simplified procedure for party registration and the return of governors’ elections. The package was a belated reaction to the protest movement that erupted in response to falsified parliamentary election results. The bill was rushed through the State Duma in record time and signed by Medvedev on May 2nd. It will come into effect June 1st, 2012. Despite the bill’s timeliness, it has built-in limitation, so-called municipal and presidential "filters.” According to these limitations, gubernatorial candidates from political parties have to participate in municipal primaries and then consult with the head of the government. Independent candidates have to pass through a third qualifying round: they have to gather signatures not only from state representatives, but also voters. These challenges allow the regime in power to weed out undesirable candidates.

 

Post-Scriptum

Reviewing Medvedev's political projects, we can conclude that from the realpolitik point of view Medvedev was but a shadow of an actual politician. From the point of view of the regime’s interests, he completed his task – he has kept the system vital, or, in crude terms, kept the chair warm, while his master was absent.

But if we look at Medvedev’s work out of this political context, in terms of common sense, one thing becomes clear. Here is the man who, by a twist of fate, had the opportunity to change the history of his country. Medvedev neglected this chance. And the reasons why he did it are not very important now. He proved that he had neither leadership qualities, nor charisma, nor political bravery. He was neither an opportunist nor a strategist. He was just an intermediate link between two Putin terms. As Jean Baudrillard might have put it, Medvedev was just the simulacrum of a president.

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