Dmitry Medvedev Replaces Putin, At Least Technically
Posted by Mike on May 6, 2008
Russia inaugurates its new President, Dmitry Medvedev tomorrow, and no one is really sure whether Russia will turn toward democracy as they did under Yeltsin. Many argue that despite Medvedev’s constitutional role, the real power will continue to rest with the puppet-master Vladimir Putin, the soon to be Prime Minister. If this is turns out to be the case, Russian democracy will continue to whither.
New York’s best newspaper printed an interesting overview by the Washington Compost’s Anne Applebaum on this very question. Applebaum overstates (slightly, and I place heavy emphasis on that word) the current state of Russian democracy.
Although Russia sometimes looks like a democracy, it is not a democracy. Elections aren’t merely rigged, they are carefully programmed in advance. Voters aren’t just coerced, they are never given any real choice at all.
I disagree with the use of the term “rigged.” Russia’s political system is corrupt and undemocratic. The media is state-controlled. Opposition assembly is technically allowed, but with severe restrictions. Political opponents seem to literally be dropping – like – flies. Some will argue that this constitutes rigging and I think that position is reasonable, but we should be careful here because words mean things. It’s undemocratic, dangerous, and sick, just not rigging. People are still technically free to vote as they please. Nevertheless, Applebaum’s point is well taken. Russia has turned away from democracy under Putin and will continue to do so if he turns out to be the one pulling the strings after tomorrow.
No one can be certain about what happens next. Many predict a puppet situation, but I predict a power struggle. Putin currently has standing and political capital. Medvedev will have institutional power. Neither man will want to be the other’s puppet. Struggle is inevitable. That’s just my hunch and could be total crap. In any event, Russia is about to get interesting.