Medvedev was one of a group of St. Petersburg lawyers and
security officials summoned to Moscow when Putin ascended to power in the
Kremlin. As the individuals associated with Yeltsin’s
administration faded from power into Putin’s second term, a group of former KGB
security officials, widely known as the siloviki, filled powerful positions and
began to exercise control over policy, both foreign
and domestic. Members of the siloviki drove a hawkish
foreign policy line and took positions at companies
where the state had begun to wield more influence in
recent years. For sure, the St. Petersburg contingent was
the dominant force in Kremlin politics, but it had
In his position as deputy head and then head of the Presidential Administration,
Medvedev did not align himself with the fading Yeltsin figures or the siloviki.
Instead, he found an affinity with other St. Petersburg lawyers and Kremlin
technocrats. He brought several of his university colleagues to Moscow or placed
them in prominent positions at state-controlled companies like Gazprom.
The St. Petersburg lawyers and technocrats were seen
as having a more liberal bent on economic policy, favoring open markets and more
pluralism, on civil administration, advocating market principles in resolving
Russia’s social issues, and on foreign policy. They included
Elvira Nabiullina, the minister for economic development, and Dmitry Kozak, the
minister for regional development. In speeches since December 2007, Medvedev has
sounded a more liberal tone on economics and a more open attitude on foreign
policy than Putin. Though no one doubts that for the time being Medvedev remains
a Putin protégé.
Medvedev’s policy style can be summed up as a kind of controlled liberalism,
where the state becomes involved only in cases where the problem is too big or
the stakes are too high for private enterprise to succeed, i.e. when the state
risks losing control over a strategic sector of the economy.
This economic liberalism would seem to be at odds with his time at Gazprom, the
world’s largest gas company and a state-controlled entity. Medvedev said in
November 2007 that he felt Gazprom should not hold a monopoly on the Russian
fuel market, and he would see that foreign companies and other actors have a
chance to work in Russia. “Gazprom will not be able to ‘digest’ all of Russia’s
energy resources,” Medvedev said. “And thank God for that – otherwise Gazprom
would become the ministry of energy – and we have been trying to avoid this
state of affairs.”
In speeches in 2008, Medvedev said that “Freedom is better than no freedom.” He
spoke out for economic freedoms, human rights and freedom of expression. He also
said that Russia is a country riddled with corruption
and saturated with a sense of “legal nihilism.” He has called for reforms
of the judicial system and a real separation of that system from the executive
and legislative branches.
Medvedev hasn’t taken up Putin’s mantle of “sovereign democracy” – a term used
to describe democracy managed by domestic interests – for Russia. The idea arose
during Putin’s second term. “I still don’t like this term. In my opinion as a
lawyer, playing up one feature of a full-fledged democracy – namely the
supremacy of state authorities within the country and their independence (from
influences) outside the country – is excessive and even harmful because it is
disorienting,” Medvedev said in a July 2007 interview.
Maybe the biggest departure from Putin's program was Medvedev's call for an end
to the practice of placing state officials on the boards of major corporations.
Medvedev himself sat on the board of Gazprom, and Russia is almost unique in
Europe in that senior government officials double up as board members of nearly
every significant business in the country. “I think there is no reason for the
majority of state officials to sit on the boards of those firms,” Medvedev said.
“They should be replaced by truly independent directors, which the state would
hire to implement its plans."
Perhaps, the most significant statement of Medvedev's views
to date is his article “Go
Russia!” that appeared on September 10, 2009 in
Gazeta.ru, considered to be a fairly independent website where many
serious analysts are published, including representatives of the liberal camp.
The article was seen by many analysts as a call to
the elite and civil society to take part in changing
economic and political life in the country.
In his article Medvedev
sets out an agenda of modernization for his address to
be delivered soon before the Russian parliament. The president
describes the problems of the country and depicts
his vision of the future.
The article proposes a step-by-step system of actions
aimed at modernizing Russia's economy and democracy
without breaking with achievements of the Putin presidency.
The president makes it clear that the
development of democracy and political freedoms in the country “is directly
linked to scientific and technical conditions,” and there will be no democratic
“superstructure” without technological “basis”.
The president is with those who advocate a strong, but democratic Russia, and
not with the forces of inertia and paternalism. It is
significant that for the first time at such a
high level paternalistic sentiments have been
Finally, the president stresses that it
is unacceptable to “imitate Western samples,” which
does not rule out studying and understanding other countries’ experience.
Some analysts compare Medvedev’s article with the US
President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to the nation. Roosevelt also spoke
plainly, clearly and frankly about difficulties and problems of the US during
the Great Depression.
The full text of the article, in English, is available