Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Freer people or freer markets? Dmitri Medvedev interviewed.

Dmitry Medvedev has given a lengthy interview to the Financial Times. It is the President-elect’s first major interview with a western news source. Choosing the FT is significant in itself. The UK and the City of London in particular play an important role as trade-partners and financiers of Russia’s economy. Medvedev’s stated priority is retaining stability economically and growing and liberalising the economy. Delivering an interview to the FT is a strong signal that Russia is open for business and in particular open to foreign investment. Equally the interview will raise hopes of a thaw in political relations between the UK and Russia.

I have read the interview quickly and there are a number of noteworthy points to raise even after a relatively cursory perusal. Medvedev continues to emphasise his commitment to improving the standard of living for Russians. This is his stated priority and he believes that this can best be achieved through broad adherence to the policies of Vladimir Putin. Liberalising reform will only take place within a framework which Medvedev adjudges convivial to retaining economic stability. The social changes which the new President mentions, in terms of housing, education and health, are real enough aspirations, but these too will be constrained by economic considerations. Medvedev believes he can deliver the benefits of Russia’s new wealth to its citizens, but he will not leave the economy vulnerable in the furtherance of this aim.

The incoming president does believe firmly however in the primacy of law. He keeps returning in his interview to the importance of the separation of powers and to the need to subject both government and society to the rigours of an independent judiciary. Speaking of the Kremlin Medvedev is unequivocal:

“You probably mean should the executive power observe the decisions that are taken by the court? Without doubt yes. In exactly the same way as they should observe the laws”.

There will be a tendency for western media to focus on Medvedev’s comments regarding NATO and Russia’s near abroad. He is circumspect about the prospect of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO. Of course Russia would see this as a threat and an encroachment in her sphere of influence. Medvedev is right in contending that “no state” would welcome a different military bloc which indeed was formed in order to oppose its interests advancing to its borders.

Perhaps some of the most interesting segments of the interview deal with the topic of state industry. Medvedev acknowledges a need for more independent directors in companies, but he is resolute in his insistence that state infrastructure monopolies such as Gazprom or Russian Railways will remain. And it is this issue which really contains the substance of ideological problems which America and the west have with Russia. Russia’s energy wealth has flowed straight into its coffers from state owned monopolies and this is inimical to the evangelists of the free market.

It will be interesting to see if Dmitry Medvedev begins to marry economic improvements in Russia with real reforms in terms of pluralism, media independence and a law-based society whether western criticism dissipates. If this doesn’t happen Russians will have a right to query whether personal freedoms form the basis of concern about Russia’s democracy or whether the argument is really about free access to its resources and markets.


Ivan said...

More here:

Chekov said...

Thanks Ivan. That's a pretty constructive article.