Thursday, 5 June 2008

Signs that Medvedev is loosening the 'power vertical'?

Yevgeni Kiselyov has an interesting assessment of Dmitry Medvedev’s first four weeks of power in today’s Moscow Times. Kiselyov acknowledges that no ‘revolutions’ were possible in such a short time frame, but nevertheless discerns a number of important indications that Medvedev’s ‘pet projects’ threaten the machinery whereby Vladimir Putin maintained his presidential ‘power vertical’.

Medvedev has spoken repeatedly of his desire to move Russia away from a culture of ‘legal nihilism’. There are important signals that the president intends to act on this campaign promise. A number of cases whose pursuance could be adjudged primarily political have been dropped. In addition Medvedev has admitted frankly that court decisions are often influenced by pressure from bureaucrats and that officials lobby judges (often with money changing hands). An unprecedented statement from a leading Supreme Arbitration Court official, that a top official within Putin’s administration has attempted to influence court decision, bears hallmarks of being sanctioned by Medvedev.

The significance of these developments is that movement toward an independent judiciary would deprive the president of one of the prime levers with which Putin exerted pressure on political rivals. Kiselyov recognizes that it is as yet early days, and that Putin spoke, with commendation, of the rule of law early in his presidency, but the indications offer some encouragement nevertheless. Particularly in conjunction with a letter in which Medvedev suggested to state Duma deputies that a bill making it easier to shut down media organisation be dropped.

After a month during which Putin has taken an equal share of high profile state appearances, Medvedev hosts the prestigious St Petersburg International Economic Forum this weekend, confounding expectations that Putin would once again be the star attraction.

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