How China sees the Putin-Medvedev tandem in the context
of Russian and international economic and military security

By Xinhua writers Yu Maofeng, Hai Yang, Liu Yang
People's Daily Online

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday, May 7, marked his first year in office, which saw a brief war with Georgia, ups and downs in its ties with the West and the spread of an international financial crisis.

Though the 43-year-old lawyer, labeled as a liberal reformer, has initiated reforms in many fields, analysts believed there will be no major policy shift in the coming year.

Stability versus Reform

Medvedev, the former first deputy prime minister, succeeded his long-time mentor Vladimir Putin two months after an overwhelming victory in the country's presidential election.

Putin, whose eight-year presidency was characterized by a booming economy and political stability at home, regarded stability and the unity of thoughts as a guarantee for the country's resurgence.

Such a view was reflected by the name of the Putin-led United Russia Party, which holds two-thirds of the seats in the State Duma, or the lower house of parliament. It was also a general consensus among Russian politicians, and the starting point of Medvedev's work.

Western media reports about the discord between Medvedev and Putin have never disappeared since the establishment of the Medvedev-Putin tandem. However, the two leaders cooperated closely in the face of the Caucasus war last August and the financial turmoil. Analysts said Medvedev will continue to safeguard the stability of Medvedev-Putin tandem so as to ensure unity within Russia's top leadership.

Medvedev has repeatedly pledged adherence to Putin's policies, which have "set up strong foundations for long-term development, for decades of free and stable development."

Putin, widely seen as one who enjoys being a back-seat driver, said his power tandem with Medvedev was very effective.

The Medvedev-Putin tandem will remain the major characteristic of Russia's future political framework, the analysts said.

"While he (Medvedev) has stepped out from Putin's overcoat, both definitely remain members of the same team," Victor Mizin, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, was quoted as saying by the newspaper The Moscow Times.

Medvedev is certain to move forward reforms in various fields, however, the fundamental guideline of the reforms will be ensuring Russia's stability.

Medvedev tabled a series of political reform measures last year. During his first state-of-the-nation address on Nov. 5, he proposed to extend presidential and parliamentary terms as well as to change the way to elect lawmakers. He also launched a plan to curb corruption and created a system for government officials to declare their incomes.

Medvedev will further advance political reforms and crack down on corruption in the second year, media observers said.

Though the international financial crisis has diverted part of Russian leaders' attention, Medvedev said the crisis was a temporary economic issue and would not be an excuse to slow down political reforms.

Against Foreign, domestic Challenges

In the past year, Medvedev focused his foreign policies primarily on safeguarding Russia's security.

The United States had been trying to stifle and squeeze Russia during the Bush administration via NATO's eastward expansion, missile defense shield plans in Central Europe and the delay of the strategic arms reduction talks with Russia.

In response, Russia on the one hand called for a new European security treaty, and on the other actively engaged in the development to restore power.

As the highest leader in charge of foreign affairs, the biggest challenge Medvedev encountered in the last 12 months was the five-day war with Georgia.

Russian analysts regarded the August conflict as the turning point of Russia's foreign policies, which marked its first bare-of-teeth to the West since the collapse of Soviet Union.

As the new U.S. administration pledged to "reset" relations with Russia after President Barack Obama took office, strains over this issue have been more or less relieved. Currently the two sides are engaging in the negotiations on the strategic arms reduction.

Since the "reset" process between Russia and the United States is apparently heading to a right direction, and Russia bears the natural advantage as an energy supplier, Russia may further regain and promote its global status and influence, said the analysts.

Medvedev also initiated a massive military reform aiming at renovating the army. The huge task of military reform will continue in the years to come.

As for domestic policies, Russia's anti-crisis measures, including supporting major enterprises and assisting reemployment, have somewhat took effect against the backdrop of the global economic downturn.

Though currently there are no risks for the Russian economy to plunge into catastrophic deterioration, its prospects remain unclear, which the Russian head of state must face and work on.

In his coming years in office, Medvedev will try to display his personal style in a more obvious way, said Russia media, but his major direction of work will clearly be the promotion of "the Putin Plan," which leads Russia along the path of modernizing development.

9 May 2009 — Return to cover.