Analysis

Medvedev’s New Russia

The new president has revitalized Russian foreign policy but faces familiar challenges at home.

After last year’s power shift, it seems that President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia is more and more able or willing to distance himself from his predecessor and mentor, Vladimir Putin.

Although Medvedev has retained close relations with rogue states such as Iran and Venezuela, he has also made efforts to ally with rising powers Brazil, India and China (with Russia known as the “BRIC”) as well as neighboring Central Asian states within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

With the other BRIC nations, Russia seeks to expand its diplomatic and financial leverage on the world stage. Within the SCO, it maintains relations with its neighbors.

Medvedev also welcomed a reconciliatory President Barack Obama in Moscow this summer to talk about reducing nuclear warheads.

Challenges at home

The Russian president seems to do well abroad. Internally, he must struggle with an economy that performs poorly and a war machine that is hopelessly outdated.

The other three BRIC economies have emerged from recession. Russia probably has to wait until 2012. The Economist calls it “the price Russia is paying for failing to develop its own financial markets and to tame inflation.”

Medvedev understand the challenge, telling parliament:

Our country’s prestige and national prosperity cannot rest forever on past achievements. After all, the oil and gas production facilities that generate most of our budget revenue, the nuclear weapons that guarantee our security, and our industrial and utilities infrastructure — most of this was built by Soviet specialists.

Modernization

Russia needs to modernize. Democracy, transparency, and a non-corrupt services economy would do away with a past of authoritarianism and heavy industry.

Similarly, Russia must conduct a foreign policy on twenty-first-century terms.

Instead of chaotic action dictated by nostalgia and prejudice, we will carry out an intelligent domestic and foreign policy based on purely pragmatic aims.

Medvedev followed up with concrete proposals:

  • Raise pensions and unemployment benefits.
  • House war veterans properly.
  • Encourage the flow to credit to strengthen consumption.
  • Develop alternative energy sources, like biofuels.
  • Invest in information and space technology.

Schools, institutions, court, even Russia’s timezones are up for reform.

Military

Lastly, Medvedev pledged to restore the Russian military by purchasing thirty ballistic land- and sea-based missiles, five Iskander missile systems, about 300 armored vehicles, thirty helicopters, 28 combat aircraft, three nuclear-powered submarines, one battleship and eleven spacecraft.

“All this simply has to be done,” according to Medvedev.

Only one thing he didn’t mention: how Russia will pay for it all.

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