Books on Russia
Update No: 329 (01/06/08)
Medvedev becomes president
There is a misapprehension abroad that Russia's new president is some sort of
liberal compared with Putin and his former KGB cronies. It is true that Dmitry
Medvedev was never a member of the security forces. But he is all the better as
a front man for them, for all that.
He is a skilled lawyer, who helped Putin dismantle the powers and independence
of the regional governors - nothing very liberal about that! He has abetted him
at every turn in his consolidation of Kremlin power.
He was sworn in on May 7 as Russia's new president to replace Putin, who was
constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term after eight years in
Medvedev, the former first deputy prime minister, won by a landslide in the
country's presidential election on March 2 and becomes the third as well as, at
42, the youngest ever president of the country since the independence of Russia
A long-time friend and a close ally of Putin, the soft-spoken lawyer was
favoured by the incumbent president for his emollient qualities and tractable
manner. During his presidential campaign, Medvedev vowed to continue the
policies set by Putin and further Russia's economic growth and prosperity.
Putin as premier will of course be the real power in the land, the Duma being
hand-picked by him, as well as the administration.
Putin was after all premier under Yeltsin, when he was already the main
driving-force in the country. There is no doubt who is the dominant figure. He
is a good orator, who can think on his feet. And now at 55 he is an experienced
statesman, with a remarkable track record behind him, albeit with serious blots
on his escutcheon, some of which we consider in our “Publishers Overview” of
Faithful right-hand man
Putin and Medvedev graduated from the same law school of St. Petersburg
Leningrad State University and have known each other for 17 years. The men were
brought together in the 1990s in the city hall by the outspoken Democrat Anatoly
Sobchak, who became mayor of St. Petersburg, himself deemed a liberal, who,
however, was later accused of being a liberal kleptocrat, rifling the city
treasury to acquire assets and property. During this decade, Medvedev served as
a legal consultant to the city's committee for external affairs headed by Putin.
Putin brought Medvedev to Moscow in 1999, shortly after the then President Boris
Yeltsin resigned and handed over to him the presidency. Medvedev joined Putin's
staff and led Putin's election campaign in 2000.
From 2001 to 2003, besides his day-to-day responsibilities in the Kremlin staff
supporting the president's duties, Medvedev was also assigned to special
projects. These included heading the commission which oversaw the drafting and
enactment of framework legislation on the reform of the civil service and
exploring ways to best overhaul the judicial system. Medvedev also helped Putin
end the popular election of governors, as we have seen, and pass other laws
strengthening the Kremlin's grips on politics.
Almost upon his arrival at the Kremlin, Medvedev took an active role at Gazprom,
the natural-gas giant. As its chairman, Medvedev helped Putin restore the
Kremlin's control over the company.
Before 2005, Medvedev had been a behind-the-scenes player and his role changed
when Putin appointed him as first deputy prime minister, a specially created
post, to oversee five national projects.
The appointment made Medvedev the favourite to succeed Putin and the
billions-of-dollars national projects, which cover health care, education,
housing and agriculture, launched him into the media spotlight.
The St Petersburg caucus
Inside the Kremlin, Medvedev aligned himself with a group often described as the
St. Petersburg lawyers or technocrats. He has brought several of his university
colleagues to Moscow or placed them in prominent positions at state-controlled
companies like Gazprom.
They are said to have a more liberal view on the state's role in the economy,
foreign policy and civil liberties than the siloviki, the group of former
security service officials surrounding Putin in his two terms. But they are
little more than a respectable veneer for a still siloviki-dominated
However, people who know Medvedev personally say he has many leadership traits,
including a knack for learning quickly, the integrity to stand by what he
believes, and the aptitude to work as a team player. Medvedev's colleagues in
government describe him as loyal, competent and pragmatic.
Russia Parades Military Might
Nuclear missile launchers and columns of tanks rolled through Red Square on May
9 in a display of martial hardware not seen in front of the Kremlin since the
waning days of the Soviet Union.
The parade, smaller in scale than similar commemorations in the Soviet period
but laden with significance and mixed messages, marked the 63rd anniversary of
the victory over Nazi Germany, which is observed in Russia as a solemn state
It was intended as a tribute to the surviving veterans and as a display of
Russia’s efforts to revive armed forces left moribund by the Soviet Union’s
But the goose-stepping footfalls, echoing in front of shop windows bearing
products from Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, captured as well the contrasts
institutionalized during eight years of rule by President Putin, who left office
as president and returned to power as prime minister the following day.
Confident and flush with wealth, Putin’s Russia is led by men who embrace
Soviet symbols and rituals, while urging Parliament to enact tax breaks and
legislation to encourage a massive Russian investor class. Medvedev as a
'liberal' civilian is an appropriate mascot here.
Gas OPEC or GECF
There are for instance potentially revolutionary developments afoot in the new
president's former domain, the world gas industry, initiated by the two leading
powers within it, Russia and Iran. These could transform the world energy
situation. Of all carbon fuels, gas leaves the least carbon imprint. For natural
gas to supersede oil would be highly desirable.
Russia is playing a major role in forging a new OPEC-style organisation for the
global gas industry, albeit with inherent differences all the same. A draft
“Gas OPEC” Charter was discussed at a Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF)
session held in Tehran on April 28.
The new organization aims to promote the development of a universal formula of
gas prices and use of spot supplies in case of shortage of gas volumes, when
implementing long-term contracts. In other words it would operate as a cartel in
the interests of its members and have a massive influence on world pricing.
It will also concern itself with the construction of new pipelines.
The Draft Charter of “gas OPEC” could be presented at a GECF session in
Russia this June, although there is some talk that it might be postponed, since
Qatar and Venezuela are not yet convinced.
On April 9, 2007 in Doha, Qatar, the Gas Exporting Countries Forum had postponed
this issue of consideration of creating a ‘gas OPEC.’
GECF was founded in 2001. It includes Russia, Algeria, Venezuela, Egypt,
Indonesia, Iran, Qatar and UAE. The Forum participating countries produce around
40% of world gas and have about 70% of world gas reserves.
The Persian Gulf Cooperation Council was established in 1981. Its goal is to
pursue single economic and financial policy and strengthen relationships between
the region’s countries in various areas. The permanent members of the Forum
are Algeria, Bolivia, Brunei, Venezuela, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Qatar, Libya,
Malaysia, Nigeria, UAE, Oman, Trinidad and Tobago, Equatorial Guinea and of
course Russia. Azerbaijan, that became a gas exporting country in 2007, has not
yet acceded to the GECF.
Russia suggests yet another organisation
Russia proposes another option for gas exporters that would be an addition to
GECF – a project of an international alliance of ‘non-state’ independent
gas organizations. This alliance would not be an inter-state organization,
unlike GECF, but would unite non-governmental gas organizations and leading gas
companies. However when a company is like Gazprom, state-controlled and on the
evidence, used as a tool of state policy, one wonders what possible emphasis can
be put on the definition of “non-state” in this context.
Gazprom, with half the world's gas reserves, would be the natural leader of the
organisation, conjoining itself, Ruhrgas, Sonatech of Algeria, ENI of Italy and
New Russian foreign investment laws begin
In his last major enactment as president, Putin returned to a subject that has
long been a speciality for him. He was responsible for foreign investment into
St Petersburg under Mayor Sobchak in the 1990s, his first real political
assignment. He endorsed new laws clarifying foreign investments in Russia, that
went into effect on April 29.
The new laws require foreign investors wishing to purchase more than 50 percent
of a Russian business in 42 different business sectors to first apply for
Government owned companies or equity groups must seek approval when purchasing
more than 25 percent of a Russian business involved in oil or gas, nuclear
research or production, defense, fisheries, aerospace or the media.
It is appropriate at this point, whilst looking at investment in Russia, to
quote George Soros, one of the worlds greatest financial and social reform
figures, whose new book we referred to in our 19th May “Newnations Bulletin”
[“The new Paradigm for Financial Markets”], and quoted:
About Russia: “It’s not really a suitable area for investing because you
don’t have the rule of law. The rights of investors are not respected. Now it
is BP being chased out. So you invest at your own risk. I’ve done it and I am
not going to do it again.”
Here is a non-controversial summary of “Chinaview” on the Putin presidency:-
Putin's eight years in presidency
Russian President Vladimir Putin handed over power to his successor Dmitry
Medvedev at the Kremlin on May 6, completing his eight years in office.
The (domestically) popular Russian head of state's two terms in office were
characterized by tight schedules, a booming economy, political stability at
home, as well as worse relations with the West.
On average, Putin held about 145 meetings with foreign officials every year
since he took office in 2000. In addition, Putin had more than 100 phone
conversations with foreign leaders every year. Putin has made 192 foreign visits
to 74 countries and 187 regions. Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Germany, Belarus, China
and the United States topped the destination list, Kremlin figures show.
He attended international events frequently, including 64 summits of the
Commonwealth of Independent States, 17 Russian-European Union summits, seven
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summits and three sessions of the United
Nations General Assembly.
During his two terms, Putin made 206 trips on Russia's vast land, including
visits to 212 cities, towns and settlements.
The Kremlin's official website contains the president's almost 5,000 speeches,
statements, verbatim reports and articles.
Thanks to soaring oil prices during Putin's presidency, the inflow of petro-dollars
boosted the economy of the energy-rich country.
In the last five years, the Russian economy grew at an annual rate of over 7
percent, except for 2005, when its GDP expanded 6.4percent. The economic growth
reached 8.1 percent in 2007.
Unemployment in Russia stood at 6.1 percent as of last December and the real
monetary incomes of citizens rose 10.4 percent in 2007 compared with 2006, the
Federal State Statistics Service said.