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Opinion: Russia Demonstrates Its Democratic Deficits -- Again

It was a sure thing that Dmitry Medvedev would win Russia's presidential poll. But democracy means more than elections, and seeing it in Russia will take time, says DW's Cornelia Rabitz.

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The result wasn't a surprise to anyone. What's more, it was a foregone conclusion. Dmitry Medvedev is Russia's new president. And we will soon find -- again to no one's surprise -- that Vladimir Putin has been named prime minister.

This all has nothing to do with a functioning democratic process, for there were no genuine alternatives. Russia's voters were merely called on to confirm the successor whom Putin himself had chosen. And they fulfilled those expectations. In response to the strange game to retain power, they behaved with equanimity -- and the hope that everything would remain the same.

Cornelia Rabitz

Cornelia Rabitz

Many believe that Putin brought his country wealth and stability. And they expect that to continue under Medvedev. At the same time, the Kremlin can now claim it followed the law and demonstrated loyalty to the constitution.

All eyes are now on 42-year-old Dmitry Medvedev. Where will he set political accents? Will he -- described as worldly and Western-oriented -- herald in a new era of liberalization? Will he emancipate himself from Putin?

We don't know and skepticism is called for. So far there's been no indication that he will change course. Putin's protege remained rather faceless during the election campaign. It's true that he belongs to a different generation and, contrary to his predecessor, he doesn't come from the intelligence services.

He's set to head a state that was, for eight years, marked -- and deformed -- by Putin. Democratic and constitutional institutions were weakened, civil society was curbed, politics and business were permeated by intelligence agents. Putin's much-lauded economic miracle is based entirely on profitable oil and gas exports; it made a few people very rich and left many in poverty. Thus, the new man at the helm has a lot to do and could use his opportunity to advance justice and progress in Russia, and to see to it that relations to the US and Europe improve.

Medvedev will, however, be working in tandem with Putin as prime minister -- an unusual political constellation for Russia. Will Putin acquiesce to Medvedev formally possessing greater authority? People who observed the campaign -- in which, Putin, and not his successor, outlined strategies for the future -- doubt it.

This much is certain: based on its history, Russia has difficulty with the shift to more democracy. And it may be that all Western values and achievements are not equally practicable for the EU's massive neighbor. Impatience is misplaced here, a long view is necessary. One hopes that the Russian people's greatest wish, which was tied to this election, will indeed be fulfilled: a better future.

Cornelia Rabitz is the director of DW-RADIO's Russian program (ncy)

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