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Opinion: South Ossetia Mars Medvedev's Record

Dmitry Medvedev was elected president 100 days ago. But DW's Ingo Mannteufel says he has to show more independence if he is to credibly fill this role.

Opinion

The conflict in South Ossetia has been bad news for President Medvedev, spoiling what was set to be a generally favorable evaluation of his first 100 days in office. But more importantly, the war against Georgia has undermined his position as Russia's most powerful man, on paper at least, and revealed the new dual leadership in Russia, the tandemocracy with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as a farce.

The first 93 days…

President Medvedev's first days in office were, in Russian terms, very positive -- at least, they were before the South Ossetian confict broke out and Russian troops moved into Georgia.

First of all, he was able to avoid any major mistakes on the domestic stage. It would have been fatal if he had started out by squaring up to the powerful cliques in the Russian leadership elite.

Secondly, Medvedev had -- thanks to a number of cautious statements --, nevertheless, managed to emancipate himself to some extent from Putin and raise his own profile a little. Medvedev's more cordial style and his liberal and Europe-oriented statements went down well on his foreign trips. The West was also pleased to learn that Medvedev had stopped moves, initiated under Putin's presidency, to tighten up media laws.

Ingo Mannteufel

And when the prime minister publicly lambasted steel and mining giant Mechel and sent its share values plummeting, President Medvedev cautiously expressed his opposition to the state putting companies under pressure -- without, of course, mentioning Putin's name.

Admittedly, these deeds can hardly be classed as acts of heroism. But in the context of the complicated power relations in Russia, they were tentative signs of independence on the new president's part. But then came the war in the Caucasus.

The last seven days…

Georgia's attempt to bring the breakaway republic of South Ossetia back under the control of Tbilisi has significantly marred Medvedev's 100-day record. On the first day, he seemed unprepared and he was visibly uncomfortable in the role of the commander-in-chief of the Russian forces. It was then Putin, in time-honored fashion, who took charge from distant Beijing, underlining the move with a surprise visit to the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkas on Saturday. Medvedev was left looking like a deputy left at home to pass on the orders for Russia's tough and uncompromising military response to Georgia, rather than the one making the decisions.

This has wrecked Medvedev's attempts at rapprochement with Europe. When Russian troops marched into Georgia, it brought about a significant cooling off in relations between the West and Russia. Medvedev's liberal and Europe-friendly words have almost been forgotten. A "good cop"/"bad cop" act played by Medvedev and Putin will not work. The message is clear both at home and abroad: Putin holds the reins of power in Russia.

The conflict in South Ossetia has been bad news for President Medvedev, spoiling what was set to be a generally favorable evaluation of his first 100 days in office. But more importantly, the war against Georgia has undermined his position as Russia's most powerful man, on paper at least, and revealed the new dual leadership in Russia, the tandemocracy with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as a farce.

The first 93 days…

President Medvedev's first days in office were, in Russian terms, very positive -- at least, they were before the South Ossetian conflict broke out and Russian troops moved into Georgia.

First of all, he was able to avoid any major mistakes on the domestic stage. It would have been fatal if he had started out by squaring up to the powerful cliques in the Russian leadership elite.

Secondly, Medvedev had -- thanks to a number of cautious statements -- nevertheless managed to emancipate himself to some extent from Putin and raise his own profile a little. Medvedev's more cordial style and his liberal and Europe-oriented statements went down well on his foreign trips. The West was also pleased to learn that Medvedev had stopped moves, initiated under Putin's presidency, to tighten up media laws.

And when the prime minister publicly lambasted steel and mining giant Mechel and sent its share values plummeting, President Medvedev cautiously expressed his opposition to the state putting companies under pressure -- without, of course, mentioning Putin's name.

Admittedly, these deeds can hardly be classed as acts of heroism. But in the context of the complicated power relations in Russia, they were tentative signs of independence on the new president's part. But then came the war in the Caucasus.

The last seven days…

Georgia's attempt to bring the breakaway province of South Ossetia back under the control of Tbilisi has significantly marred Medvedev's 100-day record. On the first day, he seemed unprepared and he was visibly uncomfortable in the role of commander-in-chief of the Russian forces. It was then Putin, in time-honored fashion, who took charge from distant Beijing, underlining the move with a surprise visit to the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkas on Saturday. Medvedev looked like a deputy left at home to pass on the orders for Russia's tough and uncompromising military response to Georgia, rather than the one making the decisions.

This has wrecked Medvedev's attempts at rapprochement with Europe. When Russian troops marched into Georgia, it brought about a significant cooling off in relations between the West and Russia. Medvedev's liberal and Europe-friendly words have almost been forgotten. A "good cop/bad cop" act played by Medvedev and Putin will not work. The message is clear both at home and abroad: Putin holds the reins of power in Russia.

If Medvedev wants to be perceived as the president both by the Russian people and abroad, then Putin's protege has to show in both deeds and words that he is the most powerful man in the nation not just on paper -- even if it is to the detriment of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Ingo Mannteufel heads Deutsche Welle's Russian online and radio programs. (jg)

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