Results of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency: changes in global affairs
Valdaiclub.com interview with journalist, academic and author John Laughland, on the results of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency.
How would you assess the results of Medvedev's presidency in general?
I would say two things about Dmitry Medvedev's presidency. The first is something that happened at the beginning of his presidency, and the second concerns the way it's finished.
The thing which happened at the beginning of his presidency, or near the beginning, was the war with Georgia. That war, which of course Georgia initiated, led to a geopolitical revolution, and to a radical change in the way that Russia and the West interact. Because the outcome of that war, which of course was the stationing of Russian troops on the territory of South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, and then the subsequent recognition of those territories as states by Russia, has made it possible for Georgia, for as long as this situation continues, to become a member of NATO. And, though Russia did not seek that war or provoke it, nonetheless it had the consequence of putting a full stop to the plan of enlarging NATO into the Caucasus.
It also made it impossible, by implication, for Ukraine to join NATO. And indeed shortly after the war in Georgia the Orange coalition in Ukraine broke up, and in due course Viktor Yanukovych came to power. So it was a small conflict, but one which had absolutely huge geopolitical consequences. Dmitry Medvedev was president at the time, and credit for the outcome has to go to him.
The second thing concerns the way his presidency ended. People made fun of him, both in Russia and abroad, for being a puppet of Vladimir Putin. His role was a difficult one. It was probably always clear but with the recent victory of Putin in the presidential election it's now indisputable – that Vladimir Putin is the main power broker in Russia. To some extent, Dmitry Medvedev was Putin's creation.
It's difficult for a politician to keep the seat warm for somebody else. As in any country, naturally, he would have enjoyed wielding power, and if he's a human being, he would have liked to continue to do so. But he gave way to Putin against the predictions of many people, and enabled Putin to regain power as president in May.
It's really quite an impressive accomplishment, once again on the human level. Medvedev conducted himself with great dignity. He enabled Russia, by doing what he did, to enjoy the quality which he and Putin talk about endlessly: namely stability, political stability. But it's a quality which is extremely valuable. Therefore he has provided a very great service to his country. He has behaved quite selflessly, because stability is important. The contrast is remarkable between Russia, which seems to be on a path of growth, in spite of all its faults and weaknesses, on the one hand and Russia on a path of national consolidation on the other hand.
In your opinion, how has Russia's role in global affairs changed?
Russia has stopped her decline in global affairs. But as I said, the most important turning point was the war in Georgia in August, 2008. I don't think one can exaggerate the importance of that. Obviously the stopping of the decline started before then. That was a watershed moment. Shortly afterwards, with the election of Obama, we saw the abandonment of the missile shield proposal. That was connected with this greater firmness of Russia on the international stage.
Russia has improved its international position through organizations like the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, both of which, to some extent, counteract Western hegemonism on the world stage.
Russia is on a path of national consolidation, and seems to be attached to the principle of independence, both for itself, and also for other countries. I'm very struck by how Russia, having in my view very mistakenly abstained in the Libya resolution in 2011, has been a very robust defender of classical international law during the Syrian crisis. A lot of people look up to Russia for doing that. A lot of people realize that the Syrian crisis is yet another example of Western interventionism. And they are, certainly in my view, very happy to see a country like Russia standing up for the basic principles of international law.
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