It has now been more than a month since Dmitry Medvedev took office as Russia's president. While it was never in doubt that Vladimir Putin would retain a great deal of power in his new post as prime minister, it was less certain what role President Medvedev would play in this unprecedented tandem leadership structure. One month later, it's still hard to get a good read on him, but here are a few possible historical (and fictional) archetypes for Russia's president.
Medvedev is Mohammed Khatami
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President of Iran, 1997 to 2005
Mild-mannered and liberal by Iranian standards, Khatami filled many with hope that his country's politics would turn in a more moderate direction. However, it quickly became apparent that the real political power in Iran rested with conservative Ayatollahs and Khatami's efforts at reform ended in frustrating failure.
Medvedev seems genuinely interested in further liberalizing Russia's economy. And his move last week to strike down a draconian libel law may indicate that he would like more freedom of the press as well. But given Putin's death grip on the legislature and the United Russia Party, it may be impossible for him to rock the boat too much.
Medvedev is Viktor Yushchenko
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Current president of Ukraine; prime minister from 1999 to 2001
While Yushchenko is best known as the charismatic leader of the Orange Revolution, he was once a fairly loyal central banker and prime minister in the government of Ukraine's strongman president, Leonid Kuchma. But when cracks started to show in the Kuchma regime, the popular reformer seized the opportunity to become an unlikely revolutionary and swept his old boss out of power.
Putin's astronomical approval ratings and army of enablers in the Duma make it unlikely that Medvedev will attempt a power-play against his old boss any time soon. But if Medvedev can get a few initiatives under his belt and maintain his popularity and independence, he may be in a position to take control should Prime Minister Putin run into trouble down the road.
Medvedev is Tom Hagen
Lawyer and consigliere to the Corleone family
Robert Duvall's character in the Godfather movies was a quiet lawyer who spent his life serving a gang of ruthless criminals. Hagen's German-Irish ancestry made him an outsider in the Sicilian mafia, but when a deal needed to be struck with another family, or when the Coreleones needed a "legitimate" face for the family business, it was usually Hagen who got the job.
Like Hagen, Medvedev is an outsider: a liberal law professor in a government dominated by hawkish former intelligence operatives. His cordial meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week may indicate that Medvedev is useful as a public face for the Russian government. While he may sometimes advocate a more moderate course of action, his loyalties are with the charismatic leader who plucked him from obscurity.
Medvedev is Vladimir Putin
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Prime minister and former president of Russia
It's still quite possible that Putin does actually want to step aside, but doesn't yet feel that Russia is ready to go on without him. The copresidency could also be a trial period for the man that Putin feels can best continue what he started. Medvedev's tough talk with Georgia and Ukraine and his criticism of the United States may indicate his intention to continue his predecessor's line on foreign policy.
On the other hand, Putin is hardly the leader that people expected him to be when he was named prime minister by Boris Yeltsin. Dmitry Anatolyevich may yet create an archetype all his own.