The Future of Russia Under Medvedev
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Joining us now is Marshall Goldman, Russia's scholar and author of the forthcoming book, "Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia." Welcome, Marshall.
Professor MARSHALL GOLDMAN (Author, "Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia"): Thanks, Robert.
SIEGEL: Dimitry Medvedev, what do you know about him?
Prof. GOLDMAN: Well, it's - you heard from Gregory Feifer, he has been an administrator. He took over the control of Gazprom, began to re-accumulate assets that had been stripped from it by some of the preceding managers. And he has been a protege of Putin, beginning, as you heard, in St. Petersburg, and came to Moscow with Putin.
SIEGEL: As we heard, he's actually had - he's had a couple of jobs simultaneously: the head of Gazprom, but also deputy prime minister, judging from what Gregory said, with a portfolio that's enormous.
Prof. GOLDMAN: It's unusual. Russia is one of the few countries I know of where you can have an important government job. Initially, Medvedev was the chief of staff of the Kremlin before he became the first deputy prime minister. Simultaneously, he was chairman of the board of Gazprom, the world's richest gas company. Indeed, for a time, it ranked third highest in terms of capitalization of all the corporations in the world.
SIEGEL: Well, you've had a few, I think, four sit-down meetings with Vladimir Putin in the past few years.
Prof. GOLDMAN: Yes.
SIEGEL: You have some sense of the man. What do you make of this choice? Is it that choosing one's own protege so that he can perpetuate his own power?
Prof. GOLDMAN: Well, in a sense, that is the case, of course, although Putin, I think, is smart enough to understand that once you're president of Russia, even though your patron is sitting in the office next door to you, you begin to enjoy power. And if you begin to exercise it and if Putin expects to come back, he may find it not so easy to do because Medvedev is going to enjoy that power.
SIEGEL: If we were Russians learning that Putin has tapped Dimitry Medvedev as his, his successor, what would that mean? Whom has he not tapped to? Were there some obvious people whom he might have turned to instead, and what's the difference would it make that?
Prof. GOLDMAN: Well, the, the most likely contender other than Medvedev was a man by name of Ivanov who was a former KGB officer, senior, in fact, to Putin, who had been the minister of defense. He would have brought back the whole notion of KGB that he's regarded as soloviki(ph), kind of the law-and-order types.
He had a problem. And that is while he was a minister of defense, there was a hazing incident in the military. And they took this young recruit, this draftee, and in the process, they hazed him and he, in a sense, lost his legs and his genital organs. And that became a sensation, and this discredited Ivanov. So that's probably one of the main reasons why he was not put…
SIEGEL: He was really undone by scandal, by outcries…
Prof. GOLDMAN: He was undone by a scandal. But I, I, you know, for people who would want to have to separate the Russian government from the KGB, this -Medvedev was probably a better choice.
SIEGEL: Well, let's, let's consider some of the issues that have been problematic between the U.S. and Moscow recently. One of them is all about ballistic missile defenses and past treaties which ended the Cold War. Any idea whether Medvedev would be a tough customer to deal with or easier? What do you think?
Prof. GOLDMAN: Well, if it were Ivanov - Ivanov is - was very much involved with harsh rhetoric towards the United States, you know? Tough policy, the minister of defense, a former KGB officer. Medvedev is, presumably, comes from a different background. He's not been to KGB. He's not been in the military. But that may not be all to his advantage, because there's going to be a lot of wrestling for control. And he's going to - Medvedev is going to have to prove himself to show that he's got gravitas. And that may lead him to do things that maybe even Ivanov might not have done. So you can't be sure.
SIEGEL: Gravitas sometimes comes with age. Not always, but sometimes it comes with age. This is a young man.
Prof. GOLDMAN: This is a young man. And that's precisely the point. You put your finger on it. It's not just that he's younger, but he hasn't served his, kind of training, his initiation into the KGB people. And that - already, there's a lot of feuding going on between the people who've been around Putin. They're all grabbing assets, they're all grabbing power. And this is one of the reasons why Putin had to act now.
SIEGEL: And, yeah, for the situation that you've described, for all of that, we're talking about one of the most popular leaders of a major power in the world today.
Prof. GOLDMAN: Well, certainly one of the most important leaders. This is, you know, he's going to have a lot of power in this group, but he's got to try to hold down these contending forces. And Russia, now, has come back. You can kind of headline, Russia is back. In 1998, it was bankrupt. Now, it has the third largest holdings of currency and foreign currencies. It's rich and powerful. And he's trying to bring back the military too.
SIEGEL: And presumably, the man who is interested with the natural gas state monopoly has been sitting at a very, very important disposition now.
Prof. GOLDMAN: He's been sitting there, and everybody, you know, when you control that much in the way of assets, billions of dollars - you're -everybody wants to be nice to him. And he clearly has the ability to make decisions and to act on them.
SIEGEL: Marshall Goldman, thanks a lot for talking with us.
Prof. GOLDMAN: Thank you, Robert.
SEIGEL: Marshall Goldman of the Davis Center of Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard and professor emeritus at Wellesley College.