Medvedev's Regional Policy

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First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev left Moscow in early January to tour a few regions. He is traveling more as President Vladimir Putin's de facto successor than as a presidential candidate. Medvedev is using his trip to inspect the major projects that are located in the regions and to establish contact with the local political elite.

From Jan. 10 to 17, Medvedev visited Kaliningrad, Murmansk, Tyumen and Chelyabinsk. Dedicating about a day for each region, he attended meetings on the national projects for housing and health care. The press gave wide coverage to his visits to factories, hospitals, construction sites and ships as well as to impromptu talks with ordinary voters. Medvedev reached out to the entire government bureaucracy wherever he went by including all officials and governors in his meetings.

Along the way, he made sweeping declarations clearly directed toward the voters, promising to enact pension reform and to transform Russia into a superpower of food production. He also issued instructions for resolving local problems and instructed officials to make changes to legislation concerning the environment.

Medvedev's general tone during the tour was positive, with only an occasional criticism aimed at the local bureaucracy, without naming names.

At each stop, governors touted their local successes to Medvedev, and Medvedev tried to turn these local successes into national ones. We heard a lot about new housing for military personnel during his visit to Kaliningrad, improvements to the health care system while in Murmansk and significant improvements to the environmental situation in Chelyabinsk. Although he emphasized successes, Medvedev underlined that those accomplishments were not enough and encouraged everyone to work harder.

During the tail end of his trip in the Urals, Medvedev was accompanied by Sergei Sobyanin, who serves as both his national campaign manager and the Kremlin chief of staff, as well as by Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak. Directors of high-profile federal agencies also joined the entourage.

Medvedev's choice of regions to visit is somewhat puzzling. On the one hand, it seems Medvedev is attempting to increase his popularity ratings in regions where United Russia candidates received lower-than-average results in the December State Duma elections. His Kaliningrad and Murmansk visits would seem to correspond to this logic, as would his stopovers in the northwest. But on the other hand, Medvedev was able to offer only superficial answers to the regions' most pressing problems due to his inability to prepare more thorough responses, and this will probably not win the hearts of local voters.

Medvedev most likely intended to use the regional trips as a podium to make declarations through the press to the entire country. For the most part, the problems Medvedev addressed fell well within the framework of the national projects, which he has headed for some time now, with only minor exceptions such as discussions on the Russian-Norwegian border delimitation while visiting Murmansk.

He made almost no reference to traditional "presidential" issues such as those concerning national security and foreign policy. Moreover, his comments concerning the environment -- a theme that he is scheduled to address at the United Nations Security Council during its January session -- and commodities security came across more as the pronouncements of a zealous business executive than a defender of the country. He made no statements about his political priorities, except for pension reforms that are planned for 2008. It is anticipated, however, that Medvedev will make a series of major position statements as early as Tuesday.

In the meantime, governors are eagerly offering to head Medvedev's campaign headquarters in their regions. The three governors who are mentioned in this capacity are St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, Samara Governor Vladimir Artyakov, and Leningrad Governor Valery Serdyukov. But the exact number of governors choosing to enlist under Medvedev's banner will become clear only on Tuesday, when Medvedev is scheduled to meet with his regional campaign chiefs.

There is little doubt that the regional elite will be a primary campaign resource for Medvedev, combined with a dash of populism thrown in for good measure.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.