Western Take on Medvedev Measured

APCivil Force's Mikhail Barshchevsky, United Russia's Boris Gryzlov, Medvedev, A Just Russia's Sergei Mironov and the Agrarians' Vladimir Plotnikov on Tuesday.
While the Western reaction Tuesday to the naming of Dmitry Medvedev as President Vladimir Putin's chosen successor was mostly reserved on the surface, there were signs that the choice was cause for hope in some European circles.

These hopes were almost immediately tempered, however, when Medvedev said Tuesday that Putin would be his choice for prime minister.

The United States has been relatively silent about Medvedev's candidacy, with President George W. Bush's spokeswoman Dana Perino describing it as strictly an internal political matter, according to a transcript posted on the White House web site.

Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked with Putin by telephone on Monday evening, during which her spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Merkel told Putin that she had met Medvedev and believed that she could work well with him, there was mostly caution at the top in Europe.

Christiane Hohmann, a European Commission spokeswoman, said by telephone from Brussels that she would not comment on domestic political nominations.

Diplomats in Moscow were also cautious: "Let us wait and see. He is only a candidate, after all," said one embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the matter.

Other European politicians, however, were decidedly upbeat. "From all the choices we have been presented, Medvedev is the best," the Netherlands' Jan Marinus Wiersma, vice president of the European Parliament's Socialist Group, said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Strasburg.

"It is an advantage that Medvedev is not linked to the FSB and its circles," Wiersma said. "Compared to [First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei] Ivanov, he is the better choice for the West and the hope for an improvement in Russia's democratic future."

Gert Weisskirchen, a Social Democratic deputy in the German Bundestag, praised Medvedev as a sensible politician: "He is likely to boost Russia's standing in the world," he said.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a deputy for the German Free Democrats in the European Parliament, said he wished Medvedev would follow a bolder course on democracy. "We must hope that he is not as afraid of the opposition and of civil liberties as Putin," Lambsdorff said via telephone from Brussels.

He added that it was reasonable to expect Medvedev to continue to pursue the country's national interests but that he hoped instead for "a constructive and cooperative approach, something we have not seen recently from Putin."

Others were more wary.

George Sch?pflin, a European lawmaker for the conservative Hungarian Civic Union, said naming Medvedev was clearly Putin's strategy "to save his own power and that of the siloviki."

As such, Sch?pflin said, little was likely to change under Medvedev.

"Medvedev will be run by Putin," he said, adding that the reign of a strong prime minister under a weak president represented uncharted waters but could be envisioned.

Bart Staes, a Belgian member of the European Parliament's Green Party faction, said the decision demonstrated the increasing blending of business and political elites in the country. "Medvedev was already a front-runner, and as chairman of Gazprom he is very close to the economic powers."

Staes said it was interesting that the same Vladimir Putin who battled the oligarchs after coming to power in 2000 had now named a business leader as his successor.

Wiersma, the deputy from the Socialist group, said the 27-member union had to work to settle disputes with Moscow over a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and energy relations, as well as maintain "an ongoing critical dialogue on human rights."

Hans-Henning Schr?der, an analyst with the German Institute of International and Security Affairs, said hopes for Medvedev as a reformer and modernizer were not unfounded. "He is the most likely candidate to open the country to the West," he said via telephone from Berlin.

But he warned that much depended on the internal makeup of the next Kremlin administration. "Medvedev will need Putin to lend his authority and to keep a balance within the cartel of elites," he said.