Medvedev Offers Sign Of Hope and Glasnost

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

When then-President Vladimir Putin nominated Dmitry Medvedev to become his successor, Western observers reacted with relief. Medvedev was the best possible candidate in Putin's entourage and the West's preferred choice as a future partner. Some saw and continue to see the relatively young lawyer from a family of St. Petersburg intellectuals merely as Putin's puppet. Others suspected that Medvedev's pro-Western talk was just PR and his nomination for president little more than a cunning move by the Kremlin's shrewd "political technologists."

While the question of Medvedev's actual power remains open, his meeting on Thursday with Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of the country's largest opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, gives reason for hope. Medvedev invited Muratov and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a Novaya Gazeta co-owner, to the Kremlin after the killing of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and Novaya Gazeta freelance correspondent Anastasia Baburova.

The meeting between Medvedev, Muratov and Gorbachev in itself is remarkable. In a best-case scenario, this could have far-reaching consequences for Russia's domestic and foreign policies.

Although the meeting was closed to the media, Muratov was given permission to report on their conversation. Muratov reportedly complained to Medvedev that the remnants of the democratic movement are regularly attacked in mass media. Medvedev also spoke out, as he had done before, in favor of reforming of the notoriously corrupt legal system. When Muratov complained about the partial rehabilitation of Stalin in the country's public discourse, Medvedev agreed that "it is necessary that the people understand and research the period" of Stalin's rule.

Most important, Muratov was left with a positive impression of Medvedev and pleasantly surprised by the president's knowledge of Russia's ailments and his ability to listen.

This meeting could one day be seen as a symbolic and consequential event in Russia's post-Soviet history. Twenty years ago, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev initiated a similar rapprochement with Moscow's liberal intellectuals, ushering in the democratization of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War. Medvedev's demonstrative support for Novaya Gazeta could be a starting point for a similar transformation.

Andreas Umland is editor of the book series "Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society."