Medvedev Pushes for Rule of Law


Don’t believe anyone who says s/he knows exactly how much power Dmitriy Medvedev will wield as Russian President. My answer, for now at least, is: more than none, less than a whole lot. In his campaign and early days as President, Medvedev has invested a great deal of his time and political capital into a new campaign to reign in corruption and establish the rule of law. The campaign obviously won’t be ambitious enough to, say, keep government influence out of partisan politics. Medvedev is, however, promising to reduce corruption and enhance judicial independence. Here’s the English version of his most recent speech on the topic.
Considering the courts were one tool in Putin’s arsenal against the oligarchs not so long ago, judicial independence seems an interesting priority for his supposed puppet (Medvedev’s new cabinet is a virtual reshuffle of Putin’s). Some closer Russia watchers than me have suggested that this is either a “ritual incantation” or a direct attack on the silovki that make up Putin’s power base. I don’t buy either explanation. Medvedev is investing too much for this to be a symbolic effort. And it was too prominent a part of Medvedev’s Putin-backed campaign for it to be a direct challenge to Putin’s base — at least not at this stage.
As the Russians say, we will wait, we will see…
— Scott Paul


9 comments on “Medvedev Pushes for Rule of Law

  1. Mitch P. says:

    Whether or not it’s legitimate and Medvedev is sincere is beside the point. In order to really fight corruption you need to have a legitimate independent news media and independent NGOs to expose corruption. I doubt we shall see this under Medvedev. The ability to vote corrupt officials out of office would also help. Anything short of this is just nibbling around the edges and won’t accomplish very much.


  2. WigWag says:

    Dirk, I thought you might find this article about Russia and Kosovo from a January post at the Brookings Institution website interesting. (The author is Peter Rodman)
    “The Bush administration has indicated its readiness to recognize a unilateral declaration of independence by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a province of the Republic of Serbia that since 1999 has been under United Nations administration and NATO military control.
    Such a declaration may take place as early as February. American recognition would be over Serbia’s objections, without a negotiated solution between Serbia and Kosovo’s Albanians, and without modification by the United Nations Security Council of Resolution 1244, which reaffirms Serbian sovereignty in Kosovo while providing for the province’s “substantial autonomy.” U.S. recognition may be joined by that of some members of the European Union, which has been under heavy diplomatic pressure from Washington, though several EU states and a number of countries outside Europe have said they would reject such action.
    Attempting to impose a settlement on Serbia would be a direct challenge to the Russian Federation, which opposes any Kosovo settlement not accepted by Belgrade.
    We believe an imposed settlement of the Kosovo question and seeking to partition Serbia’s sovereign territory without its consent is not in the interest of the United States. The blithe assumption of American policy — that the mere passage of nine years of relative quiet would be enough to lull Serbia and Russia into reversing their positions on a conflict that goes back centuries — has proven to be naive in the extreme.
    We believe U.S. policy on Kosovo must be re-examined without delay, and we urge the Bush administration to make it clear that pending the results of such re-examination it would withhold recognition of a Kosovo independence declaration and discourage Kosovo’s Albanians from taking that step.
    Current U.S. policy relies on the unconvincing claim that Kosovo is “unique” and would set no precedent for other troublespots. Of course every conflict has unique characteristics. However, ethnic and religious minorities in other countries already are signaling their intention to follow a Kosovo example. This includes sizeable Albanian communities in adjoining areas of southern Serbia, Montenegro, and especially the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as the Serbian portion of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
    Recognition of Kosovo’s independence without Serbia’s consent would set a precedent with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences for many other regions of the world. The Kosovo model already has been cited by supporters of the Basque separatist movement in Spain and the Turkish-controlled area of northern Cyprus. Neither the Security Council nor any other international body has the power or authority to impose a change of any country’s borders.
    Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current policy is the dismissive attitude displayed toward Russia’s objections. Whatever disagreements the United States may have with Moscow on other issues, and there are many, the United States should not prompt an unnecessary crisis in U.S.-Russia relations. There are urgent matters regarding which the United States must work with Russia, including Iran’s nuclear intentions and North Korea’s nuclear capability. Such cooperation would be undercut by American action to neutralize Moscow’s legitimate concerns regarding Kosovo.
    If the U.S. moves forward with recognizing Kosovo, Moscow’s passivity cannot be taken for granted. It may have been one thing in 1999 for the United States and NATO to take action against Yugoslavia over the objections of a weak Russia.
    Today, it would be unwise to dismiss Russia’s willingness and ability to assist Serbia. On an issue of minor importance to the United States, is this a useful expenditure of significant political capital with Russia?
    Our Kosovo policy is hardly less problematic for our friends and allies in Europe. While some European countries, notably members of the EU, may feel themselves obligated to join us in recognizing Kosovo’s independence, a number of those countries would do so reluctantly because of Washington’s inflexibility and insistence. No more than the United States, Europe would not benefit from an avoidable confrontation with Russia.
    Even if Kosovo declared itself an independent state, it would be a dysfunctional one and a ward of the international community for the indefinite future. Corruption and organized crime are rampant. The economy, aside from international largesse and criminal activities, is nonviable. Law enforcement, integrity of the courts, protection of persons and property, and other prerequisites for statehood are practically nonexistent. While these failures are often blamed on Kosovo’s uncertain status, a unilateral declaration of independence recognized by some countries and rejected by many others would hardly remedy that fact.
    The result would be a new “frozen conflict,” with Kosovo’s status still unresolved. The risk of renewed violence would further impede Kosovo’s development. Moreover, heightened tensions might require reinforcing the U.S. presence in Kosovo when we can least afford it due to other commitments.
    Serbia has made great strides in democratic development and economic revitalization since the fall of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Current policy with respect to Kosovo risks complete reversal of these gains. Faced with a choice between Western partnership and defense of their sovereign territory and constitution, there is little doubt what Serbia would decide.
    The current positive trend could falter in the face of political radicalization and possible internal destabilization. Serbia’s relations with countries that had recognized Kosovo would be impaired. Serbia would inevitably move closer to Russia as its only protector.
    We do not underestimate the difficulty and complexity of the Kosovo question nor do we suggest the status quo can endure indefinitely. As with thorny questions elsewhere, viable and enduring settlements should result from negotiation and compromise. Such an outcome has been undermined by a U.S. promise to the Kosovo Albanians that their demands will be satisfied if they remain adamant and no agreement is reached with Belgrade. Such a promise cannot be justified by the claim, often heard from proponents of independence, that the Albanians’ “patience” is running out, so independence must be granted without delay. This is nothing less than appeasing a threat of violence.
    A reassessment of America’s Kosovo policy is long overdue. We hope a policy that would set a very dangerous international precedent can still be averted if that reassessment begins now. In the meantime, it is imperative that no unwarranted or hasty action be taken that would turn what is now a relatively small problem into a large one.”


  3. Scott Paul says:

    Ha — you’re right about the photo, uploading error, I think. The new one is up now.


  4. Dirk says:

    That almost certainly is not a picture of D. Medvedev.
    That said I find myself in agreement with WigWag’s points above regarding US/NATO and Kosovo.
    Unfortunately Russia has chosen to exercise its displeasure with that recognition by making life hell for Georgia through its Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. Also, Russia is tacitly agreeing to the succession of the northern part of Kosovo inhabited by Serbians.
    Actions have reactions…sigh


  5. TonyForesta says:

    Sitting on the second largest oil reserves and natural gas deposits on the planet, with more billionaires than any other nation, Russia strong and growing stronger power regionally, and globally.
    It is logical that the leadership would want to curb or constrain the criminal enterprizes of the aparitchnics and Russian mobs, former KGB and current FSB operators that could threaten stability and government authority.
    Since the government is deeply interconnected with these same aparitchnics, Russian mobs, former KGB, now FSB types, this is probably more talk than action. Medvedev is walking a delicate line and one the Russians particularly are quite expert at managing. As Bush proved, we may think we are looking into the soul of Putin, or Medvedev or Russia, – but we are all to easily decieved, and often mistaken.
    Russia seems determined to keep the monsters at bey, and utilize it’s newfound wealth and increasing political power, to advance the best interests of Russia, and the Russian people. The Russian strategy, (though suspect when viewed through the myopic lens of American politics) appears to be succeeding.


  6. Anya L says:

    Great post and your conclusion is right on. The “closer Russia watchers” you cite should get a life. (Come on, does anyone really think Jamestown provides credible analysis? Plus, what kind of sources are Yeltsin’s speech writers and press secretaries? His speeches were quite awful and so was his PR.) Good luck with law school!


  7. WigWag says:

    It’s interesting that Medvedev is focusing on the rule of law in Russia, while the United States and it’s Nato allies are oblivious to the rule of law in international affairs. The U.S. behavior vis a vis the Geneva Conventions is one example. The behavior of the U.S. and several European states in recognizing Kosovo is another. The United Nations expressly refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence from Serbia because Russia, China and many other states objected. So what does the U.S. and many of its allies do? They recognize Kosovo anyway, despite the complete lack of precedent for this in international law.
    Americans wonder why Russia under Putin has become increasingly hostile. Maybe it’s because Russia views acts like the recognition of Kosovo, or expanding Nato right up to the Russian border to be unfriendly and provocative. How would the United States feel if Mexico or Canada had joined the Warsaw Pact? The total unwillingness to see how all of our behavior might look from the other guy’s perspective is a failing of both the Democratic and Republican foreign policy elites.
    Maybe after getting the rule of law figured out in Russia, Mr. Medvedev can come over to the United States or Western Europe and help us get it figured out over here.


  8. Scott Paul says:

    Yes — that is what I was getting at. Oligarchs who keep their heads out of politics and don’t get in Putin’s way have been safe.


  9. Joe Klein's conscience says:

    Considering the courts were one tool in Putin’s arsenal against the oligarchs not so long ago, judicial independence seems an interesting priority for his supposed puppet (Medvedev’s new cabinet is a virtual reshuffle of Putin’s).
    Shouldn’t that be the oligarchs that weren’t in Putin’s favor?


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