A Faustian drama is shaping up in Russia. A young bureaucrat has just been hand-picked to the the most powerful position in the government. The problem is, the Kremlin now owns his soul.
On Wednesday Dmitry Medvedev will be inaugurated into office as Russia’s president, succeeding Vladimir Putin, who will step down into the prime minister position. Much has been made about the sketchy election process and the general nepotism and corruption of the Kremlin government. No one is seriously questioning the fact that Medvedev was elected based on Putin’s endorsement, which would allow him to ‘step down’ from the presidency, spend 4 years in a different government position, and then take over as president again. (Russia’s constitution forbids more than 2 consecutive 4 year terms, but has no overall limit on how many non-successive terms a president may serve.)
What most Russians don’t know, however, is to what extent Medvedev will be Putin’s puppet. He has been placed into a position of almost unlimited authority, with no serious opposition and the entire resources of the centralized state under his control. Theoretically, he could even begin moving away from Putin’s policies, or even fire Putin, although neither would be a wise political decision if he wants to continue his career as a politician (or if he likes his life.)
For all his talk of reform and cutting down on bureaucratic corruption, Medvedev will certainly be reminded quite often of the powerful forces to which he owes his future. While “it is impossible to predict whether the Medvedev era be remembered as one of unexpected triumphs, tragic misadventures or unkept promises,” I have a hunch it will probably be the last choice.