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April 01, 2009

Medvedev's Move?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

The past 24 hours have resulted in more positive diplomatic substance between Russia and the U.S. than occured arguably over the 8 years of the Bush administration. But putting the pieces together, the meeting between Medvedev and Obama in London might be more significant than just their agreement to further talks in July:

From Politico: "Yes, he was picked by Putin and all that stuff…but he wants to establish his own foreign policy," the official said.  "That’s his aspiration -- to be the guy driving that."

But the official acknowledged Prime Minister Vladimir Putin knew what was coming out of today's bi-lateral meeting.

"I don't know what documents he physically read, but I'm quite sure he's abreast on what we signed today," the official said of Putin.

To the degree that Medvedev has attained more autonomy over policy in Russia is debatable, but it is clear that Obama's trip to Europe marks a new era in U.S./Russia relations in that Medvedev seems to be in appearance, if not in substance, driving the Russian side of the relationship, not Putin. The final time President Bush met with Medvedev in Peru last November, Putin was nowhere in sight, but the meeting also yielded no actual policy imperatives, merely pleasantries reflective of Bush's time in power:

"It's an interesting moment because I've had a lot of meetings with Dmitry and Vladimir Putin," said Bush, who once famously told reporters he had gotten a sense of Putin's soul. "This will be my last meeting as the sitting president with the leader of Russia."

"We've had our agreements. We have had our disagreements. I've tried to work hard to make it a cordial relationship so when we need to work together we can, and when we disagree we're able to do so in a way that is respectful to our two nations," he said.

But today marks the first time that there was a substantive result from a meeting between a U.S. President and a Russian President not named Putin since Boris Yeltsin led Russia nearly ten years ago. That, and in light of Russia's current ecoomic crisis and reports of a growing rift between Putin and Medvedev, this week could portend a greater shift in U.S./Russian relations than what simply appears apparent at first blush. We will know far more after July's Moscow meeting, but for now, at least superficially, there may be greater uncertainty as far as who is actually in charge of Russia than there has been in quite some time.


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As far as I know Medvedev promised to consider a possible increase of government support of non-Parliamentary parties. He also vowed to consider extending the decree on equal access to the media so that it includes non-Parliamentary parties.

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