“Our approach is that Medvedev is the least of the evils,” said Igor Kharichev, secretary of the Moscow Writers Union, who signed an open letter urging Russians to demand a second term for the president. “Some do not like this approach because they believe that we should not support any one of them.”
Vladimir Ryzhkov, who served in the State Duma for 14 years until Putin squeezed out the opposition, said it’s time to give up on Medvedev, no matter what Putin may have decided.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said in an interview. “There’s no difference between Medvedev and Putin. They are two sides of the same coin.”
It’s almost a closed-door argument, carried out in opinion pieces in the English-language press and reports in small independent newspapers — the opposition has no hope of time on television, where most Russians get their news. But it has resonance in the United States, where Medvedev has developed a Western-leaning image and Americans are divided among their own camps.
U.S. diplomats and businessmen engaged with Russia assume that even though Medvedev has become the voice of progressives he could not act without Putin’s endorsement, said James F. Collins, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and director of the Carnegie Endowment Russia and Eurasia Program. Putin critics, however, would see his return to the presidency as proof that Russia was moving backward and that President Obama’s reset in relations was a failure. Those close to Russian liberals would feel their despair.
“I subscribe to the pragmatic group,” Collins said. “I think over the last three years what has been accomplished has been done with the approval of Mr. Putin. I don’t really think we’ll see much difference, but it will make relations more complicated and complex.”
Ryzhkov is a leader of the opposition Party of People’s Freedom, known as Parnas, which has been prevented from competing in the December parliamentary elections by a legal process reminiscent of the American South in the civil rights years.
Ryzhkov said that perceiving Medvedev as a Western-oriented liberal who would make a better president than the authoritarian Putin was an exercise in self-deception. Although Medvedev has talked at length about making the judiciary independent, fighting corruption, opening up the political process and diversifying the economy — reforms he calls modernization — he has had scant results.
“In fact, the situation in Russia has actually grown worse,” Ryzhkov wrote in the Moscow Times recently, “because the ballooning state bureaucracy and the uncontrolled personal enrichment of its privileged members have become more difficult to distinguish owing to the rustle and sheen of the silky smooth modernization ruse created by Medvedev.”