Last week marked a year since Dmitry Medvedev was elected Russia's third president, but he has few reasons to be satisfied with this start. What will set a crucial test for the much-spoken-about "rule of law" is the new trial for Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev that has opened in Moscow exactly at the beginning of year two of the "tandem" ride.
Medvedev is trying to present himself as a flexible and open-minded leader, who focuses on ways of taking advantage of the crisis to modernize the country and who is not hostile to liberalizing the political system.
It is increasingly clear that the happy days of "petro-prosperity" are gone for good and that no restoration of the political system based on rent-distribution will happen at the as yet indiscernible end of the turmoil. It is entirely rational to suggest that in order to set the country on the track to recovery, Medvedev needs to ease Putin out of the crucial position of Prime Minister and sack his notoriously incompetent lieutenants like Sergei Ivanov and Igor Sechin. Such prospects, however, remain in the "necessary-but-impossible" category and not solely because the corrupt siloviki cannot afford to relinquish their grasp on power and can always resort to means that no liberal is ready to contemplate. The key issue is that the society, disappointed yet again by the promises of a free lunch and all-included vacation, is easily tempted to punish "oligarchs" and "monetarists" ministers but does not see much value in freedom and liberty. A breakthrough is set to happen before Medvedev's second year is over, but it might turn out to be a breakdown.