On April 15 President Dmitri Medvedev created a sensation by granting an exclusive interview to Novaya Gazeta, known, in his own words, for "not licking up" to anybody.
The simmering discontent among the most politically active and influential social groups worries Medvedev far more than rising unemployment, which compels experimenting with new ways of management and governance. The natural response to any disturbance in the system of power created by Putin is to squash the opposition and squeeze the insufficiently loyal oligarchs; the enforcement mechanism, however, has become so corrupt that forceful responses cannot be mobilized. Complaining bitterly -and futilely- about corruption, Medvedev probably believes that the system he presides over has become incapable of acting on its own logic. Hence the hesitant steps towards a neo-perestroika policy aimed at ensuring that "the state and civil society can act in harmony and together," as he told NTV in an interview on April 12. It is a different type of "harmony"' than the effective exclusion of society from politics that flourished in the autumnal years of Putin's "era." It is not certain that Medvedev will succeed in engaging the more dynamic parts of the middle classes in a new anti-crisis social contract, and the readers of Novaya Gazeta have good reasons to doubt that he will keep his part of the bargain while Putin looms over his less-than-heroic figure. Smooth words come easy to the accidental leader who cannot hide behind the fiction of "independence of the court" from the simple but stark dilemma: if Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev are acquitted, it is all over for "Putinism."