The Russia-EU summit in Stockholm last week was hailed by commentators on both sides as friendly beyond expectations and the most successful in the long series of tense and content-free summits.
This “thaw,” however, does not signify a “reset” in the Russian-European pseudo-partnership, and non-stop smiles have hardly made a significant contribution to rebuilding eroded trust. In a show of unity, the two co-rulers had dinner in a cozy St. Petersburg restaurant, but the diverging course of leadership is dividing their odd “tandem” (www.grani.ru, November 19). Medvedev is trying to connect with the loose but powerful idea of “change” and argues that Russia cannot continue prospering as a petro-state, but Putin counters with the affirmative “Yes, we can.” Indeed, for the vast state bureaucracy, which constitutes a natural base for United Russia, Medvedev’s diatribes against “an archaic society in which the leaders think and decide for everyone” are positively alien, and the vast majority of the populace suspect that change can only be for the worse. Putin has prevailed over a feeble effort to gather a coalition of “modernizers” by using the most efficient tactics –allowing Medvedev to prove his uselessness as a leader of such a coalition. This predictable bureaucratic triumph leaves him in the position of a boy who plugged a hole in the dam with his finger, while the tide of change is about to overflow.