Where Have You Gone, Dmitri Medvedev?

Why a brief moment of hope for a more open Russia, embodied by the country's former president, faded.

Medvedev.jpgRussia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gives an interview during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. (Dmitry Astakhov/Reuters)]

Does anybody remember Skolkovo? What seems like eons ago, back when iPads were still must-have gadgets for the Russian elite, the scientific and technological center was the showcase project in Dmitry Medvedev's efforts to modernize the country's economy to make it less dependent on oil and gas. Well Skolkovo is back in the news, but probably not for reasons Medvedev welcomes. The Investigative Committee announced this week that it was launching a probe into the alleged embezzlement of nearly 24 million rubles ($797,000) at the center.

The Democracy ReportHow about Nikita Belykh? Does that name ring a bell? Back in 2008, months after assuming the presidency, Medvedev caused a minor sensation when he appointed the onetime opposition figure as governor of Kirov Oblast. The surprise move was part of a Kremlin strategy at the time to bring some elements of the opposition in from the cold and establish at least the appearance of a more pluralistic system. Belykh's term is up this year and he has indicated he would like to stay on. But don't bet the house on that happening. President Vladimir Putin won't even meet with him.

And late last month, Investigative Committee agents searched his offices and interrogated him over alleged improprieties in the privatization of a local distillery -- a case tied to the Kremlin's ongoing efforts to prosecute anticorruption blogger and opposition figure Aleksei Navalny.

The back-to-back assaults on Belykh and Skolkovo represent hits on two key pillars of "Medvedevism," a short-lived and ultimately half-hearted effort to diversify the Russian economy and introduce a degree of managed pluralism into the political system.

The attacks are the strongest indication yet that President Vladimir Putin is determined to not only eradicate any traces of Medvedevism, but to utterly humiliate Medvedev himself and discredit the legacy of his entire interim presidency.

"Putin was not very pleased with his experiment involving his successor, who overtly started playing games, building his own political coalition, and criticizing the national leader himself," political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote recently in Politcom.ru.

"By initiating a political thaw Medvedev created the social basis for the protests that erupted in December 2011 ... Medvedev's presidency smashed the inertia of the Putin regime and against this backdrop the current president is reinstating [repressive] mechanisms and eradicating Medvedev's 'green shoots.' The overturning of Medvedev's decisions, the stalling of his projects, the criticism in the media, and the discrediting films are all links in the same chain -- the process of politically destroying Medvedev."

It may be just a matter of time before the pro-Kremlin media accuses Medvedev of "hare-brained schemes, half-baked conclusions, and hasty decisions and actions divorced from reality," as Soviet Communist Party mouthpiece Pravda wrote of Nikita Khrushchev following his ouster in 1964.

The steady dismantling of Medvedev's thaw, of course, has been building since Putin returned to the Kremlin last spring. Since then, we've had the Pussy Riot trial, the so-called "Bolotnaya case" against demonstrators who took to the streets on the eve of Putin's inauguration, the ramped up efforts to prosecute Navalny and Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, the rolling back of tepid political reforms on the election of governors, and the taming of the "systemic opposition" in the State Duma.

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