Shaun Walker: He has to prove that he's a President, not Putin's puppet

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The Independent Online

Ever since Dmitry Medvedev took over the Russian presidency, pundits in Russia and Kremlin watchers around the world have been consumed by the question of whether the new President is really his own man.

There is no doubt that Medvedev's rhetoric and style are starkly different to those of Vladimir Putin. Yesterday's speech was one example; there are many others. Last week he said that Stalin's repressions could never be justified and urged Russians not to forget the dark pages of their history, something Putin never stressed. On this and many other issues, Medvedev's words can appear as thinly veiled criticism of his more aggressive predecessor. But with each new speech, the gap between Medvedev's rhetoric and his actions is ever more visible.

Many now see him as simply a puppet; a useful, supposedly liberal counterbalance in a "good cop, bad cop" double act, and suggest it is really Putin, right, calling the shots. Indeed, the only meaningful political reform undertaken under Medvedev has been to increase the presidential term from four to six years. The main beneficiary of this could well be none other than Putin himself.

If he were to serve two more of the new, six-year terms, Putin could be in office until 2024. He recently refused to rule out a return to the Kremlin, saying that he and the President would sit down and decide which one of them should run for office before the next election.

After 18 months in office, Medvedev has precious few policies to back up his liberal rhetoric. If there is really an ideological divide between him and Putin, and those who suggest he is simply part of an elaborate charade are to be proved wrong, he will have to embark on real, meaningful reforms soon.