Welcome, Dmitri Medvedev!
Comment by Atle Staalesen, Adviser in the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and Editor of the Barents Review
The Russian state leader, who prepared the ground for the delimitation of the Barents Sea, is humbly leaving his post. He might soon be heading to Kirkenes, Norway.
While most of the world might remember Dmitri Medvedev as the state leader who, despite high approval ratings, volutarily stepped down leaving the presidency to his hardliner predecessor and comeback kid Vladimir Putin, the Barents Region will first of all remember Medvedev as the man who prepared the ground for the delimitation of the Barents Sea.
The delimitation agreement, announced during Medvedev’s state visit to Oslo in April 2010, was a historical and groundbreaking deal, opening one of Europe’s richest waters in terms of natural resources to enhanced cooperation.
As Medvedev himself said, this agreement will ”strengthen neighborly relations, secure stability and promote cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean”. He also stressed that the agreement is important for "all of Europe”.
To many, the Russian compromise in the Barents Sea was an illustration of the Kremlin’s new, more open and constructive approach to international relations and neighborhood affairs. The new foreign policy position outlined by Medvedev did not so much highlight hard-line geopolitical interests, but rather focused on pragmatic approaches and cooperation potentials. As a matter of fact, international relations soon became the key instrument in Medvedev’s grand modernization project. Having the full prerogatives of foreign policy, the president actively sought to transfer gains made in international relations to his home ground, an area where his powers were far more restricted. In one of his speeches, the President symptomatically said that “we should more efficiently use our foreign policy instruments for solving domestic issues, for the modernization of our country, its economy, social sphere and partly its political system – for the resolution of the very various tasks which our society is confronted with”.
True, Medvedev’s presidency has included more nice words and promises than real political change. And despite his liberal-minded approach, he has clearly all the way kept his loyalty to his long-term ally Vladimir Putin.
Still, the four-year presidency of Medvedev did introduce something new in Russian politics. Quite unprecedently, the state leader on several occasions expressed a high level of national self-criticism and a need for radical reform, not only of Russian economy and social life, but also of Russian attitudes and world views. These positions are most clearly outlined in Medvedev’s article titled ”Russia, forward!”. Here, Medvedev openly admits that the twenty years of post-Soviet reforms have failed to resolve Russia’s basic problems; the country still has a “primitive raw material dependent economy, chronic corruption, and old mind sets”. In addition, the country still needs to develop a fully-fledged democracy and civil society, innovative people and better health standards, he maintains.
“Should we drag with us into the future a primitive raw material-based economy, chronical corruption and the old-fashioned habit to shuffle all problem resolution on to the state, to the abroad, to some kind of “almighty theory”, on whatever and whoever, only not on ourselves?".
In stark contrast to Vladimir Putin, who in his latest speeches and articles presents a picture of Great Russia being threatened by the abroad, Medvedev instead addresses key domestic problems, which prevents Russia’s path towards new greatness.
What will happen now with the political career of Dmitry Medvedev is an open question. However, if he becomes prime minister, as outlined in the swop agreement with Vladimir Putin, we are likely to soon see him in Kirkenes, the Norwegian border town located on the coast of the Barents Sea.
Here, on the border between Norway and Russia and in the heartland of future Arctic developments, prime ministers from a number of countries will in June next year meet to mark the 20-years anniversary of the Barents Euro-Arctic Cooperation. The government leaders will look back at the twenty years of successful regional cooperation, and look forward on new challenges in Arctic affairs, international relations and regional people-to-people cooperation.
For the Russian government leader, this will be an opportunity for a follow-up of the historical Barents delimitation deal with new positive initiatives in regional affairs.
We welcome you to Kirkenes, Mr. Medvedev!