An old Russian joke that merely expanded with every leadership change goes like this:
A Russian train is stuck. Stalin comes in and orders that the train driver be shot. His order is carried out but the train remains stuck.
Stalin's successor Nikita Khrushchev comes in and gives an order to rehabilitate the train driver posthumously but the train does not move.
Leonid Brezhnev comes in and asks the passenger to close the shades and pretend that the train is moving.
Yuri Andropov kicks the wheel of the train but merely ends up with a broken foot.
Along comes Mikhail Gorbachev and produces a dramatic announcement reflecting the new policy of glasnost- openness "there are no tracks".
The train is still stuck.
There may be further iterations of this joke but I have not kept up with it.
It would be curious to learn what role Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev would have played in the joke.
Vladimir Putin, I suspect, would have exited the train and simply ride on his imported high-powered motorbike.
Dimitry Medvedev is a more interesting and perhaps more problematic character. Medvedev's aspiration in life appears to be to speak the truth but stay in power.
In an interview with the Financial Times as well as in a speech before a St. Petersburg economic forum, Medvedev made all the right noises. He favored decentralization, noting that in the modern age one cannot move a country from a single place. Therefore he favored greater privatization of the economy. To encourage private investors he wanted to tighten the noose around the corrupt till they suffocated.
These are noble sentiments except that Dimitry Medvedev is President of Russia. He does have the shadow of Putin hovering over him but the much derided Gorbachev also had strong opponents. He weakened them by forcing some into elections that they lost. He strengthened the legislature to be a more effective watchdog. He is, however,remembered for bringing down the Soviet Union and ushering in a period of Russian decline. This is what Medvedev apparently remembers.
The conservative hope of reform from above is also not working. Medvedev has ruled out a challenge to Putin, meaning that he resigns himself to the status quo and will not stick out his neck to change it. At best, he may resemble some former Mensheviks who served the Soviet regime in the belief they could help mitigate the worst evils.
A watershed case occurred this week when a Russian court refused to register PARNAS, the liberal People’s Freedom Party, because of invalid signatures on the petition.
Its founders had legitimate credentials: Mikhail Kasyanov, is a former prime minister; Boris Nemtsov, served as a former deputy prime minister; Vladimir Ryzhkov, served in the Duma; and Vladimir Milov, served as deputy minister of energy. None had the taint of corruption attached to them.
Medvedev has not been asked about this decision but one can be sure that he would reply that as a former law professor he is bound to respect the court's decision. He would like another term as president but the question remains: what has he done with the position aside from speechifying?