Medvedev: I can be tough too

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images There’s some interesting Kremlinology (or Moscvology as Blake might have us call it) from Anna Smolchenko in today’s Moscow Times. She notes that Dmitry Medvedev’s bellicose comments in North Ossetia yesterday — vowing a “crushing response” to future attacks on Russian citizens and referring to Georgia’s leaders as genocidal morons are sharply ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
593160_080819_medved5.jpg
593160_080819_medved5.jpg

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images

There's some interesting Kremlinology (or Moscvology as Blake might have us call it) from Anna Smolchenko in today's Moscow Times. She notes that Dmitry Medvedev's bellicose comments in North Ossetia yesterday -- vowing a "crushing response" to future attacks on Russian citizens and referring to Georgia's leaders as genocidal morons are sharply at odds with the more conciliatory rhetoric he has used in the past. Smolchenko suggests that the president may be getting tough in an effort to reassert his own relevance.

This seems plausible to me. Last Tuesday I noted that it was Medvedev who declared a ceasefire while Vladimir Putin had been the one who effectively started the war. This seemed to be evidence of a good-cop-bad-cop approach from the tandem. But Russia's continued operations in Georgia this past week while Medvedev has repeatedly assured the world that a withdrawal was taking place have only helped confirm what most already suspected: that Medvedev is a glorified PR guy with no power over a state still run by Putin.

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images

There’s some interesting Kremlinology (or Moscvology as Blake might have us call it) from Anna Smolchenko in today’s Moscow Times. She notes that Dmitry Medvedev’s bellicose comments in North Ossetia yesterday — vowing a “crushing response” to future attacks on Russian citizens and referring to Georgia’s leaders as genocidal morons are sharply at odds with the more conciliatory rhetoric he has used in the past. Smolchenko suggests that the president may be getting tough in an effort to reassert his own relevance.

This seems plausible to me. Last Tuesday I noted that it was Medvedev who declared a ceasefire while Vladimir Putin had been the one who effectively started the war. This seemed to be evidence of a good-cop-bad-cop approach from the tandem. But Russia’s continued operations in Georgia this past week while Medvedev has repeatedly assured the world that a withdrawal was taking place have only helped confirm what most already suspected: that Medvedev is a glorified PR guy with no power over a state still run by Putin.

Condoleezza Rice seemed to be not-so-subtly hinting at this over the weekend:

The word of the Russian president needs to be upheld by his forces or people are going to begin to wonder if Russia can be trusted.”

Members of the foreign press were barred from attending any of the events on Medvedev’s trip to the Caucasus which could suggest that the president — known to read several foreign newspapers every day on the Internet — isn’t happy with how he’s being portrayed in the international media.

He might be calculating that if he can’t actually influence the policy set by hawks like Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he might as well just out-hawk them at the podium.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.