Is Medvedev Readying For Another Run At Russia’s Presidency?

Analysis: In a recent nationally-broadcast interview, President Medvedev reminisced about Russia’s 2009 war with Georgia. His recollections have Russian pundits wondering if Medvedev is now preparing for a new fight – on the political front.

Dmitry Kamyshev

MOSCOW -- The format of Dmitry Medvedev's interview was telling in itself. First, it was given simultaneously to three broadcasters: Russia Today, Echo Moskvy and First Caucasian TV. That hasn't happened often under the current president. The inclusion of Caucasian TV was particularly interesting as it is considered to be the mouthpiece of the administration in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital and largest city.

The Russian media chosen for the interview was less surprising. Russia Today is the Kremlin's propaganda arm aimed at Western audiences. And Echo Moskvy aired an interview in July with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. The Medvedev interview was in many ways a response to the Saakashvili broadcast. Russia Today's audience is the West, while Echo Moskvy appeals to educated and politically active Russians, including businessmen and officials – the very powers that can convince Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that Medvedev is worth considering for a second term.

All in all, the president didn't fare badly in the interview. He came across as patriotic. But he didn't seem like a fanatic.

The interview was more than just an opportunity for the president to explain Russia's position on the war against Georgia. After all, Medvedev has stated his case many times before. Instead it was a way for Medvedev to focus on his only achievement as president. Whether it was a good thing or not, polls suggest the war against Georgia was supported by an overwhelming majority of Russians. It's similar to the "small victory" Russia had against Chechnya in 1999, which was a turning point for Putin. And isn't it true that any president hoping for reelection needs to remind his voters of his successful deeds?

Medvedev may not have had any of this in mind, just as his recent speech before the Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, where he shared his thoughts on Russia's future, may not have been a pre-election pitch. But it's unlikely. With four months to go before the election campaign kicks off, it's only logical to analyze Medvedev's interview as that of a potential candidate.

First of all, the president wanted to come across as a decisive and independent leader, something he best accomplished when talking about the night of Aug. 8, 2009, when he personally made the decision to open fire on Georgian troops. He particularly stressed that he only got in touch with Putin – who was in Beijing, China – 24 hours later. It turned out that there was a technical problem with the connection. But he also single-handedly made the decision to officially recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia even though his aides were not sure it was the right thing to do.

There is an apparent contradiction, however, to the president's message. Medvedev insists even drawn-out negotiations are better than open conflict, which proves he's more of a true politician than an uncompromising lawyer. But on the other hand, Medvedev the lawyer failed to explain how the war in Georgia and Ossetia was different in principle to what Russia did in Chechnya in 1999. The contradiction did not go unnoticed in the blogging sphere – by writers who both support and oppose the Russian government.

Otherwise, Medvedev didn't look bad at all. He scored points by talking about his close relationships with Western leaders such as France's Nicholas Sarkozy and former U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice – whom he admitted once called "Condi" by mistake. He also did well in projecting himself as a leader with both integrity and a personal touch. "Saakashvili committed crimes against the Russian people. I will never forgive him," Medvedev said. He went on to say that "it hurts to remember what happened back then."

The question remains, however, whether the president will ever be seen as more than a side-kick, a junior partner in the two-man Medvedev/Putin tandem. For Russians who love Putin's eloquent speech, Medvedev can never match up. Still, the sense of triumph in the interview was tangible.

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - World Economic Forum

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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