At the same time the world watches Vladimir Putin taking questions from a mob of press in Moscow, Russia’s relatively unsung hero, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is in China forging monumental ties. In a world of headlines about Vladimir Putin as saint or sinner, Russia’s stellar team of diplomats is often overlooked. Medvedev, perhaps the most crucial Putin ally, plays a vital role mainstream media seldom has time for these days. Here’s a short take on maybe the hardest working Russian official of all.
Medvedev’s official visit to China marks twenty years of annual bilateral summits, as well as 16 years of similar meetings within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). While the western press only seems to pick up on huge gas deals in between Russia and China, the deeper ties and their implications are a stunning revelation when clearly seen. Fortunately for Russia and China, Putin and Medvedev bought into this game years ago. While many experts expound on how western sanctions forced Russia to look east, nothing could be further from the truth. The Russia-China bilateral policy dynamic, it is a 40 year process of negotiation, and Medvedev has proven a master at holding up his end of Russia international affairs for the Putin team.
Russia-China All Along
If we recall the setting up of the so-called SCO back in 2001, we see the members then already addressing not simply trade and investment potential, but the same terrorism chaos that tears as the civilized world today. It is within this SCO forum framework that Medvedev and his tem have addressed Asian multilateral cooperation. Focusing on the Russian Prime Minister of late, one of his primary focuses has been on boosting a sagging Sino-Russian trade and investment situation. According to the numbers, transactions are down by about 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively, from the same period of 2014 because of the tanking of oil prices. So Medvedev and Russia’s trade ministers are not simply filling the energy or textile void with high tech or military hardware, they are causing a huge shift in Russia’s overall GNP framework. If Vladimir Putin needs Russia to become less energy export focused, it’s Medvedev’s dealing in value added products sent to China that will boost Russia’s growth. A good example of this is China’s market for state-of-the-art warplanes. Sukhoi workers are now working double overtime, and some experts say they will be for a decade more.
Yesterday I was speaking with geo-political expert, Holger Eekhoff about the potential for Europe lifting sanctions on Russia. “Why would Putin want the sanctions lifted?” Eekhof stunned me with this brash statement, but he went on to explain. While economic sanctions have hurt the Russian people in the short term, Putin and Medvedev know full well they also serve to spur an economic shift inside the country. A Russia reliant on energy reserves to power growth, simply is not as powerful as a Russia realizing her full potential. Initiatives Medvedev is spearheading, show clearly that the Putin administration has far greater goals in mind than simply selling trillions in Gazprom energy. I see this in talking with tech people at Skolkovo and across the innovation landscape, as well as in other industries Russia is trying to grow. My reason for spotlighting Medvedev today, is that he simply the busiest politician inside Russia, when it comes to traversing the world’s biggest country cheerleading industry. Let me give you some key examples.
Superstar Dealmaker – Medvedev
Just this week Dmitry Medvedev and Li Keqiang launched the so-called Year of Russia and Chinese Mass Media. Largely unreported in the west, this new initiative to create a joint media movement in the east is perhaps the most dramatic partnership for these nations, Asia, and the world. A joint exercise is no underway that involves major Chinese and Russian TV channels, news agencies, radio corporations, newspapers and magazines. Now I’ll go down a list with you.
– December 15th – Dmitry Medvedev meets with President Xi Jinping of China
– December 14th – Medvedev holds talks with the head of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
– December 11th – The PM chairs a meeting of the Commission on Monitoring Foreign Investment (see below)
– December 1 – 10th – implementation of the further entrepreneurial initiative and preparations for the China trip
– November 26th – 30th – Medvedev is central to dealing with the new Turkey sanctions and Russia strategy toward the Erdogan government
– November 18st and 22nd – Medvedev at the 10th East Asia Summit and APEC and in talks with Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and others
– October – The PM is at work internationally and nationally moving in between Skolkovo and talking with Serbia’s leadership, spearheading Russia’s National Technology Initiative – dealing with healthcare issues – at the International Investment Forum in Sochi – etc. etc. etc.
I guess my point here is well made, it is pretty interesting to just follow the flight path of Dmitry Medvedev’s jet. For anyone curious about whether or not Putin’s government functions well, I’d compare Medvedev’s itinerary to US Vice President Joe Biden’s. What you see from the Russian PM is a critical team member at work, and in Biden’s case there’s a face attached to more hype from the Obama administration. Medvedev is all over the place working for a country two and a half times the size of America, I just find it funny more media does not take a look behind the countenance of Vladimir Putin. As my friend and colleague Eekhof always says; “It’s not just Putin, it is who stands behind that makes Russia’s leadership extraordinary.”
A Dream Team?
The Putin government is an interesting case study in modern political structure. While western propaganda channels will parrot ideas like “Putin Czarism” or a return to some form of Soviet Union as the goal, it is players like Medvedev and Lavrov who reveal the real structure. This is one tight knit group of politicians focused on bringing Russia into a long overdue spotlight on the world stage. And the end goal is not for some Napoleonic land grab either, Russia modernized and powered by sustainable growth is far more powerful than imperialist notions can conceive of. Maybe this was always the problem for westerners to understand? Regardless, there’s also evidence in Medvedev’s movements, that the danger of west-east cataclysm is far less than it would appear. Take who’s investing still in Russia, as an indicator.
I made a note of Mr. Medvedev’s meeting with the Commission on Monitoring Foreign Investment. Within this effort we can see the whole sanctions affair as little more than a political show of force from Washington, London, and Brussels. Let me illustrate by pointing to just what was approved by Medvedev. Your news sources may have told you that Volkswagen Group Rus just opened a new engine plant in Kaluga, but feedstock, energy and petrochemicals giant SIBUR Holding selling a 20% stake to China Petroleum did not make big news. Despite all the negative consequences of the ruble fall and sanctions, SIBUR still managed a tidy profit of over $1.3 billion increase over 2014’s numbers. Further more, you cannot even “Google” in depth news about Iran’s Nasim Bahr Kish buying a controlling stake in the Volga River to Caspian Sea port of Solyanka. What’s most significant in these announcements though, has less to do with international investments in Russia now, and more to do with power plays. While the announcement the United States’ most notorious services company, Halliburton was approved to take over Baker Hughes shares inside Russia is a footnote for most news people, it’s significant to show business with Russia is essentially unchanged, and shows potential to thrive in the months to come. The company presidential candidate Rand Paul says former Vice President Dick Cheney invaded Iraq to win $40 billion for, it has perhaps the worst PR record ever. My short take here being, if Russia wanted to hurt America or other west nations, companies like Halliburton would be the first to see their assets seized.
Passing the West’s Test
Mr. Medvedev’s involvement in pushing these Russian investment initiatives is as long as the proverbial arm if you’ve time to research. The most recent Lupin Ltd. Indian pharmaceutical stake in Biokom should not go unmentioned either. Having made the point, superficial news predicts gloom and doom, it’s crystal clear Medvedev’s and Mr. Putin’s endeavors underneath mainstream channels predicts a positive growth future. So does Mr. Eekhoff’s theory of “positive sanctions” hold water? For my purposes here, it matters little. What is significant for me is the borderline stunning level of energy by Vladimir Putin’s closest colleagues like Dmitry Medvedev. The former president of Russia gets a share of news, but the macro-politics Putin shines at, is assuredly backed up concretely by everyone from Dmitry Peskov, Lavrov and Sergey Shoygu, plus a list of niche stars too extensive to list here. I’m not into heaping praise onto economists or politicians actually, but facts are facts. If Putin has won at every turn on the international stage these last two years, he was not battling alone.
Dmitry Medvedev’s role for Russia is a fascinating one, when all is said and done. I recall seeing a TV spot not long ago, which may be most revealing of his team player attitude. During one of the celebrity hockey stints where Vladimir Putin was naturally the star, the camera briefly panned to Putin’s friend and colleague up in the stands. While Putin played out his role as the quintessential leader and sportsman, Dmitry Medvedev was in the bleachers asleep, worn to a frazzle. At first I thought the pose a funny comparative, of all those US Senators caught napping on Capitol Hill. Then I took note of later images, of the itinerary, and the absolute reason for a well deserved moment out of the limelight. The Putin administration has been day and night, 24-7, for over two years now. And in this west-versus-east friction an undesirable result may have come. I am wondering if Washington, London, and Brussels pushing at Russia all this time, has not forced the Putin team to step up their game? I also wonder if in sanctioning the Russians, if this is an economic World War III, if the opposition has not bitten off more than it could chew? Russians are that resilient, as history has shown us.
Phil Butler exclusively for News Front