The most important question is whether Medvedev, in the three-and-a-half years of his presidency, ever fought for the values he promoted. It is quite possible that he knowingly accepted the role of the obedient Kremlin soldier in a drama, whose outcome the Putin/Medvedev tandem only revealed to the public last weekend. If that is the case, he was merely a seat warmer on the Kremlin throne -- a figurehead not unlike the farmer's son Mikhail Kalinin, who formally represented the Soviet Union as its nominal head of state for 23 years under Stalin, or the Ukrainian Nikolai Podgorny, who did the same thing for 21 years under party leader Leonid Brezhnev.
If things truly unfolded the way it appears, this president played an ominous role for Russia in the last few years, despite his supposedly liberal views -- or precisely because of them. It appears that he was nothing more than Putin's accomplice.
It isn't Putin's return that is surprising, but the manner in which the tandem -- or rather, Putin -- staged the game they were playing: as a big production at the convention of the United Russia party. The directors had brought in 10,000 schoolchildren and students to be an enthusiastic audience for the eerie government drama at the Luzhniki Palace of Sports in Moscow. No one knew what exactly the party would be voting on, but each attendee was given a sheet of paper with instructions on what to wear ("jacket, no tie, with jeans") and a list of slogans to chant ("chant each one at least five times").
Medvedev, who had condemned the practices of Russian state propaganda several times, was nothing but decoration. He sat silently next to Putin, the politician who could very well end up ruling Russia longer than Leonid Brezhnev.
Yuri Ryzhkov, the former Russian ambassador to France, says it was Yeltsin's biggest mistake, even "a crime," to install as his successor Putin. He describes Putin as a "man full of complexes" who is convinced "of his absolute freedom to do as he pleases when it comes to his own people."
This is how one highly regarded commentator describes Medvedev´s presidency:
"He preached the mantra of modernization and in doing so awakened hopes of change -- while at the same time doing absolutely nothing at all," says Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Center, a Moscow-based think tank. Many, she adds, believed in his plans to bring Russia forward.
Now, says Shevtsova, Medvedev has yielded the floor to Putin again. This means no reforms and the return of the old model of tough leadership. It is an irony of history, she says, that "a politician who looks like a reformer can be a greater impediment to progress than an open traditionalist." Liberal rhetoric in a non-liberal environment in which the thumbscrews are tightened even further, she argues, "only increases cynicism in society."
All in all, a sad story. And what is even more sad, is that there is no happy end to be expected in the foreseeable future with former KGB spy Putin as president again.