Medvedev Inspires Investors

Medvedev Inspires Investors

Published: June 22, 2011 (Issue # 1662)

Dmitry Lovetsky / The Associated Press

President Dmitry Medvedev looks on during a session of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on Saturday.

A bullish Dmitry Medvedev left investors so enthusiastic at last weekend’s St. Petersburg forum that even his biggest shortcoming could not spoil the mood: He refused to say whether he would address the forum as president again next year.

After the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum proceeded from highlight to highlight for three days, Medvedev was forced to admit at the very end of Saturday’s closing session that he still could not promise to stand for re-election.

“Can I ask one puckish question? … Are you going to run for president next year?” asked an awkwardly chortling Wall Street Journal editor, Robert Thomson, adding that this might be “the perfect moment” for Medvedev to make public his thoughts.

The president, however, jovially crushed all hopes that he would solve the country’s most pressing political puzzle.

“When I believe the moment is right to say directly whether I will or will not run, I will do so,” he said. “But this forum is not the best venue for that.”

With a wink, he added that it would not be long until he announced his decision, but “every story should have its own intrigue, otherwise life would be boring, so let’s enjoy it a little longer.”

The question of who will run the country after the State Duma elections in December and the presidential vote next March has become ever more vexing since Medvedev and his prime minister and predecessor, Vladimir Putin, have both said they might stand, while seemingly drifting further apart in their policies.

Medvedev fueled talk of a rift in the tandem that has governed the country since 2008 when he lit a blaze of liberal policies in his keynote speech Friday.

As a central theme, he touted an end to government intervention in the economy, which he described both as state capitalism and “manual control” — a definition closely associated with Putin’s habit of personally intervening in industry decision making.

The president’s repudiation of what is seen as Putin’s style was perhaps the most striking moment in his 35-minute address. “This is not my choice — my choice is something else,” he said slowly, adding that private entrepreneurs and investors should play the dominant role, while the state should protect them.

Medvedev also suggested harsher punishment for corrupt officials, saying they could be fired for “loss of confidence” when evidence of bribery does not allow pressing criminal charges. Medvedev fired Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov after 18 years for “loss of confidence” last September and has never elaborated on the reason.

The president also told his audience, which included scores of governors, that his sacking of long-serving regional bosses often resulted in improved local business climates. He picked Moscow as an example, saying that under Mayor Sergei Sobyanin the amount of documents necessary to start construction projects has decreased.

Afterward, forum participants said without hesitation that Medvedev’s remarks bordered on a campaign speech.

“A pretty presidential speech,” said Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia.

Medvedev was trying to win the support of “his colleagues in power and the Russian elite” ahead of the election, said Darrell Stanaford, managing director of real estate agency CB Richard Ellis in Russia.

Stanaford said both foreign and Russian business agree that the government should not dictate from above but rather provide conditions for them to thrive. “This is the format which is necessary,” he said.

Others noted Medvedev’s frequent use of the word “choice,” which in Russian is the same as the word for election.

By reiterating “my choice,” Medvedev has indicated that he personally backs his promises, said Klaus Kleinfeld, CEO of U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa.

“It is the same language that a U.S. president would use,” Kleinfeld, who chairs the U.S.-Russia Business Council, said in an interview on the sidelines of the forum.

“It was an excellent speech, and I haven’t heard a single criticism,” he said.

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