SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your book about Dmitry Medvedev is about to be published. To write the book, you and your wife Marina, the book's co-author, spent many hours with Russia's new president. What kind of a person is he?
Nikolai Svanidze: He is relaxed, likeable, intelligent and educated.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is in Berlin on Thursday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.Foto: REUTERS
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Medvedev is the first Russian president in years to come from the intelligentsia. How will he govern?
Svanidze: We'll have to wait and see. The fact alone doesn't tell us anything yet.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: He is occasionally described as a weakling. Is he one?
Svanidze: That impression is misleading. He has a backbone and he is very self-confident. One should not confuse politeness and good upbringing with weakness. Where would we be if we praised every ruffian for being strong and dismissed every intelligent person with good manners as a weakling?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In which direction will Medvedev be looking in his future foreign policy? His first trip was to China, with a stop in Kazakhstan. Is Asia his priority?
Svanidze: One thing is certain: Even if Medvedev occasionally expresses himself differently as president, when it comes to his background and way of thinking, he is clearly a European, a flawless European. When he emphasizes the importance of the constitutional state and private property, of the separation of powers and democracy, these are not just empty words. The independence of the courts is his hobbyhorse and core issue. Of course, all Russian politicians know that the eagle on our national coat of arms is looking in two directions: to the West and to the East, to Europe and Asia.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is Medvedev coming to Germany on his first visit to Europe?
Svanidze: It's a continuation of the European policies of Putin, who speaks excellent German and, because of his years in Dresden, has a special affinity for the Germans. Putin emphasized Germany, France and Italy as his main partners, and Germany was chief among them. Medvedev will continue Putin's foreign policy for a long time. However, it seems to me that foreign policy is currently not Medvedev's top priority. He will focus on domestic policy, where he will demonstrate his independence.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are the potential pitfalls for Medvedev?
Svanidze: It is difficult to make predictions. It depends on his relationship with Putin, on the elites and, to a large extent, on economic development.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are now two centers of power in Russia. The Kremlin, with Medvedev at its helm, and the White House, where former President Putin is now the new prime minister. Can this work?
Svanidze: It is indeed unparalleled in our history. We are witnessing an experiment that could end positively or fail. If the economy continues to grow as it has been doing recently, things are likely to go well. Then there will be no significant reason for harsh conflicts between Medvedev and Putin. No matter what their personal relationship is, there are bound to be conflicts of interest between adults in this position, even if they are identical twins. And the likelihood that there will be crises is anything but small. Then the tandem will start showing cracks.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In that case, who will prevail?
Svanidze: I would refer to the Russian constitution. It grants substantial powers to the president. If Putin had wanted a third term, he would easily have managed to get his way. But he abided by the constitution. Both of them will continue to do the same in the future. And, according to the constitution, it is simply the case that the president has more power than others.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Medvedev constantly talks about the constitutional state and, like (former Soviet President Mikhail) Gorbachev 20 years earlier, castigates the Russian people -- from the elites to normal citizens -- for their right-wing nihilism. Doesn't he run the risk of ending up a Don Quixote, tilting against windmills?
Svanidze: It is often said that Russia is trapped in its authoritarian and not-very-constitutional past. But there are also exceptions, such as the reforms of Czar Alexander II, who developed a good legal system with incorrupt judges. The reform of our judiciary is difficult but not hopeless. Medvedev has committed himself to it with passion. That's why he will probably be successful.
Interview conducted by Matthias Schepp and Vladimir Pylyov.