Medvedev pitches economic – but not political – changes for Russia
In a state-of-the-nation speech Thursday, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev reviewed his own pet economic innovations but didn't criticize the tightly controlled political edifice
Struggling to climb out from under the shadow of Vladimir Putin, his still-powerful mentor and predecessor, President Dmitry Medvedev pitched his signature idea of "democratic modernization" Thursday to an audience that included Russia's joint houses of parliament, top government leaders, and a stony-faced Prime Minister Putin.Skip to next paragraph
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In a nearly two-hour "State of the Nation" address, his second since being vaulted into the Kremlin after a meticulously stage-managed election last year, Mr. Medvedev called for sweeping reforms to Russia's economy and offered an almost wonky review of his own pet innovations – including broadband Internet access for schools and reducing the number of time zones in Russia – but pulled up short at any suggestion of dismantling the highly centralized and tightly controlled political edifice built by Mr. Putin.
"In the 21st century the country again needs an all-embracing modernization and this will be our first experience in modernization based on the values and institutions of democracy," Medvedev said. "Instead of an archaic society, where leaders think and decide for everyone, we will become a society that is intelligent, free, and responsible."
Seeking support for sidelining Putin?
Some experts say this kind of rhetoric may be an attempt to rally public support for a break with former president Putin, who most believe remains the country's most powerful figure. In Forbes magazine's list of the world's most powerful people, Putin comes third after the leaders of the US and China, while Medvedev's name appears far down the list, just above Oprah Winfrey. According to Denis Volkov, a researcher with the independent Levada Center in Moscow, just 20 percent of Russians polled in September thought that Medvedev was in charge of Russian policymaking – his constitutional role – while a whopping 67 percent believe he is dominated by Putin.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a top expert on Russia's elite, says that by her calculations Putin's supporters include "71 percent of all regional leaders and 70 percent of Duma deputies.... Out of 75 key posts, only two people are Medvedev's. Putin left his team in all key positions, and Medvedev is reluctant to try and change them," she says. "For the moment, they live peacefully. Medvedev is not advancing and Putin is not retreating."
This, perhaps, explains the odd combination of radical bombast and cautious prescriptions in Medvedev's big speech Thursday, say experts.