The world in 2011: Trends and events to watch in every region


In 2011, the curtain will drop and the mystery over who rules RussiaPresident Dmitry Medvedev or former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – may be resolved.

For almost three years the two men have run the country through an inscrutable arrangement that's officially described as a friendly "tandem." But tensions have broken into the open lately, as the date approaches when they will have to decide – perhaps amicably, perhaps not – which of them will run as the establishment candidate in presidential polls slated for early 2012.

The next year is also likely to prove decisive for Mr. Medvedev's efforts to forge an accommodation with the West that will end Russia's isolation and enable a flow of much-needed foreign investment know-how to modernize its Soviet-era economy.

But before any of that can happen, Moscow and the US need to come to terms on strategic fundamentals. The two sides have pledged to find a recipe for cooperating on US plans for a missile-defense system. If a NATO-Russian committee that's working on the problem fails to reach agreement by 2011, relations could take a very acrimonious turn.

In recent years, analysts have warned that the Kremlin risks repeating the mistakes of the USSR by building a system that is too bureaucratized and authoritarian while lacking democratic mechanisms. Many have pointed to the rise of the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party, headed by Mr. Putin, as a sign that Russia could be drifting back toward one-party rule. Medvedev, seen as more liberal than Putin, has promised to ease election rules, open the media to opposition voices, and crack down on alleged vote rigging. That will be put to the test when Russians go to the polls to elect a new state Duma in late 2011.

Analysts also worry that Russia's top-down system is too rigid to respond to crises. That seemed borne out last summer, when wildfires raged across central Russia while the government seemed incapable of containing them. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned that the Russian state could collapse amid mass protest unless democratic reforms are urgently enacted.

Fred Weir, Moscow correspondent

8 of 9
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.