About the modernization of Russia and the impact of “soft power”

In his annual speech about the State of the Nation, a discourse characterized by media as hard, Dmitry Medvedev criticized in front of the Russian Federation Council “chronic archaism” to the country is heading. “In the XXI century, our country needs a thorough modernization. It will be a first in our history, to be based on values and institutions of democracy” Medvedev said, while recalling that Russia has failed to fight effectively against the economic crisis because of its dependence on exports of raw materials, whose price has fallen significantly.

“Level of the Russian economy competitiveness is low shameful” the Russian president added, also recalling extremely high corruption level and more too much dependency from oil and gas. Most analysts agree that Medvedev is absolutely right saying that because of these problems, Russia is unable to use the full potential and even less opportunity to give its citizens the conditions of modern life. Under the motto “Modernization of Russia”, the Kremlin leader has proposed significant changes, and the assertion of great rhetorical skill that this modernization should be based on the values of democracy, sounds heartening. Medvedev added his speech a democratic rhetoric, which has fueled, as usual, hopes of optimistic people, while skeptics expected to materialize these fine words into deeds. But from the “soft power” to the facts in a labyrinthine system suffocated by bureaucracy and subordinated the interests of powerful circles, that’s how you propose to cross Siberia to step. Easily thought, unlikely to be achieved.

Part of the Western media, which was always in the dilemma “Who leads Russia – Putin or Medvedev?” and apparently is unable to understand how to operate a such tandem (perhaps the birth of a pseudo-science of “tandemology” – would solve the situation?” ironically asks analyst Peter Lavelle), immediately saw the Kremlin leader’s speech as a repudiation of Putin’s legacy and a possible split in relations between the two officials. Analysts in Moscow responded that the fund ideational of discourse on the modernization of Russia’s policy is no different from the former president, Vladimir Putin. Confirmation came even from the Russian premier. That in his speech at the annual congress of his party, United Russia, held in St. Petersburg, expressed his support for President Dmitry Medvedev’s call to modernize the country, considering that „this call reflects the desire of all Russian people”.

How to reconcile the ideology of “conservatism” promoted by the party of Russian Prime Minister with the modernization promoted by the president? Noted that political strategist Gleb Pavlovsky, considered a close of Kremlin, believes that Medvedev’s statement was a signal that would be desirable a more active involvement of the United Russia party for implement in reality its political objectives. “There is a gap between the positions of president, prime minister and the party” admitted Pavlovski, adding that a such giant party could eventually be divided into liberal and conservative factions, without specify whether such case would bring significant changes in Russia’s political arena. But he acknowledges that the message of the President may lead to confrontation of hostile mentalities: “modernization has its bitter opponents. It is part of officialdom who fear losing their privileges class distributors and entrepreneurs from the scope of materials that do not take anything “.

An objective interpretation could be found in the camp of moderate criticism of the Kremlin. In their view, President Medvedev is not an antithesis of Vladimir Putin, he is part of the natural evolution of the vision its predecessor that sketched it for Russia. In this context, Putin Doctrine, Strategy 2020, Modernization of Russia – the version update to the article “Russia, forward!” are only steps, successive steps of a comprehensive strategic plan by Russia and claimed instead on building its geo-strategic map of the XXI Century . Most observers points out, however, that Medvedev’s call for liberalization and modernization rather confined to trying to convince and persuade, than the action, the latter continuing to preserve Prime Minister Putin.

Vice-president Center for Political Research, Alexei Makarkin, believes that the main problem will be perceived the message from President of Russian society and whether it will support his leader. „Elites still live well in a Russia based on exports of raw materials, while the company increase the level of skepticism, cynicism and the knowledge that everything will not be able to do something. A major problem of the system, corruption, seriously undermine the effectiveness and economic decisions, namely, people’s confidence”. Implicitly reiterates very reasonable observation that Medvedev speaks a language that the West can understand. Specifically, the change is that Medvedev is able to talk with his own people and the outside world at the same time. But while speaking a common language, understanding is different, since President Medvedev continues (due to a mentality based on cliches) to be better perceived and accepted by external than internal. Of course, this adds to the image of Russia in the world and the perception of the country’s progress by using what the general called “soft power”. The new global realities require the Kremlin to take a cooperative and open to the outside world. For this modernization can be achieved only by integrating into the international economy, as declared Medvedev himself. For this modernization can be achieved only by integrating into the international economy, as declared Medvedev himself. Accordingly, it is not surprising that Medvedev stressed that Russia will have a pragmatic foreign policy as possible in order internal modernization of the country. Thus, diplomacy will be guided, to a greater extent than before, according to the Russian economy and foreign policy will return to a purely functional significance. From Historically, this attitude represents a paradigm shift to the right revolutionary. The lead partner concerned, the European Union should seize this new opportunity, defining their own objectives and supporting the modernization of Russia.

Of course, the need modernization itself is obvious, but its methods not are evident, and most important – goals and the price paid by the taxpayer. Issues that, of course, generated a broad national debate. Moreover, for a good reception and internally delivered speech President Medvedev was prepared by posting on the blog presidential article “Russia Forward”. Furthermore, although a fairly discreet presence in the media, Vladislav Surkov, first deputy head of presidential administration and the main ideologue of the Kremlin responded to questions of social-political magazine “Itoghi. Or more accurately, tried to explain explained about the new strategy. Non-makeup central idea: without modernization, Russia’s fate is sealed. Whether it is investing heavily in tech and reform or the giant from the East will be condemned to loss the fight competitive and a very sad existence. The five strategic directions of development proposed by the presidential administration are: energy efficiency by reducing energy consumption, nuclear technology, space technology and, above all, the telecommunications, medical technology and information technology policy. But not talking about a “liberal modernization” which does not match because involves “anarchy and chaos”. “We need political stability and must use our democratic institutions”. A regulated liberalism no longer advocates the theory of classical liberalism will reply. No followers declared of neo-liberalism will not be happy without reforming state institutions designed regulation. In addition, Vladislav Surkov seems to forget that the stability preached of the ideologies of Kremlin, it proved to be, paradoxically, a neuralgia point of “Putin Era”  and was a key factor in the stagnation of political and economic reforms. And in the democratic institutions of Russia bureaucracy and corruption are at home. So really hard to give outside the front door. However, in some coordinates, responses gave by Surkov birth new questions and controversy rather than clarification.

Regarding the business environment in Russia, Surkov believes that “Russian Business not born nor Ford nor Edison nor Bill Gates. Our business does not live in the creation of new products and technologies. He still lives largely through redistribution and operation of former Soviet property and not property created by him. The idea, also entitled, however, is not likely to calm the opponents of privatizations and re-re-privatization on which questions continue to hover.

And if  year after year warnings experts have been unsuccessful, the effects of global crisis on Russia’s economy has shown clear what very specific adjustments to be made long. As a result, in Medvedev’s speech and Vladislav Surkov’s (which lead and the Commission for modernization and technological development, subordinated to the Russian Presidency) find a particular focus on the waiver of export-based economy of raw materials, such as and attracting foreign investments, acquisition of technologies and knowledge from developed countries. Russia’s self-isolation would be fatal for her, Surkov said, referring rather I believe to the external effects of marginalization as a result of uninspired policies internally.

Of course, the discussions generated by message from President Medvedev did not lack any harsh criticism. Their main conclusion: everything is reduced to words, without democratization and political openness, without exceeding the authoritarian state, the Russian economy cannot to be modernized. Without real democracy, without elimination corruption and reducing bureaucracy at all levels of government, without effective legislation and a legal system in real service, all calls on transforming the economy based on exports of raw materials in an innovative based on technology  remain only calls without resulting in concrete plan. According to these critics, Russia remains a country where, with or without the economic crisis, the government plays a role too large in the economy.

Noting that for the first time, Russia is no longer defined primarily by ideology or by its military arsenal, but the question, how it can provide its citizens better living conditions towards „modernization – the new state religion of Russia”, political analyst and Director of Russian and Asian programs of the World Security Institute from Washington, Nikolai Zlobin believes that “the need to create a mechanism for continuous upgrading and modernization is a far more delicate task”. Moreover, professor Zlobin points out that: “The most danger would be to try to simulate the upgrade, replacing all sorts of reforms aimed only to strengthen the current regime and improve  reports about progress”. For, although criticized authoritarianism regional and gave smaller facilities for opposition parties in the system, Medvedev made no real proposal for political reform in Russia. Thus, the question remains whether these very ambitious objectives can be achieved in a country that Medvedev rightly described as „bureaucratic and corrupt”. Secondly, it is unlikely that economic and technological modernization as comprehensive to be possible without the necessary political reforms.

Also, no unimportant, “criticizing Medvedev for indecision, reproaching him lack of political will and a clear plan of action, Russia’s democratic opposition paved the way for the triumphal return to power of Putin” said Zlobin.

The conclusion is that Medvedev’s message would be one outlining an evolutionary stage. Medvedev himself certainly not presented himself as very different from his mentor, Putin. Why should anyone be surprised by this? In the background, they are two different individuals belonging to different generations and from different backgrounds, but both want the same for Russia – a strong state, modern, governed by law and recognized as major global player and able to meet the expectations of its citizens. If beyond the impact of images generated by the speech of Medvedev, also will exist results we will to see; nobody can require a such plan to become reality overnight. Until then, Russia continues to be neither attractive nor dangerous, because isn’t a thriving democracy, but not a terrible dictatorship. With the advantages and disadvantages involved.

Published in Cadran Politic Review, no. 69 / december 2009

One response to “About the modernization of Russia and the impact of “soft power”

  1. Pingback: Kremlin’s strategist Gleb Pavlovsky:”Medvedev is designating his disagreement with Russia’s current political structure” | Power&Politics World

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