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ENGLISH VERSION8 мая 2008 6:21

What future awaits President Medvedev's Russia

Russia will undergo many changes over the next four years. Experts debate which exactly...

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In the two months before the elections, Russians somehow got used to the idea of having two presidents — an acting and a newly elected leader. But the days of the diarchy ended with Dmitry Medvedev's inauguration on May 7. Many questions remain unanswered about Russia's political future. What will President Medvedev's policies be? How will Medvedev maintain his political stature? What difficulties and successes await Russia and Medvedev? How will Russia's economic and domestic and international policies change? KP spoke with renowned political scientists to address these questions.

Middle class, or just somewhere around the middle?

Political scientist and Deputy Director of the Political Technology Center Boris Makarenko talked about President Medvedev's 2020 socio-economic development program that he announced in Krasnoyarsk.

"The program's goal is to give Russia an injection of modernization," Makarenko said. "The program is both fantastic and accurate, but today the main issue is where Russia will get the necessary finances. Oil revenues and consumer demand have served as the engine for Russia's progress in recent years. But we've already squeezed all that we can out of the high prices on oil. If we start exploiting Russia's reserves, inflation and prices on products will skyrocket. And more than anything else inflation is just taxing the poor."

Inflation worries Russian citizens more than any other issue, according to the Russian Public Opinion Research Center. Approximately 68 percent of the population considers inflation to be a serious problem.

Makarenko said that Russia's primary unused resource is giving the middle class the opportunity to participate in the country's development. He added that Medvedev will most likely attempt to support the middle class, reiterating that the government's finances are only social payments taken from salaries as tax.

"You need to bake the bread before cutting it to make sure everyone gets a thick slice," Makarenko said.

When Vladimir Putin was asked to uncork the Stabilization Fund, he replied that "we didn't earn" the oil money. He said that Russia should only thank nature and God for abundant resources, and it would be foolish to waste what it didn't earn. Rumor goes that after fights with numerous parties trying to access the Stabilization Fund, Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin suggested that Medvedev establish a collegial management organization for the fund that would report directly to the president. The organization would be something similar to an insurance agency. One of Medvedev's first decisions may be to create this state institution.

Getting the wealthy to share

"Less and less people think of themselves as middle class because the division between rich and poor is widening," said political scientist and General Director of the PR-3000 Agency Stanislav Radkevich. "Some people are counting their pennies for a loaf of bread and others for a football team. Russia's new President Medvedev and the more experienced Putin need to take steps to shrink the abyss between the wealthy and the less fortunate. If the trend doesn't stop, Russia will undergo social destabilization, and no technological, PR-cosmetic maneuvers will remedy the situation. The recent railway worker strike is the first tell-tale sign."

Radkevich said that Medvedev may have to introduce a progressive (property) tax targeting the rich that would complicate relations with oligarchs. Radkevich added that he doesn't exclude the possibility of the law having a natural rent to increase social payments via the oil fund — first and foremost pensions, children's welfare and payments to single mothers. How will Medvedev compensate the unsatisfied oligarchs when they are asked to share their wealth with the poor?

Some experts say that the civil servants will be cut off from the businesses that once served as their feeding grounds. Political scientist and General Director of the Strategic Evaluation and Analysis Institute Vagif Guseynov said that today businessmen think that the civil servants will leave them alone after receiving positive signs from Medvedev. He noted that they are optimistic in terms of their future prospects with the new president. Medvedev's suggestion that independent directors be appointed to managerial positions in state corporations as opposed to civil servants backs these claims.

Loosening the screws

Russia's so-called liberal opposition and the West's democratic aggressors are anxiously waiting for President Medvedev to loosen the screws and for democracy and freedoms to take hold of the country. Medvedev's phrase, "Freedom is better than un-freedom," is seen as a sign of liberalism.

"In terms of Russia's democracy, there are two likely scenarios," said Radkevich. "First, Medvedev may decide to keep the current model of development of state capitalism, and social contrasts will inevitably increase. In this event, they'll need to be puttied with state PR and Russia's democracy won't change. Second, Medvedev may decide to pressure the wealthy and partially dismantle state capitalism. In this case he'll have to rely on civil society and open media. The progress will be apparent by how the state TV changes."

Experts say Medvedev will have to rely on civil society when taking on the other, corrupter rich.

"I think that launching a serious battle against corruption will be a mutual decision made by Putin and Medvedev. Ultimately, though, the decision will come from Medvedev as the president," says Guseynov. "But if corruption in Russia isn't taken by the horns, the massive 2020 state development project simply isn't fathomable. Both Medvedev and Putin know this well."

According to KP's sources, Medvedev will offer a new anti-corruption law to the State Duma this summer. A group of experts from various departments has already finished working on the document. Political scientists say that Medvedev may make a number of changes to the strongman block, which Putin didn't do for numerous reasons. Why would Medvedev focus his energy on the strongmen? The answer is simple. The power structures will be the ones who will have to take on corruption. But how will this be possible if Russia's law enforcement agencies are one of the most corrupt spheres in the country?

Guseynov thinks that as a lawyer Medvedev will make his policy priorities combating legal nihilism and establishing a legal state for today's generation — not just in public speeches and distant dreams. Is this plausible in a country where laws work poorly? Especially for those who can't pay for their execution? Experts say that Medvedev plans to strengthen Russia's legal system. This will be a continuation of Putin's policy as he often spoke about the "dictatorship of the law" during his first term. However, other major projects came under his direct management and required his focused attention (unifying the country, Chechnya and consolidating Russia's position on the international arena). They also believe that after dedicating two years to national projects and solving demographic issues, Medvedev will try to strengthen the family institution in Russia. How can the birth rate increase with one divorce for every two marriages?

No sharp turns on the international scene

Experts say that President Medvedev will have the same problem as Putin on the international arena in terms of his desire to fit Russia into the global economic and political system and his inability to compromise national interests. They added that these two goals conflict to a certain extent. For example, Putin was reproached by the West for not wanting to ratify the Energy Charter that Russia agreed to under Yeltsin. However, if Putin had done so, the West would have received access to Russia's national resources and oil and gas fields, and Russia wouldn't have been allowed to join the West's distribution networks.

"There won't be any sharp turns. That's completely out of the question. Medvedev will stand staunchly behind national interests," said Guseynov. "Just like Putin did for 8 years."

Immediately after the presidential elections, Putin issued a caveat to the West, saying: "Medvedev is, in a good sense, the same kind of Russian nationalist as I. He's a genuine patriot and will defend Russia's interests on the international arena in the most active manner."

Experts believe that Medvedev will more keenly dedicate his attention to Eastern European countries — Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and Poland — and try to improve relations with Ukraine and Georgia. Putin was able to win over the sympathy of the political elite in China and India and Medvedev will continue committed cooperation with these countries. His first long-distance trip will be to China.

On friends, guardians and musketeers

Many people are worried about friction arising between President Medvedev and Putin, as historically tension is tradition in Russia when power is shared. Director of the Political Research Institute Sergey Makarov says that no diarchy actually exists. Instead he believes in a bi-fold center of authority. However, the power structure is complex nonetheless. KP asked Makarenko if tension was likely to arise between the president and prime minister.

"There's no reason to doubt that the prime minister and president will always agree," said Makarenko. "They've spoken about this on numerous occasions. In 'The Three Musketeers,' as we all remember, the king and cardinal agreed royally. But the king's musketeers and the cardinal's guardians fought contemptuously. A battle between the bureaucratic apparatuses of the Kremlin and White House? Such a danger exists. What's most important is that the dueling takes place within reasonable bounds. And I think that the prime minister and president will make sure that their subordinates act accordingly."

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