Medvedev Pledges Reform In Russia

Medvedev Pledges Reform In Russia
February 16th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Medvedev Pledges Reform In Russia

Medvedev Pledges Reform In Russia
New York Times
February 16, 2008 By C. J. Chivers
MOSCOW — The presumptive successor to President Vladimir V. Putin presented his platform for seeking Russia’s highest office on Friday, giving a speech before business leaders in Siberia in which he vowed to continue Russia’s economic revival, but also struck markedly liberal notes.
The speech by the candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev, was a contrast to the public appearance only a day before by Mr. Putin, his sponsor. Mr. Putin was confrontational and sometimes caustic in what the Kremlin had billed as his final news conference as president.
On Thursday, Mr. Putin had sharply criticized the West and the United States, threatened to aim strategic missiles at Europe and said Russia would continue to develop its own, state-centered brand of democracy without instruction from outside.
Mr. Medvedev, speaking in Krasnoyarsk, a city near Russia’s geographic center, spoke in softer tones, addressing Russia’s middle class and small-business owners and embracing themes more often heard in the West.
“Freedom is better than nonfreedom,” he said in his opening remarks, according to a transcript provided by his campaign. “These words are the quintessence of human experience.”
Mr. Medvedev, the 42-year-old protégé of Mr. Putin, then elaborated. “The talk here is about freedom in all of its manifestations: about personal freedom, about economic freedom and at last about freedom of self-expression,” he said. He added, “Freedom is inseparable from the actual recognition of the power of law by citizens.”
He is the all-but-unchallenged front-runner in the presidential election set for March 2. He seems certain to inherit the formal reins of power from a president who, his critics say, has extinguished many elements of personal and political freedom in Russia and rolled others back.
Mr. Medvedev faces three weak candidates who critics of the Kremlin say have been allowed to run by Mr. Putin only to create the appearance of a contest. A poll released Friday predicted that Mr. Medvedev, who has been endorsed by Mr. Putin and was receiving lavish official support, could win as much as 80 percent of the vote.
The declarations about the universal values of freedom in an election that is being stage-managed, and in a speech before state journalists who are largely under the Kremlin’s sway, immediately raised eyebrows among analysts and diplomats in the West.
But Mr. Medvedev pressed on, issuing an implicit and broad indictment of Russia’s current state of civic affairs. He moved past the economic and political successes of Mr. Putin’s eight years in power and focused on the country’s deep and enduring problems.
The courts, he said, are riddled with corruption, the state bureaucracy is weighted by indifference, predatory officials and bloat, and Russia’s business climate has been smothered.
“It is necessary to change radically the ideology of administrative procedures dealing with starting and holding a business,” he said. An overhaul was required, he added, “to give realistic chances for the development of small businesses, which are drowning today in a swamp of official indifference and bribes.”
Some of Mr. Medvedev’s assessment echoed statements by Mr. Putin, including his denunciation of official corruption. But his picture of Russian society and its government veered from the rosier account provided by Mr. Putin at his final press conference before leaving office.
Mr. Putin had said, coolly and directly, that his administration had had no major failures during his two terms.
Western diplomats suggested that Mr. Medvedev’s speech should not be taken entirely at face value.
Under Russia’s Constitution, Mr. Putin cannot seek a third consecutive term. Mr. Medvedev is Mr. Putin’s personally selected successor, and Mr. Putin has said that he will serve as Mr. Medvedev’s prime minister and plans to wield power and to influence Russia’s course for years to come.
“Medvedev in this speech and in previous speeches has been enunciating liberal themes, and that’s encouraging,” said Cliff Kupchan, a director at the Eurasia Group, a global risk consulting firm based in Washington and New York.
“But we have to remember that this entire campaign is being run by Putin, and Putinism, broadly meaning a large state role in the economy and an assertive foreign policy, is not going to change soon, because Putin is not going to leave the scene.”
Mr. Kupchan suggested that Mr. Medvedev’s candidacy, and the message of his platform, had been chosen by Mr. Putin and the Kremlin’s political elite because improving Russia’s reputation suited their needs.
“An image is being created for Mr. Medvedev that will smooth the way for Russian investors to invest abroad,” he said. “That is very important to the Kremlin.”
But Mr. Medvedev’s speech also seemed tuned to the ears of Russia’s expanding consumer class, which has seen its purchasing power and standard of living rise during the oil-and-gas boom that has buoyed Mr. Putin’s years in power, but has seen its political rights decline and still faced an ossified government bureaucracy.
He pledged to improve the investment environment, amend the country’s tax codes, and work to stabilize the ruble, whose value has crashed and risen since Soviet times — first evaporating many citizens’ savings and recently spurring inflation and causing unease about escalating costs of living.
He said as well that “our schools would have the opportunity not to have one computer for 20 students,” but Internet access at every desk.
And he warned, with candor, that the boom in Moscow and other population centers had not reached many Russians — a theme Mr. Putin has also noted.
Mr. Medvedev, like his sponsor, outlined a need for more attention to social programs and health care. “Part of the population is practically still socially comatose,” he said. “They see neither opportunities nor prospects of improvement of their living standards. Hence, the drunkenness and a still very high level of suicide.”
A senior American diplomat noted that Mr. Putin, early in his presidency, had pledged to make the country more democratic and to fulfill a broad agenda of social goals. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity as part of diplomatic protocol, added that it was much too soon to know whether Mr. Medvedev would even have the power as president to choose his own course, much less to realize the goals he had articulated in his speech.
“If you go back and look at early Putin, I would argue that you could find that Putin said a number of things that were promising,” he said. “On a number of elements he came up rather short.”

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