Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has roundly criticized his country for what he calls a humiliating dependence on natural resources, a "half-Soviet" social sphere, and instability in the Caucasus.
The criticism, published on the gazeta.ru website, appears in an open letter on the country's strategic challenges, addressed to the Russian people under the headline "Forward Russia!"
"Should we continue to drag into the future our primitive raw-materials economy," Medvedev writes, "endemic corruption, and inveterate habit of relying on the state, foreign countries or some all-powerful doctrine to solve our problems -- on anyone except ourselves?"
Looking back for precedents, Medvedev lauds the reforms of Peter the Great and the Soviet Union, but criticizes them for "destroying millions of lives."
"Today, for the first time in our history," he writes, "we have the chance to prove to ourselves and the world that Russia can develop democratically."
Medvedev says the government has developed a plan to advance the economy by making Russia a leader in technology, energy efficiency, and space infrastructure. For it to succeed, Medvedev writes, "Russia's political system will also be extremely open, flexible, and intrinsically complex."
Calling for a "permanent revolution," Medvedev vows Russia will become an "active and respected member of the world community of free nations." He calls on Russians to e-mail the Kremlin with suggestions.
Medvedev's letter, posted on a leading independent news website, is the latest in a series of exercises burnishing his image as a liberalizing reformer. But although exhaustive on vague, overarching goals, Medvedev fails to offer a single concrete policy change that would bring about the drastic reform he seeks.
Critics will note that Medvedev -- former President Vladimir Putin's handpicked successor, who came to power last year after Putin's eight years in office -- never hints at criticism of his mentor. Putin revived authoritarianism in Russia by cracking down on democratic institutions and the free press, and most Russians believe he retains power in his current role as prime minister.
Since Putin's ascent 10 years ago, corruption has ballooned, society has become far more closed, and the government has done virtually nothing to alleviate a deepening dependence on the oil and gas industry that fuelled Russia's decade-long economic boom.
Some will surely take Medvedev's liberal-sounding rhetoric to indicate a growing split between him and Putin. But his letter echoes many previous calls for reform by him and Putin, and others will see it as another installment of the kind of public relations exercise Russia's leaders rely on to stay in power.
-- Gregory Feifer