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Russia's Ongoing Intellectual Warfare


Russia - President Dmitriy Medvedev at SCO summit in Yekaterinburg, 15Jun2009

Russia - President Dmitriy Medvedev at SCO summit in Yekaterinburg, 15Jun2009

In a meeting on June 11 with heads of political parties not represented in the State Duma, President Dmitry Medvedev defended recent amendments to Russia's electoral law.

The modest changes make it slightly easier for small parties to win seats in the legislature. Medvedev told the leaders of Yabloko, Right Cause, and the Patriots of Russia that they are intended "to create a modern, more democratic political system in the country."

Perhaps Medvedev didn't get the memo.

Just a day earlier, the Public Projects Institute, a think tank with close ties to the ruling United Russia party, released a report saying that the last thing Russia needs is a more democratic system:

The democratization of Russia's political system cannot be a priority. The priority lies in effective management...Any attempt to suddenly abandon the long-term trend of gradual democratic development will only lead to political radicalization and further reaction.

As if on cue, political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky -- who has close ties to Russia's de facto ruler and de jure Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- chimed in with these comments after the report was presented:

We must say openly that democratization is unacceptable as a slogan, exactly because democratization as a political program was not put in practice when this should have been done - in the late 80s - early 90s. This is now a missed program...Therefore we must reject the slogan of democratization but note that at the moment we are facing the need to adopt the radical option of political modernization.

Got that? Democracy -- bad. Modernization -- good. I was unaware the two were mutually exclusive.

And in case anybody missed the point, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on June 10 published the latest in a series of broadsides in the Russian media against Igor Yurgens, chair of the Institute for Contemporary Development, a think tank with close ties to Medvedev.

Yurgens has raised eyebrows in recent months by suggesting in a series of interviews with Western media that Russia needs to open up its political system in order to emerge from the current economic crisis.

The authors, Dmitry Andreyev and Vadim Prozorov, defend Putin's system of governance and accuse Yurgens of seeking "the role of head strategist of the new Kremlin" by urging Medvedev to launch "a new perestroika" to "meet the basic parameters of the G-8 member countries."

This intellectual warfare among opposing camps of pundits, think tankers, and consultants has been going on for awhile now, as we have chronicled here, here, and here.

But the persistence of Putin loyalists and the siloviki clan in opposing even a modest thaw, and the fierceness of their assault on Yurgens, suggests that they are getting very very nervous.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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