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An influential think tank is advising President Dmitry Medvedev that he needs to establish an alternative power structure answerable only to him in order to reach his goal of modernizing Russia.

In a report for Medvedev, the Institute for Contemporary Development concludes that it will be impossible for the president to carry out any meaningful changes as long as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's siloviki cronies remain in key administrative posts. But attempting to dismantle Putin's vaunted power vertical would be difficult (if not impossible) and destabilizing at this point.

So the institute is advising that Medvedev set up his own personal power vertical.

Here is how "Nezavisimaya gazeta" describes the proposal:

The authors are not recommending the establishment of a shadow Cabinet or parliament. The experts are instead suggesting the formation of command centers to guide the processes of modernization. The centers should be divided into two groups: those dealing with current problems and those in charge of strategic planning. The former will handle the problems that cannot be delayed - homeless children, organized crime, etc. The latter will chart programs such as a new models for education, new concepts of military development, and alternative urban development strategies.

And here is "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoting directly from the report:

One structure will strive to prevent de-modernization, while the other will carry out modernization as such. They should operate in tandem. It is of utmost importance to leave the regular bureaucracy out of the process of modernization...By and large, structures of both kinds will represent a parallel power vertical that answers directly to the president, reacts to challenges, and maps out future developments. The functions of the regular bureaucracy, in the meantime, will come down to maintenance of the existing social systems - a mission that is vitally important but has nothing to do with modernization.

The Institute for Contemporary Development, of course, is headed by Igor Yurgens, an adviser to Medvedev.

Yurgens made waves back in February by suggesting that Russia's implicit social contract, in which citizens sacrificed political freedoms in exchange for rising living standards, had been abrogated by the financial crisis. Political liberalization, Yurgens said at the time, was necessary if Russia was to emerge from the deepening recession.

His remarks were met with ridicule by Medvedev's powerful deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov, the regime's unofficial ideologist and architect of Russia's authoritarian system of "sovereign democracy."

Undeterred, Yurgens and other public intellectuals like Yevgeny Gontmakher, director of the Center for Social Policy at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, continued to push for political liberalization in an increasingly public spat with Surkov.

I don't know what to make of the Institute for Contemporary Development's report just yet.

But what is interesting is that it appears just as reports are surfacing that Surkov is trying to make common cause with -- or attempting to co-opt -- key technocrats and economists close to Medvedev in order to enhance his own political position and weaken his opponents in the Kremlin.

Surkov has long been engaged in a low-intensity clan war with Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, the head of the siloviki clan of security-service veterans surrounding Putin.

According to a report by (which we blogged here), Surkov is supporting economic reforms proposed by Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Sperbank head German Gref, and Economy Minister Elvira Nabiullina as a means of weakening Sechin's control over key sectors of the economy.

How Yurgens' institute's report fits into this -- if it fits at all -- is anybody's guess at this point.

But after sparring for most of the year, Yurgens and Surkov appear now to share a common enemy -- Sechin and the siloviki.

Surkov, if the report is correct, appears to be proposing that they be taken on directly. Yurgens, on the other hand, is advising Medvedev to work around them.

And Putin, the one voice that really matters, has been characteristically sphinx-like in his silence.

-- Brian Whitmore

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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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