In an interview with Reuters published on Wednesday, Yurgens compared President Dmitry Medvedev's tepid gestures toward reform to the limited thaw pursued by Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev.
"The tendency is very cautious, very weak," Yurgens, head of the Institute for Contemporary Development and an adviser to Medvedev, said. "At the moment they are afraid of themselves. But the steps are in the right direction."
Yurgens also warned that the financial crisis has temporarily strengthened the hands of hardliners opposed to any liberalization, but warned that this would turn out to be a "Pyrrhic victory" because it will only cause the economic meltdown to deepen:
"Then there is only one way to go and ask the big Chinese brother to take us on board. And the cost of this will be enormously higher than the cost of the same operation with the EU and the United States."
The comments came just a day after Yurgens, in an interview with Britain's "Daily Telegraph," criticized Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Medvedev's political mentor and patron, for creating an overly centralized political system that stifles reform.
What to make of this persistent drumbeat of commentary from Yurgens and others -- much of which is being disseminated through the Western media -- calling for greater liberalization?
A May 19 editorial in Gazeta.ru called the trend -- like Medvedev's recent moves -- a " play at words, symbols, and gestures" that for the time being constituted little more than a "Kremlin palace game" that allows Medvedev "not to vanish altogether in Putin's shadow."
But the editorial noted that a time of reckoning could soon be on the horizon:
The game of words will end at the moment when it becomes necessary to really choose which course to follow. Because it will no longer
be possible to move along the former one, rapidly consuming everything that had been saved up during the years of the oil and gas boom.
This is not because of the non-liberal nature of this old course, but because there will be nothing left to consume. When the time comes to choose between the model of modernization or the model of mobilization, words alone will not be enough. That is when the real struggle of the 'hawks' and the liberals will begin.
If this analysis is correct then the existence or non-existence of a split in the Putin-Medvedev leadership tandem may be irrelevant. Objective economic conditions, to borrow a Marxist phrase, could be pushing their respective teams and the entire political system toward a decisive showdown.
-- Brian Whitmore