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Medvedev Targets Russia's Weaknesses, Pledges Change

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) has attempted to differentiate himself from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (right).
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- President Dmitry Medvedev has called Russia's democracy weak and its economy ineffective in his newest effort to distance himself from the legacy of his predecessor Vladimir Putin and build a power base of his own.

In an article on web portal outlining his vision of Russia's future in the next decade, Medvedev cited his biggest challenges as modernizing the economy, fighting corruption, and abolishing state paternalism.

"An ineffective economy, semi-Soviet social sphere, weak democracy, negative demographic trends, and an unstable Caucasus. These are very big problems even for a state like Russia," he said.

Sustainable democracy would give Russia the political and economic flexibility it needed, he said.

"Russia's political system will be open, flexible, and complex," he said. "As in most democratic nations, the leaders of the political struggle will be parliamentary parties that periodically replace each other in power."

Medvedev's comments were the latest sign of his attempts to set himself apart from the popular and charismatic Putin, who is now prime minister.

He has given a series of interviews to Russian media, including to the opposition newspaper "Novaya gazeta," in which he flagged his opinion on key issues from civil society to education.

Medvedev, 44 on September 7, won elections and took office last year after being handpicked by Putin.

The two men pledged to rule in tandem and there have so far been no signs of any rifts despite several tests, including the severe economic crisis that struck Russia last year.

A year later, however, Putin remains more popular and more influential according to opinion polls, thanks to the economic boom he presided over for eight years, which raised living standards and ended post-Soviet political instability.

Critics accuse him of making the economy less sustainable by focusing too much on oil and gas exports, destabilizing the political system by retreating from democracy, and hurting society by encouraging state paternalism, where the state decides what is best for its citizens.

Analysts say Medvedev hopes to woo those alienated by Putin as well as those who did not benefit during the economic boom.

Freedoms Won't Be Curbed

Medvedev has pledged to diversify the economy and has called for more political competition, a contrast to the Putin presidency when sweeping powers were concentrated in the Kremlin and any public opposition discouraged.

Medvedev promised not to modernize Russia at the expense of political and social freedoms, citing the negative examples of the 18th-century Tsar Peter the Great and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"The impressive results of the two greatest modernizations in our country's history -- the imperial and the Soviet -- were paid for with devastation, humiliation, and the extermination of millions of our compatriots," Medvedev said.

"For the first time in history, we have a chance to prove to ourselves and the whole world that Russia can develop along the democratic path," he added.

Change would not come quickly or easily, he said.

"We will not rush," he said. "Haste and ill-considered decisions on political reforms have often led to tragic consequences in our history.

"Some will try to obstruct our work," he said, pointing to "influential groups of corrupt officials and businessmen.... But we will act...we will create a new Russia."

Medvedev's term ends in 2012, when he and Putin both will be able to run for a new longer six-year term.