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Thoughts On Medvedev's Think Tank

Igor Yurgens is also a leader of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the so-called Oligarchs' Union.
Igor Yurgens is also a leader of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the so-called Oligarchs' Union.

I spent most of the last week dipping into the sometimes odious writings of Russia's leading conservative thinkers and was pleasantly surprised to find when I had emerged that a group of "liberals" has just penned its own manifesto on how to grow a democracy in Russia. I say "liberals" in quotation marks because the organization involved is the Modern Development Institute (INSOR), which is formally headed by President Dmitry Medvedev (in his good cop to Putin's bad cop persona) and comprises experts who are mostly of the reform-from-within school.

Political scientist Pavel Danilin, perhaps, gave the best description of INSOR: "All INSOR's activity is a sort of pressure," he told "The institute was created in order to exert some sort of pressure on the president of the Russian Federation. And the president, when he gave the institute its marching orders, directly said that it is necessary to tell the full truth, regardless of certain people or circumstances."

In short, anyone who holds out hope for liberalization under Medvedev (anyone?) should keep an eye on INSOR, which together with "reform-from-within" media like "Nezavisimaya gazeta," seem designed to show that there is demand for liberal reform in Russia. And, what is more important, that democratic reform can be carried out from the top down, which, of course, is the only way even a liberal like Medvedev is interested in even thinking about reform.

Unfortunately, for all my searching, I have not been able to find a text of the 80-page report, "Democracy: The Development Of The Russian Model," that INSOR has reportedly submitted to Medvedev (can anyone out there help me?). So I rely on a brief, sympathetic description provided by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and various reactions to that story scattered around runet. [Editor's note: A sharp-eyed reader has reported in that the report is available here. Thanks.)

According to the "Nezavisimaya" report, the INSOR manifesto -- which was organized and edited by economist Igor Yurgens -- catches Medvedev's attention by asserting that the government will not be able to achieve the economic goals of its "Strategy 2020" plan if it continues its "manual control" of the political system. Such ambitious targets cannot be met by a "vertical-hierarchical" system dominated by an entrenched bureaucracy. Such a system, the report warns delicately, will not be able to mediate between the authorities and society "in the event of a deteriorating socioeconomic environment." The authors even dare to use the word "destabilization"!

Among the tidbits quoted in the "Nezavisimaya" article, I chuckled most at the ironic understatement of this attempt to speak truth to power: "Up until now the Russian authorities have had the luxury of not focusing on the problems of the democratic development of the country."

Now, though, the report says the state must take the lead in improving the rule of law and "open competition" in both the economic and sociopolitical arenas. Luckily, such changes won't demand "the radical restructuring of existing institutions." Just a dab of paint here and there should suffice.

Although I will definitely read the report if I can find it, I am already pretty skeptical about it. First, it comes out just weeks after Medvedev laid out (handed down?) his own plan for strengthening democracy in Russia -- a plan that included a longer term of office for presidents and legislators and passing out a couple of token seats in the Duma to parties that manage to get 5 percent of the vote. The INSOR report seems a little bit late, and I wonder if it urges a seven-year presidential term as a way of strengthening democracy.

Maybe the thing that jumps out at me about the report, at least as it is summarized in the accounts I've read, is that it says nothing about the problem of the KGB/silovik penetration of all aspects of the current system. If anything is glaringly holding back any hope of democratization in Russia -- and if anything has the potential to undermine any reform effort including INSOR's -- it is that. And it's an issue no one in the "reform-from-within" school, to my knowledge, has come up with an answer for or even admitted is a problem. If INSOR's role is, as Medvedev said, " to tell the full truth, regardless of certain people or circumstances," I think this report likely needs further revision.

But coming to this report as I did straight from the works of people like Aleksandr Dugin, maybe the main thing I noticed is that in today's Russia, the conservatives roar at full throat, while the "liberals" barely meow.

-- Robert Coalson

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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