Monday, April 12, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Time Has Passed and His Return to Presidency Would Be Dangerous for Russia, Moscow Experts Warn

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 12 – Vladimir Putin’s time has passed, his efforts to preserve rather than modernize the country’s political and economic systems are opening the way to disaster, and his return to the Russian presidency would be dangerous for Russia, according to two scholars who recently prepared a report about Russia’ future for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
In an interview published in today’s “Delovoy Peterburg,” Yevgeny Gontmakher, the head of the Center of Social Policy at the Academy of Sciences Institute of Economics, and Igor Yurgens, the head of the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development, lay out the reasons for their conclusions (
The paper’s Natalya Belogrudova begins by asking Yurgens whether as many in the West have suggested that Medvedev has “humanized the Russian powers that be.” Yurgens responds that Medvedev “represents a new generation of people” and that “it is absolutely evident” that under him, the Kremlin has been more interested in ideas.
But Yurgens suggests that it would be “premature” to say that this change, which has captured the imagination and support of the intelligentsia, has attracted “a large part of the electorate,” even though “Dmitry Medvedev undoubtedly has acquired a cluster of supporters.” Whether he would win “if the elections were tomorrow,” however, “is an open question.”
Pressed by Belogrudova to explain his recent comment to Reuters that if Putin returned to the office of president, “he would go down in history as Brezhnev Number Two,” Yurgens says that statement reflects both the reality that people get tired of any leader after he has been in office for too long.
And, more important, he continues, it reflects that fact that “Vladimir Vladimirovich is a man of the times of collecting stones and stabilization. The time of modernization has come.” Putin calls for “conservative modernization, but this in essence is an oxymoron. There can be either modernization or conservatism. A third is not possible.”
Those around Putin, Yurgens says, are “preservers both by preparation and mentality. The time of other people has come.” Consequently, “the coming of Vladimir Putin to power [as president] in 2012 both for himself and for the system as a whole would be a politically risky step.”
Asked whether Putin’s return was likely, Yurgens says “at present no one can calculate that besides two people, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. They have frequently told us that they will decide this question. This isn’t very democratic and demeans a significant part of the intelligentsia, but it is a fact.” The only sure thing is that elections will happen.
Turning to Gontmakher, the “Delovoy Peterburg” correspondent asks him why there is “not real strong opposition” in Russia now. Gontmakher says that this reflects the policies of Putin who during his presidency did what he could to “cleanse” the entire political space of the country.
As a result, Gontmakher continues, there are real dangers. They consist in the fact that “in the bouillon of dissatisfaction which is bubbling as a result of the absence of a competitive political system sooner or later an extra-systemic leader of an unofficial type may appear.”
That is what happened in Germany in the 1930s, he points out, implying that unless the Russian system opens up something similar could happen in the Russian Federation at some time in the future. To prevent that, he says, it is necessary for the country “to change the political elite now.”
“That elite which was formed in the course of recent years of oil and gas stagnation does not need change. It is satisfied with everything. The problems which are growing from below, it does not see, or it does not want to see.” And consequently, it will resist change rather than help promote it.
Forming “a new elite,” Gontmakher continues, “will be possible only through the creation of a health political system: when there are real and not invented political parties and when there appear outspoken leaders and no one suppresses them. There is nothing terrible that they will ‘gnaw away’ at the leadership.” That is what politics is about.
Yurgens adds that what the powers that be view as support is simply the weariness people feel after almost 25 years of change. But that quiescence is deceptive in a double way. On the one hand, it conceals the contempt many have for their leaders; on the other, it conceals a desire for competition and an end to monopolies in economics and politics.
Around Medvedev people are “constantly” analyzing the situation, not only of the country as it now is but as it will be 20 years from now when the oil and gas will not be in a position to purchase the security of the country and of its current powers that be. At that point, these people understand that Russia will become a “Third World country” if nothing is done.
Asked by Belogrudova whether he “really” thinks Medvedev is thinking about the country 20 years from now, Yurgens said that in his view Medvedev, even though he knows he will not be in office, “cannot but be thinking that this son should live in a country with which the world will take into account.”
And Gontmakher concludes that “in the ruling elite now there are two positions: one is interested in preserving what is and does not think it is necessary to change anything. The other part of the elite really thinks about what the country will be likely five to ten years from now and thus does not want to put up with the current situation.”
“Whether this part of the elite has strength” enough to change the situation, he says, “is an open question. In fact, everything will depend on who will be president in 2012,” someone who is for preserving the existing system or someone who is interested in modernizing Russia for the future.

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