Moscow 2041

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Dec. 25, 2041. Moscow. Today, President Dmitry Medvedev presided over the 50th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, now a national holiday marked by parades, speeches and a spike in drunk-driving fatalities.

Operating on the principle that if you must have a president, then the fewer the better, Russia has re-elected Dmitry Medvedev for the seventh time. The constitutional prohibition on serving more than two consecutive terms has been scrupulously observed throughout. Elected in 2008 and again in 2012, Medvedev was replaced by Vladimir Putin in 2016. After Putin's second term ended in 2024, Medvedev was re-elected by an overwhelming majority of the vote with the Kasparov-Yavlinsky-Limonov-Zyuganov bloc receiving only 960 votes nationwide. Medvedev served from 2024 to 2032 before stepping down. Aided by 21st-century medical breakthroughs, Putin was able to serve again from 2032 to 2040, completing his second term at 87 years old and looking like he was no older than 60.

Running on a platform of "continuity and experience," Medvedev won re-election in 2040 by a landslide, and the Kasparov-Yavlinsky-Limonov-Zyuganov bloc splintered into five separate parties.

As Russia's democracy evolved along its own specific, sovereign path, there were many calls to change the title of the country's ruler. Some thought president sounded too American, while others thought it sounded too much like rezident, the word for an espionage station chief (of course, a certain contingent favored it for precisely that reason). Among the new titles proposed was "tsarident," briefly popular because of its historical inclusiveness, but in the end Medvedev ruled that "president" was best.

But just what sort of society will Medvedev be ruling 50 years after the fall of the Soviet Union? There are three basic possibilities -- ruin, muddling through or triumphant success.

Russia comes to ruin by failing to diversify its economy, relying even more on oil (After Gazprom moves its headquarters to St. Petersburg, it is nicknamed Petrolgrad.) But the invention of a cheap oil substitute, which made yet another American geek fabulously wealthy, puts the country out of business. Russia becomes simply one of Europe's utilities, supplying natural gas. The souther Muslim republics secede without fanfare or bloodshed. China gobbles up chunks of the Russian Far East, and Siberia debates becoming a country of its own as it had been briefly after the 1917 Revolution. The birth rate continues to fall, and some sardonic commentators suggest importing the United States' illegal immigrants from Mexico on the theory that Latin lovers might spike up the birth rate.

In his comic novel "Moscow 2042," Vladimir Voinovich depicted Moscow as a city that finally achieved communism. In the past, people had used the Pravda newspaper as toilet paper, whereas now, under communism, Pravda is actually printed in toilet-paper form. Something similar occurs in the muddle-through version. Russia is becoming weaker and poorer, but Moscow continues its boom fueled by natural gas revenues and a real estate bubble. The streets are paralyzed by Bentley gridlock. Rail transportation has become extremely iffy. The city is supplied by plane, the first Gucci airlift taking place in October 2037.

The third scenario is one of grand success. In Medvedev's first term, Russia for once takes the long-term view. It is able to look beyond the mirage of oil wealth and diversify both economically and politically, producing a stable, just and progressive society. Not only that, early and wise investments in areas like nanotechnology pay off big. The country's main resource proves not to be oil but its human capital -- in other words, the geeks changing history are now Russian. Money, the greatest aphrodisiac, pours in and the birth rate spikes up. Against all odds, Russia becomes a normal, civilized and even slightly dull country. Let's just hope that this scenario is not the most far-fetched of the three.

Richard Lourie is the author of "A Hatred For Tulips" and "Sakharov: A Biography."