Kremlin to Cede Power to Fight Graft

President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that Moscow had to cede some of its powers to regional governments if it is to be successful in rooting out the corruption he described as having become a "way of life" in the country.

Medvedev's comments, made during the presentation of an ambitious anti-corruption program to federal officials and lawmakers, would suggest a break with the policies of his predecessor Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, who engineered a huge shift of authority from regional governments to the Kremlin during his eight years as president.

Some analysts, however, were skeptical Wednesday that Medvedev's plans would include any radical measures like the return of gubernatorial elections.

Medvedev said his plan for tackling corruption included "measures for handing over some federal powers to the regions … and some functions of government bodies to the nongovernmental sector."

The proposed measures will be cemented in new legislation, Medvedev said in comments published on his web site. He did not specify which federal powers might be ceded to the regions or of which responsibilities the state should divest itself, and a Kremlin spokesman declined immediate comment Wednesday.

But an analyst with a think tank to which Medvedev is closely linked said that, although the plan envisioned a transfer of some federal powers to the regional level, it didn't call for major political reforms.

"It won't trigger a significant correction in the political regime yet," said Boris Makarenko, director for social and political programs at the Institute of Contemporary Development, a think tank where Medvedev is head of the trustee council. "There is no politics involved, only new approaches."

Makarenko did say the federal government had too many responsibilities, some of which should be shifted to regional capitals. As an example, he cited the Emergency Situations Ministry, which regulates the location of fire-protection equipment in buildings across the country.

During his eight years as president, Putin moved to increase the Kremlin's control at the regional level, including scrapping gubernatorial elections on the pretext of fighting terrorism. Ironically, the nomination of governors by the president was later also promoted as a way to reduce corruption.

Today, the regions might be set to have some responsibilities returned, Makarenko said. "The regional authorities have become much more controllable."

Makarenko's institute on Wednesday unveiled a report calling for a liberalization of the country's political system.

"An indispensable condition for the success of Russia's modernization process is the significant liberalization of social and political life," said the report, titled: "Democracy: Development of the Russian Model."

Included in the report are calls for a system of political checks and balances, an independent judiciary and media, political freedoms, human rights and free and fair elections. It said there were no country-specific models of democracy and that the recent characterizations of Russia as a "sovereign democracy" or "managed democracy" were nothing more than "ideological cliches."

Makarenko would not say whether Medvedev's administration had commissioned the report, only that the president had approved work on the project.

Although the report does not mention gubernatorial elections, Makarenko said he was sure that governors would some day be chosen again by direct vote.

On the main subject of combating graft, Medvedev said he wanted anti-corruption legislation in place by the start of next year.

One of his first steps upon taking office was to order his administration to put together a comprehensive plan to battle corruption. On Wednesday, he announced that a draft had been submitted and that he was studying it.

The plan's main pillars include legislation defining corruption and more strictly defining requirements for state officials, including judges and Central Bank employees, and creating a system of public and parliamentary oversight over the legislation's implementation. He also called for stricter regulations on the management of state property and more legal education.

"A number of these laws can create tensions and be interpreted in different ways," he said. "We have to minimize these difficulties and enter a new year with modern anti-corruption legislation that we won't be ashamed of and that will be applied effectively."

"It's absolutely obvious that corruption in our country is a real and systemic evil that we have to battle," he added.

Medvedev also said too many state officials currently serve on the boards of state-owned companies. He said one official, in the capacity of chairman, was enough and that others should give up their spots.

"The rest of them are either engaged in lobbying or feeding at the trough," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Some are skeptical of the chances for Medvedev's anti-corruption campaign to bear fruit.

"Eight years ago, Putin was also saying all the right things," said Yevgeny Volk, the Moscow head of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, dismissing Wednesday's speech as a "PR-campaign ahead of the G8 summit," scheduled to kick off in Japan early next week.

Another suggestion was that the campaign was designed to show Medvedev as independent from Putin.

"It's clear Medvedev is facing an acute task in finding his own identity," said Sergei Mikheyev, deputy director at the Center for Political Technologies.

Makarenko said, however, that Medvedev's actions would most likely have already been coordinated with Putin.

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, repeating a theme often stressed by Medvedev, said Wednesday that economic success would be impossible without battling corruption.

"Small businesses lose more than 10 percent of their profits to extortion," Gryzlov told a business conference. "A wide-scale plan for fighting corruption is to be adopted by the parliament in the next few months."

Staff Writer Nadia Popova contributed to this report.