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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Pans 'Surkov Democracy'

After advocating the concept of "sovereign democracy" for months, United Russia did an about-face this week, deciding to omit the concept from the political program it plans to release in September.

The party's decision came after First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is seen as a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin, criticized the concept in an interview published last week in Expert magazine.

When qualifiers are added to the term "democracy," it acquires "a strange taste," Medvedev said. "This creates the impression that we are talking about a nontraditional [kind of] democracy, and this immediately establishes a particular perspective," Medvedev said.

The concerted rejection of "sovereign democracy" by top officials is part of the Kremlin's attempt to head off further criticism from the West of its record on supporting democracy, political analysts said.

Vladislav Surkov, Putin's powerful deputy chief of staff, introduced the term "sovereign democracy" in February after urging the so-called party of power to define its ideology for voters ahead of the 2007 State Duma elections. Surkov coordinates the Kremlin's work with United Russia.

In a meeting with foreign journalists in late June, Surkov defined a "sovereign democracy" as one that acts in its own national interest. "We want to be an open nation among other open nations and to cooperate with them under fair rules, not to be managed from outside," he said.

Asked to differentiate "sovereign democracy" from "managed democracy," a concept that had long been in circulation but had fallen from favor in official circles, Surkov said that "managed democracy" was "a model of ineffective economic and political regimes managed from the outside and tied to certain centers of global influence."

A "sovereign democracy," by contrast, "does not differ from European democracy in its basic tenets," Surkov said. "I hope in time our neighbors and partners will understand us."

Despite Surkov's attempts to define the term, "sovereign democracy" has been widely interpreted as a euphemism for the Kremlin's tightening grip on power, which has removed nearly all meaningful checks on the executive branch.

Following Western criticism of Russia's record on democracy at the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, the Kremlin has apparently decided to distance itself from Surkov's concept.

Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov, a leader of United Russia, said Monday that the party's program could not be built around the concept of "sovereign democracy."

Surkov "is a well-educated person," Morozov said. "He, just like anyone else who is a member of the party or cooperates with us, has the right to suggest ideas." Morozov added, however, that basing United Russia's program on Surkov's concept would be a mistake.

Morozov said the party's mission was "to make the people trust the powers that be in this country."

United Russia has been criticized for having no program or ideology beyond supporting the president.

At a conference last week called "The Economy of a Sovereign Democracy: How to Promote Faster Growth in Russia," organized by United Russia, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov also criticized Surkov's concept.

"What is sovereign democracy? This sort of democracy could be used to deny democratic values common to all mankind, such as the separation of powers, freedom of choice and so on," Primakov said. "I am strongly against words and concepts like this. You can see a deep, negative meaning behind it."

Political analysts said Tuesday that the high-profile criticism of "sovereign democracy" indicated an attempt by the Kremlin to deflect criticism of its record on democracy.

"With all the criticism coming from the West, and after many Western analysts compared Surkov's idea to the Soviet notion of 'people's democracy,' which had nothing to do with democracy, the Kremlin has figured out a way to divert attention from the concept," said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the Indem think tank.

"This does not mean that they have abandoned the idea for good, however," he said.

Dmitry Orlov, director of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, a Moscow-based think tank, said the Kremlin was unlikely to do away entirely with such a useful concept.