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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev Says Democracy Growing

APYabloko co-founder Grigory Yavlinsky, right, and party leader Sergei Mitrokhin meeting with Medvedev last week.��
President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia is taking steps toward greater democracy, defending electoral reforms that Kremlin critics say are just window dressing on the tightly controlled political system that Vladimir Putin put in place as president.

Medvedev met with leaders of three minor political parties — Yabloko, Patriots of Russia and Right Cause — and offered them hope that they will someday win seats in the State Duma, which is dominated by Putin's United Russia party.

Medvedev has spoken out in favor of pluralism and lowered some of the barriers that Putin threw up to keep opponents out of the Duma and other power structures during his eight-year presidency.

He suggested at the meeting that the changes he has initiated — including a law that will give one or two seats to parties winning 5 percent to 7 percent of the vote in Duma elections instead of shutting them out entirely — marked slow but sure democratic progress.

"I believe these decisions are aimed to create a modern, more democratic political system," Medvedev said in televised remarks during the meeting Thursday at his residence outside Moscow.

"Of course, the formation of the political system is proceeding constantly," he added, apparently eager to avoid the impression that he was criticizing Putin. Many people believe that Putin still holds the country's reins.

Medvedev met with leaders of Yabloko, a liberal party that has been out of the Duma since 2003; the little-known nationalist party Patriots of Russia; and Right Cause, a party created last year with Kremlin support.

Medvedev used the meeting to strike an inclusive tone in comments shown on state television. He pointed out that the parties have tens of thousands of members and said it was "quite likely" that they will "sooner or later" win seats in the Duma.

But despite Medvedev's talk of democracy, critics say the Kremlin has continued to maintain its tight grip over politics, using its clout to keep opponents off television screens and out of public office.

The political reforms that Medvedev has initiated "absolutely do not change, not an iota, the political construction that Putin has handed over to Medvedev — if he has actually handed it over," said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"These are small, decorative changes whose purpose is to demonstrate that something is changing, something is improving, something is democratizing, but they in no way change the whole political design," Petrov said.