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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report Says Crisis Curbs Need for Democracy

Russia does not need to move toward greater democracy because the financial crisis requires strong leadership, a think tank close to United Russia said in a report.

The report appears to pour cold water on President Dmitry Medvedev's declared intentions of cautiously reforming Russia's tightly controlled political system.

"It would be more honest and realistic to say that the democratization of Russia's political system in the near future cannot be a priority. ... The priority for now is good governance," the Public Projects Institute, which is headed by senior State Duma Deputy Vladimir Pligin, said in the report released last week.

It was authored by 100 people including Pligin and Public Chamber member Alexander Brod. Its conclusions appeared to chime with those of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who heads United Russia.

Vedomosti earlier published unusually frank remarks about Russia's political system from what it said was an early draft of the report. These were missing from the final version.

"Regional leaders ... are appointed via arrangements strongly reminiscent of regional committee secretary nominations in the Soviet era," Vedomosti cited the report as saying.

It said Russia's tightly controlled media resembled that of the Soviet media during the so-called period of stagnation prior to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms in the 1980s.

Medvedev has carefully cultivated an image as a liberal since his election, though analysts say he has made very few substantive changes so far. Medvedev has suggested reducing the minimum amount of votes that a party needs to gain parliamentary representation and giving the opposition better access to the media.

But the report for United Russia said the priorities lay elsewhere and implicitly suggested that Putin's presidency from 2000 to 2008 was a model for successful government.

"In times of war and crisis, a successful political system becomes charismatic and therefore inevitably more authoritarian. A storm requires a captain," the report said.

Not everyone is happy at the state of politics. Earlier this month, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov made a strong public attack on the Kremlin's system of "vertical power" set up by Putin.

"Russia is walking away from the process of democratization. ... The level of centralization is worse than in Soviet times," Rakhimov told Moskovsky Komsomolets on June 5.

Some commentators played down the significance of Rakhimov's remarks, saying the veteran leader was about to be replaced and was taking advantage of his situation to criticize the Kremlin. But some of what he said still rang true for critics of the government.

"It's pretty clear a mass-scale democratization will never take place in Russia," said Stanislav Belkovsky, founder of the National Strategy Institute.