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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Go Medvedev!

When President Dmitry Medvedev published his “Go Russia!” article last week, he issued a call to all Russians, including me. He said, “I would also invite those who do not agree with my ideas but sincerely desire change for the better to be involved.” That is why I will not follow the path taken by my friends and colleagues who sneered, with some justification, at the article’s journalistic inaccuracies and flowery style, and who even claimed that Medvedev lacks the right or the ability to move Russia forward. I will only comment on what seems most important to me.

Medvedev’s article brings to mind statements made by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev early in his term when he called for accelerating the country’s economic growth. Medvedev is still hostage to the 25-year-old idea that he, as president, is able to determine how, and in which direction, the economy should develop. He apparently believes that there is too much government in the social sphere, but in matters of the economy, he can personally tell “influential groups of corrupt officials and do-nothing ‘entrepreneurs’” what they should do and how they should do it in order to build a “new, free, prosperous and strong Russia.”

From this premise proceed five strategic vectors for “the economic modernization of our country” that he, as president, “recently identified.” At first glance, they resemble a new edition of the “national projects.” But unlike the previous projects, which served the interests of the people, these are designed for the sake of the state and to satisfy the ambitions of its leaders. The items on Medvedev’s list are revisions of then-President Vladimir Putin’s megaprojects, additions to the old idea of Russia as an energy and nuclear superpower.

The main problem lies not in defining where Medvedev envisions the possibility of economic breakthroughs occurring, but in his Soviet-era belief that scientific and technological progress will lead to improvements in the political realm. It apparently does not occur to him that the economy cannot be effective if the political system is insufficiently free or fair. If to use the analogy of a horse and cart, then the economy is the cart. According to Medvedev, we will also have an excellent political system one day. “It will be extremely open, flexible and inwardly complex,” he said. Medvedev argues that political reforms are already headed in the proper direction and that “we will not rush” these changes.

In his article, the president quotes both Alexander Pushkin and Confucius. At the same time, there is something in Medvedev’s style reminiscent of Nikolai Gogol and his character Manilov. In a political sense, Medvedev resembles Manilov in his inability to construct — with either words or deeds — a bridge that reaches from the problems of the present to the bright future he describes.

It does seem a bit strange for Medvedev to be asking in which direction we should proceed at the midpoint of his presidential term. But we can help the president by pointing to the old Chinese proverb, “The longest journey begins with the first step.” Medvedev’s first step toward driving political development should be to reinstate free, competitive elections. Once that is started, we will not so much have to accelerate growth, as keep it in check. Gorbachev achieved only limited success in this area. Perhaps Medvedev will fare better.

Go Medvedev!

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.