Russia’s former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has named 2012 “a year of missed opportunities,” on the basis that the government failed to undergo democratic reforms and introduced further restrictions on civil society. Nevertheless, he believes that Russian society still has hope to transform for the better in the future, Kasparov.ru reports.
Over the past year, society has changed course and begun moving along a course towards increased political mobilization, Kudrin believes – one that is impossible to reverse.
“The decrease in protesters might give the impression that society is returning to political stagnation,” he said. “But that would be a mistake.” On the contrary, Kudrin predicts that civil activity is only going to increase in the coming year.
The year 2012 saw an upswing in calls for political action within society. Among the most prominent examples, Kudrin cited the volunteer camps in Krymsk after that city suffered a devastating flood this past summer and electoral observation organizations.
At times, these projects were developed in spite of government actions that stifle civil activity. “There is a series of laws, such as the changes in the definition of ‘state treason’ and the stricter law on mass protests, that has led to a rise in distrust in populist actions,” Kudrin said. “The chance to reduce the tension within society that followed the parliamentary elections [in December 2011] has been missed.”
Kudrin noted that the government did take some positive measures, such as easing political party registration and a introducing a mixed electoral system, but said this was not sufficient.
The ex-finance minister had a reserved opinion about the Russian opposition’s new Coordination Council, which held elections last October. “We were interested to watch the council’s elections. It was a good experience. However, in my opinion, they should have chosen a platform and then, after that, formed a structure. The Coordination Council did it the other way around,” he said.
Kudrin had even harsher words about the negative effect on the Russian economy of the Kremlin’s anti-Western rhetoric. He argued that it is impossible to talk about Moscow as an international financial center if the government remains so suspicious of foreigners.
“The largest companies already doubt whether it’s worth expanding their staffs of international employees or whether it’s better to cut them back. These businesses haven’t been given clear rules of the game,” he said.
He also strongly criticized the work of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev’s cabinet. “Instead of privatization, we’re seeing creeping deprivatization,” Kudrin said. “Although, the Rosneft deal to buy TNK-BP has led to the deregulation of 40 billion dollars in shares. That’s several times bigger than all of the government’s privatization plans.”
Kudrin said that Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization was a positive step, but noted that the decision had already been made under Medvedev’s presidency, not Putin’s. He declined to comment directly on Medvedev’s decision not to run for a second presidential term.
While the economic plan that Putin put forth during his December 12 address to parliament was good, Kudrin said, “there aren’t realistic ways to implement it.” He also believes that the president still has not firmly established policy for his third term and could still change course.
One important factor to support the country’s economic growth is migrants, the former finance minister added. “The state should strictly regulate migration. Today we issue about 2 million work migration permits, but in reality we have more than 10 million migrants,” he said. “This speaks to the fact that we have insufficient regulation. We need to help migrants become legalized and attract workers while taking local communities into account. The size of our working population is shrinking.”
Kudrin, who is considered one of Putin’s closest confidants, resigned as finance minister last year just days after Putin announced that he planned to return to the presidency. At the time, Kudrin complained that he could not serve as finance minister under a cabinet led by Dmitri Medvedev, who then suggested that he resign.
In the time since then, Kudrin has founded the Civic Initiatives Committee. “It’s not a political party and it has no goals of taking over the government,” Kudrin explained. “We opened the New Government School to teach those who are interested in working for local governmental agencies. People of entirely different convictions come here, from Parnas to members of United Russia.”
Kudrin also announced that the committee was going to work to support honest journalism, the defense of businesses, and social/cultural projects.
“Why am I, an economist, doing these things? Because economic reforms are hindered by an imperfect political system,” Kudrin explained.