Medvedev’s Speech Promotes Change, Lacks Practicality

Dmitri Medvedev addressing the Federal Assembly. Source: kremlin.ruIn his second ever state of the nation address on Thursday, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev spoke at length of the importance of change for the future of the country.

The address to the Federal Assembly elicited a multi-faceted response from the population, with critics expressing doubt that the president could put force behind his rhetoric to tackle a broad array of foreign and domestic problems.

Among a series of necessary shifts, the president stated that Russia must develop a “smart” economy and that its “archaic society” must become “a society of intelligent, free, and responsible people.” From now on, Medvedev declared, “we will build a real Russia.”

The president noted that although Russia suffered from the world economic crisis more than many other countries, the government had nevertheless been successful in fulfilling its social functions. While the government could stabilize the economic situation in the social sphere, he said, the financial sector lacked innovation and needed to be perfected. He also revisited recent statements concerning the future of state-owned corporations, calling them “a futureless form of property” that should be liquidated if they are non-competitive.

Medvedev also criticized Russia’s foreign policy, saying that the country should not take an egotistical stance since “we are interested in the intake of capital.” He added that current policy activities opposing NATO have been a mistake.

In a proposed series of electoral reforms, Medvedev proposed allowances for regional parties to build factions, for parties garnering more than 5 percent of the vote to take part in legislative meetings, and to abolish a requirement for candidates to collect signatures in order to appear on the ballot.

The president did not, however, address a recent set of fraudulent elections, which he has previously admitted were flawed. Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the oppositionist Yabloko party, said that the Medvedev’s electoral proposals were “microscopic steps to democratization,” but that “the basic flaws did not change at all.”

Regarding ongoing conflicts in the Caucuses, Medvedev called for the federal government to take a main role in fighting “an unprecedented level of corruption, violence, [and] cronyism” in the region. The comments follow a number of recent high-profile killings in the Caucuses blamed on power conflicts between the government, security forces, and various militant factions.

The war on corruption has numbered high on Medvedev’s stated list of priorities since taking office, and he continued his criticism in his address on Thursday. Saying that the problem needed to be tackled from all directions, the president stressed that a solution would only come over time: “We won’t solve the problem in a single bound, but we have to dig in.”

Despite his criticism of the status quo, Medvedev concluded his speech on a hopeful note. “I believe in a new Russia,” he said. “We must remember and respect our past and work realistically for the sake of our future.” In conclusion, the president declared: “Go, Russia!”

Numerous critics felt that while the president’s proposals were praiseworthy, the lack of any viable solutions caused them to ring hollow. Boris Nemtsov, a former Deputy Prime Minister and co-founder of the opposition party Union of Right Forces, said that Medvedev lacked the political power to push any of his proposals forward. “In order to bring about modernization, Putin needs to be kicked out, and accordingly, the Putin hierarchy needs to be dismantled,” he said in an interview with Therefore, Nemtsov concluded, Medvedev “delivered the right diagnosis, but with these guys you nothing works out. I think that, deep down, the president understands that the tasks he has put forward are unachievable.”

An editorial in the Vedomosti newspaper echoed Nemtsov’s concerns. “The plans for modernization outlined in the president’s address do not match his own conclusions about the state of the country’s economy,” the editorial said. “The measures proposed are inadequate to deal with the problems the country is facing.”

A full text of the speech can be found by clicking here.