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A New Democratic Agenda for Russia

MOSCOW – When Russian President Dmitri Medvedev delivered his annual address to the Federal Assembly I was struck by the fact that his speech seemed to be meant for an advanced, prosperous country, not the real Russia of today.

Russia will hold a presidential election in 2012. What happens in 2011 will, in my opinion, be even more important than the election itself. Indeed, the evolution of Russian society could transform Russian politics, despite those domestic opponents who deny change or those who unqualifiedly classify Russia as “incorrigibly authoritarian.” But, in order for that to happen, a new agenda for Russia must be developed this year.

A decade ago, defense of Russia’s territorial integrity and restoration of governability topped the list of priorities. People supported a president, Vladimir Putin, who was devoted to this “stabilization” agenda. We may debate the means by which it was pursued, and how successfully, but Russia’s “existential” challenges were largely overcome.

But progress on stabilization only highlighted Russia’s unresolved problems, which the global financial crisis exacerbated, but did not cause. After all, Russia’s resource-based, de-industrializing, expenditure-driven economy is the result of purely domestic choices. Nor was it the crisis that gave rise to corruption, which affects officialdom at all levels, or that caused Russia to lose its democratic dynamic.