Toppling Russia’s Modernizers

MOSCOW – Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s decision to fire Moscow’s long entrenched mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, is the most decisive move he has made in his presidency. Is it really part of his drive to modernize Russia, or part of an emerging power play with Moscow’s real strong man, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin?

Anatoly Chubais, the father of Russian privatization in the 1990’s and the current head of the country’s nano-technology conglomerate RosNano, recently admitted that the prospects for political modernization in Russia are dim. “Today,” he said, “no demand for it exists. Such demand requires a social group to promote it.” He went even further in a conversation with foreign investors, suggesting that the threat of fascism in Russia will grow to the point that “discussions about Putin and Medvedev, Medvedev or Putin, will pale in comparison.”

This gloomy view might be explained by the interest Chubais has in stopping the West from challenging Russia’s rulers for violating human rights and curtailing freedom. To avoid an even worse alternative, the United States and Europe should support the Putin-Medvedev tandem, in the hope that they provide a stable and secure environment for investment. Chubais, a one-time reformer, is now totally complicit in the regime’s policies. Nevertheless, he is telling the truth.

Russia’s chief modernizer and protégé of President Dmitri Medvedev, Igor Yurgens of the Institute of Contemporary Development, thinks in much the same way. Indeed, he suggests that Russians “are not citizens, but rather some sort of tribe,” and that the archaic character of Russian society is not likely to change before 2050.