INSOR Russia: Institute of Contemporary Development
Updated June 28, 2019

Time for Medvedev to Cross the Rubicon

July 27, 2011

In an editorial in Vedomosti on July 27, INSOR’s Yevgeny Gontmakher and Igor Yurgens warn that Dmitry Medvedev’s refusal to continue his presidency would cause a massive crisis in Russia.

The fact that our ways are far from democratic is clear to even the architects of the current political regime. But this in no way justifies the current procedure for the emergence of a candidate from the ruling tandem to run for president in 2012. Various conversations about how “when the time comes, we’ll sit down and decide” and, most importantly, the acquiescence of our political elite only serve to emphasize the how far Russia lags in the development of modern public institutions. 
 
As this happens, one of the part of the “tandem” is waging an open political campaign in favor of adhering to a course of stability, which in our specific situation has become synonymous with not even stagnation (a period we past during the pre-crisis years of the 2000s) but of a clear decay in all areas of Russian life. This is what has given rise to the All-Russia People’s Front (which clearly begs an analogy with the National Front in East Germany), and the declaration right and left of social promises for which there is no economic foundation to support. 

And what does the second, presidential, side say? We see attempts to shift the situation from that of decay to progress in the fight against corruption, toward a better business climate, toward the formation of effective foreign policy. But no breakthrough has been made. One gets the impression that even the most elementary steps of Dmitry Medvedev down the path toward modernization are not just talked into oblivion but are even sabotaged, even repudiated with countermeasures.  

We are principled opponents of any sort of personality cult or leaderism.

And thus we have no interest in falling at the feet of one of the members of the ruling “tandem” only because he insists on the necessity of modernization and is chairman of the board of trustees of the Institute of Contemporary Development. But we must, without waiting for any sort of decisive conversations within the “tandem”, help him find the resolve to take real steps to save the country, despite the fierce stonewalling of the “conservators” or simple the corrupt, who have privatized the state.

So the question arises: what will happen if due to some reasons unbeknown to the public Dmitry Medvedev decides not to make a claim on the presidency in 2012. We can say without a doubt that the sheer fact of the current president deciding not to continue his mandate will cause a major crisis in the country. The notorious “Mechel affair” will seem trivial in comparison to the crash of the Russian stock market. And on top of this we will see an acceleration of the current capital flight and emigration from Russia. People’s sense of justice, long trampled upon by shameless corruption and the state’s dismissive attitude toward its own population, could be transformed into all sorts of extremist outbreaks of the like seen on Manezh square. The collapse of the already weak economy will completely undermine the material base for provision of social welfare. The processes that are already beginning to undermine the principle of free education and healthcare services will become ever more prevalent. Expenditures on pensions will have to drastically cut back. In such a situation, in order to preserve the status quo authorities will have to tighten the screws on the political regime in a style similar to our partners in the Union state. That is the price of preserving the policy of supporting “stability”. For such a political, economic and social catastrophe, Putin would not even need to return directly to the president's office. It would be enough for a third figure to appear from the prime minister’s circle in the case of Dmitry Medvedev’s departure.

Thus the political fate of the current president is not exclusively his personal affair and it is not strictly an “intra-tandem” problem. In his hands practically lies the key for bringing this country into the real 21st century. And it is in this context that we, as citizens of Russia, are not ambivalent about who will be the next president of our country. We are not only demanding an answer to this pestilent question, and not in December but in the near future.

We insist that Dmitry Medvedev take political responsibility for the fate of the country as its president in 2012-2018.

The question arises: can someone else be found to take on the role of Russia’s reformer? Alas, our political system is such that we have a choice not between two leaders with differing modernization programs but only between two paths that have become sharply personified: “stabilization” as a synonym for stagnation, decay and inevitable national disaster and modernization as a very risky but not yet hopeless project. And it is with the realization of this second course that must come the formation of a competitive environment among those who want progress for their own country and not just a profitable business for themselves, their family and friends.

Another question arises: let’s say Dmitry Medvedev does take this step that is demanded, but then who will support him. And here, of course, we don’t mean specific figures, even the most authoritative, but rather the formation of a public coalition for modernization. And with this it seems to us that the situation is not so bad as it might seem at first glance.

The danger of economic collapse in the case of the victory of proponents of “stability” could persuade the hitherto voiceless big business to become an ally. Decisive measures to lower administrative pressure on small and mid-sized business (perhaps even this year already) could generate affection in these segments of society.

Another reserve is the more progressive universities and research centers, where our intellectual elite and brightest young minds are concentrated. They are inherently concerned about the situation in the country. Furthermore, a path to modernization with a clear program of specific measures could generate enthusiasm simply among those of us who are not indifferent, and according to surveys such people make up 15-20% of the population.

So there’s just one thing left to do: Dmitry Medvedev must cross his personal Rubicon and appeal directly to society with a call to take up together the difficult task of pulling the country out of the swamp into which we've fallen. And to ensure that this challenge does not go unanswered, it is imperative that the building of mechanisms for partnership between the state and society begin immediately. Of importance here is the decentralization of the state, provision of real freedom of press (including the creation of public television), liberalization of legislation on political parties and NGOs, and much more that will come out of Dmitry Medvedev’s equal and forthright dialogue with society.

We believe in the prosperous future of Russia.

Published in July 27, 2011, in Vedomosti