Eesti Elu
Russian modernisation – an impossible dream, or a realistic goal?
Arvamus 06 Aug 2010  Eesti Elu
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Recently at a meeting of Russian ambassadors and top diplomats president Dmitri Medvedev revealed intended radical changes in the country’s foreign policy which would align Russia with the major international players of the west.

Without abandoning important relations with CIS countries and China, Medvedev specifically mentioned the US, Germany, France, and the EU as a whole as important for “establishing modernisation alliances”. From these renewed relationships Medvedev hopes to benefit from technological innovations that would help, as the first step, in modernising the Russian economy and production. Secondly emphasis would be placed on consolidation of the country’s democracy and civil society. Lastly Medvedev also mention the importance of dealing with organised crime.

The intention then is not only to boost Russia technologically but also to target democracy and civil society by taking western versions as models. The vice president of Russia’s Political Technology Centre Alexei Makarkin commented: “There is nothing to borrow in this respect from Iranian Islamists or Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.“

Medvedev`s determination, may have been betrayed by his insistence, when mentioning future relations with Iran, that kid-glove diplomacy should still be pursued in finding a solution to the current nuclear stand-off. Iran ``behaves itself not in the best way`` and `ìs approaching a potential that can be used for manufacturing nuclear weapons``. But, he insisted that Russia must continue to engage Iran in friendly dialogue.

Included in the program for modernisation is the intent to promote the humanisation of the social system everywhere in the world, but above all at home. This would include the conformity to democratic standards, if this meets the interests of Russian democracy. Russian media noted that Russian diplomats have never previously been given such radically new directions.

Some of the motivation behind such an historic announcement could be the economic condition of the government and country, as pointed out by the Russian internet site that indicates that the main reason for such a sweeping change in Russian foreign policy is a shortage of funds to finance modernisations in transport, technological innovations etc. The Ministry for Economic Development has estimated that Russia needs one trillion (US) to implement planned social and infrastructure changes till 2013. The military costs at least 30 billion (US) annually. Therefore, because the federal budget and the Central Bank reserves cannot handle such a huge burden, support will be sought from the EU and the US, and totally new foreign policy directions must energetically help this along.

Does Medvedev realize that there are solidly entrenched stakeholders in the changes that he theoretically envisions as necessary to make progress in the Russian new course. The Russian political elite have served him and Vladimir Putin well in helping them to grasp and consolidate both power and wealth. They have a well-known lack of trust in civil society and promote economic development mandated from above. They support the central role of the state, distrust liberal democracy and trust the seeming effectiveness of vertical power.

Amongst other unsurpassable obstacles that genuine modernization must overcome is the saturation of corruption within most sectors of Russian society that blocks serious and enthusiastic western investors. The hazards that make potential western business people wary reside not only in the Russian judiciary and bureaucracy, but also in the financial interests of the entrenched elite with close ties to the highest political decision makers. Russian sceptics could tear the planned initiatives to shreds.
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