Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Russia 'needs radical reform'

By James Rodgers
BBC News

A Russian research institute has suggested radical changes to the way the country is run - warning that they are necessary if Russia is to modernise.

Drimtry Medvedev delivers his state of the nation address
Mr Medvedev has called for reform to Russia's "primitive" economy

The proposals, in "21st Century Russia: The image of the tomorrow we want" amount to a call for a reversal of many of the changes introduced in Russia in the last 10 years.

It is a striking document - all the more so because the Institute of Contemporary Development, which published it, has close ties to the Kremlin.

President Dmitry Medvedev chairs its board of trustees.

Yet this reads not like praise of past achievement - but like a catalogue of criticism. One section, "back to the constitution", even echoes an opposition slogan.

From the start, it sets out a stark vision of Russia's predicament.

"Russia has fallen into a historical trap," the authors warn.

"It needs to make another modernising leap forward, but it faces doing so in conditions where too much is disposed towards inertia and decay."

The institute criticises Russia's bureaucracy, argues for the introduction of multi-party democracy, and calls for the abolition of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor agency to the Soviet-era secret police, the KGB.

Aware of shortcomings

There is a note of optimism. "Historical experience shows that the situation is not hopeless," it says.

But the authors go on to argue that moves towards "the values of freedom and law, democracy and the market", were left incomplete.

Vladimir Putin
The report recommends reversal of some of Mr Putin's policies

It adds up to an urgent call for change - if President Medvedev's recent goal of modernisation is to be achieved.

The report further calls for the presidential term to be cut from seven to five years - almost a direct reversal of a recent reform.

And that, really, is the point. Much of the document can be read as implicit criticism of many of the changes introduced since Vladimir Putin became the main power in Russian politics 10 years ago.

His successor as president, Mr Medvedev, has always been Mr Putin's staunch ally - but there may now be renewed speculation of a rift between them.

Neither has spoken publicly about the document. The news agency Ria Novosti quotes Arkady Dvorkovich, an aide to President Medvedev, as telling Vedomosti newspaper that Mr Medvedev had received a draft report of the proposals a few weeks ago, but had yet to comment.

Some of the criticism of contemporary Russia - talk of inertia and inefficient bureaucracy - is not so different from remarks the president himself has made in recent months.

Few of the proposed changes are likely to become government policy - but the fact that they are being discussed by people who have the president's ear suggests that the Russian political establishment is aware of the country's shortcomings, and worried for its future.

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