Thomas Gomart, Vice President for Strategic Development and Director of the Russia and Newly Independent States Centre at the French Institute of International Relations, shares his views with valdaiclub.com on the future of the Russian political and economic system after the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly on December 22.
President Medvedev’s Address to the Federal Assembly was one of the first political replies to the demonstrators after the first wave of demonstrations in Moscow on December 10 and before the second one on December 24. This reply was important in a way, because to some extent it was made to undermine the second, bigger demonstration in Moscow. Concerning its content, it seems that there is a sort of a gap between the claims coming from the demonstrators and what was said by President Medvedev.
There are two main points in the president’s statement. The first one is about the election of governors, which could be seen as a desire to make the political system in Russia more open. The other point reflects the president’s wish to make television less state-controlled and to open it up to different sectors of society. This is certainly an important problem and the solution might be significant for the future of Russia.
It is possible that the results of the parliamentary elections and the opposition reaction accelerated the decision to reform the political system. That is why the election on December 4 can be seen as a turning point for Russian domestic politics. In this context it seems that the decentralization of power mentioned in the president’s speech, is not seen as essential. The main issue is not the proposals themselves, but their connection to the preparations for the presidential elections on March 4.
Russia will have to face certain challenges in the economic sphere in order to solve the problems of economic modernization. In the short term, one of the important things for Russia is what is going on in Europe, because if there is a deep recession in Europe, which is possible, there is no doubt that Russia will suffer as well because of its external trade relations with the European market.
So in 2012 the Russian authorities will be very careful and will focus their attention on the situation within the EU market first, and on the emerging markets second. In the medium term, Russia must tackle the challenge to diversify the Russian economy, to improve financial activity and to increase energy prices. In the long term, the main issue is to clearly define its position with regard to the emerging countries and pay attention to the level and quality of its human capital. The main challenge for Russia will be its positioning within the global economy, as well as its ability to develop the Eastern part of its territory.