Valdai Club Roundtable: Unveiling the Russia Development Index 2012-2013
Moscow, Berlin

On November 12, Tuesday, the Valdai Discussion Club held a roundtable and Moscow-Berlin videoconference to present the results of the Russia Development Index 2012-2013.

Participants included Sergei Karaganov, dean of the HSE Department of World Economy and Politics, chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy; Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs Magazine; Irina Hakamada, head of the Our Choice Creative Centre, social activist and writer; Alexander Rahr, Senior Advisor Russia for Wintershall Holding, consultant to the President of the German-Russian Chamber of Foreign Commerce; and Pavel Andreev, Executive Director of Valdai Club Foundation, acted as moderator.

The Index – also known as the Valdai Index – offers a comprehensive assessment of Russia’s development in eight key areas: the political system, the economy, the human dimension, science and innovative development, Russia's role in national, regional and global security, foreign policy, openness to the world and soft power. The poll of experts was conducted in August-September 2013.

The Valdai Club experts polled for the index were positive about the country's growing role in national, regional and global security, as well as its foreign policy initiatives and use of soft power. However they were most downbeat on Russia’s political institutions and the lack of public confidence in them, and on economic trends.

In his opening remarks, Pavel Andreev emphasized that “the decline in confidence in government authorities is a global trend.” He also said, that according to the poll “the regions can act as the driver of Russian domestic policy, and make a positive contribution to it.”

According to Sergei Karaganov , to achieve balanced development in Russia, intellectual elites must work together. “It is necessary to elaborate several clear projects and, most important, adopt a national strategy that does not exist right now,” he said. Karaganov added that the index is low in part because “Russian elites broadcast a negative image of Russia and pessimism about the country abroad.”

Irina Khakamada considered the index objective except for evaluation of soft power. “It is increasingly difficult to rule the country, political institutions are losing confidence, and we are extremely dependent on raw materials,” she said. “Even in our active foreign policy we are following the traditional pattern of oil or gas supplies. We are not making any breakthroughs.” Regarding economic trends in Russia, she said: “According to different estimates, we will find ourselves somewhere between a sluggish recession and very slow economic growth of 3%-3.5% in the next five years. Russia’s massive spending programs to improve living standards and the risk of a budget deficit for the first time in long-term perspective could result in mounting debt.”

Alexander Rahr provided a Western view on Russia’s changing image. He noted the social achievements of the past year, and said that as a foreign observer he does not think that “Russians are sliding into poverty.” He also pointed to “the emergence of a middle class and medium-sized businesses in Russia” and spoke highly of “Russia’s unconventional diplomacy with respect to Syria.” But Rahr also expressed concern that “Russia has more nationalism than democracy.”

Fyodor Lukyanov also supported the objectivity of the poll. “Experts have grasped the main features of our current position – both the positive and the worrisome,” he said. Lukyanov expressed apprehension over the growing gap between negative perceptions of Russia’s domestic situation and positive perceptions of its foreign policy. “I think the Valdai index should be viewed as a warning that we shouldn’t rely on international success (foreign policy and soft power) alone, as this can be somewhat deceptive. What is taking place inside the country often outweighs efforts to improve the national image,” he said.

The participants held a separate discussion on the critical decline in perceptions of tolerance in Russia, particularly as it relates to perceptions that patriotism is at a high. Andreev questioned the results of the poll weighting whether patriotism in Russia is largely relates to nationalism. Khakamada agreed, noting that “nationalism emerges when people are dissatisfied with living conditions and efforts are made to find a domestic enemy to focus their attention on.” She expressed doubt that perceptions of growing patriotism in Russia are a good thing.

Speaking about the Valdai Club in general, Rahr said: “We have achieved the goal set two or three years ago: we have become an impartial think tank, which is hard to find in the world. This fact is reflected in the objective results of the index.” He added that “this is exactly how Western experts on Russia would answer these questions.”

To determine the index for 2012/2013 87 experts from 25 countries – Austria, Armenia, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Germany, Israel, India, Iraq, Italy, Canada, China, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Poland, Slovakia, the United States, Turkey, Ukraine, Finland, France, Switzerland, Estonia, South Korea and Japan – were surveyed. Foreign participants accounted for 76% of respondents.