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12 November 2009 

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Kremlin Calls for Sweeping Modernization of Russia

12 November 2009

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (file photo)
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (file photo)
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is calling for sweeping economic, social, political, and military modernization of his country. In his second annual State of the Nation address, the Kremlin leader said Russia must become a society of smart, free and responsible people - instead of an archaic society in which a few think and decide for all.  

In a nationally televised address to hundreds of government officials and cultural elites in the Kremlin, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said the prestige and well-being of Russia cannot forever rely on past achievements.

Mr. Medvedev says facilities for oil and gas production, which guarantee the lion's share of Russian budget revenues, nuclear weapons, which ensure national security, as well as the country's industrial and public utility infrastructure were for the most part created by Soviet specialists.

The Kremlin leader says modernization is a matter of national survival. Russia, according to Mr. Medvedev, must move from an economy based on natural resources to innovation and high tech, which will require democratization.

Mr. Medvedev expresses hope the well-being of Russia in the near future will directly depend on a successful market of ideas, inventions, and discoveries. He underscores the importance of the state and society being able to identify and encourage talented and critical thinkers, adding that young people should be raised in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom and civic engagement.

President Medvedev's proposals spanned a broad range of problems and goals - from government corruption to social charity; from nano-technology to nuclear engines for spaceships; from the pay of military sergeants to the need to reduce the number of Russian time zones.

In between he spoke of helping one-industry towns, raising pension benefits, enticing émigré and foreign scientists, building housing for veterans, constructing roads, central bank lending, elimination of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, fighting drug addiction, encouraging sports, laying fiber optic cables, bringing the Internet to faraway regions and GPS systems to automobiles.  

Nor did he overlook the handicapped, orphans, police corruption, violence in the Northern Caucasus, defense procurement, NATO, nuclear proliferation, and a foreign policy that helps raise the Russian standard of living.  

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov told VOA that Mr. Medvedev's diagnosis of Russian problems is correct, but he offered no specific steps to address them.  

Actual modernization, says Nemtsov, is impossible without naming and removing the people responsible for the stagnation and authoritarian rule in the first place.  

Nemtsov says Mr. Medvedev could carry out his program if he demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, insisted that state TV directors lift censorship, permitted independent political activity, and most importantly, punished those who falsify election results.

The opposition leader says the Russian president offers no indication of taking those steps.  

In addition, Nemstov says the people Mr. Medvedev addressed in the Kremlin were the very ones he would need to fight to carry out his program. He says president is unlikely to do so. The lack of concrete presidential action leads Nemtsov to conclude that the democratization and modernization of Russia remain impossible.  

The Russian stock market continued falling after the president's nearly 100-minute speech, which Nemtsov says is an indication that it did not inspire confidence among investors.  


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