Medvedev’s New Russia

After last year’s infamous power shift it seems that President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia is more and more able or willing to distance himself from his precedessor and mentor Vladimir Putin. Although Medvedev is just as happy as Putin to maintain close ties with rogue states as Iran and Venezuela he has also launched efforts to ally with rising powers as Brazil, India and China within the so-called “BRIC” and nearby Central Asian states within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). With the other BRIC-states, Russia seeks to greaten its diplomatic and financial leverage on the world stage while within the SCO, it maintains relations with its neighbors. On top of that, Medvedev welcomed a reconciliatory President Obama in Moscow this summer to talk about reducing nuclear warheads.

All in all, the Russian president appears to do well abroad. Internally however he must struggle with an economy that performs poorly and a war machine that is hopelessly outdated. The other three BRIC-states have been able to climb out of their recession already but Russia probably has to wait until 2012. The Economist called it “the price Russia is paying for failing to develop its own financial markets and to tame inflation.” The two are inextricably linked because of the averge Russian citizen who deems life too uncertain to put some of his money in the bank, let alone contemplate an insurance of any kind. Rather he likes to spend every ruble he earns as quickly as possible.

Medvedev is determined nonetheless. On November 12 he spoke before the Russian Parliament and announced his intention to transform his country into “a global power on a completely new basis.”

Our country’s prestige and national prosperity cannot rest forever on past achievements. After all, the oil and gas production facilities that generate most of our budget revenue, the nuclear weapons that guarantee our security, and our industrial and utilities infrastructure — most of this was built by Soviet specialists.

Russia, therefore, must modernize and it must modernize today. Democracy, transparency, and a clean and healthy service economy are supposed to do away with a past of authoritarianism and heavy industry. Similarly, Russia must start (or continue) to conduct foreign policy on twenty-first century terms.

Instead of chaotic action dictated by nostalgia and prejudice, we will carry out an intelligent domestic and foreign policy based on purely pragmatic aims.

The rhetorics are followed by a series of concrete promises that are meant to reshape Russian society: pensions and unemployment benefits will go up, Medvedev says; war veterans will be housed more properly; and the flow of credit will be encouraged to strenghten consumption. At the same time, Russia must become less dependent on gas and oil and develop alternative energies, including biofuels. The medical and ICT-sectors are to be expanded while Medvedev intends to invest more in space technology. Schools, institutions, court, even Russia’s timezones are all up for reform.

Lastly, Medvedev pledges to restore the country’s proud military by purchasing thirty ballistic land- and sea-based missiles, five Iskander missile systems, about three hundred modern armoured vehicles, thirty helicopters, 28 combat aircraft, three nuclear-powered submarines, one corvette-class battleship and eleven spacecraft. “All this simply has to be done,” says Medvedev. But things don’t quite stop there. On top of buying a whole lot of military hardware, the Russian president promises to invest in state-of-the-art equipment and improved military education.

Only one thing Medvedev neglected to mention though; that is, how Russia will pay for it all.