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Kremlin Spin Doctor Defends 'Authoritarian Modernization'

Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s political strategist, defended the system of state control that he developed, saying Russia can only modernize if it has a strong central government.

“Consolidated power is the instrument of modernization,” Surkov said in an interview in Vedomosti published Monday. “Some call it authoritarian modernization. I don’t care what they call it.”

Modernization is the new catchword of President Dmitry Medvedev, who wants Russia to kick its dependence on natural resources in favor of a high-tech economy. Surkov, the first deputy chief of staff in Medvedev’s administration, coined the concept of “sovereign democracy” to describe the system of centralized power that he helped create during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s presidency.

Surkov, 45, rebuffed suggestions that political liberalization is necessary for economic reform.

“Spontaneous modernization” only worked in Anglo-Saxon countries because of particular cultural attributes, while France, Japan and South Korea relied on “dirigiste methods” to achieve economic development, Surkov said in the interview.

Medvedev wants Russia to establish its own Silicon Valley, Surkov said, possibly outside Moscow or in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok. The main problem facing Russian innovators is a lack of demand, he said.  

“Raw resources companies dominate, and the people who got rich and superrich made their fortune not from new ideas and technology, like Gates and Edison, but from dividing up the property amassed by the Soviet people,” Surkov said.

The government must help stimulate demand via state-run corporations, Surkov said. The Russian Silicon Valley will be populated by local and foreign experts in “supermodern” settlements financed by public and private money.

“The Russian economy is like an old armored train without a locomotive,” he said. “Liberal hopes for the invisible hand of the market were unjustified.”

The Institute of Contemporary Development, headed by Medvedev, published a report this month saying economic modernization depends on political reforms that will turn Russia into a U.S.-style democracy.

While Surkov allowed that centralization has reached its limits, he said Russia is already a democracy.

“If they criticize democracy in Russia, that means it exists,” he said. “If there are protests, that’s democracy. In totalitarian states there aren’t any demonstrations.”

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