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Medvedev Has Platform That Won?€™t Win Voters

President Dmitry Medvedev may have decided to make modernization his platform for re-election in 2012, provided he gets the approval to run from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Medvedev is investing a tremendous amount of political capital in promoting a vision of Russia as an innovation-driven economy, where knowledge, intellect and a desire for experimentation will create more wealth for ordinary Russians as opposed to exports of hydrocarbons and metals that enrich a only handful of oligarchs today.

His biggest risk is, of course, that this vision is so abstract that ordinary Russians are unlikely to see the signs — much less enjoy the benefits — of his modernization program before his 2012 presidential run. He is already running out of policy instruments to either stimulate or impose innovation, as his top economic aide, Arkady Dvorkovich, has recently suggested.

He has tried pretty much everything — a rule by a special presidential commission to shortcut government channels, meetings with innovators and entrepreneurs, threats to oligarchs and online appeals for public support for his cause. 

So far, however, there is little to show for it apart from a government program to provide incentives to the domestic pharmaceutical industry to produce generic drugs. In addition, the Magna-Sberbank acquisition of Opel — if it pans out — could turn into a nice modernization coup.

But Medvedev’s modernization program runs the risk of repeating the sad fate of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika. The president is expected to roll out a roadmap for building an innovative Russia — or “Russia 2.0” as some have dubbed it — in his second state-of-the-nation address early next month. It would be the first innovation program that includes input from thousands of ordinary Russians who responded to Medvedev’s call to respond to his “Go, Russia!” article.

If Medvedev’s proposals yield results, they will do so only after his term expires in 2012. Now, there is an innovative theory that explains how Medvedev could still rule were his campaign for a second term to fizzle out. He could become the ruler of “Russia 2.0,” the leader of choice for the most dynamic segment of society — the “innovation class.” Putin would continue to be a leader of “traditional Russia,” with its energy-based economy.

But as Somerset Maughamy observed: “It is a perfect theory. It has but one defect: It is unbelievable.”

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government-relations and PR company.

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