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Perestroika Complex Dogs Medvedev?€™s Plan

Since President Dmitry Medvedev is half through his first term, this is a good time to ask how he is fairing and where he is leading the nation.

Overall, he is doing much better than many predicted but is still falling short of the expectations that have surrounded him since he was elected president. Strategically, he has kept focused on his modernization agenda, despite the monumental disruptions of the global financial crisis and the war with Georgia in 2008. He has managed to cast modernization as a life-and-death issue for Russia, making it as close as you can get to a national cause.

Medvedev’s focus on modernization and innovation has created an entirely new political agenda, opening the door for an ideology of “progressivism” to re-emerge in Russia. Clumsy attempts to highjack Medvedev’s progressive ideology through a bizarre concept of “conservative modernization” will not diminish the appeal of his message to a younger generation of Russians.

Medvedev’s foreign policy has successfully exploited warm overtures offered by U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy after then-President Vladimir Putin’s chilling Munich speech in 2007. He has scored important victories in the former Soviet republics, culminating last month with the election of Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine.

Some view Medvedev’s presidency as having created a distinct feeling of impending change in this country, a precursor to democratization, while others view it with apprehension and even fear that the country will come apart at the seams.

Herein lies Medvedev’s biggest challenge: Can he sell change as a way to pull the country together, or will he let it be recast as a dangerous and disruptive upheaval, which few Russians want to go through again?

His policies are failing to garner widespread public support. According to a recent Levada poll, only 11 percent of respondents were enthusiastic over his modernization agenda precisely because people are skeptical of his ability to transform the country without wrecking havoc in their personal lives.

Russia’s leading businessmen, although somewhat tired of Putin, want him to return to the presidency in 2012 because they feel that Medvedev may be too unpredictable and might rock the boat too much.

Medvedev is now battling the Russian people’s “perestroika complex” — a mission impossible for his two remaining years.

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

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