How can the West help Russia modernise?

Tuesday, 8. December 2009     0 comment(s)
Vadim Kononenko
Researcher - The EU's Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia research programme

Much of President Medvedev’s recent address to the Parliament was dedicated to the task of modernisation of Russia. As Medvedev put it: “in the twenty-first century, Russia once again needs to undergo comprehensive modernisation. This will be our first ever experience of modernisation based on democratic values and institutions. Instead of a primitive raw materials economy we will create a smart economy producing unique knowledge, new goods and technology of use to people.”

Dmitry Medvedev is certainly not the first amongst Russia’s leaders determined to reform the country. Mikhail Gorbachev had the mission statement of perestroika, Boris Yeltsin was preoccupied with the transition from communism, Vladimir Putin’s was the objective of doubling the GDP and of fostering economic growth. What these grand projects have in common is the element of ambivalence vis-à-vis the West.

The attitude towards the West in the Russian policy debate falls into two categories. For the liberal part of the establishment, the support of the West is the crucial to Russia’s transformation, whereas for the more conservative group, the West is a competitor and is naturally predetermined to oppose Russia’s attempts to get stronger.

Yet, this debate overlooks two simple facts. First it is not entirely in the hands of the Russian leaders to shape the country’s future as the problems that the country is facing are simply too big. Second, it is not up to the West to determine Russia’s trajectory. So the truth is that Russia will find it almost impossible to modernise without Western support but it will have do most of this work by itself.

But if the West wants to help here a few points that might be relevant to consider:

1) Extend support beyond the elite. It is the Russian people and society at large that has the heavy task to modernise their country which goes on top of many other problems they already have. Looking beyond Moscow will also help Western actors understand Russia’s needs better.

2) Help with the problems that take time to solve but also make lasting positive impact as opposed to separate success stories. For example by helping Russia to implement energy efficiency policies would make Russia’s economy “greener” and at the same time more integrated with the Western ecological standards and instruments.

3) Bear in mind that the Russian debate will probably always be ambivalent regarding the West. There will always be an anti-Western contingent amongst the Russian public. However, even the staunchest critics of the West realise the importance of the West for Russia’s future. The question is whether the West will get the sense of it as well as the will and interest to support the modernisation project of the Russian president.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

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