Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Science Fiction: President Medvedev's Campaign for Russia's "Technological Modernization"

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Science Fiction: President Medvedev's Campaign for Russia's "Technological Modernization"

Article excerpt

Abstract: From its establishment in May 2009 until late spring 2012 when it lost momentum, the presidential Commission for the Modernization and Technological Development of Russia's Economy was instrumental in shaping the public debate on political and economic change in Russia in general, and the president's campaign for "technological modernization" in particular. (1) The commission was designed to have a dual role: to accelerate priority projects for the technological modernization campaign and to provide a political venue for imagining the nature of the technological modernization and what it would mean for Russia. Ultimately, however, it is best to evaluate the role of the commission in the context of science fiction, since its work was focused more on fantastical imaginings of a possible future for Russia, rather than actually implementing practical change.

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With the onset of the global financial crisis, the Russian economy contracted from robust growth at a clip of approximately 8 percent per annum for nearly a decade to a loss of 7.9 percent of GDP in 2009. Although the Russian government was reluctant to acknowledge the severity of the economic collapse, it did implement an economic aid package

that helped the major state-owned companies through the difficulties. (2) At the early stage of the crisis, when it looked like Russia would avoid the problems bringing down Western markets, Russia claimed that it could ride out the storm and even serve as a "safe haven" for foreign investors. But after it became apparent that the Russian economy was indeed affected by the crisis, a new line emerged: the crisis would herald a fresh beginning--an opportunity for a radical break with the past.

Clarifying what this radical break entailed fell to the presidential Commission for the Modernization and Technological Development of Russia's Economy, which had been established for this purpose in May 2009. From its inception until June 2012, when it was re-organized into a presidential council and lost influence, the commission was instrumental in shaping the public debate on political and economic change in Russia in general, and the president's campaign for "technological modernization" in particular. The commission's designers gave it a dual role: to accelerate the priority projects of the technological modernization campaign and to provide a political venue for imagining the nature of Russia's technological modernization and what it would mean for the country.

Indeed, the main task for the commission, as stated in the presidential decree establishing it, was "revising state policy in the sphere of modernization and the technological development of the Russian economy." The decree also stipulated that the commission was to identify and coordinate a set of priority directions and methods for state involvement in the modernization and technological development of the Russian economy. (3) In accordance with these tasks, the commission generated a plethora of presidential instructions meant to accelerate "technological modernization" in prioritized areas (discussed in the next session). However, as President Dmitry Medvedev explicitly stated when opening the commission's third meeting, each member was supposed to consider these sessions as time spent "thinking about the future," and therefore beyond the usual bureaucratic routine. (4)

The commission brought together the main factions of the Russian decision-making elite. People considered close to then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, such as Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov and Russian Technologies Corporation CEO Sergei Chemezov, were members of the commission. Then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin himself did not have a public role in the commission, whereas Viacheslav Surkov, first deputy head of the presidential administration, was to play a major role in the campaign. Additionally, people regarded as belonging to the liberal camp, including Rosnanotech State Corporation CEO Anatoly Chubais and Presidential Advisor Arkady Dvorkovich, were included in the commission. …

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