File this one under foregone conclusions: There’s a new Russian study which has surprisingly identified several of the key aspects of Putinist Russia (no political competition, no free press, no demographic plan, no rule of law, and no regard for the well being of the citizens) as being the biggest obstacles to the country’s economic development through 2020. It is surprising not because it is true, but rather that they were allowed to publish it. From BusinessWeek/TOL:
A study by the New Economic School in Moscow and the Vedomosti business daily presents what leading executives see as major challenges for the country through 2020. Their responses are remarkably forthright, given the pattern of recent years to muzzle, or even jail, Kremlin critics. The authors of the study, NES rector Sergey Guriev and Igor Feyukin, of the NES Center for Economic and Financial Research, chose representatives of private and state-owned companies with a bias against the monolithic, Kremlin-controlled energy sector. They invited 100 people to participate, but only 58 executives and economic experts did so. Guriev presented his findings at the glitzy St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on 8 June. The study’s participants believe “the lack of political competition and restrictions on political, economic and personal freedoms” are “a serious problem for the country.”
The vast majority are concerned about Russia’s declining population, but also see corruption, the lack of an independent and effective judiciary and a disregard for citizens’ rights by the authorities as the leading challenges in the near future.Executives think the solution to corruption and state inefficiency can be found through “broader political change in the country.” One respondent said that the situation requires the “liberalization of civil society, a reduction of barriers for business, and the modernization of government institutions in accordance with the aspirations and business and civil society.””In the eyes of many, the current problems are connected with the low level of competition in the country,” the study’s authors write. Another of their respondents thought what is needed is “more competition, a fight against the fusion of government and business and against monopolization.”Social changes are also needed. The executives see Russia’s health system, schools and pensioners all struggling from neglect, at a time when Russia is raking in record profits on oil and natural gas, and amassing a huge stabilization fund.Young people also need to be more active if Russia is to be a better place in the next 12 years. One participant in the NES study called for “greater social activism,” while another warns of “apathy among a large portion of the younger generations towards their personal lives, work, career and country.”In a nation now dominated by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, the entrepreneurs call for greater pluralism, a decentralization of authority, and more media independence. And in what appears to be a direct attack on the state takeover of companies like Yukos and the jailing of its founder on tax-evasion charges, respondents want their government to “stop using law-enforcement agencies as a tool for achieving business ends.”The study suggests that entrepreneurs may not fully agree with the global assertiveness of the Putin years. Only 22 percent of executives see a “strong” Russia as important in 2020. Some respondents even think there is a future for Russia in NATO and the European Union.