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Jailing the Competition

The Economist blows up the difficult-to-ignore gap between Dmitry Medvedev’s epic tome on reform and democracy published on Gazeta.ru and the shortcomings of any action to do something about all these problems.

Mr Medvedev’s article evoked memories of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika speeches in the 1980s; he said this week that what went wrong with Mr Gorbachev was that he began but failed to complete his reforms. Mr Medvedev, however, has not ever started. But cynics also saw an echo of Mr Putin’s first state-of-the-nation address as president in July 2000. Mr Putin talked then of a shrinking population, a backward economy and the importance of freedom of speech and human rights.

So it is not surprising that many Russians were unimpressed. As one website visitor commented: “Mr President, your mostly correct words have nothing in common with what is happening in the country of which you are the leader. I don’t believe you. Do something first, something that would illustrate your readiness to modernise the country and move it forward. Fire the government or let Khodorkovsky out. At least do something!”

The problem, argues Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, is that the economy cannot become dynamic and progressive if the political system is not fair and free. But Mr Medvedev’s liberalism is virtual not real. In 18 months of his presidency, the Russian media has not become any freer. Political opponents have not gained access to television. The number of murders and attacks on human-rights activists has gone up. And the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once one of the country’s wealthiest oligarchs, has turned into a showpiece of political repression.