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Shuvalov’s Promises for 2020

There is an interesting op/ed in today’s Moscow Times by Michael Bohm, which disputes some that the goals of Strategy 2020 require no readjustment given the damage caused by the economic crisis.  Naturally, our eyes our drawn to Bohm’s comments about administrative barriers and the weakened environment for rule of law which holds back entrepreneurs and small companies from revitalizing the country – two trends which are especially highlighted by the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

As long as Russian bureaucrats (and competitors) are free to terrorize businesses by creating “administrative barriers,” extorting bribes and raiding, economic growth in the real sector will always be insignificant. To his credit, President Dmitry Medvedev is backing a new law to assist small businesses, which will, among other things, limit the number of government inspections of businesses. Most likely, however, these limitations will be easily sidestepped when bureaucrats simply extort a larger amount of money per inspection.

To be sure, many Russians already consider Russia to be a verydesirable place — without Shuvalov’s help. And this is also true forforeigners, including the editors and reporters of this newspaper, whovoluntarily choose to live and work in this country. But for those whodon’t believe this to be true, even the most advanced Kremlinpropaganda will do little to make Russia more desirable. To rephrase aRussian expression, no matter how many times the Kremlin PR machinerepeats the word “halva,” it won’t make Russia any sweeter.

Kremlin myth-making has a rich tradition, dating back to the verybeginning of the Soviet Union. When British writer George Wells visitedLenin in 1920 and learned of his utopian 10-year plan to create wondersout of a country very much still in ruins in the aftermath of theBolshevik Revolution, he called Lenin “The Kremlin Dreamer.”

Shuvalov’s vision of Russia 2020 is also eerily reminiscent ofNikita Khrushchev’s grandiose promise that he made at the 1961Communist Party congress: that full-blown communism — defined roughlyin terms of a U.S.-style middle-class standard of living for everySoviet citizen — would be achieved in 1980. As the old joke went,instead of communism in 1980, the Soviet people got the Olympic Gamesfor two weeks and the Afghanistan war for nine more years.