Russia’s ruling group needs competition to innovate – Harvard professor

There has definitely been progress in Russia-US relations, but it is only the beginning of a process that will take at least 10 years, believes Timothy Colton, Professor of Government and Russian Studies at Harvard.

“Russia’s neighbours also have historical dilemmas – many of which are about their relationship with Russia. Even if Russians want to live history alone, its neighbours – Ukraine, Poland, Estonian and others – do not want that and so press Russia on historical questions,” said Colton.

The ruling tandem of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is not unique, says Colton, presidential constitutions that also have prime minister as a separate senior leader are found in 50 or 60 countries around the world.

“What is unusual, I think, is that former president [Vladimir Putin], the dominant leader for eight years, who became the junior partner, so to say, under the constitution – that is most unusual and maybe almost unique.”

Since the tandem has already lasted for almost three years and it works well, both Medvedev and Putin have clearly managed to cooperate on many issues, believes the professor.

As for the much vaunted modernization of Russia – the country needs a more fundamental reform of the legal system, and of the institutions. It requires greater openness and a more competitive political system. “It seems to me you have a very dynamic and admirable society and great culture, but you have a very backward state and you have to fix the state,” shared Colton.

“Russia has managed the crisis pretty well, but it revealed the underlying structural problems. Now, “Russia has some industries that are more dependent on government support than ever,” Colton pointed out.

The future for all of us is more open economies where you can compete,” he believes.

Colton also noted that the group that rules Russia has been in power for a decade now are reasonable and smart people and clearly the very high objective for them is to remain in control – and they proved to be very smart in doing that. But the monopoly on power that they enjoy would not serve them good in the long-term perspective because their current opponents are not contemporary and come from 1990s.

“The ruling group needs competition to innovate, to thrive and move forward – and it is not getting that,” Colton concluded.