PutinThe official response to Russia’s wave of protests held on February 4th was given by the country’s acting PM Vladimir Putin, who is also to participate in the presidential race on March 4th. He publicized his views in a piece entitled “Democracy and the Quality of the States,” released today on the web page of the Russian daily “Kommersant.”

The manifesto provides a detailed account of the developments in Russian society since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, marked by extreme “corruption and anarchy.” However, the situation has changed drastically in the 2000s, since politics started to reflect “the will of the people. I would like to highlight that we achieved this through democratic and constitutional methods.”

Putin devotes a large part of his manifesto to ideas on the growing role of civil society and the reforms needed to fight corruption and to change the functioning of the country’s judicial system. Acknowledging that Russia’s civil society has become “more mature, active and accountable,” Putin calls for the need “to renew the mechanisms of our democracy in order to absorb the emerged civil activism.” He does not elaborate on the details about achieving this objective. 

Perhaps the most concrete proposal found in this newly emerged document concerns the role of the federal governance system. Putin has called for a restoration of the regional elections of governors, scrapped in 2004 under his rule, authorizing direct presidential appointments. “Today, during the new stage of Russian development, we return to the direct elections of governors. However, the President will remain responsible for the mechanisms of control and reaction, including the right to remove the governors from their positions.” 

On the subject of democracy, Putin proclaimed, "democracy in a big country is made up of the democracies of small areas. Local government is a school of responsibility for citizens," calling for municipal authorities to have greater autonomy from the Kremlin.
The true test for Russian democracy will occur during the presidential elections on March 4th. Amongst Putin’s rivals are the Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov and perennial candidates communist Gennady Zyuganov and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

(Photo © Alexey Nikolsky)