- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

MOSCOW | Russia’s democracy is weak, its economy is ailing and the country faces long-term problems with the health of its population, President Dmitry Medvedev said in an article published Friday.

His comments were among the bluntest assessments to date on national shortcomings from the Kremlin, which is typically defensive about similar accusations.

Mr. Medvedev criticized an economy that feeds solely off Russia’s energy resources, a lack of competitive politics and excessive state influence in everyday life - all in an article that some observers said was an attempt to distance him from his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“An ineffective economy, a semi-Soviet social sphere, a weak democracy, negative demographic trends and an unstable Caucasus. These are very big problems even for a state like Russia,” Mr. Medvedev wrote in the piece, which ran in several leading newspapers and on the Kremlin Web site.

Analysts noted the article comes as Mr. Medvedev appears to be trying to map out new policies independent of Mr. Putin, who is still viewed as Russia’s top decision maker.

“This could be interpreted as a sign of difference in policy agendas between Putin and Medvedev,” said Masha Lipman of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

Mr. Putin issued no comment on the article Friday.

Rumors of divisions between Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev - dubbed a “ruling tandem” - have circulated for months. They have appeared to take different approaches to major issues such as policy toward Ukraine and restructuring the economy. Mr. Medvedev in the past has called for a more liberal approach to politics in Russia and expressed interest in breaking up some of the large state corporations consolidated during Mr. Putin’s tenure.

In the article, Mr. Medvedev wrote that Russia must strive for an “open, flexible and internally complex” political system. The country needs a regular turnover of political leaders as a result of competitive elections, and democracy and human rights need to be protected, he said.

Rights activists say Mr. Putin as president led Russia down the opposite path by abolishing the election of regional leaders, by squeezing smaller parties out of existence and allowing an air of impunity to exist about attacks on Kremlin critics.

Mr. Putin installed his protege Mr. Medvedev after serving two four-year terms as president. Mr. Putin has hinted he may run for president again in 2012, when Mr. Medvedev’s term ends.

On Friday, Mr. Putin said at a meeting with Russian experts at his residence outside Moscow that he and Mr. Medvedev would not compete in the next election but would discuss what approach to take.

Mr. Putin’s comments were relayed to the Associated Press by Nikolai Zlobin, the head of the World Security Institute, who was at the meeting.

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