MOSCOW Russia does not need to move toward greater democracy because the financial crisis requires strong leadership, a think-tank close to the ruling party United Russia has said in a report.
The report for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party appears to pour cold water on President Dmitry Medvedev's declared intentions of cautiously reforming Russia's tightly controlled political system.
"It would be more honest and realistic to say that the democratization of Russia's political system in the near future cannot be a priority...The priority for now is good governance," the Public Projects Institute, headed by parliamentarian Vladimir Pligin, said in the report released on Wednesday.
It was authored by 100 people including Pligin and public chamber member Alexander Brod.
Its conclusions appeared to chime with those of Putin, Russia's president from 2000-2008 and now the dominant partner in a dual leadership with his chosen successor Medvedev.
Business daily Vedomosti earlier published unusually frank remarks about Russia's political system from what it said was an early draft of the report. These were missing from the final version.
"Regional leaders...are appointed via arrangements strongly reminiscent of regional committee secretary nominations in the Soviet era," the newspaper cited the report as saying.
It said Russia's tightly controlled media resembled that of the Soviet media during the so-called "period of stagnation" prior to Mikhail Gorbachev's "perestroika" reforms in the 1980s.
Medvedev has carefully cultivated an image as a liberal since his election, though analysts say he has made very few substantive changes so far. Some believe he is little more than a figurehead installed to appease the West with promises of liberalism and change which will never materialize.
Medvedev has suggested reducing the minimum amount of votes a party needs to gain parliamentary representation and giving the opposition better access to the media. But it remains unclear how big their practical impact will be.
The report for United Russia said the priorities lay elsewhere and implicitly suggested Putin's 2000-08 presidency as a model for successful government.
"In times of war and crisis, a successful political system becomes charismatic, and therefore, inevitably more authoritarian. A storm requires a captain," the report said.
Not everyone is happy at the state of Russian politics, particularly at a time when the global financial crisis has plunged the economy into a deep recession.
Last Friday the president of the southwestern Russian region of Bashkoristan, Murtaza Rakhimov, made a strong public attack on the Kremlin's system of "vertical power" set up by Putin.
"Russia is walking away from the process of democratization... The level of centralization is worse than in Soviet times," Rakhimov told the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.
Some commentators played down the significance of Rakhimov's remarks, saying the veteran leader was about to be replaced and took advantage of his situation to blast the Kremlin. But some of what he said still rang true for critics of the government.
"It's pretty clear a mass-scale democratization will never take place in Russia," independent analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said. (Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, additional reporting by Aydar Buribayev)