Russia’s Modernization Trap


When Russia’s leaders spoke of modernization prior to the economic crisis, their words lacked conviction. Now some members of the ruling elite seem to sincerely believe that the goal can be reached. The only thing left is to determine what is meant by “modernization,” writes Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Moscow-based Institute of Globalization Studies.

The speeches and documents that the authorities have issued on the subject create the impression that a modernized Russia would be one with computers all over the place, wonderful roads, nanotechnology wherever we turn, and officials who, if they do take bribes, will be careful not to take too much. But for some reason this picture of the future fails to inspire.

What is needed are competent, professional public officials. Yet the current system is designed to perpetuate itself indefinitely into the future without any alteration. Even the most sincere and noble initiatives run up against a brick wall the moment that they require that something be changed. But how can Russia carry out radical modernization without changing anything?

The peculiar form of capitalism that has developed in Russia is incompatible with modernization and democracy alike. Anyone wanting to serve in  Russian government is invariably driven by a desire for power, money or both. True modernization is capable of delivering a deathblow to the existing system — something that nobody in power is likely to welcome.

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