In his closely-watched state of the nation address, President Dmitry Medvedev outlined the long list of the ailments afflicting Russia, both economic and social. But his prescription for national ills was short-and-to-the-point: modernize and overhaul the country.
Speaking for more than an hour and a half, Medvedev argued that Russia had lost ground to competitors because of its over-reliance on natural resources. Its mauling by the global financial downturn, meanwhile, was seen as partly the country's own fault.
"We need to admit that in the previous years we didn't do enough to overcome the problems we inherited," Medvedev said. "We need to start modernizing and renovating the entire industrial base. Our nation's survival in the modern world will depend on that."
Since taking over from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last year, the President has repeatedly insisted that the Russian system become more liberal and flexible.
But, in a sign that any reform will more than likely be in keeping with the centralized-power structures of his predecessor, Medvedev insisted: "Any attempts to rock the situation with democratic slogans, to destabilize the state and to split society, will be stopped."
Most in Russia view Putin as the country's de-facto leader. That impression is shared outside of Russia: On Thursday, Forbes magazine placed Putin as the third most powerful person, while Medvedev was just number 43 on the list -- lagging behind many influential European leaders.
And German editorialists on Friday expressed doubts whether Medvedev would have the power to put his vision of a modern Russia into action. Some also warned that his reluctance to support democratic freedoms would scupper his planned reforms.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Last year, Medvedev came over as a nervous student during his state of the nation speech. Now he has shown that he has grown into his new role as president, and is determined to imprint it with his own character. He won't get another opportunity to do this."
"Medvedev is clearly keen to get on with his job. He showed that when he gave an early signal that he was prepared to run for president again in 2012. But if he doesn't want to go down in history as the longest-standing lame duck in history he has to distinguish himself from his powerful predecessor Putin. Putin's influence is still strong -- stronger than that of the Kremlin leader."
The right-leaning daily Die Welt writes:
"Medvedev has made it clear to Russian citizens, clearer than all his post-Soviet predecessors, that not much is working in Russia. If the country wants to return to a position of global power, something which is a completely desirable goal for most Russians, it must be modernized without delay, he said. According to his state of the nation speech, that includes dealing with the chronic economic backwardness as well as the archaic practices which play a central role for all the decision-making leaders."
"He wants to convince those putting the brakes on his renewal, especially the country's staid bureaucracy, that this is a worthy goal. But in this process he shies away from guarding the intellectual and democratic freedoms which his mission needs if it is to be effective."
"So Medvedev, like his predecessors, presents democracy and stability as opposites. And, when its necessary, he opts for stability. In this way, his modernization project threatens to go the way of many other campaigns -- into the quagmire of bureaucracy."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Every aspect of Russia should be modernized -- that was the tenor of President Medvedev's state of the nation speech. And, as is typical of such occasions, he mentioned many themes and made many promises: New missiles for the armed forces, the endorsement of a new economic path, one no longer based on the export of natural resources, new atomic reactors and cutting-edge research establishments. He has promised the people, that this modernization, for the first time in the history of Russia, would be based on "democratic values and institutions." Those are big promises. But for all those who would like to see more in Medvedev than a president in Putin's pocket, as yet there is no evidence that he has enough power to realize his deeper insights through necessary actions. It may be that Medvedev and his supporters want to try to overcome the Putin system -- but it remains to be seen if they can."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"Forward Russia" -- this is President Medvedev's variant on Obama's slogan "Yes We Can." But it sounds far dowdier than the original. The national sense of renewed hope that he wants to convey is in extreme contrast to the reality of life in Russia. In Russia the discrepancy between Medvedev's ideas of dynamicism and democratic transparency are so far from reality as to sound grotesque. The president himself ... spoke of a "primitive economy" and a "shamefully low" level of industrial competitiveness because of the nation's dependence on natural resources."
"This description is entirely accurate. All of which makes his plans to restore Russia to a position of global leadership, announced in this very same speech, sound even more hollow. He says modern technologies and innovation will boost the economy, adding that he will also combat corruption. But he fails to give any idea on how such changes will be carried out or how he will steer the country out of the precarious predicament it is currently in."