From Russia with Love
During the past two weeks, I have spent some time in Moscow on two different occasions, meeting and discussing with a very wide range of different personalities.
It was in many ways Moscow at its very best. Early summer temperatures, the city bustling with energy, the green trees almost everywhere and new buildings in different shapes and formes continuing to come up.
But the politics of Russia seems to be drifting. If the Putin regime in its first term was widely seen as having brought stability, it is now more seen as bringing stagnation. With very few exceptions the reform process has stagnated, and it looks as if the Kremlin crowd is more interested in grabbing richess for itself than in reforming Russia.
The regime is, some claim, seriously afraid of coming social and political instability, and in such a situation it doesn't dare to do anything in terms of changes.
The economy is growing by more than 5 % this year, which is a very respectable number.
The problem is that it's well below the 7 - 8 % target seen as necessary in order to meet other targets, and that there are signs of growth slackening even further in the years ahead. Everyone is consuming - but most expect that the consumption boom can't be sustained forever. And investment are actually declining rather than growing in spite of the huge investment needs everywhere.
Everyone speaks of nationalist sentiments of different sorts growing stronger, and there are certainly signs that the ultra-nationalist groups to some extent furthered by the Kremlin during the last Duma election could emerge as a serious alternative in the post-2008 timeframe.
The positive is that in spite of all this young Russians all over the country are trying to break loose from the old, setting up new enterprises and taking different initiatives. Day by day there is a strengthening of the social foundations for a Russia much more modern and much more outward-looking than the old.
The question is only if these forces and tendencies will grow sufficiently fast to overcome the nationalist and authoritarian sentiments that are also on the rise. With the Putin regime having entered its phase of stagnation and eventual decline, it's to the post-Putin period we will have to look for an answer.