Russia’s Medvedev urges social, economic debate

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President-elect Dmitry Medvedev urged experts outside the Kremlin to stimulate public debate about Russia’s economic and social challenges.

“I remain a supporter of open discussion,” Medvedev said on Tuesday when inaugurating his informal think-tank, the Moscow-based Institute of Modern Development.

“The authorities do not need compliments or flattery from the expert community, they need public and comprehensive discussion.”

President Vladimir Putin has concentrated power in the Kremlin during his eight years in charge and clamped down on civil society groups.

Medvedev, handpicked by Putin as his successor, was elected on March 2 and will take over the top Kremlin job on May 7.

A trained lawyer who has worked in the private sector, Medvedev has pledged to maintain Putin’s goal of turning Russia into one of the leading economies by 2020.

Diversifying the economy from oil and modernizing Russia’s schools, hospitals and housing are among his stated aims.

Some analysts have suggested Medvedev’s inauguration could mark a shift towards more liberal, market-oriented policies in Russia. He and Putin have repeatedly stressed continuity.

The Institute of Modern Development has been formed out of the Centre for the Development of Information Society, a think-tank advising Medvedev in his previous role as first deputy prime minister in charge of major social projects.

These projects are designed to translate Russia’s growing wealth into better housing, medical care, education and agriculture.

Medvedev said in televised remarks at the opening of the institute that “civil society should have an opportunity to control the carrying out of social policy” and said open debate would be a way to do this.

Russian news agencies said Medvedev would discuss at the first seminar how Russia could use a window of opportunity created by the international financial turmoil.

“We will discuss what is happening in the United States, how this will affect Europe and what this means for Russia, which now has a chance of becoming Europe’s stock and financial centre,” they quoted the head of the institute, Igor Yurgens, as saying.

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