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Nordic Russian and Eastern European Studies Conference
Intentions, Interactions and Paradoxes in Post-Socialist Space
24-25 May 2013 in Helsinki, Finland


Modernizing Russia – what is in the offing?
Chair: Sean Roberts (Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Finland)
Discussant: Kirsti Stuvøy (Lillehamer University College, Norway)
Jakub M Godzimirski (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Norway): Energy and Modernization of Russia
Helge Blakkisrud (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Norway): Modernizing the administrative structure
Kristian Lundby Gjerde (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Norway): Putin's visions of the future

The idea of modernization has deep historical roots in Russia. In recent years, the debate on modernization got a new momentum, especially after Dmitrii Medvedev became president, and even more so after the publication in 2009 of his widely commented liberal manifesto Go Russia! The publication of this article spearheaded the launch of a new modernization agenda. This was interpreted both as Medvedev’s strategy for coping with the economic crisis and as a result of his – and his team’s – realization that due to corruption and dependency on natural resources, Russia was increasingly lagging behind other developed countries in science, technology and economics. Whereas in the economic sphere Medvedev’s goal for modernization was to shift focus from an economy based on raw materials to one based on innovation, it was far less clear in the political and social spheres.
The proposed panel draws on research carried out under the project ‘Modernizing the Russian North: Politics and Practice’, funded by the Research Council of Norway (2011-2013). This project examines the current processes of modernization in Russia with an emphasis on how Russian actors seek to modernize and manage the Russian North and is realized jointly by a group of Norwegian, West European and Russian experts.
The project consists of two main parts. First, we analyze the structural conditions driving economic and social modernization in Russia at the federal level and how Moscow’s policy elites have responded to these challenges in political action and legal frameworks. Second, we focus on how these policies hit the ground in the North-western Federal Okrug. This is done through a number of case studies addressing efforts at economic, social and political reform. The goal is to elucidate to what extent the ‘talk’ of Russia’s modernization has become a political ‘walk’ in practice in the Russian North.
In the panel, we will present some of the preliminary findings of this research and place it within a CERES context, presenting Medvedev’s modernization project as a result of a choice made by the Russian political elite, being shaped and driven by Russia’s encounters with the West, and, last but not least, by the interest in a better management of various types of resources in Russia. The three papers included in the proposal will address 1) economic modernization, focusing the role of the energy sector in the current modernization debate; 2) modernization of the administrative structure, with an analysis of the ongoing reforms aimed at balancing control and efficiency/legitimacy within the executive vertical; and 3) a discussion of various visions/images of Russia’s modernization.