President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday launched an unprecedented attack on the party that has ruled Russia for the past decade, saying its dominance has left the country stuck in "stagnation."
Russia's liberals have been sidelined to the point of having no members in parliament and the ruling party controls almost every legislature and governorship across the country's 11 time zones.
But Medvedev said the resulting system has made Russia into a monolith that is resistant to productive change and unreceptive to minority voices.
"If the ruling party has no chance of ever losing anywhere, it eventually 'bronzes over' and degrades, just like any other living organism that does not move," Medvedev said in a video blog address.
His comments came ahead of a major policy address the Kremlin chief will deliver to the two houses of parliament Tuesday -- a speech that will be read closely for signs of whether Medvedev plans to stand for reelection in 2012.
Medvedev gave few hints about his own future Wednesday but admitted that some unpleasant realities had developed under his watch.
"At a certain point, our political life started showing symptoms of stagnation," he said in a blog address that he periodically records in a bid to appear more approachable to the Russian public.
"And this stagnation is equally damaging to both the ruling party and the opposition forces."
The Russian word for stagnation (or "zastoi") is often used by historians to describe the political drift that the Soviet Union entered in the latter years of Leonid Brezhnev's leadership -- a period when the country's status as a superpower began to wane.
But Russia's liberals accuse Medvedev of failing to match his ambitious rhetoric with concrete improvements in democracy and human rights.
"The changes that Medvedev speaks of are purely cosmetic," agreed liberal Yabloko party leader and fellow former lawmaker Sergei Mitrokhin. "The election violations and falsifications remain just as frequent."
Some analysts speculate that Medvedev really would like to introduce serious political modifications -- but that the system he inherited from Putin is too resistant to change.
"Medvedev is designating his disagreement" with Russia's current political structure, said Kremlin-linked strategist Gleb Pavlovsky.
"He has accepted responsibility for what has happened -- and for making things more open and competitive."
This made some suggest that Medvedev has already made up his mind on staying in power and making reform a major theme of his reelection campaign.
Medvedev has actually said little about whether he will stand again. The 2012 election can potentially also be contested by Putin -- who is allowed a third term under a constitutional loophole.
The Russian leader has previously voiced some mild criticism of United Russia but this appears to be his first full-out criticism of its supremacy -- an attack that the ruling party appeared to take in its stride.
"A contemporary democracy needs competition," he added. "We do not view the opposition as the enemy -- it is simply a different voice."
Source: AFP Global Edition