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Are Russia's recent hints of reform grounded in real change?

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"Society has understood the need for democratic change for some time, and we may hope that our leaders aren't more foolish that the people," says Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a human rights activist since the 1960s. "Who knows if it's true? We don't get many opportunities for a heart-to-heart dialogue with Putin or Medvedev, so we'll just continue demonstrating for our rights."

Russia's status quo 'has no future'

Earlier this month, the Moscow-based Institute for Contemporary Development (INSOR) – whose board is chaired by President Medvedev – issued a 95-page report which concludes starkly that the status quo designed by former President Putin "has no future. ... If Russia has not yet won the freedom to live, now it must take it in order to survive. And then, for the first time in history, we will have the chance to find out what this country is capable of."

Some Russia analysts have speculated that the INSOR study might be the first draft of Medvedev's coming election program and, if so, it could be a stirring wake-up call for Russia's beleaguered liberals and aspiring middle class, who've been politically marginalized and economically forgotten during the Putin years.

The report itemizes 120 measures that would revolutionize Russia, including a return to full political competition, a free and independent media, promoting the growth of civil society, severing Kremlin control over the judiciary, financial reform, dramatic action against corruption, and sweeping measures to foster small business and anchor middle class property rights.

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