Moscow: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned Wednesday that the ruling party`s grip on power was damaging Russia and that the country had begun to stagnate due to the lack of real political competition.
His comments came ahead of a major policy address that 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.
"At a certain point, our political life started showing symptoms of stagnation," Medvedev said in a video blog address that he periodically records as part of an effort 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 is often used by historians to describe the political drift in the Kremlin during the latter years of Leonid Brezhnev`s leadership (1964-1982) when Moscow`s status as a superpower began to wane.
"If the opposition does not stand the slightest chance of winning fair elections, it degrades and becomes marginalised," Medvedev warned.
"If the ruling party has no chance of every losing anywhere, it eventually `bronzes over` and also degrades, just like any other living organism that does not move."
Russian media reports said that Medvedev would take his message to a Wednesday meeting with the heads of the country`s largest political parties -- including the ruling United Russia group.
The Russian leader -- seen as more liberal than his predecessor and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- has positioned himself in the run-up to the election campaign as a modernizing force for Russia.
He has risen to the media`s defence in the face of a spate of recent attack on reporters and criticised some of the other policy decisions adopted during Putin`s eight-year term.
But he has said little in public about whether he will run for a second term once this one expires in 2012. That election can potentially also be contested by Putin -- who would be allowed to stand for a third term under a constitutional loophole.
Medvedev delivered his strongest criticism against the ruling United Russia party that first formed around the Putin presidency a decade ago and has not given up the reins of power since.
"We must raise the level of political competition," said Medvedev.
He noted that United Russia has dominated the air time awarded by both the federal and regional television stations and gained other unfair advantages during recent election campaigns -- the same charge voiced repeatedly by the opposition.
"The election commissions must control" the situation, said Medvedev.
He noted that air time must be allotted fairly and "measured in hours, minutes and even seconds."
The opposition -- which has been all-but-excluded from both houses of Russia`s parliament and has only a marginal representation in the regional legislatures -- has frequently complained of being denied access to air time.
Its leaders have also had trouble renting office space and auditoriums -- a problem highlighted by Medvedev in his address.
The election commission "must also ensure party equality in the use of premises" for political causes, Medvedev said.