(Moscow) It was at Skolkovo, the high tech technology development and Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev first hinted that he would not run for a 2nd term as president in 2012. It wasn’t in what he said, but rather what he didn’t say on that spring day outside Moscow. What Mr. Medvedev did say in his first full press confidence as president was that he might be willing to retire “someday” in order to teach tomorrow’s leaders on the Skolkovo campus.
In the opening days of summer the two would spend a day bicycling together and holding intense talks in a prominent Moscow park and speculation still swirled as to who of the two would run for the top spot in Russia. The photo opportunities presented the two men united in purpose to serve Russia, adding to the rumours surrounding the political future of the largest geographical country in the world.
In August President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin went fishing in the Astrakhan region on the Volga River and as both men smiled while Medvedev was photographed with the larger fish, one could sense that the Medvedev presidency was in lame duck mode. Gone was the defiant Medvedev who had replaced Putin hires, used executive powers to overturn Putin policies and made decisions often viewed as opposite from the more hard-line Putin.
Last week however the speculation was heightened when Prime Minister Putin announced that Russian army and police salaries would be effectively doubled. The significance of the announcement was that the figure was higher than had recently been promised by President Medvedev. Just as significant was the news that the salary increase would be funded by Russian gas producer, Gazprom, a company tied to the Kremlin and formerly run by Medvedev.
For his part, Dmitry Medvedev was silent and the image of the President as someone about to step aside was more pronounced causing observers like Timothy Heritage of Reuters to write on Wednesday that “Despite hinting he wants a second term, the president has sunk deeper into Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s shadow in the past few weeks and disappointed supporters by failing to announce he will run in the presidential election in March.”
Any remaining speculation ended this weekend at the United Russia party convention when on Saturday party Chairman Putin announced on Saturday that he would return to the top spot on the United Russia ticket, effectively assuring the world that he would retake the post after Russia’s presidential elections in March of 2012. Under new rules adopted by the Duma during the Medvedev era the new presidential term will be for 6 years, making it possible for Mr. Putin to occupy the post for 12 years. Vladimir Putin was born in 1952 and would be 72 if he served two additional terms.
Addressing the convention, President Medvedev set up Mr. Putin’s announcement by saying, Good afternoon, dear friends. Naturally, it’s a pleasure to speak here: there is a special energy in this room, it’s simply charged with emotions. And of course, we are meeting on a special day: there are ten weeks until election day, and today you will approve the lists of candidates for State Duma deputies and the party’s campaign programme.
A few words about how the elections will take place (I am obliged to say that as head of state, President and guarantor of the Constitution): they will be held under new rules. Thanks to a number of decisions in which you were directly involved, we have significantly revamped our electoral legislation. Together we have enacted a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the role of citizens in the work of governing institutions, in order to improve the quality of popular representation. And during this work United Russia has shown itself to be a strong and, I would even say, generous party, consistently improving the conditions for political competition.
For many years now United Russia has acted as a national political leader able to lead not only in its own interests, but also to rise above narrow group interests, to listen not only to its own supporters but – and this is particularly difficult – to its opponents as well, to pursue strategic goals rather than short-term benefits, and to work in the realm of the possible in the interests of all regions, social groups and citizens of our country. To be a nationwide and all-Russian party in the fullest sense is especially important.
But I would like to praise other processes as well. In line with policies described above, measures have been taken to strengthen democratic processes within the party itself. A new level of political culture has taken hold not only with regard to external matters, but also in relationships between colleagues. Of course, the party retains a strong discipline, just like any other. This is by no means invalid, and helps prevent confusion and hesitation, but excessive formalism and bureaucracy are also very dangerous. They lead to the stagnation and degradation of the political system. And unfortunately, we have already witnessed this in our country’s history. I am glad that the party understands this.
I remember well speaking to a similar congress in 2009, when I supported the idea of compulsory primaries and the party’s obligatory participation in the debates on elections for all levels of government. Relevant amendments were made to the party’s charter, and the positive effects of this are visible today, right in this room. Congress delegates include many new, and simply very nice people. This is very good to see.
And in large part this is thanks to primary elections, primaries in which candidates are nominated for the next election. This is a unique case in Russian politics, and not all parties are ready for this. I have talked about it with the leaders of other parties – some are skeptical about primaries, and I think they fear them. And therefore I believe that this system of primary voting is an important sign of United Russia’s maturity and openness.
Of course, it did not all go perfectly smoothly, and perhaps not all losers were able to accept their defeat. In human terms we understand that this is difficult, but as a whole primary voting has proved effective. The party itself passed a very serious test. I congratulate all of you on this.
Our voters are aware of United Russia’s work on numerous party projects designed to help resolve the most important and pressing social problems. The party actively helps those who have been made redundant (and unfortunately this problem remains very acute), assists investors who have been deceived, and supports joint equity home ownership. You have organised social control to prevent the rise of housing and utilities prices, and to reign in irresponsible operators who unjustifiably raise service fees.
You pay a great deal of attention to the development of children’s sports, you are tackling the problem of the shortage of day care facilities, working on improving the health of our citizens and repairing our roads, as well as supporting talented young people. All of these represent extremely pressing problems, most urgent tasks. Their solution requires daily, time consuming and obscure work – it is much easier to simply talk about something on television – and this is difficult field work. It is this work that our citizens see and appreciate.
I would like to thank you sincerely for your continued and active support for my political strategy. The party proposed my candidacy for the post of president, it has supported me in the past and continues to do so today. This strategy will define the contours of our development in the coming years. I would like to list just a few elements of it, in order to emphasize the unity of our goals.
First. This consists in the modernisation of our economy, education systems, improving industry using technology, improving the investment climate, creating infrastructure for innovations, as well as improving productivity and safety in order to ensure high incomes for citizens, large profits for companies, and revenues for budgets of all levels.
Second is the fulfillment of social obligations, increasing, in the realm of the possible, of course, salaries, pensions, and welfare payments, fighting against poverty, and modernising healthcare.
Third is the eradication of corruption, ensuring the transparency of information about officials’ incomes, public purchases made by ministries and agencies, and the transparency of the decisions they take, as well as the appraisal by civic experts of all government initiatives that directly affect citizens’ property rights and the scope of their civil liberties.
Fourth involves strengthening the judicial system in light of the principles of independence, transparency and justice, making the criminal legislation governing so-called economic violations or crimes more humane, and increasing the penalties for violent crimes, especially those committed against children, as well as for terrorist acts.
Fifth is facilitating interethnic and interreligious peace, the fight against illegal immigration, ethnically motivated crimes, manifestations of xenophobia and separatism, and supporting the free development of all cultures of the peoples of Russia, as well as all traditional religions.
The sixth has already been mentioned: it is the establishment of a modern political system. We need a responsive, modern political system which provides everyone, including the smallest social groups, with the opportunity to be heard and included in the processes of governance and public administration. This will allow us to make sure that our country does not contain powerless and helpless people; it is very important that freedom and justice remain realities for everyone.
Seventh is maintaining internal and external security, an effective police force, powerful Armed Forces, and increasing the prestige of service in the army, navy and law enforcement agencies.
And of course the eighth element is an independent, sensible foreign policy, ultimately motivated by only one goal, namely increasing the well-being of our people and guaranteeing their security. I can tell you, and I have witnessed this more than once, that you have supported me in all these fields. I sincerely appreciate this support: thank you for it. And I think that United Russia really is a pro-presidential party.
Just before, as party head Vladimir Putin officially addressed me and the congress with the proposal that I head United Russia’s party list. Of course this is a responsible position and a very serious proposal. I accept.
I accept and would like to explain my reasons for doing so, in addition to emotional ones. First of all, as I just said, everything the party has worked for and continues to work for is in line with my priorities for our country’s development, and the party actively helped my work as president. For that reason ensuring the modernisation of our economic and social life and political system is our shared burden. We therefore have common ideas about the future of our country, common plans for its future, and common answers to the most significant challenges facing our nation, and this is the most important thing.
Secondly, we are similarly aware of what our country should not be. It must not be weak, poor, ineffective, or break up into parts. It should not suffer from technological backwardness, the arbitrariness of officials, corruption, terrorism, and it must not be isolated. These are positions that we share.
Third, all of us in this room believe that the party itself needs a major overhaul. It must become more open, efficient and, if you want, more rigorous in advancing its priorities.
It must get rid of those random people who attached themselves to it in order to achieve their own, selfish ends; it must finally become younger and more creative in order to compete with the other political forces in our country. Looking around this room, I’m absolutely sure of this.
So if you are ready to entrust me with this job, I’m ready to do it. And
if the party wins the election, which I’m convinced it will, if we continue to work as well as we have in the past, then I am ready to continue to make a real contribution to modernising our economy, raising the living standards of our people, and creating a modern lawful state. Today I think it is right to pay attention to the practical measures necessary to modernise our lives. A dramatically overhauled Russian Government formed by the winning party, which I am sure will be United Russia, should work at this.
Finally, I propose we decide on another very important issue which naturally concerns the party and all of our people who follow politics, namely the candidate for the role of president. In light of the proposal that I head the party list, do party work and, if we perform well in the elections, my willingness to engage in practical work in the Government, I think it’s right that the party congress support the candidacy of the current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, in the role of the country’s president.
(Crowd applause) This applause gives me the right to refrain from further elaborating on Vladimir Putin’s experience and authority.
A few more words on this subject. I was always asked when we would decide, when we would tell people, and sometimes Vladimir Putin and I were asked: “have you two fought?” I want to fully confirm what I just said. What we are proposing to the congress is a deeply thought-through decision. And even more, we already discussed this scenario back when we first formed a friendly alliance. And I very much hope that the passage of years have shown us, and the majority of our citizens, the correctness of our strategy and the effectiveness of the existing governance model.
But while we waited a long time to reveal publicly our positions and the scenario for the next elections, I hope that you, and our citizens, will understand that this was a matter of political expediency, linked to the specific political practices of our country. But I would like to emphasise one thing: we have always told the truth.
Finally, and most importantly, the choice is yours, and that of all the people of Russia.
Dear friends, we know why we are going to the polls: in order to win. Today in this room it seems very appropriate to remind our political opponents of the fact that until very recently, only about a decade ago, our country was in the deepest decline, locked in a systemic crisis whose effects were comparable to the damages incurred by civil war. They should remember that. Together we have overcome the most difficult challenges, and raised ourselves up. We are the millions of citizens of our country, the great people of a great state. Through common efforts we preserved and restored our beloved homeland, our Russia. And we will not give her up. We will not give her up to those who want to destroy her, we will not give her away to those who deceive people with empty and unrealistic slogans and promises.
Our beloved country, our Russia, must belong to free, honest and responsible people. I’m sure that it will be that way.
Friends, I am very excited and would like to sincerely thank the conference, the United Russia party and all of you for your trust, everyone who is here today because it shows our common aspiration to achieve the goals that Mr Putin and I talked about.
All of us here in this hall are united in our feeling of excitement but there is still a lot of hard work ahead. We must go through the elections. The election cycle is long and we should all get mobilised to do some serious work. I am talking about the preparations for the elections to the State Duma, then the elections of the President of the Russian Federation, and finally for the formation of the Government of the Russian Federation. I’m confident that we will achieve all of this. Why? Because the goals we have set for ourselves are shared by the overwhelming majority of Russian people. And however much our opponents criticise us – and of course the government and the party are not immune to mistakes – nevertheless, progress has been absolutely steady, and the vast majority of people have been able to feel the benefits of our achievements.
When I speak with ordinary people, my old friends, the people I grew up and studied with, they all note the problems and the mistakes, but they say, “Still, life has changed for the better in our country in recent years.” This comes from the heart and it means that our efforts are not in vain, it means that we have chosen the right path. Our task today is not to abandon this path and to be more efficient, more honest, more open, and sometimes more demanding in order to achieve the results that we are going to achieve.
I am sure we will have many good occasions to discuss our achievements, but now I want to ask you to get ready to do some very serious and very responsible work. And if we succeed, we will have a modern, creative and efficient parliament and we will win the presidential election with a landslide and will elect our candidate, and not some other.
After that we will put together a government, and if we succeed I am ready to head that government and work for the benefit of our nation.
Mr. Putin announced that he planned to name Mr. Medvedev to head the government as Prime Minister after the 2012 election.