(Saint George Hall, Kremlin Grand Palace, Moscow)
In an address that some say was meant to assure the opposition that political reform would be coming in Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev addressed the Federal Assembly in the final months of his presidency this past Thursday. The address was delivered in the prestigious Saint George Hall of the Kremlin Grand Palace. Mr. Medvedev entered the hall accompanied by Federal Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko and Russian Patriarch Kirill. Prominent opposition leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party was in the audience.
We must admit some surprise that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev quoted Dwight Eisenhower in his annual (and likely final) annual address to the Federal Assembly. During the 90 minute speech President Medvedev proposed a number of initiatives to further develop the country’s political system while outlining his positions on the topics of domestic and foreign policy, economic modernization and social development, defense and security.
He began by thanking his citizens and his supporters and listing a number of his accomplishments. Soon thereafter he addressed the wave of protests across Russia following the Duma (lower house of parliament) elections on 4 December by saying, “Civil society has become more influential, significantly increasing the activities of public groups. This is confirmed by the events of the past few weeks.”
He also said, “Following the parliamentary elections in Russia, various statements were made regarding their results, both in Russia and abroad. Some people were pleased with the elections’ results, others were not entirely satisfied, and still others were not happy at all. It was the same after the previous elections. This always happens.”
“I would therefore like to stress that we treat any criticism of state institutions and individual officials with the utmost attention and respect. We draw relevant conclusions where criticism is valid, restore justice where laws had been broken, take the necessary decisions in consultation with the main political forces, openly state our position and justify it if the criticism is unfounded.”
Repeating a theme heard often during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent nationwide call-in show, the President said, “People have a guaranteed right to express their opinions using all legitimate means but attempts to manipulate Russian citizens, to mislead them and incite social discord are unacceptable. We will not let instigators and extremists involve society in their reckless activities, and we will not allow foreign interference in our internal affairs.”
Mr. Medvedev that “Russia needs democracy, not chaos; it needs faith in the future and justice” and pledged that political competition from a viable opposition forces government to be accountable and to focus on common issues.
As part of his proposals for reforming government, he proposed the restoration of direct elections for regional governors, and to simplify the complex system of registration for political parties and to reduce the number of signatures new parties would need to gather in order to be registered.
Mr. Medvedev defended Russia’s reliance on natural reserves by saying, “the economic crisis has clearly shown that setting aside a part of the oil revenues to make reserves has been and remains a successful policy.”
In discussing his economic achievements, President Medvedev also stressed that the number of unemployed Russians over the past two years has decreased by almost two million people. He also said that Russian life expectancies have increased every year since 2006 and now stands at an average of 69, with the average woman living to age 75.
He ended his address by saying, “I am fully aware of my responsibility for everything that remains to be done. I believe in each of you and I know that we will succeed.”
The full text of the Medvedev speech can be read here.