Vladimir Putin hopes article in Izvestia newspaper will court Russian voters

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent article in the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia has generated a great deal of interest not only in Russia but in international circles as well. Mistakenly billed by some as a focus on immigration and Russia’s ethnic make-up, the article is aimed at reclaiming middle class voters who have taken part in the recent political protests across Russia.

Writing in the Russia Profile, Andrew Roth noted that “Prime Minister Vladimir Putin put forth the most comprehensive political platform of his presidential bid in an article he released in the Russian daily Izvestia on Monday. While rehashing familiar rhetoric about stability in Russia and the possibility of a collapse during his early days in office, Putin also squarely set his gaze on middle class voters, tens of thousands of whom protested against vote fraud this December. But experts doubt that Putin’s article, released in a pro-Kremlin newspaper, would sway many protest voters, and current polls indicate a humiliating runoff vote for president this March.

Meanwhile The Economist published an excellent analysis of the article beginning with the historic background of the title Mr. Putin chose for the publication:

“Russia is collecting itself”, is a quotation from a dispatch in 1856 from Alexander Gorchakov, the then foreign minister, to Russian embassies in Europe after the Crimean war. “Russia is reproached for isolating itself…They say Russia is angry. Russia is not angry. It is collecting itself,” the foreign minister wrote. The Crimean war led to big domestic reforms, including the abolition of serfdom. Mr Putin’s manifesto offers no such radical plans, but calls rather for consolidation in the face of turbulence.

Given the interest in the article the Mendeleyev Journal is publishing that piece in it’s entirety below:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

(By Vladimir Putin, January 2012, Moscow)

Russia: The Ethnicity Issue

For Russia – with its rich diversity of languages, traditions, ethnicities and cultures – the ethnicity issue is without any exaggeration a fundamental one. Any responsible policymaker or public leader must realise that public and inter-ethnic harmony is one of our country’s key requisites.

We see what is happening in the world, and what serious risks are accumulating. The growth of inter-ethnic and inter-faith tensions is one of today’s realities. Nationalism and religious intolerance are coming to provide an ideological base for most radical groupings and tendencies. This undermines and destroys the state and divides society.

Colossal migration flows – and there is every ground for believing they will only increase – are already called a new “great migration” able to transform the patterns of life and even appearance of whole continents. Millions of people in search of a better life are leaving regions hit by starvation, chronic conflict, poverty and social dislocation.

The most developed and affluent countries, which used to be proud of their tolerance, have come face-to-face with an “exacerbated ethnic issue”. Today, one after another, they announce that they have failed to integrate different cultures into society, that they have failed to ensure the conflict-free and harmonious interaction between different cultures, religions and ethnic groups.

The melting pot of assimilation is highly volatile – pushed to its limits by the ever-increasing migration flow. In politics this has found reflection in a “multiculturalism” which denies integration through assimilation. Although it makes the “minorities right to be distinct” absolute, it does little to balance this with public, behavioural or cultural commitments to the population and society as a whole. Closed ethnic-religious communities that form in many countries refuse not only to assimilate but even to adapt. There are neighbourhoods and whole towns where generations of new arrivals live on benefits and do not speak the language of the country in which they live. The growth of xenophobia among the population and harsh attempts to protect their interests, jobs and social benefits from “immigrant rivals” is the response seen in this behavioural model. People, shocked by what they perceive as aggressive pressure on their traditions or way of life, feel a genuine fear of losing their national identity.

Thoroughly respectable European politicians have started to talk openly about the failure of the “multicultural project”. They exploit the “ethnic card” to stay in office, adding their voices to the chorus of those they used to consider marginal and/or radicals. Extreme forces, in turn, are rapidly gaining in number, laying serious claims to power. In fact, there is talk of forced assimilation – against the backdrop of “shutting down” and sharply tightening migration rules. People from different cultures are faced with a choice: either “blend in with the majority” or remain an ethnic minority that is isolated, despite being provided with all kinds of rights and safeguards. But in effect they find themselves divorced from promising career opportunities. I will say frankly – an individual who finds themselves in this environment is unlikely to be loyal to his or her country.

Behind the “failure of the multicultural project” stands the crisis of the model of the “ethnic state” – a state historically been built exclusively on the basis of ethnic identity. This is a serious challenge that Europe and many other regions in the world will have to face.

Russia as an “historic state”

The situation in our case, for all the apparent similarities, is entirely different. Our ethnic and migration problems are directly related to the collapse of the USSR, and beyond that, historically, to the destruction of Greater Russia, which emerged in its original form in the 18th century. This was followed by the inevitable degradation of state, social and economic institutions. And a huge development gap throughout the entire post-Soviet space.

When RSFSR deputies declared sovereignty 20 years ago, they, in the heat of fighting the “Union centre”, started up the process of building “ethnic states” within the Russian Federation itself. The “Union centre”, in turn, trying to bring pressure to bear on its opponents, began a behind-the-scenes struggle with Russian autonomous areas, promising them a higher “ethnic-state status”. Now all those involved are simply passing the buck. But one thing is apparent – their actions led equally and inevitably to both downfall and separatism. They lacked both courage and responsibility as well as the political will to uphold the Motherland’s territorial integrity steadfastly and consistently.

What the originators of this “sovereignty scheme” perhaps failed to envisage, was quickly and easily understood by others, including those beyond our state borders. The effects were not slow to follow.

The country’s collapse pushed us to the brink and certain regions even to the brink of civil war fuelled by ethnic strife. With great effort and major sacrifices these flames were extinguished. But that does not mean, of course, that the problem has been resolved.

However, Russia did not vanish, even when the state as an institution was critically weakened. What happened can be described in the words of historian Vasily Klyuchevsky, who wrote about the first Russian revolt: “When the political pillars of public order gave way, the country was saved by the moral will of the people.”

Incidentally, National Unity Day on November 4, which some superficially describe as “the day we overcame the Poles,” should more accurately be described as the day we achieved victory over ourselves, over our internal strife and feuds, the day when the classes and ethnic groups saw themselves as a single entity, as one people. We can rightly consider this holiday the birthday of Russia as a civil nation.

Historically, Russia has been neither a mono-ethnic state nor a US-style “melting pot,” where most people are, in some way, migrants. Russia developed over centuries as a multinational state, in which different ethnic groups have had to mingle, interact and connect with each other – in domestic and professional environments, and in society as friends. Hundreds of ethnic groups live in their native lands alongside Russians. The development of vast land areas throughout Russia’s history has been a joint affair between many different peoples. Suffice it to say that ethnic Ukrainians live in an area stretching from the Carpathian Mountains to Kamchatka, and the same is true of ethnic Tartars, Jews and Byelorussians.

One of the earliest Slavonic philosophical and religious texts, The Sermon on Law and Grace, rejects the theory of the “chosen people” and advocates the idea of equality before God. And here is how The Primary Chronicle described the multi-national character of the Old Russian state: “The Slavic-speaking ethnic groups are Polans, Drevlians, Novgorod Slavs, Polochans, Dregoviches, Severians, Buzhans… And there are other ethnic groups – Chud, Merya, Ves, Muroma, Cheremis, Mordva, Perm, Pechera, Yam, Litva, Korsh, Neroma and Lib – who speak their own languages…”

It is about this specific feature of the Russian state that Ivan Ilyin wrote: “Do not eradicate, suppress or enslave the blood of others, do not strangle the life of other non-Orthodox tribes, but give everyone the freedom to breathe and their own great homeland… honour everyone and reconcile them with each other, allow everyone to pray and work as they choose, and pick the best from each for the political and cultural development of the state.”

The Russian people and Russian culture are the linchpin, the glue that binds together this unique civilisation. But all kinds of provocateurs and our enemies will do their best to snatch this linchpin from Russia, through phoney talk about the Russian right to self-determination, “racial purity” and the need to “complete what was started in 1991 – the elimination of the empire that is feeding off the Russian people.” What they really want in the end is to make people destroy their homeland with their own hands.

I am convinced that the attempts to preach the idea of a “national” or monoethnic Russian state contradict our thousand-year history. Moreover, this is a shortcut to destroying the Russian people and Russian statehood, and for that matter any viable, sovereign statehood on the planet.

When they start shouting, “Stop feeding the Caucasus,” tomorrow their rallying cry will be: “Stop feeding Siberia, the Far East, the Urals, the Volga region or the Moscow Region.” This was the formula used by those who paved the way to the collapse of the Soviet Union. As for the notorious concept of self-determination, a slogan used by all kinds of politicians who have fought for power and geopolitical dividends, from Vladimir Lenin to Woodrow Wilson, the Russian people made their choice long ago. The self-determination of the Russian people is to be a multiethnic civilisation with Russian culture at its core. The Russian people have confirmed their choice time and again during their thousand-year history – with their blood, not through plebiscites or referendums.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

A common cultural code

The Russian experience of state development is unique. Ours is a multiethnic society; we are a united people. This makes our country complicated and multidimensional and gives us unique opportunities for development in many spheres. But when a multiethnic society is infected with the virus of nationalism, it loses its strength and stability. We must understand the far-reaching consequences of indulging those who are trying to incite ethnic strife and hatred towards people of other cultures and faiths.

Civil peace and ethnic accord are not a completed painting that remains unchanged for centuries. On the contrary, it entails constant movement and dialogue, hard work by the state and society, very delicate decisions and balanced and wise policies capable of ensuring “unity in diversity.” We must not only honour mutual obligations, but also try to find common values. You cannot force someone to be with you, not even in a mercenary marriage based on a cost-benefit analysis. Such a relationship only works until a crisis hits, at which point it starts working against itself.

Confidence in our ability to achieve the harmonious development of a multicultural society is based on our culture, history and our type of identity.

You may recall that many Soviet citizens who were based abroad identified themselves as Russians and considered themselves as such, irrespective of their ethnicity. It is also interesting to note that ethnic Russians have never formed stable ethnic diasporas anywhere, even though their representation – both in numbers and quality – has been significant. The reason is that our identity is based on a different cultural code.

The Russian people are state-builders, as evidenced by the existence of Russia. Their great mission is to unite and bind together a civilisation. Language, culture and something Fyodor Dostoyevsky defined as “universal responsiveness” is what unites Russian Armenians, Russian Azeris, Russian Germans, Russian Tatars and others, in a type of state civilisation where there are no ethnicities, but where “belonging” is determined by a common culture and shared values.

This kind of civilisational identity is based on preserving the dominance of Russian culture, although this culture is represented not only by ethnic Russians, but by all the holders of this identity, regardless of their ethnicity. It is a kind of cultural code which has been attacked ever more often over the past few years; hostile forces have been trying to break it, and yet, it has survived. It needs to be supported, strengthened and protected.

Education plays a huge role in this. The available choice of educational programmes, the variety of curricula, is, without doubt, a major achievement.  At the same time, this variety should be based on sacrosanct values, as well as a basic knowledge and understanding of the world. The civic goal of the education system is to provide each citizen with the necessary amount of cultural knowledge, upon which the foundations of national self-identity is based. First and foremost, education programmes should emphasise important subjects such as the Russian language, Russian literature and Russian history – taught, of course, within the context of the global wealth of all ethnic traditions and cultures.

In the 1920s, some leading universities in the United States advocated something referred to as the Western Canon, a canon of books regarded as the most important and influential in shaping Western culture. Each self-respecting student was required to read 100 books from a specially compiled list of the greatest books of the Western world. Some universities still hold on to this tradition. Russians have always been described as a “reading nation.” Let us take a survey of our most influential cultural figures and compile a 100-book canon that every Russian school leaver will be required to read – that is, to read at home rather than study in class or memorise. And then they would be asked to write an essay on one of them in their final exams. Or at least let us give young Russians a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and world outlook in various student competitions.

State policy with regard to culture must provide appropriate guidelines. I am referring to media such as television, cinema, the Internet and mass culture in general, which shape public consciousness and set rules and patterns of behaviour.

Let us recall how Hollywood helped shape the consciousness of several generations of Americans. It promoted values and priorities that were rather positive in terms of national interests and public morals. Russia could learn from that experience.

Let me emphasise that this policy has nothing to do with restricting creativity, with censorship or some rigid “official ideology.” What I am saying is that the government has a right, and a duty, to focus its efforts and resources toward resolving the social and public challenges it has identified. Shaping a mindset that binds the nation together is one of these challenges.

So subtle cultural therapy is what is recommended for Russia, a country where, for many, the civil war never really ended and where the past is highly politicised and seen as a collection of ideological quotes (often interpreted by different people in opposite ways). We need a cultural policy – pursued at every level from school teaching to historical documentation – to shape an understanding of history in which representatives from each ethnic group, as well as the descendants of the “Red Commissars” and “White Officers”, can be seen to have a place. They must see where they belong in that process and see themselves as heirs to the great Russian history – tragic and controversial as it is, but still “one for all.”

We need a national policy strategy based on civic patriotism. There is no need for anyone living in Russia to forget their religion or ethnicity. But they should identify themselves primarily as citizens of Russia and take pride in that. No one has the right to put their ethnic or religious interests above the laws of the land. At the same time, national laws must take into account the specific characteristics of different ethnic and religious groups.

I believe that the federal government should set up a special agency responsible for ethnic development, inter-ethnic accord and interaction. These problems are currently the responsibility of the Ministry of Regional Development. Unfortunately, with the overwhelming volume of current issues the ministry has to deal with, these matters are often pushed to the back burner. This needs to change.

This should not be another stereotypical government agency. Rather it should be a collegial body with certain powers to work directly with the president and top government officials. National policies cannot be drafted and implemented exclusively in official offices. National and public associations should be directly involved in the consultation and drafting process.

We also expect the traditional religions to be actively involved in these policy consultations. Although very different, each of them – the Russian Orthodox Church, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism – has the same basic and universal underlying moral and spiritual values: compassion, cooperation, truth, justice, respect for elders, the ideals of family and work. These moral targets cannot be replaced, and must be strengthened.

I am confident that the government and society should welcome and support the efforts of the different faiths in education, social welfare and in the Armed Forces. At the same time, Russia should remain a secular state.

Nationalities policy and the role of strong institutions

Society’s systemic problems frequently surface in the form of interethnic tensions. It should always be kept in mind that there is a direct relation between unresolved socioeconomic problems, an inequitable law enforcement system, bureaucratically entangled officials and corruption, when considering ethnic conflict. If we look at the history of recent interethnic excesses – Kondapoga, Manezhnaya Square, Sagra – we can find these “triggers” practically everywhere. In each case we can see a sharp response to injustice, irresponsibility and inaction on the part of government officials. We see a lack of faith in equality before the law and in the inevitability of punishment for criminals. We see the conviction that everything is corrupt and that there is no truth.

When people start complaining that the rights of Russians are being infringed upon in Russia and particularly in historical Russian territories, this means that government agencies are failing in their direct duties: they do not defend the lives, the rights or the security of the people. Since the majority of this people are Russian, it becomes possible to capitalise on the subject of “national oppression of Russians” and to make this justified public reaction assume the most primitive and vulgar form of interethnic unrest. At the same time they will cry about “Russian fascism” at every opportunity.

We must be aware of the risks and threats inherent in situations likely to reach the point of ethnic conflict. And we should estimate the activity or inactivity of law enforcement or of the authorities, which have led to interethnic tensions, with the most critical approach manner, and with no regard for rank or position.

There are just a few recipes for situations of this kind. Do not jump to hasty conclusions. Every aspect of the problem should be considered. Each case involving the “ethnic issue” should be considered on its own merit, with the facts clarified and the mutual grievances settled. Where there are no hard facts, the process should be made public because the lack of information can breed rumours that can only make things worse. Of exceptional importance at this point is the media’s professionalism and sense of responsibility.

No dialogue can take place amid rioting and violence. No one should be tempted to push the authorities into making a decision using a riot as a tool. Our law enforcement agencies have proved that they can cut short these attempts quickly and efficiently.

One more point of principle is that we must promote a democratic, multi-party system. Decrees are to be issued soon, which will simplify and liberalise the registration and functionality of political parties; proposals on reestablishing the popular election of regional governors are being put into practice. All these steps are necessary and to the point. But the organisation of regional parties, including in the national republics, is one thing we should think twice about. This is a direct path to separatism. Restrictions, with possible separatism in mind, should also be applied to the election of the regional governors. Those who attempt to lean towards nationalist, separatist, or other similar forces or influences should be restricted from the electoral process through democratic and court procedures.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

The migration problem and our integration project

Today many people are worried or even, let’s face it, irritated by the costs linked with mass migration, both immigration and domestic migration. Some are concerned that the creation of the Eurasian Union will lead to a surge in migration and consequently to the amplification of existing problems. I believe we must clearly outline our position.

First, it is obvious that we should dramatically improve the quality of the government’s migration policy. We will address this issue.

Illegal immigration can never be stopped completely; but it must and can be minimised. In this sense, intelligible police actions and the authority of the migration services should be strengthened.

But a simple mechanical toughening of the migration policy alone will not be effective. In many countries this toughening has only led to a rise in illegal migration. A migration policy’s criterion should be its efficiency, not its rigidness.

In this connection, our policy with respect to legal migration, both permanent and temporary, should be clearly differentiated. This, in turn, implies obvious migration policy priorities, a policy that favours skills, competence, competitiveness, and cultural and behavioural compatibility. This “positive selection” of and rivalry for quality migrants exists all over the world. It goes without saying that these migrants integrate into their host societies much better and easier.

Second. Domestic migration has been growing in this country; people travel to other constituent territories of the Federation or to big cities to study, to live or to work. They are full citizens of the Russian Federation.

At the same time, those who arrive in regions with different cultural and historical traditions should treat local customs with respect. I mean the customs of the Russian people and those of all the other peoples of Russia. A different kind of behaviour – inadequate, aggressive, provocative, disrespectful, and the like – should meet with a legitimate, if severe, response on the part of the authorities first, authorities that often are simply indifferent today. We must see whether the Administrative Code, the Criminal Code and the regulations of the Interior Ministry’s agencies contain all the necessary provisions for controlling this kind of behaviour. A case in point is tightening the law and introducing criminal liability for breaches of migration and registration rules. Occasionally it is enough to issue a warning. But if a warning is based on a concrete legislative rule, it will be more effective. It will be understood correctly – not as the opinion of a police officer or an official but precisely as an injunction of the law that should be obeyed equally by everyone.

A civilized framework is also of importance in internal migration. Among other things, it is necessary to develop a harmonious social infrastructure: healthcare, education, and the labour market. These systems are already at the edge in many “migration-attractive” regions and major cities. This makes the situation somewhat difficult for both the long time residents and for the “newcomers.”

It is my view that we have to toughen registration rules and the penalties for breaching these rules. As is only natural, this should be done without prejudice to the constitutional right to a free choice of a place of residence.

Third comes the strengthening of the judicial system and establishing effective law enforcement agencies. This is essential for both immigration and, in our case, for internal migration – from the North Caucasus, in particular. Without this there can be no objectivity in resolving inter-community disputes (the accepting majority and migrants), nor can there be any perception of migration as both safe and fair.

Moreover, incompetent, corrupt courts and police will always cause a backlash and antagonise the host-society’s views of migrants. This also leads to the flourishing of gang culture and the shadow economy among the migrants themselves.

We must not allow isolated ethnic communities to emerge in which criminal codes prevail over the law. This would be a violation of the rights of the migrants themselves – both by the crime bosses and by the corrupt authorities.

Ethnicity-related crimes flourish amid widespread corruption. Under the law, criminal groups tied to ethnicities or clans are no different from any other criminal groups. But in the particular circumstances we face here, ethnicity-related crime is not just a rule-of-law matter; crucially, it has a national security aspect. The problem must thus be tackled in an appropriate way.

The fourth point is the need to adequately integrate and socialise migrants. This is where we have to return to the issue of education. There must be more focus on the quality of education in Russia rather than on the particular relationship between the education system and migration policy (as this latter is, in any case, certainly not schools’ main objective).

The value and attractiveness of education could offer migrants a strong motivation to integrate into society while low educational standards will always prompt further isolation and seclusion of migrant communities that will last much longer, even for generations.

It is important that migrants have an opportunity to adapt to society. The basic requirement placed on people who want to live and work in Russia must be their willingness to familiarise themselves with our culture and language. From next year, migrants must be required to pass a Russian language test, Russian history and literature tests and a test in the Russian system of state and Russian law in order to get permission to reside. Like other developed countries, Russia is able to provide migrants with the relevant classes. Compulsory professional training might be required in a number of cases, at the employer’s expense.

Finally, the fifth point is close integration across the post-Soviet space as a real alternative to uncontrolled migration.

Objectively, mass migration is rooted, as I said, in a huge gap in development and living conditions. We understand that the logical way to reduce migration – if not to eliminate it completely – is to curtail this inequality. This is what so many liberal activists and left-wingers in the West advocate. But unfortunately, this beautiful, and ethically impeccable, view is clearly utopian if one takes the global perspective.

There are no objective obstacles, however, for us not to implement this approach given our particular socio-historical landscape. One of Eurasian integration’s key tasks is opening up the opportunity for decent living standards and development to millions of people.

We understand that people do not leave their homes and travel miles away to work because they’re fleeing “the good life” – sometimes in conditions that are far from acceptable – to earn a basic living wage for themselves and their families.

From this perspective, the tasks we set ourselves regarding these internal issues (creating a new economy and effective employment, rebuilding professional associations, developing production capacity and social infrastructure across the country), and regarding Eurasian integration, become key instruments in bringing migration flows back to a manageable level. This means, on the one hand, that we must direct migrants to areas where they would be less likely to trigger social tension. On the other hand, this means that we must give them the opportunities to lead normal lives, to live and work in their home regions, opportunities of which they largely feel deprived today. There are no easy decisions in ethnic policy. Elements of this policy are firmly embedded in various aspects of the state and society – in its economy, social issues, education, political system and foreign policy. We must build a model of state and a civilised society that would be equally attractive and balanced for everyone who views Russia as their motherland.

We can see where the work needs to be done. We understand we have a truly unique history. And we draw strong support from that mentality, culture, and identity that are ours and ours alone.

We will strengthen the historical state that we inherited from our ancestors, the civilisation that is blessed with an inherent ability to integrate various ethnicities and faiths.

We have lived together for many centuries. Together, we were victorious in the most terrible of wars. And we will continue to exist side by side. To those who want and try to divide us, I say – in your dreams.

Russia muscles up – the challenges we must rise to face

On March 4, the people of Russia will be going to the polls to elect a president of the country. Extensive discussions are currently underway across society.

I consider it necessary to state my position on a number of issues which seem to be important in this broader debate: the risks and challenges Russia will, inevitably, encounter. The position we must take in global politics and the world economy. Will we follow the course of events or take a role in setting the rules of the game? What resources will help us to strengthen our positions and, I stress, ensure stable development? The kind of development that is a world away from stagnation. Because, in the modern world, stability is an asset that can only be secured and earned through persistent effort, by being open to change and being ready to carry through developed, well thought-out, considered reforms.

A recurring problem in Russian history has been the elites’ desire to achieve sudden change, a revolution rather than sustained development. Meanwhile, both Russian and global experience demonstrates how harmful these sudden historical jolts can be: jumping the gun, destroying – not creating.

This is balanced by a different trend, a diametrically opposed challenge –in the form of a certain inclination to inertia, dependency, the elites’ uncompetitiveness and high levels of corruption. And in every case these “rebels” turn into the “smug upper classes” before our very eyes, resisting any change and fervently protecting their status and privileges. Or we witness the reverse process – as the established elites become rebels.

Consequently, politics and policies are short-term and limited by issues involving the current preservation or re-division of authority and property.

This situation has historically resulted from weak public control over policymakers in Russia, its underdeveloped civil society. Things are gradually improving there, but only very slowly as yet.

There can be no real democracy until politics is embraced by the majority of the population, until it reflects the interests of this majority. True, it is possible to win over a considerable part of society for a short time with catchy slogans and visions of a brighter future; but if people later simply cannot picture themselves in this future – they will turn away from politics and social challenges for a long time to come. This has happened time and again in our history.

Today people talk about different ways to reinvigorate the political process. But what is up for discussion? How state power should be structured? Handing it to the “better people”? But what next? What then?

I am worried that there is virtually no broader discussion of what should be done beyond the elections, after the elections. To my mind, this is not in the national interests; it is not in the interests of the quality of society’s development, the standard of education and levels of responsibility.

I think Russians should be able to discuss not only the advantages and disadvantages of individual politicians, which is clearly in itself no bad thing, but also the actual content of the policies and programmes which various political leaders intend to implement. The challenges and goals which must be at the forefront of these programmes. How we can improve our life and make our social system more just. What avenues of social and economic development we should favour.

We need a broad dialogue – about the future, about priorities, long-term choices, national development and national prospects. This article is an invitation to join just such a dialogue.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Where we are and where we’re headed

In terms of the basic parameters of social and economic development today’s Russia has emerged from the deep recession which followed the collapse of totalitarian socialism and the ensuing downfall of the Soviet Union. Despite the 2008-2009 crisis, as a result of which we “lost” a whole two years, we have attained and surpassed the living standard indices reported in the best years of the USSR. For example, life expectancy in Russia now is higher than in the Soviet Union in 1990-1991.

Our economy is growing – and this is above all about people, their work, their incomes, their new opportunities. Compared with the 1990s, poverty is down by more than 150%. “Areas of stagnant poverty”, when active and employable people could not find jobs or were not paid for months, are essentially a thing of the past. Independent studies show that four out of five Russians have incomes higher than in 1989 – the “peak” of development of the USSR – which was followed by the decline and imbalance of the country’s entire socio-economic organism. Over 80% of Russian families today consume more than their Soviet counterparts did. The availability of domestic appliances has grown by 50%, reaching the level of developed economies. One in two families has a car – a three-fold rise. Housing conditions have palpably improved. Both the statistical average individual and Russian pensioners now consume more basic foods than they did in 1990.

But what is particularly important is that over the past 10 years Russia has produced a considerable segment of the population – people who in the West are called the middle classes. Their incomes allow them a certain freedom in what they choose to spend and what to save, what to buy and how to spend their holidays. They can afford to be choosy over where they work and have some savings under their belt.

Lastly, the middle classes are people who can choose politics. As a rule, their education is such that they can take a discriminating attitude to candidates rather than “voting with their heart.” In short, the middle classes have begun shaping their real demands in various fields.

In 1998, they made up between 5% and 10% of the population – less than in the late USSR. Now the middle classes are estimated to constitute between 20% and 30% of the population. These are people whose earnings are three times as high as the average wage or salary in 1990.

These middle classes must continue to expand. They must become a social majority in our society; to recruit members from among those who really are the lifeblood of the country – doctors, teachers, engineers, and skilled workers.

Russia’s main hope lies with the high educational standards of the population and above all of its youth. This is the case – despite the obvious problems with and complaints about the quality of the country’s educational system.

As many as 57% of people aged 25 to 35 in Russia have a higher education – a level seen in just three other countries: Japan, South Korea and Canada. This explosive growth in demand for educational requirements is continuing: the next generation (15- to 25-year-olds) will likely be one of universal higher education – as more than 80% of young people will either be in the process of attaining, or will have completed courses of higher education.

We are entering a wholly new social reality. The “educational revolution” is fundamentally altering the key features of Russian society and the Russian economy. Even if our economy does not require that many workers with higher education at the moment – there is no going back. People should not have to adapt themselves to the existing economic and labour market structure – it is the economy that must change so as to enable people with a high educational standards and high requirements to find a worthy occupation.

Russia’s main challenge is learning to exploit the “educational drive” of this younger generation, to mobilise the middle class’s enhanced demands and its readiness to assume responsibility for its own welfare in order to guarantee economic growth and the country’s continued stable development.

Better educated people mean a longer life span, less crime, less antisocial behaviour, and more rational options. All of this – in and of itself – is creating a favourable background for our future.

But this is not enough.

The steady growth in Russia’s wealth in the past decade has largely been due to government policy, including a more rational distribution of the country’s commodity earnings. Oil revenues were used to boost people’s incomes – to pull millions out of poverty. We have also ensured that the country had rainy-day savings to support it through crises or disasters. But the potential of our commodity-based economy is becoming depleted, and what’s more, it has no strategic future.

The goal of diversifying the economy and creating new growth sources has been included in our programmes and policy documents as early as 2008.

An innovation-based economy needs to be built for the sake of all educated and responsible citizens, whether they are professionals, business leaders or consumers.

As many as 10-11 million young people will become economically active over the next decade, about 8-9 million of them with university degrees. Today, some 5 million university graduates are not satisfied with their incomes and jobs, and the lack of career growth prospects. Another 2-3 million people employed by public services and agencies wish to find new jobs. In addition, 10 million people are employed by companies that use obsolete technology and equipment. Older technology should become history, and not just because it is not competitive. In some cases it is simply hazardous for a worker’s health or for the natural environment.

In this context, the talk of 25 million new innovation-based high-tech jobs for educated Russians is not just phrase-mongering. It is a vital necessity, a required minimum that should be achieved. This national priority should become the focus of state policy and of business strategy. The country’s business climate should be improved in this respect.

I am confident that Russia’s current and future workforce potential is high enough to provide strong global competition. Russia’s future economy should also meet society’s needs. It should ensure higher incomes and create broader opportunities for professional growth and social improvement.

All the above should become the key growth criteria in the next few years, and not just figures such as GDP, international reserves, rating agencies’ assessments and Russia’s high rank among the world’s leading economies. It is of primary importance that people feel some positive change, mainly growing opportunities.

At the same time, individual initiatives should be the real drivers of growth. We will fail if we rely exclusively on government decisions and on a limited circle of investors and state companies. We are certain to fail if Russians at large remain passive.

Therefore, strong growth in Russia over the next decade implies greater freedom for each of us. Wealth sourced from others, without conscious decision-making and responsibility is out of the question in the 21st century.

There is one more challenge we are facing. Generalities about the benefits of accord or charity are rhetoric that often disguises a lack of trust among our people, their reluctance to make efforts for the public good, to look out for each other and to sacrifice private interests. This is an old and serious ailment in Russian society.

Russian culture includes a longstanding tradition to respect the state, public interest and the nation’s needs. An absolute majority of Russians wants to see their country strong and powerful and it respects national heroes who have given their lives for the greater good. Unfortunately, their pride in their motherland or their patriotic feelings rarely gets reflected in their daily activities such as participation in local policy-making, legal advocacy or real charity.

As a rule, this behaviour is not due to indifference or selfishness. In fact it reflects a lack of self-confidence or distrust of others.

Still, even that has slowly started changing. People have started to do more than make demands of the authorities, however justified they might be. They are taking on important tasks like neighbourhood improvement, supporting people with disabilities, helping those in need, organising leisure activities for children and so on.

In 2012, the government will begin to support these initiatives. Federal and regional programmes have been adopted to support social NGOs. These programmes will be expanded in the future. However, for these programmes to work, we need to overcome state officials’ die-hard prejudice against public activists. This prejudice in fact reflects the officials’ reluctance to share resources, a desire to avoid competition and responsibility for the outcome.

In fact religion – the widespread faiths such as Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism – plays a valuable role in serving the people, in overcoming discord, in boosting trust and willingness to peacefully resolve conflicts that are bound to arise in a fast growing society. Large and important contributions can and must be made by schools and the media, TV and the internet communities.

A society of independent individuals is not the same as a crowd of lonely mercenary egotists indifferent to the public good. We have never been such a people and never will be. Personal freedom is productive only if one looks out for others. Freedom which is not based on morality turns into anarchy.

Trust among people only develops in a society knitted together by shared values and priorities, one where people have not lost their faith, integrity or sense of what is fair. Respect for the law only emerges where the law applies to all, is observed by all and when it is based on truth.

A social portrait of our future would be incomplete without mentioning one crucial element: 10%-11% of our countrymen are living below the poverty line, for a variety of reasons. We have to solve this problem by the end of the decade. We have to overcome poverty, it is unacceptable for a developed country. We must harness the resources of the state and the efforts of most active, committed part of society. We need to ensure that social assistance reaches those who need it and support charitable movements.

Russia must develop a system of social mobility that allows people to climb out of poverty, a system appropriate to a modern society. We must learn to compensate for the negative social consequences of a market economy and the inequality engendered by it, just like other countries with a long-established tradition of capitalism have learned to do. This assistance includes helping children from poor families receive education, providing social housing to low-income families, ending discrimination against people with disabilities and securing them equal access to life essentials and good jobs. Our society will become successful only when our citizens become convinced that it is a fair society.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

New stage of global development

The global crisis that erupted in 2008 has affected everyone and has forced us to reassess many things.

Everyone knows that the economic storm was  caused not only by cyclical factors and failures of regulation. The root of the problem lies in the accumulated imbalances, which led to a dead-end development model based on unrestrained borrowing, living on credit, sacrificing the future, and on virtual rather than real, values and assets. What is more, the prosperity generated in this model has been distributed among individual countries and regions extremely unevenly.  It also undermines global stability, provokes conflicts and reduces the international community’s ability to come to an agreement on the critical, fundamentally important issues.

Phoney principles are developing not only in the economy, but also in politics and the social sphere. The crisis in the developed countries has exposed a dangerous and, in my opinion, purely political trend: a reckless, populist build-up of state social obligations without any connection to the growth of labour productivity, and the engendering of social irresponsibility in some sections of the population. But it is now becoming clear to many that the age of prosperity created by other people’s efforts is coming to an end.

No one will be able to live beyond their means. This requirement fully applies to Russia as well.

We have not made empty promises. Our economic policy was well thought out and prudent. Before the crisis, we grew our economy substantially, repaid our debts, increased people’s real incomes and created reserves that allowed us to survive the crisis with minimal impact on people’s living standards. Moreover, we were even able to increase pensions and other social payments considerably during the height of the crisis. Many, particularly those in the opposition camp, urged us to hurry to spend our oil revenues. What would have happened to pensions had we listened to these populists?

Unfortunately, we heard a lot of populist rhetoric during the recent parliamentary election campaign, and we are likely to hear it again during the presidential campaign, from people who have no hope of winning the elections and are therefore free to make promises they will not have to fulfil. I tell you frankly that we must continue to make aggressive use of all available opportunities for improving people’s lives. But as before, we must not act randomly, so that we will  not suddenly be faced with the need  to take back from the people much more than we so freely handed out to them in the first place, as has happened in some Western countries.

It should be said that the current global imbalances are on such a large scale that they cannot be dealt with within the framework of the existing system. It is true that market fluctuations can be overcome. Most countries have set out a range of tactical measures to respond to the acute manifestations of the crisis, with varying degrees of success.

But speaking in a deeper, longer-term sense, we must admit that the current problems have nothing to do with market volatility. By and large, what the world is facing today is a systemic crisis, a tectonic process of global transformation. It is a visible manifestation of our transition to a new cultural, economic, technological and geopolitical era. The world is entering a period of turbulence, which will be prolonged and painful. We should not be under any illusions.

The end result of the system that has developed in the 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, including the phenomenon of unilateralism, is also obvious. The former single centre of power can no longer maintain global stability, while the new centres of influence are not yet ready to take over. Global economic processes and the military political situation have become increasingly unpredictable and should be dealt with through the confident and responsible cooperation of states, primarily the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the G8 and G20 countries. We must keep working to overcome mutual suspicion, ideological prejudices and short-sighted self-interest.

Instead of boosting development and stabilising the global economic system, the world’s largest economic centres are creating an increasing number of problems and risks. Social, ethnic and cultural tensions are growing rapidly. Destructive forces have strengthened dramatically and have shown their aggressive nature in some parts of the world, ultimately threatening global security. The countries that are using military force to “export democracy” often become allies of these destructive forces.

Even the noblest of intentions cannot justify the violation of international law and state sovereignty. Moreover, experience shows that, as a rule, the initial objectives are not achieved, and the whole venture proves substantially more costly than anticipated.

Given this environment, Russia can and must play a role predicated upon its civilisation model, its great history, geography and its cultural ‘genome’ that organically combines the fundamental principles of European civilisation and many centuries of cooperation with the East, where new centres of economic and political influence are rapidly emerging.

How does Russia perceive the upcoming age of global transformation?

In the 1990s, the country experienced the profound shocks of collapse and degradation, which cost society dear. Inevitably, given the context – statehood atrophied. Indeed, we came close to breaking point. The very fact that several thousand guerrillas were able to attack a country that boasted a one-million strong army – even if they were supported by certain external powers – demonstrates the tragedy of that situation. Too many people believed we could be completely destroyed.

There was a message the FSB intercepted that I remember very well. It was sent by one of the most heinous and murderous international terrorists responsible for the deaths of our people in the North Caucasus – Khattab – to his foreign accomplices. He wrote, “Russia is weak as never before. Now we have our one and only chance to take the North Caucasus away from the Russians.” But the terrorists miscalculated. Russia’s armed forces, supported by the Chechens and other peoples of the Caucasus, defended the country’s territorial inviolability and the unity of the Russian state.

We needed, however, gargantuan efforts and resources to lift the country out of that hole, to restore Russia’s geopolitical status, to rebuild its social system and revive the economy. We restored basic state governance.

We had to restore the authority and power of the state itself. We had to recreate, despite the absence of deep-rooted democratic traditions, popular political parties and a mature civil society, while at the same time locking horns with regional separatism, the dominant influence of oligarchs, corruption and sometimes government bodies’ overt links with the criminal underworld.

Given those circumstances, restoring national unity, which meant establishing Russian sovereignty rather than the pre-eminence of particular individuals or groups, became the priority.

Few people now remember how difficult it was, and how much effort that decision took. Few now recall that in late 1990s, the most reputable experts and many international leaders foresaw one future for Russia: bankruptcy and breakup. The picture of Russia today – seen through the prism of the 1990s – would seem overoptimistic and even unbelievable.

But in fact this ‘forgetfulness’ and society’s readiness to embrace the highest standards in terms of quality of living and democracy – are the best signs of our success.

The country was able to weather the global crisis precisely because of the fact that, in recent years we all, the people of Russia, went such a long way to solving the most pressing and top priority issues. And now we are even in a position to speak about strategies and prospects.

The recovery period is now over. The post-Soviet phase of Russian and global history has now come to a close.

All the prerequisites for progress are in place, with new foundations and at a qualitatively new level. Incidentally, all this — in the harsh foreign policy and foreign economic conditions. Nevertheless, the inexorable global transformation offers us a tremendous opportunity.

I would like to repeat, once again, why I agreed to stand for presidential election in 2012. I am not going to belittle anyone’s merits in forming this country anew. Many people were involved. But the fact remains that in 1999, when I became prime minister, and later president, our country was in the grips of a severe systemic crisis. And that team of like-minded individuals that your humble servant, the author of these lines, was to form and lead, enjoying majority public support and confident in national unity around our common objectives, helped deliver Russia from the blind alley of civil war, break the back of terrorism, restore the country’s territorial integrity and constitutional order, and spark economic revival – giving us a decade distinguished by one of the world’s fastest economic growth rates and real income growth for the general public.

Now we can see what was successful, what needs improvement, and even what needs to be dismissed.

I see our goal in years to come as sweeping away all that stands in the way of our national development, completing the establishment in Russia of a political system, a structure of social guarantees and safeguards for the public, and an economic model that together form a single, living, ever-changing organism of state that is, at the same time, resilient, stable and healthy. One that is able to guarantee Russia’s sovereignty, and prosperity for our great nation’s citizens, in the decades to come. To defend justice and the dignity of every single individual. Truth and trust in the relationship between the state and society.

A great many issues remain unresolved. New difficult challenges will continue to arise, but we are in a position to use them for the benefit of Russia.

Russia is not the kind of nation to shirk a challenge. Russia muscles up, gathers its strength and responds appropriately to any challenge. Russia comes through any ordeal and is always victorious. We have a new generation of creative and conscientious people who have a vision of the future. They are already taking the lead in industries and businesses, government bodies, and the country as a whole, and will continue to do so.

How we respond to the challenges of the day, how we use this chance to become stronger and reinforce our status in this rapidly changing world is up to us.

In the coming weeks, I will present more detailed statements on this for public discussion.

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