In a few months Russia will enter a new decade of the twenty-first century. Of course, important junctures and significant dates are more symbolic than practical. But they give us a reason to reflect on the past, evaluate the present, and think about the future. Think about what awaits each of us, our children, our country.
First, let’s answer a simple but very serious question. Should a primitive economy based on raw materials and endemic corruption accompany us into the future? And should the inveterate habit of relying on the government, foreign countries, on some kind of comprehensive doctrine, on anything or anyone – as long as it’s not ourselves – to solve our problems do so as well? And if Russia can not relieve itself from these burdens, can it really find its own path for the future?
Next year we will celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. This anniversary reminds us that our present day is the future of the heroes who won our freedom. And that the people who vanquished a cruel and very strong enemy back in those days must today overcome corruption and backwardness. To make our country both modern and viable.
As the contemporary generation of Russian people, we have received a huge inheritance. Gains that were well-deserved, hard-fought and hard-earned by the persistent efforts of our predecessors. Sometimes the cost of hardships really was terrible casualties. We have a huge territory, large amounts of natural resources, solid industrial potential, an impressive list of outstanding achievements in science, technology, education and art, a glorious history regarding our army, navy, and nuclear weapons. By using its authority Russian power has played a significant — and in some periods determinate — role in events of historic proportions.
How should we manage that legacy? How to magnify it? What will the future of Russia be for my son, for the children and grandchildren of my fellow citizens? What will be Russia’s place, and hence the place of our descendants, heirs, and future generations, among other nations in the global labour market, in the system of international relations, in global culture? What must we do to steadily improve the quality of life of Russian citizens today and in the future? To allow our society to become richer, freer, more humane and more attractive? So that Russian society can give to those who desire it a better education, an interesting job, a good income, and comfortable environment for both personal life and creative activity?
I have answers to these questions. And before I turn to them, I would like to assess the current situation.
The global economic crisis has shown that our affairs are far from being in the best state. Twenty years of tumultuous change has not spared our country from its humiliating dependence on raw materials. Our current economy still reflects the major flaw of the Soviet system: it largely ignores individual needs. With a few exceptions domestic business does not invent nor create the necessary things and technology that people need. We sell things that we have not produced, raw materials or imported goods. Finished products produced in Russia are largely plagued by their extremely low competitiveness.
This is why production declined such much, more than in other economies, during the current crisis. This also explains excessive stock market volatility. All this proves that we did not do all we should have done in previous years. And far from all things were done correctly.
The energy efficiency and productivity of most of our businesses remains shamefully low, but that is not the worst part. The trouble is that it seems that owners, directors, chief engineers and officials are not very worried about this.
As a result Russia’s influence in global economic processes is, quite frankly, not as great as we would like. Of course, in the era of globalisation the influence of any country cannot be unlimited. That would even be harmful. But our country must have substantial opportunities, as befits Russia’s historic role.
As a whole democratic institutions have been established and stabilised, but their quality remains far from ideal. Civil society is weak, the levels of self-organisation and self-government are low.
Every year there are fewer and fewer Russians. Alcoholism, smoking, traffic accidents, the lack of availability of many medical technologies, and environmental problems take millions of lives. And the emerging rise in births has not compensated for our declining population.
We managed to gather the country together to stop centrifugal tendencies. But many problems still remain, including the most acute ones. Terrorist attacks on Russia are continuing. Residents of the republics in the North Caucasus simply do not know peace. Military and law enforcement personnel are dying, as are government and municipal employees, and civilians. Of course these crimes are committed with the support of international criminal groups. But let's face up to it, the situation would not be so critical if the socio-economic development of southern Russia were more viable.
To sum up, an inefficient economy, semi-Soviet social sphere, fragile democracy, negative demographic trends, and unstable Caucasus represent very big problems, even for a country such as Russia.
Of course we do not need to exaggerate. Much is being done, Russia is working. It is not a half-paralyzed, half-functioning country as it was ten years ago. All social systems are operating. But this is still not enough. After all, such systems only propagate the current model, and do not develop it. They cannot change current ways of life and therefore bad habits remain.
Achieving leadership by relying on oil and gas markets is impossible. We must understand and appreciate the complexity of our problems. We must frankly discuss them in order to act. In the end, commodity exchanges must not determine Russia’s fate; our own ideas about ourselves, our history and future must do so. Our intellect, honest self-assessment, strength, dignity and enterprise must be the decisive factors.
My starting point while setting out five priorities for technological development, offering specific measures for the modernisation of the political system, as well as measures to strengthen the judiciary and fight corruption, is my views on Russia’s future. And for the sake of our future it is necessary to liberate our country from persistent social ills that inhibit its creative energy and restrict our common progress. These ills include:
1. Centuries of economic backwardness and the habit of relying on the export of raw materials, actually exchanging them for finished products. Peter the Great, the last tsars and the Bolsheviks all created – and not unsuccessfully – elements of an innovative system. But the price of their successes was too high. As a rule, it was done by making extreme efforts, by using all the levers of a totalitarian state machine.
2. Centuries of corruption have debilitated Russia from time immemorial. Until today this corrosion has been due to the excessive government presence in many significant aspects of economic and other social activities. But it is not limited to governmental excess — business is also not without fault. Many entrepreneurs are not worried about finding talented inventors, introducing unique technologies, creating and marketing new products, but rather with bribing officials for the sake of ‘controlling the flows’ of property redistribution.
3. Paternalistic attitudes are widespread in our society, such as the conviction that all problems should be resolved by the government. Or by someone else, but never by the person who is actually there. The desire to make a career from scratch, to achieve personal success step by step is not one of our national habits. This is reflected in a lack of initiative, lack of new ideas, outstanding unresolved issues, the poor quality of public debate, including criticism. Public acceptance and support is usually expressed in silence. Objections are very often emotional, scathing, but superficial and irresponsible. Well, this is not the first century that Russia has had to confront these phenomena.
People tell us that we cannot completely cure chronic social diseases. Those traditions are steadfast, and history tends to repeat itself. But at one point serfdom and rampant illiteracy seemed insurmountable. However, we overcame them all the same.
Of course traditions have a considerable influence. But they nevertheless fit in with each new era and undergo changes. Some simply disappear, and not all of them are useful. For me, only unquestionable values which must be preserved may be regarded as traditions. They include interethnic and interfaith peace, military valour, faithfulness to one’s duty, hospitality and the kindness inherent in our people. Bribery, theft, intellectual and spiritual laziness, and drunkenness, on the other hand, are vices that offend our traditions. We should get rid of them by using the strongest terms.
Of course today’s Russia will not repeat its past. Our time is truly new. And not just because it is moving forward, as time does, but also because it opens up before our country and each one of us tremendous opportunities. Opportunities of which there was no trace twenty, thirty, or much less a hundred or three hundred years ago.
The impressive legacy of the two greatest modernisations in our country’s history – that of Peter the Great (imperial) and the Soviet one – unleashed ruin, humiliation and resulted in the deaths of millions of our countrymen. It is not for us to judge our predecessors. But we must recognize that the preservation of human life was not, euphemistically speaking, a government priority in those years. Unfortunately, this is a fact. Today is the first time in our history that we have a chance to prove to ourselves and the world that Russia can develop in a democratic way. That a transition to the next, higher stage of civilization is possible. And this will be accomplished through non-violent methods. Not by coercion, but by persuasion. Not through suppression, but rather the development of the creative potential of every individual. Not through intimidation, but through interest. Not through confrontation, but by harmonising the interests of the individual, society and government.
We really live in a unique time. We have a chance to build a new, free, prosperous and strong Russia. As President I am obliged to do everything in my power to make sure that we fully take advantage of this opportunity.
In the coming decades Russia should become a country whose prosperity is ensured not so much thanks to commodities but by intellectual resources: the so-called intelligent economy, creating unique knowledge, exporting new technologies and innovative products.
I recently identified five strategic vectors for the economic modernisation of our country. First, we will become a leading country measured by the efficiency of production, transportation and use of energy. We will develop new fuels for use on domestic and international markets. Secondly, we need to maintain and raise our nuclear technology to a qualitatively new level. Third, Russia's experts will improve information technology and strongly influence the development of global public data networks, using supercomputers and other necessary equipment. Fourth, we will develop our own ground and space infrastructure for transferring all types of information; our satellites will thus be able to observe the whole world, help our citizens and people of all countries to communicate, travel, engage in research, agricultural and industrial production. Fifth, Russia will take a leading position in the production of certain types of medical equipment, sophisticated diagnostic tools, medicines for the treatment of viral, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases and cancer.
As we follow these five strategies for success in high-tech spheres, we will also pay constant attention to the development of our most important traditional industries and, first of all, the agro-industrial complex. One in three of us live in rural areas. The availability of modern social services for rural residents, increasing their incomes, improving their working conditions and daily life will always remain our priority.
Of course Russia will be well-armed. Well enough so that it does not occur to anyone to threaten us or our allies.
These goals are realistic. The targets we have set for achieving them are difficult but attainable. We have already developed detailed, step-by-step plans to move forward in these areas. We will encourage and promote scientific and technological creativity. First and foremost, we will support young scientists and inventors. Secondary and higher education will prepare a sufficient number of specialists for promising industries. Academic institutions will concentrate major efforts on the implementation of breakthrough projects. Legislators will take all decisions to ensure comprehensive support for the spirit of innovation in all spheres of public life, creating a market place for ideas, inventions, discoveries, and new technologies. Public and private companies will receive full support in all endeavours that create a demand for innovative products. Foreign companies and research organisations will be offered the most favourable conditions for establishing research and design centres in Russia. We will hire the best scientists and engineers from around the world. Most importantly, we will explain to our young people that the most important competitive advantage is knowledge that others do not have, intellectual superiority, the ability to create things that people need. As Pushkin wrote: “There is a higher courage: the courage of invention, creation, where an extensive plan is overwhelmed by the creative idea.” Inventors, innovators, researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs who introduce new technologies, will become the most respected people in society. In turn, society will give them everything they need to be productive.
Of course an innovative economy cannot be established immediately. It is part of a culture based on humanistic values. It is grounded in our efforts to transform the world and guarantee a better quality of life, liberate individuals from poverty, disease, fear and injustice. Talented people who want reform, people who can create new and better things will not come here from another planet. They are already here among us. And that is clearly proven by the results of international intellectual competitions, the fact that inventions made in Russia are patented abroad, and the fact that our best specialists are headhunted by the world’s largest companies and universities. We — the government, society and the family unit — must learn to find, nurture, educate and take care of such people.
I also think that technological development is a priority public and political task because scientific and technological progress is inextricably linked with the progress of political systems. Experts believe that democracy originated in ancient Greece, but in those days there was no extensive democracy. Freedom was the privilege of a select minority. Full-fledged democracy that established universal suffrage and legal guarantees for the equality of all citizens before the law, so-called democracy for everyone emerged relatively recently, some eighty to one hundred years ago. Democracy occurred on a mass scale, not earlier than the mass production of the most necessary goods and services began. When the level of technological development of Western civilization made it possible to gain universal access to basic amenities: to education, health care and information. Every new invention which improves our quality of life provides us with an additional degree of freedom. It makes our existential conditions more comfortable and social relations more equitable. The more intelligent, smarter and efficient our economy is, the higher the level of our citizens’ welfare, and our political system and society as a whole will also be freer, fairer and more humane.
The growth of modern information technologies, something we will do our best to facilitate, gives us unprecedented opportunities for the realisation of fundamental political freedoms, such as freedom of speech and assembly. It allows us to identify and eliminate hotbeds of corruption. It gives us direct access to the site of almost any event. It facilitates the direct exchange of views and knowledge between people all around the world. Society is becoming more open and transparent than ever – even if the ruling class does not necessarily like this.
Russia's political system will also be extremely open, flexible and internally complex. It will be adequate for a dynamic, active, transparent and multi-dimensional social structure. It will correspond to the political culture of free, secure, critical thinking, self-confident people. As in most democratic states, the leaders of the political struggle will be the parliamentary parties, which will periodically replace each other in power. The parties and the coalitions they make will choose the federal and regional executive authorities (and not vice versa). They will be responsible for nominating candidates for the post of president, regional governors and local authorities. They will have a long experience of civilized political competition: responsible and meaningful interaction with voters, inter-party cooperation and the search for compromises to resolve acute social problems. They will bring together in one political entity every element of society, citizens of all nationalities, the most diverse groups of people and territories of Russia endowed with ample powers.
The political system will be renewed and improved via the free competition of open political associations. There will be a cross-party consensus on strategic foreign policy issues, social stability, national security, the foundations of the constitutional order, the protection of the nation's sovereignty, the rights and freedoms of citizens, the protection of property rights, the rejection of extremism, support for civil society, all forms of self-organisation and self-government. A similar consensus exists in all modern democracies.
This year we started moving towards the creation of such a political system. Political parties were given additional opportunities to choose those occupying leadership positions in the federal regions and municipalities. We relaxed the formal requirements for the creation of new parties. We simplified the conditions in place for the nomination of candidates for election to the State Duma. We passed legislation guaranteeing equal access to public media for parliamentary parties. A number of other measures were adopted as well.
Not everyone is satisfied with the pace at which we are moving in this direction. They talk about the need to accelerate changes in the political system. And sometimes about going back to the ‘democratic’ nineties. But it is inexcusable to return to a paralyzed country. So I want to disappoint the supporters of permanent revolution. We will not rush. Hasty and ill-considered political reforms have led to tragic consequences more than once in our history. They have pushed Russia to the brink of collapse. We cannot risk our social stability and endanger the safety of our citizens for the sake of abstract theories. We are not entitled to sacrifice stable life, even for the highest goals. In his time Confucius remarked: ”Impatience in small matters destroys a great idea“. We have all too often experienced this in the past. Reforms for the people, not the people for reform. At the same time this will displease those who are completely satisfied with the status quo. Those who are afraid and do not want change. Changes will take place, but they will be gradual, thought-through, and step-by-step. But they will nevertheless be steady and consistent.
Russian democracy will not merely copy foreign models. Civil society cannot be bought by foreign grants. Political culture will not be reconfigured as a simple imitation of the political traditions of advanced societies. An effective judicial system cannot be imported. Freedom is impossible to simply copy out of a book, even a very clever one. Of course we'll learn from other nations – from their experiences, their successes and failures in developing democratic institutions. But no one will live our lives for us. Nobody is going to make us free, successful and responsible. Only our own experience of democratic endeavour will give us the right to say: we are free, we are responsible, we are successful.
Democracy needs to be protected. The fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens must be as well. They need to be protected primarily from the sort of corruption that breeds tyranny, lack of freedom and injustice. We have just begun to develop such protective mechanisms. Our judicial system must be a central component here. We have to create a modern efficient judiciary, acting in accordance with new legislation on the judicial system and based on contemporary legal principles. We also have to rid ourselves of the contempt for law and justice, which, as I've said repeatedly, has lamentably become a tradition in this country. But the formation of a new judicial system cannot be achieved by competitions or campaigns, or idle talk about how the system itself is rotten and that it would be easier to create new judicial and law enforcement systems than to change them. There are no entirely new judges, just as there are no new public prosecutors, police, intelligence personnel, civil servants, businessmen and so on. We need to create normal working conditions for the law enforcement agencies and get rid of the imposters once and for all. We have to teach law enforcement officers to protect and defend rights and freedoms, to justly, clearly and effectively resolve conflicts in the legal field. We need to eliminate attempts to influence judicial decisions for whatever reasons. Ultimately, the judicial system itself has to understand the difference between what it means to act in the public interest or in the selfish interests of a corrupt bureaucrat or businessman. We need to cultivate a taste for the rule of law, for abiding by the law, respect for the rights of others, including such important rights as that of property ownership. It is the job of the courts with broad public support to cleanse the country of corruption. This is a difficult task but it is doable. Other countries have succeeded in doing this.
We will do everything possible to allow the people in Russia's Caucasus to lead normal lives. Economic and humanitarian programmes for the south of the country will soon be reviewed and fleshed out. We will set up some very clear criteria to assess the performance of heads of governmental structures dealing with the Caucasus. This applies primarily to federal and regional ministries and departments responsible for policy in industrial production, finance, social development, education and culture. At the same time, law enforcement authorities will continue to stamp out the bandits who seek to intimidate and terrorise the population of some Caucasian republics with their crazy ideas and barbaric customs.
Negative demographic trends must be slowed and stopped. We need to improve the quality of medical care, promote fertility, ensure safety on the road and in the workplace, combat the pandemic of alcoholism and develop physical culture and mass sport. This requires both a strategic approach and making such things the everyday tasks of the government.
Whatever the scope or effects of these transformations, their goal is ultimately the same, improving the quality of life in Russia. Creating better conditions by providing citizens with housing, employment, medical care, care of pensioners, protection of children, and support for people with disabilities – these are the duties of the authorities at all levels.
Russian politicians often remind us that, under our Constitution, Russia is a welfare state. This is true, but we must not forget that the modern welfare state is not some kind of bloated Soviet social security system, and benefits are not distributed from the sky. A welfare state is a complex, balanced system of economic incentives and social benefits, legal, ethical and behavioural standards, a system whose productivity crucially depends on the quality of work and level of training of every one of us.
Whatever is distributed to society by government should only be what it has earned. Living beyond our means is immoral, unwise and dangerous. We need to make the economic system more productive so that we can earn more. Not just wait for the oil price rising at a given moment – we've got to earn our way.
We will improve the efficiency of social services in all spheres, paying special attention to problems of material and medical support for veterans and pensioners.
The modernisation of Russian democracy and establishment of a new economy will, in my opinion, only be possible if we use the intellectual resources of post-industrial societies. And we should do so without any complexes, openly and pragmatically. The issue of harmonising our relations with western democracies is not a question of taste, personal preferences or the prerogatives of given political groups. Our current domestic financial and technological capabilities are not sufficient for a qualitative improvement in the quality of life. We need money and technology from Europe, America and Asia. In turn, these countries need the opportunities Russia offers. We are very interested in the rapprochement and interpenetration of our cultures and economies.
Of course no relationship is free from contradictions. There will always be controversial topics, reasons for disagreement. But resentment, arrogance, various complexes, mistrust and especially hostility should be excluded from the relations between Russia and the leading democratic countries.
We have many common goals, including absolute priorities which affect every inhabitant on Earth such as the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and reducing the risk of adverse effects from man-made climate change.
We must have interested partners and involve them in joint activities. And if we need to change something ourselves in order to do so, abandon previous prejudices and illusions, then we should do so. I am of course not referring to a policy of unilateral concessions. Lack of will and incompetence will not gain us any respect, gratitude, or gains. This has already happened in our recent history. Naive notions of the infallible and happy West and the eternally underdeveloped Russia are unacceptable, offensive and dangerous. But no less dangerous is the path of confrontation, self-isolation, mutual insults and recrimination.
Nostalgia should not guide our foreign policy and our strategic long-term goal is Russia’s modernisation. Along with this Russia is one of the world's leading economies, a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It should openly and explicitly explain its position and defend it in all venues, without weaselling or giving in to pressure to conform. And in the case of a threat to our own interests we must strongly defend them. I talked about these principles of our foreign policy in August last year.
In addition to this active work on the western front, we must increase our cooperation with the countries of the EurAsEC [Eurasian Economic Community], CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organisation] and CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]. These are our closest, strategic partners. We share the common goal of modernising our economies, regional security, and a more equitable world order. We must also develop worldwide cooperation with our partners in the SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organisation] and BRIC [Brazil-Russia-India-China].
Like every great people, the Russian people are brilliant and heroic, they command the world's respect and admiration, and at the same time our history has been a controversial, complex, ambiguous one. It means different things to different people in different countries. And much remains to be done to protect our historical heritage from distortion and political speculations. We must look clearly at our past and see our great victories, our tragic mistakes, our role models, and the manifestations of the best features of our national character.
In any case, we will be attentive to our history and we will respect it. First and foremost we must respect our country's role in maintaining a balanced world order for centuries. Russia has always, at all stages of its development, sought to achieve a more equitable world order.
Russia has often sought to protect small nations, those confronted with the threat of enslavement or even destruction. This was the case only recently, when Saakashvili's regime launched its criminal attack on South Ossetia. Russia has often put an end to the plans of those bent on world domination. Russia has twice appeared in the vanguard of the great coalitions: in the 19th century to stop Napoleon and in the 20th by defeating the Nazis. In war and peace, when a just cause has demanded decisive action, our people have been there to help. Russia has always been a staunch ally in war and an honest partner in economic and diplomatic affairs.
In the future, Russia will be an active and respected member of the international community of free nations. It will be strong enough to exert a significant influence on the formulation of decisions that have global implications. It will be able to prevent anyone's unilateral actions from harming our national interests or adversely affecting our internal affairs, from reducing Russians' level of income or damaging their security.
For these reasons, along with other countries we are trying to reform the world's supranational political and economic institutions. The aim of this modernisation is the development of international relations in the interests of as many peoples and countries as possible. We want to establish rules of cooperation and dispute settlement, in which priority is given to modern ideas of equality and fairness.
These are my views on the historical role of our country and its future. These are my answers to some of the questions that affect us all.
I would invite all those who share my convictions to get involved. I would also invite those who do not agree with my ideas but sincerely desire change for the better to be involved as well. People will attempt to interfere with our work. Influential groups of corrupt officials and do-nothing ‘entrepreneurs’ are well ensconced. They have everything and are satisfied. They're going to squeeze the profits from the remnants of Soviet industry and squander the natural resources that belong to all of us until the end. They are not creating anything new, do not want development, and fear it. But the future does not belong to them – it belongs to us. And we are an absolute majority. We will act patiently, pragmatically, consistently and in a balanced manner. And act now: act today and tomorrow. We will overcome the crisis, backwardness and corruption. We will create a new Russia. Go Russia!