Vladimir Putin: People of Russia,
This is the first time since my inauguration as president that I am submitting a package of bills to the State Duma. On the one hand, this is the usual practice of a head of state, but on the other it concerns laws meant to strengthen and cement the Russian state. I consider them vital for the future of our country. I promised that the government would follow transparent policies and explain their aims and practical steps to its citizens.
The bills being submitted to the Duma continue the project launched by the May 13 decree introducing federal districts. It is a project aimed at strengthening state unity, and it has the support of governors, deputies, and all the people of Russia. One might say this is the first time there are no divisions in the country on such a fundamental issue. The common aim of all these acts is to make both the executive and legislative branches of government work more effectively, and to ensure the application of the constitutional principles of delimitation of powers and the integrity of the executive vertical structure.
What are these bills about? They boil down to three basic points. First, they propose changing the way the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, is formed. The Russian Constitution stipulates that the State Duma shall be elected and the Federation Council formed from representatives of the executive and legislative branches. But it does not specify that these must be chosen from regional leaderships – governors, presidents of republics, or speakers of regional legislatures. But today’s practice is precisely that. I think regional leaders should focus on practical problems facing their regions; after all, this is what they are elected for, and their representatives should make the laws, but regularly and professionally, not once a month as now.
The Russian president will have his work cut out for him dealing with a professional parliament, but this is in the best interests of the goal we are trying to achieve. That the quality of laws will improve is beyond any shadow of a doubt. We will also do away with a glaring discrepancy in the way the government operates in Russia. Today, governors and heads of republics are both executives and also, because they sit on the Federation Council, members of parliament, i.e. co-authors of the laws they are supposed to enforce. As we say, it is a mixed bag, apples and oranges, a clear violation of the principle of delimitation of powers.
The second major goal of these bills is to introduce the procedure for dismissing regional leaders and dissolving regional legislative assemblies that pass legislation that violates federal laws. It may be recalled that even the president of the country may today be stripped of his powers for violating the constitution. The same procedure must apply to heads of regions and local government bodies.
The third and last point logically proceeds, in my view, from the second. If the head of a region may be removed from his post under certain circumstances by the president of the country, then this regional leader himself must have a similar right with respect to lower authorities. Today such a power structure is not only correct, but simply necessary in order to rebuild a functioning chain of command in the country. Lacking such tools, neither the federal parliament, nor the government, nor even the president has for a long time been able to do simple but absolutely necessary things, and, above all, to ensure that civil rights are strictly observed and Russian legislation uniformly understood and enforced both in Moscow and in the remote Russian hinterland. This is a dictatorship of the law. And it will mean that we live in a strong country, an integral state, Russia.
I wish here to emphasise that all the bills I have submitted fit within the framework of the current Russian Constitution. Now I would like to address State Duma deputies and Federation Council members. Today we have debated these issues for a long time with a large number of Federation Council members in the Kremlin. The bills might get a mixed reception and may give rise to additional debate. We are ready for that. I am sure that together we will translate these far-from-simple decisions into life. The time has come to separate party, local and personal ambitions from the urgent need to strengthen the state and enhance authority. The people of Russia have long been waiting for this. We must live up to their expectations.
I am deeply convinced that we should have effectively functioning authorities, with every one pulling their weight. Lawmakers in the upper and lower houses should pass laws, and governors, who bear enormous responsibility for the social well-being of the people and for the success of their regional economies, should do their jobs. No one can replace them in this role.
Today, they are as concerned with strengthening authority as the federal centre. Some have proposed even more radical measures than those in the bills, up to and including the direct appointment of governors by the Russian president. But I believed and still believe that heads of regions should be elected by the people. This procedure is already established and became part of our democratic system.
I also consider it important to say that the bills are not directed against regional leaders. On the contrary, I am sure that the heads of regions are the president’s main support and will remain so in strengthening our state. A state is not simply a piece of land on which we live and work, not a geographical area with drawn boundaries; it is, above all, constitutional order and discipline. If these instruments are weak, so is the state. Or it just does not exist.
It is a glaring fact when – just consider the figure – one-fifth of legislative acts passed in the regions conflict with the country’s fundamental law, when the constitutions of republics and statutes of regions disagree with the Constitution of Russia, when Russian regions erect trade barriers or, worse still, border posts, which also happens. The effects of such violations are disastrous. These seemingly small things gradually combine to give rise to separatism, which sometimes develops into a more dangerous evil – international terrorism.
Once more, I address the lawmakers, and once again I want to stress that the time of forced compromise leading to instability is gone. And I do hope that you will support the policy of strengthening the Russian state.
People of Russia, you know as well as I do that lack of government discipline costs millions of ordinary people dearly. Official incompetence is damaging to personal safety, the inviolability of the home and property, and ultimately our own welfare and the future of our children. This is why we need a strong and accountable government. Therefore I am seeking your approval for the steps being taken. I was elected Russian president with that mandate in mind, and I am going to carry out this policy firmly and consistently, the way we are doing it today.
Thank you for your time.