Vladimir Putin: The occasion for our meeting is very serious, coming as it does on the eve of the second congress of United Russia. Although the process of your organisation has not been completed, considerable positive experience has been accumulated in party building and in social and political work.
But problems still remain. The creation of political parties is not a simple task. Clearly, any party that is being formed always sets itself the pragmatic task of winning the upcoming elections. But I think you will agree with me that the influence of a political party on the country’s life does not end there. In fact, it only begins with electoral victory. The best thing is if the party is directly involved in working out the strategic foundations for the development of the country and then actively influences the implementation of these goals and controls that process.
Therefore I think that considering the composition of United Russia in terms of organisation and intellectual potential, it could make a tangible contribution to laying the foundations of the political system and developing the Russian economy. And I repeat, it could go on to monitor how all this is put into practice.
So far, to be honest, party work in our country comes to a standstill the day after the elections. I would like to stress that in my opinion this is absolutely wrong and inadmissible. If a non-governmental organisation wants to be viable and to influence the real process and its citizens, if it wants to have supporters among its constituency, then of course it must work on a more solid basis.
You have often declared that United Russia was not created only for the purpose of the upcoming election campaign. I hope that you will put your work on a permanent and systematic basis and will become the nucleus of political life not only in the capitals, but in the Russian regions and in the municipalities.
In fact, all that has recently been done to modernise Russia’s political structure was aimed to create major political parties, federal parties that rely above all on the regions and municipalities. That is how the party’s vertical structure should be built from top to bottom.
I very much hope that as a result Russia’s national interests will be better ensured in the regions and that through the influence of the party structured in this way the federal centre will feel the pulse of the development of the country and the needs of ordinary citizens.
The party now has an incentive and a clearly defined interest to gain a foothold at the regional level. United Russia also has experience of direct participation in regional election campaigns. An example is the Sverdlovsk Region, which has been operating a proportional system of elections for nearly ten years.
I am also aware that you have come up with many initiatives that meet the needs of society. I am thinking about your party’s position in connection with the reform of the system of salaries of public sector employees. I think that United Russia made some timely comments on certain weaknesses in the Government’s proposals and stepped into this process just in time.
But I would like to note that the forms of implementing such initiatives have yet to be worked out.
As regards the system of payments to public sector employees, that is a positive example, a very practical example that has a direct impact on the material well-being of the population. There should be more such initiatives.
Contributing to the strategy of the country’s development, as I have said, is the key task of any political party. For now most party programmes are far removed from the real practice of development of the state and management. But I must say that we have had a lot of discussions with practically all those present on political issues, on state development and on economic priorities and development strategy of Russia. We have had discussions with Yury Luzhkov, one to one, and in a wider format, with Mintimer Shaimiyev (on his initiative we have created working groups at the Presidential Executive Office which are collaborating with the Government). We meet with other colleagues often to discuss key topics.
I would like similar discussions to be prepared in the framework of United Russia and introduced to the Government or the head of state as party initiatives.
For example, we have discussed the power industry many times, but that was the opinion of Mr Luzhkov. We have often met with Mintimer Shaimiyev to discuss state development, but that was the opinion of the President of Tatarstan. We have discussed the development of the multi-party system with some colleagues, but I only heard the opinions of [Oleg] Morozov and some other people. I think it would be right if such a powerful party structure as United Russia held discussions of certain issues and that its opinion were presented to the nation as the opinion of United Russia.
In general, I very much hope that United Russia will continue to evolve and acquit itself as a structurally complete organisation with a good intellectual base that will influence the strategy of the development of the Russian state.
I would like to end my opening remarks there. I suggest that we open the debates.