PUTIN’S THIRD ADDRESS TO PARLIAMENT: "A BORING REVOLUTION" OR THE HIGHEST FORM OF POLITICAL AEROBATICS?

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All the mystery about the presidential address, kept completely secret until the very last moment, turned out to be a great disappointment for the media, which had been guessing what the address would be like, and whether it was to be postponed again.

The headlines reflected this very well: “Putin’s boring revolution”, Izvestia; “Prose of life”, Vremya Novostei; “Genre crisis”, Vedomosti; “An essay on a topic of your own choice”, Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The latter tried to make the situation sound dramatic, with the subtitle, “Last year, state officials were advised to familiarize themselves with the ideas of economic liberalism; this year it is an imperative, non-compliance will be severely punished.” However, other periodicals were not enthusiastic about the presidential address.

As the Vedomosti paper noted, “The address was a very successful expression of Putin’s credo, if the president said what he wanted to say. But it is unclear why so little is changing in Russian society between one annual address and the next.” According to Putin’s second address, last year, the administrative system blocked liberal reforms in Russia, as it opposed measures to combat corruption. A year later, hardly anything has changed – a graphic example of the ineffectiveness of presidential addresses.

On the other hand, according to Vedomosti, it is senseless to accuse the government of negligence: in order to implement presidential objectives, the Cabinet needs a distinct plan. In other words, the president should “decode” his ideology: what the goals are, how to achieve them, and what will happen if they are not fulfilled.

Probably, the paper notes, the president is not supposed to do this, but there is no one else to outline the strategy. Overall, Vedomosti believes, the authorities have good ideas and are able to evaluate the situation, but they lack tools for realization their ideas.

In the opinion of the Kommersant paper, the central idea of the presidential address is acceleration of not the economy only, but the whole state, including the administrative system, which is, as is known, the major obstacle for normal development of the economy. Thus, the acceleration is to become total. Kommersant writes, “On the one hand, it is right. But on the other hand, for some reason, we recollected the 17 year old events in the Soviet Union.” The paper reminds to those, who have forgotten about this, that then the acceleration of the scientific and technical progress that was declared the national goal, gradually transformed into perestroika, which later caused the crash of the whole system. Kommersant economic observer Nikolai Verdul sneers, “The we also started with chasing. But then, we were to catch up with no Portugal as now, but with the United States.”

Observer of the Novye Izvestia Otto Latsis also recollected Soviet Times. According to him, “In stagnation times, Leonid Brezhnev said many good speeches, as he would always have perfect speech-writers. But sometimes he mixed up those who wrote speeches with those who fulfilled his orders.” Moreover, no one ever fulfilled the majority of those orders, as all knew that “not all speeches are written to be implemented.”

Tatiana Malkina, observer of the Vremya Novostei paper, states that the reaction of both politicians and ordinary citizens at the presidential address reflects “increase of requirements” to the head of state. “Journalists unanimously called the presidential address boring, many parliamentarians said it was empty, and ordinary citizens inteviewed on TV said the address does not mean much, as it is more important how work is done.”

According to the author, it corresponds to Russian traditions, “It is not accustomed in Russia to say anything, but that the authorities are either too bad, or not good enough.”

On the other hand, the sobriety of mind shown by the president was not aimed at delighting ordinary citizens. In fact, Tatiana Malkina writes, Putin requires the global community “just to be polite, and does not go into ideas of Russia – the great empire.” In fact, this is a fairly logical position for a country with a GDP of $300 billion, which is 3% of the US GDP. The author notes that for the same reason, the president “does not promise to entirely eliminate poverty in Russia within five years, he does not dismiss the Cabinet every six months, he is exceedingly suspicious, and rejects haste and risk.” That is why many reforms are delayed. There is another point here – Putin is known for his ability to be convincing in any speech and any discussion.

It has become a custom to explain Putin’s “convincingness” by peculiarities of his professional training. It is generally believed that the president-former KGB officer has perfect recruiting skills, “Actually, it is very suspicious that after personal meeting with President Putin, Chechen leave his office almost in tears, representatives of European organizations part with him with affectionate tears in their eyes, leaders of world countries are astounded after meeting with him, and journalists usually optimistically smile.” The author met with the president in person, and she is convinced that in a private talk the president is “intelligent, profound, bright, successive, and logical”. No wonder, the result of meeting with the president is usually the same, “all are recruited”. The issue is that not many work after they are “recruited”, and even if they work, their actions not always correspond to the posed objectives. That is why the personnel issue is always burning for Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, the Russian president and his reforms were seriously criticized at the annual Russian economic forum in London. Alpha-Bank president Petr Aven, who is known for his loyalty to the president and the authorities, stated publicly that there is no liberalization in Russia at all. Mr. Aven stressed, “I am convinced that the majority of people, who are present in this room, have accounts in foreign banks, many own properties abroad, and in accordance with the Russian constitution we all are criminals,” cited from the Vedomosti paper.

It is a serious accusation, if take into account the solidity of the forum.

Further in his speech, Mr. Aven announced that according to his data, Russian banks fund no more than 3% of interior investments, at the same time the share of credits in banking assets overall in Russia does not exceed 40%. Mr. Aven asked, “What do the majority of Russian banks do if they do not implement their major function – crediting? They do money laundering.”

According to Vedpomosti, Mr. Aven also criticized the Russian budget system. The Alpha – Bank head calculated that the budget spending on all levels in Russia amounts to 33% of GDP. At the same time, according to various calculations, in China, this figure amounts to 13 – 17% of GDP. Aven stated, “It is a tremendous burden for the Russian business and a brake for the economic growth.”

Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Union of Right Forces supported Aven in his criticism: in his opinion, “the president does not take responsibility for national economic policy,” cited by Vremya Novostei.

According to him, Putin should acquire the functions of the prime minister, “in order to cease shifting the responsibility for the reforms on the “technical” cabinet of minister of Mikhail Kasyanov.” An alternative is to establish the position of Vice President, the eliminate the government in accordance with the US pattern, and to transfer its functions to the Kremlin administration.

According to Vremya Novostei, in fact, the authorities have a rather tough choice: either to continue reforms and take the compete responsibility for their consequences or to admit that the tough dependence of the Russian economy of the situation on the international market is to preserve for an indefinably long time. The participants of the forum almost unanimously – Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin was an exception – concluded, that the present reforms in Russia, the administrative, military, banking, pension, and others, have practically ceased.

However, Vremya Novostei thinks the present situation in the country allows ignoring of all radical suggestions. In these terms, all is to continue as it is, “the president will more and more often criticize his own Cabinet for lack of ambitiousness, the members of the cabinet will try pretending to be ambitious until they are dismissed, and altogether will be afraid to carry out any real economic reforms on the threshold of the 2004 presidential elections.”

Georgy Satarov, the president of the INDEM foundation is also convinced that the president is hardly likely to continue decisive reforms in the next two years.

As he writes in the Delovye Lyudi magazine, “It is too risky. After a second victory he will have more opportunities for real modernization of the country.” At the same time, Satarov is not convinced at all that the modernization is to take place. In his opinion, the main strategic mistake of the head of state is his stake on the administrative methods of work. On the other hand, the logic of the presidential actions is also clear, “When you have many complicated objectives, it seems it is the easiest way to achieve them with customary instruments.”

Unfortunately, the author stresses, the president did less that he could have, especially if take into account the unprecedented favorable starting conditions for reforms. Nonetheless, Putin “made lots of compromises in order to preserve this favorable situation, while later it turned out that the compromises were unnecessary and he could have act more decisively and successively.”

At the same time, as Mikhail Fishman, the editor-in-chief of the Polit.ru website, wrote in Yezhenedelny Zhurnal magazine, “announcing socially costly reforms, Vladimir Putin is looking for a compromise and is not ready to announce definitely unpopular measures.”

The media constantly accuses the president of being over-cautious about his popularity rating. However, according to Fishman, the basis of the Russian economic paradox, according to which liberal reforms cannot help emptying wallets of Russians on the one hand, and on the other hand, reformers have no right to do this, is not only presidential care of his popularity rating.

Even Economic Development and Trade Minister Herman Gref, a well-known liberal, recently had to admit that at present shock therapy as economic policy is impossible in Russia.

That is why, the author states, the president determined only the general direction of the strategy, without going into details, except for the 13% income tax. “Putin retired from his own initiatives having suggested to the government to use its own political reserves.”

Anyway, the presidential address “dispelled anticipations that the Kremlin is preparing new economic policies” – the president did not feel embarrassed to repeat the last year’s theses. Besides, according to Mikhail Fishman, there is a considerable discrepancy in Putin’s liberal address, “it is strange to demand rapid results and significant growth” and simultaneously insist on gradual development and smooth progress.

If President Putin estimated the situation in the country adequately, he should have first of all criticize himself, at least because he is the author of notorious personnel appointments. Apparently, the fight between Kremlin groupings allows the president to “successfully balance between the elites”. At the same time, such a state apparatus structure is not mobile and efficient. That is why, it is possible to suggest that eventually the authorities dare to take decisive measures and to make an economic breakthrough, the basis of which will be the popularity rating of not the president but the prime minister. Yezhenedelny Zhurnal believes it is highly likely that the declared restructuring of the executive power will turn to be a “subtle adjusting of the cabinet” and “decisive suggestions of the president will again be postponed in order to wait for their next reincarnation in the next address”. Editor-in-chief of the Moskovskie Novosti weekly Viktor Loshak believes that President Putin intends to use his address as a “basis for a small personnel revolution,” as after some of the president’s estimations no one will be surprised about new appointments.

Moreover, according to Viktor Loshak, the presidential personnel revolution is mostly likely to concern not the government but the presidential envoys to federal districts and their apparatus. “The presidential administration openly says of the inefficiency and excessive inflation of these structures, as well as of vicious habit of some federal district leaders with shoulder straps to interfere with the economy of the district.” On the other hand, the author notes, until reaction actions start, it is hard to understand, “if the criticism of bureaucracy is a usual Soviet habit, or a precautionary shot.”

So far, according to the Moskovskie Novosti editor, Putin once again “demonstrated he is a much more radical liberal than most of his voters and the majority of his team in the parliament.”

After the presidential address, the latter found themselves in a rather difficult situation, it turned out that the “best-known trick of almost a half of Duma deputies – state hysteria – is out of use now.” The president did not touch upon this topic, but he said, that the main thing today is “to create conditions when Russian citizens are able to make money.” As Loshak writes, it means that many politicians, who made their stake on “Russian sovereignty”, fighting against the World Trade Organization, and opposing the west, are pushed to the curb. Now, they will have to urgently change their ideology.

A search for compromise between the necessity to carry out structural reforms and an intention to avoid a social blast is likely to delay. In particular, recent rallies against the communal reform in Voronezh and the attention the press paid to them prove this.

According to Novaya Gazeta, the Voronezh authorities are mostly concerned who is the organized of the action. The answer turned to be rather discouraging: beside trade union, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and the Communist Party, officials of the Voronezh mayor’s office also participated in the action. Voronezh Governor Vladimir Kulakov was shocked, “This rally is a good lesson for us. We believed we work together with municipal structures, while those now oppose us.”

Chair of the State Committee for construction and house-communal sector Anvar Shamuzafarov visited the city and explained to Voronezh citizens that the total cost of housing and communal services in Russia is 360 billion rubles. At present the population pays about a half of it, local budgets pay a third of the cost, and no one pays the resting 60 billion rubles. Presently, the sector is almost a bankrupt, and in order to support it, it is necessary to increase the payments and after this start reforms.

However, the paper notes that Mr. Shamuzafarov would not explain what the 360 billion rubles net cost of housing and communal services is based on. So far, no one calculated the real cost of these services. Chair of the state committee for construction was simply “fulfilling a PR task of the government for rendering to Voronezh residents the rules of the game in the present so-called reform.”

According to the Argumenty I Fakty paper, the present edition of the reform completely “eats away” the wages of the majority of Russians. At the same time, the local authorities explain to budget-sector employees that their wages are arrayed because their money are spent on communal payments. So it is a vicious circle and only the Communists can benefit by it, “At this background, it will be very easy for them to win the next parliamentary election campaign.”

Politicians perceived the Voronizh rallies as a political event. Deputy of the Yabloko faction Sergei Mitrokhin stated in the Literaturnaya Gazeta paper, “The events in Voronezh is the first serious ring for the government, which is a sign that the housing and communal reform in the present edition is likely to cause mass social upheavals in Russia.”

Famous political activist Alexander Dugin, the leader of the Eurasia movement does not doubt that the Voronezh rally is only “the beginning”, and warns that “politicizing of discontented masses may change into other forms and find more effective ways to express their legitimate social demands.”

The Vek weekly cited an opinion of famous and authoritative political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky, who stated that Voronezh events are nothing but “a play with producers and actors”.

Voronezh rallies are supposed to bring the authorities to an obvious conclusion, “they should reject the housing and communal reform, the pension reform, and the land reform.” Otherwise, radical communists, governors, and industrial directorship are likely to united. According to Vek, the latter will simply have no other way out, “As the Kremlin is far away, but the people are close” and in order to preserve their positions, they will have to join them.

On the other hand, according to Vek the threat of a social upheaval is a real trump card for the president in his negotiations with the Russian elite, and first of all tycoons, “who are against trying to turn Russian politics in the direction of their own interests.”

According to the author, it is not ruled out that the social-economic course of the country may be corrected and a “social” state to be formed. However, in reality such changes are hardly likely to be deep, as the Russian elite would never agree to agree with the strategy that is able to “damage their basic interests”.

Besides, the weekly notes, it should not be forgotten that such games are always risky, especially in Russia. In order to transform existing threats into real progress, it is necessary to have perfect skills in “political aerobatics”.

Overall, according to Alexander Dugin, “we are entering a zone of risk, which is, alas, to grow”.

Most likely, we are witnessing the start of a “complicated, multi-stage game, which will resemble the Yeltsin era, but under different historical conditions.”

In short, as usual, predictions abound in our country.

Fortunately, there are still some media which prefer dealing with precise data and numbers. In conclusion, here are some figures on the presidential address, published by Kommersant-Vlast magazine: “It took Vladimir Putin 51 minutes to read the 5,752 words of his address to the Federal Assembly.” In comparison, last year’s address had 6,320 words and Putin delivered it in 63 minutes. Thus, the president cut the length of his address by 9% and increased his reading speed by 12%.

Besides, the magazine notes, the president improved his orating skills: he made only 19 slips of the tongue, said “um” only 28 times, and coughed only once.

The most frequent word in the address was “economy”; the president used it 51 times. The work “state” was a close second, used 48 times – last year the word “state” was in first place, 62 times.

Despite everything, times are changing, and we are changing with them.

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