What did the president omit from his address to the Federal Assembly? This question is more interesting for the media than the actual content of the president’s speech. The demonstrative absence of some anticipated topics or figures of omission used by Vladimir Putin has revived a skill observers had seemingly lost in the post-Soviet era – the ability to read between the lines and guess a great deal from indirect hints for those in the know. Besides, the refusal of the presidential speechwriters to analyze the most vital issues in the life of society has in itself become a pretext for profound comments and joyful statements in some publications.
In particular, Komsomolskaya Pravda attributes the extreme brevity of the political part of the address to the fact that Vladimir Putin “can now take the liberty of avoiding the topic of politics.”
Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, could only dream of economics rather than politics being the chief topic at congresses of the victorious party. Lenin said this would be a sign that stability has been achieved. A long while after the downfall of communism in Russia, Vladimir Putin has managed to realize this dream of Lenin by essentially ignoring the topic of politics in his 2004 address. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, this is not surprising: “Because neither political problems nor political rivals exist. The government, the parliament, parties, regional leaders and oligarchs – all major sources of political energy – are loyal and quite manageable.” The notorious hierarchy of governance has replaced Yeltsin’s system of checks and balances. “It’s turned out to be much simpler and more effective.”
Therefore, the topic of consolidation of society, which Putin mentioned in his previous address, was only casually mentioned in the latest address: “The goal has almost been achieved. The absolute victory in the presidential election is convincing evidence.”
In general, says Komsomolskaya Pravda, there are grounds to recognize the latest address as the “address of the winner.”
It is a fact that the president hasn’t said a word about results of the Duma election, says Kommersant-Vlast magazine. Meanwhile, United Russia’s impressive victory might become convincing evidence of integration in society and fidelity to the chosen course.
However, assumes the magazine, “United Russia members were likely to fell victims to the president’s concern for our country’s image in foreign policy.” In fact, election as a result of which the opposition is nearly deprived of its vote are unlikely to strengthen the West’s notions of Russia as of a country “devoted to democratic values.”
As Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute told Vedomosti, in the political part of his address Putin has to “make up for failures of his own administration: convincing the West that we are good is a failure; no parallel human rights protection structure has been constructed, no dialog with the parties has been arranged either.”
As said above, in view of the domestic policy all problems have been settled, what Alexei Makarkin of the Political Techniques Center stressed once again: “No liberal wing exists; the communists have suffered a crushing defeat and the ruling party has fulfilled its mission.”
However, in view of the Western observers under similar achievements the political euphoria would be inappropriate.
Moreover, noted Kommersant, United Russia’s monopoly in the incumbent Duma weakly conforms to the president’s advise of “raising the level of political culture” and “acquiring skills of dialog between parties.”
According to Kommersant, as compared to the 003 address, no dynamics is observed in the topic of development of parties in the 2004 address. The president nearly verbatim repeated some of his phrases from the 2003 address.
For instance it was said a year ago: “The mechanisms of financing political parties remain under seven seals for the voters.” This year, it sounded: “It is inadmissible that the financial activities of political movements are still unknown to the public.”
Last year Vladimir Putin stated that the market of political consultations became a “sector of shadow economy” in Russia. This year he noted that “it is inadmissible that the market of electoral technologies and lobbying services is primarily orienting for the shadow sector.”
As noted by Kommersant, it is also hard to find any difference between last year’s statement of “indistinctness of ideological stands of parties” and the fresh-made statement of “the dull sameness of the majority of parties’ programs.”
In the opinion of the newspaper, the main difference of the claims is that last year Putin criticized mainly the parties, while this year he has expressed his discontent for “non-political public organizations.” According to the president, they “are financed by influential foreign foundations” and “service pool and commercial interests” instead of paying attention to “the most urgent problems of the country and its citizens.”
According to Kommersant, the point of this criticism wasn’t announced, but could hardly be ascertained: the Justice Ministry has lately publicly accused the human rights organizations and primarily the Civil Liberties Foundation founded by Boris Berezovsky of “merging with the criminal and oligarchs.”
However, thinks Kommersant-Vlast magazine, supporters of the Kremlin have serious causes of concern. This is a possible interpretation of Putin’s statement that parties “must learn to come to power and give it up at people’s volition.” As is widely known, United Russia was the only party to come to power during Putin’s first term in office.”
To all appearances, it has to get ready to “give up the power at the people’s volition” no matter whether or not it gets into the Duma in the next election or earlier, when the Kremlin decides to make the “ruling party” responsible with the unpopular economic reforms,” says the magazine.
In the opinion of Kommersant-Vlast, left centrists get a stimulus to “master the skills of coalition actions” and get ready for the moment when the Kremlin gives them credence to come to power – “undoubtedly, at the people’s volition.”
To all appearances, the president’s message was heard. As reported by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, at the regional conference in Tula last Saturday Dmitry Rogozin, leader of the Motherland faction, predicted the soon collapse of the ruling party within next two-three years.
Taking the floor at the conference Rogozin let out some disagreeable statements concerning United Russia. In his opinion “it is now actually ready to admit any nonsense the government submits into the Duma.” The leader of Motherland was as sharp at criticizing the government. He named Alexei Kudrin “a foreign intelligence officer” for his proposal of raising the oil exports, German Gref – a person, “who has entirely lost touch with life,” and rebuked Mikhail Zurabov of deceiving “all current and future pensioners.” In Rogozin’s speech even the slogan of doubling the GDP was determined as “political fraud,” since it is planned to achieve the proposed economic welfare at the expense of export industries alone, rather than as a result of developing the real sector of economy.
However, Motherland’s leader promised his support for the president “each time when he offers measures aimed at strengthening our country’s defensive potential and security.”
At the same time Dmitry Rogozin stressed that “if Vladimir Putin staked on the patriotic movement, the result would alter drastically. He’s not ready yet.”
Many people feared in vain that the president would announce establishing order in Russia as the chief slogan of his second term in office, says Yulia Latynina in Novaya Gazeta. As it turned out, the unease was unfounded: “The president said nothing of the kind: nothing about fighting oligarchs, nor about Chechnya or Iraq.”
As for Chechnya, a typical “figure of omission” was applied to it: instead of analyzing the problem of Chechnya, Putin spoke about terrorism – that combating it remains “permanent and consistent.”
In general, says the Kommersant newspaper, the Chechnya issue was dissolved in the foreign policy section of the address. This step was an enforced one, explains Kommersant: based on the logic of his previous addresses, this year Putin should have closed the “Chechnya topic” once and for all.
Indeed, in 2002 he announced that the military phase of the conflict “could be considered complete.” In 2003 the president stated that Russia’s territorial integrity was restored; all that was necessary was electing a president and parliament and reviving the economy in Chechnya.
However, after President Akhmad Kadyrov of Chechnya’s assassination in Grozny on May 9, the president’s speechwriters found themselves at a loss. As Kommersant’s source in the Kremlin admitted, “it was impossible to say nothing about Chechnya; similarly, it would be wrong to make this topic a dominant one in the entire address.” Therefore, Kommersant evaluates the statement of the necessity of fighting terrorism (including in Chechnya) as a “rather elegant move”: the president didn’t have to retract his words to the effect that the situation in the rebellious republic has stabilized.
In consequence, as Andrei Piontkovsky, general director of the Institute of Strategic Studies, told Profil, the word “Chechnya” occurred in the address only once, in an adverbial clause within a long sentence, relating to combating terrorism and protection of human rights – which is indisputable.
In his comment for Nezavisimaya Gazeta Andrei Piontkovsky stated that the president’s “Chechnya omission” creates the impression that the president still seems to be in the state of shock he experienced during his recent helicopter flight over the city of Grozny.
“This is astonishing: in the tenth year of war, the Russian president flies over a Russian city devastated by Russian aviation and artillery – and suddenly discovers that it looks ‘awful,'” noted Piontkovsky.
In his opinion, this makes Putin “either incredibly hypocritical or incredibly ill-informed.” Piontkovsky tends to accept the latter: “Further evidence that the president is the first casualty when the institutions of civil society are eliminated. Especially the independent media: he simply stops understanding what is happening in our country.”
Unless Putin’s meeting with key ministers on the eve of his latest address to the nation, nobody would ever know the president’s stance concerning another urgent topic – replacement of social benefits with monetary payments, notes Profil magazine. According to the magazine, the question “Why?” set to the cabinet members in compliance with the laws of the television debating “shed light on much of what Putin wanted to say and omitted.”
According to the magazine, instead of “rending the air following the procedure defined by the Constitution,” the president preferred to take a public psychic therapy session “on the eve of the upcoming very tough and unpopular measures aimed at cutting the social spending.”
Profil agrees that this is undoubtedly more favorable: “At least to form the image of the president, who is applying his utmost effort to fight for people’s happiness against the government, which is callous to the people’s sufferings.” A hope exists, notes the magazine, that “in their minds the people will save an impression that the president is good and he has been opposed to this disgrace.”
As Igor Bunin, director of the Political Techniques Center told Vremya Novostei, by touching on the modernization required in the social sphere Vladimir Putin played in two images: “as a liberal and as a paternalist, as a modernizer and as a psychotherapist.” According to Bunin, the president tried to “comfort society” by promising that “modernization won’t be very scary.”
In the opinion of Bunin, the main problem is that the “shock therapy” hadn’t been finished in its due time; “the process was dragged on and the authorities cuts society’s tail in ten goes.” However, stabilization has become the generally admitted accomplishment of the authorities, “but this stability holds on Putin’s rating; he has been sacrificing his rating in favor of modernization.”
According to Igrunov, Putin’s speech is evidence of a deep ideological crisis in the government and among the nation’s leadership as a whole: “Overall, the president’s team and the president himself are not ready for their new four-year mission. They don’t have a clear grasp of national development strategy.”
Otto Latsis, an observer for Novye Izvestia, says the president’s speech was a success: “Even under the severest approach, the most liberal reader could find very few flaws.”
The president confirmed achievement of stability in economy and policy, proposed a range of “quite rational ideas in the economic sphere – from housing construction at the expense of mortgage loans, which is affordable to people of average income, to diversification of ways of oil transit for export.” Undoubtedly, such motifs like improvement of state spending, reduction of the tax burden for manufacturers, mandatory civil control over military reforms are caressing for a liberal ear, says Otto Latsis.
“The only question remains: how could the task set above be implemented?”
The present-day Constitution actually gives unlimited powers to the incumbent president, notes Latsis. However, no powers give the president an opportunity to regulate behavior of officials on the whole. “They won’t ever do what they are unwilling to do – one person cannot keep an eye on everybody.”
Civil control is alone capable of making the numerous and conservative bureaucracy act in the required direction, says Latsis. However, this requires something more than using proper words and declaring the course for democracy from the top – the opposing motion is required from the bottom.
This is more problematic: Otto Latsis notes that the Marble Hall, in which the president delivered his speech, had been built for plenary sessions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). So many correct words had been said there. In particular, in this very hall “Mikhail Gorbachev once conversed with the top of the Soviet bureaucracy.” Putin’s speech, stresses Otto Latsis, was in general playing the same function: “the head of state was communicating with top bureaucratic officials of Russia.”
He has thus outlined, says InDem Foundation President Georgy Satarov in his comments for Vremya Novostei, that the message of the address is the “internal affair of the regime.” Satarov admits that he was annoyed by the president’s indignant tirade concerning the non-government organizations which are dealing with wrong activities. “A strange problem has thus been raised – the authorities dictate the civil society what it should do. Things should be the reverse in a normal democratic state: society should tell the state what it should do,” says Satarov.
The Izvestia newspaper found “only two flaws” in the president’s address.
“Redundant economic details in the text – the principle of forming the budget, the fiscal function, advance payments, Druzhba-Adrija pipeline – sometimes created an impression that the prime minister, rather than the president was speaking.”
On the contrary, “insufficient details of the political sections” is the second flaw.
By announcing creation of “free society of free people” in Russia Vladimir Putin admitted that “freedom is not always treasured; even less often the people can handle it.” Meanwhile, “a limited and non-independent person is unable to take care of his family, his fatherland or himself.” An impression aroused, says Svetlana Babayeva, an observer with Izvestia, that the president “has indeed been ready to issue an order of being free, in case he had sufficient power.” However, due to inability of issuing a similar state decree Vladimir Putin said he hopes for “support and solidarity of all Russian citizens, for their faith in themselves, their forces, the success of our country.”
Meanwhile, notes Izvestia, this very part should be made more specific so that the listeners and readers could grasp this topic as the major task, rather than a “situational curtsey in the direction of the West on the eve of significant summits.” “Quite possibly, even examples were required or announcing the spheres in which responsible behavior of citizens are of particular significance and priority; at least a couple of words was required about the law enforcement system as well as a clearer idea that this all concerns both the local authorities and the Kremlin officials.” Quite possibly, says the observer with Izvestia, this entire vagueness occurred because the “topic was discussed on such a large scale for the first time… Its ideologists may have no clear idea of how this could be done. The president could have bee too beware of speaking everything on this delicate topic right away…”
Moreover, Putin said nothing about the strong state and its mutual relations with the business, says Izvestia, as well as about Iraq, Chechnya, and didn’t even tried to hint at a certain specific way for Russia – on the contrary, he for the first time declared the idea ” of spiritual rapprochement with Europe”…
“The president always tries avoiding specific things; he proceeds with his ideas according to the traditional post-modernistic manner – so that everybody could see and hear what he wants to see or hear in the message,” Stanislav Belkovsky explained to Profil magazine.
Belkovsky is certain that in general Putin leaves a great deal out but not because he does not know how to proceed with the reforms. That’s just his style, the way he does things. It is the style that all too often replaces the contents. That’s a typically post-modernist approach.”
However, Belkovsky is doubtless about the factual content of the president’s address: “What I regard as being of paramount importance is the declaration of a liberal course, rejection of state paternalism typical of Russia, and reliance on an economically self-sufficient bourgeoisie termed in the address as “the free man.” The matter primarily concerns economic freedom.
Nevertheless, says Belkovsky, as at the start of his first term in office Putin is still sending “devious and intricate signals to all strata of society at once – precisely the signals they want to receive. At the same time, he is trying to veil everything that may be veiled.” In the opinion of Belkovsky, this caution is easily explainable: “He does not want his ultra-liberal course to cause a social explosion.”
On the other hand, stresses the author, implementation of any political course requires an elite that will consider it the only correct policy. “The elite we have nowadays is apparently waiting for Putin to slip.” It means that Putin does not have any instruments for implementation of the reforms.
After the president announced his new address to the nation it became clear that the genre if dying, concluded Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal. “It’s not that an impression has formed after delivery of the address finished that the president has nothing to say to the nation – the words seemed to be chosen correctly; the arrangement of words in sentences wasn’t extremely irritant. On the whole, the statement proved to be distilled, rather than merely vapid.”
As a Kremlin’s political consultant admitted to Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal, the main task which is commonly set before authors of this text is to avoid any resemblance to the previous year’s address. “At the same time, one must realize that this task is almost impossible – the president is a person of steady convictions and principles, which are not changed each year. Besides, the objectives he formulates are not achievable within a year,” our source said.
As Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal notes in its article entitled “Still Words, Words, Words,” it is hard to disagree with this statement.
This is why it is more enticing to try to work out what the president has omitted, and why. Beyond doubt, this area offers some real scope for creativity, as the Russian media has demonstrated in the several days since the annual ritual.