A PHILOSOPHY OF RATIONAL OPTIMISM

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Some observations about President Putin’s January press conference

Putin’s philosophy is very simple. The top priorities are Russia’s sovereignty and security, since there can be no freedom or democracy without national statehood. Then comes stability, ensured by “strong presidential rule.” Finally, there’s territorial integrity: indivisible Russia.


The authors of Yeltsin’s Constitution were clearly too hasty in proclaiming Russia ideology-free. Obviously, in our country, which experienced a whole sequence of catastrophes in the 20th Century and the break-ups of 1991, an ideology of national optimism is essential – especially for the head of state.

Obviously, in our country, which paid a terrible price for communism’s experiments, no one has the right to call for a repeat of what we have already experienced: revolutions, whether Marxist or liberal.

Obviously, in our country, which lost many great power capacities due to the collapse of the USSR, no one has the right to threaten the remnants of state sovereignty, casting doubt on Russia’s right to be a full-fledged agent in the modern world.

Obviously, in a country where the people have suffered so much over the past century, no one should dispute people’s right to a decent life for themselves and their children.

If this historical, national standpoint is used to consider how Vladimir Putin was thinking, what he said, and (most importantly) what kind of values he was promoting in his press conference for Russian and foreign journalists on January 31, then in my view the conclusion is an optimistic one. In Putin, Russia has not only a rational, responsible, effective, competent, and certainly intelligent and sensible manager to run the company known as Russia; it also has a national leader with a true commitment, heart and soul, to the progress of national history.

He has sensed, correctly, that the people have long awaited an honest, serious discussion of the state of affaris in Russia today. It’s no accident that President Putin returned to the topic of poverty several times during his press conference, saying that the number of people living below the poverty is being reduced, although this is happening more slowly than we would wish.

President Putin perceived, correctly, that our society is tired of the promotion of violence on television, and spoke critically of this.

He sensed, accurately, that Russia has grown tired of the way our media obviously put pressure on the minds and dignity of millions of normal people in the process of fighting xenophobia; therefore, he emphasized strict legislation which should punish specific individuals, not society in general, for ethnically-motivated crimes.

Behind everything President Putin said – and, just as importantly, how he said it – there is an awareness of the extreme importance of unity between the authorities and the people in Russia. He knows and understands, of course, that a substantial part of the population does not revere the “achievements” of democracy. But he didn’t betray either himself or historical truth when he said that the greatest achievement of the past two decades has been winning freedom and the liberation from communism. Putin was also true to his principles when he said that we don’t want any revolutions, whether here at home or in Uzbekistan; instead, we’re relying on “evolutionary development.”

In my view, the authorities are responding to the greatest demand made by the people of Russia via President Putin’s activities aimed at strengthening Russia’s power and sovereignty. He constantly emphasizes that Russia is an inalienable, integral part of Europe. But Putin certainly takes pride in what he is doing as president to strengthen Russia’s sovereignty and self-sufficiency in approaching the current problems of the modern world. He clearly regards contemporary Russia as a “caravan” moving on at its own pace along the paths of history, not paying any attention to “ill-wishers,” or those who “bark.”

President Putin made it clear that none of us should feel ashamed of our state and its Armed Forces. He focused attention on the fact that “we are developing our nuclear deterrence capacities,” noting that we “recently carried out tests of some new ballistic weapons systems.”

Putin also drew the attention of his audience to our independence in foreign policy. In answering a question about NGOs, he stated once again that we are a sovereign state and won’t permit our neighbors or partners to use non-governmental organizations “as their own foreign policy tools” on our territory.

According to the philosophy of sovereign democracy, the president reserves, for himself and for Russia, the right to make independent decisions, taking account of our extreme transitional conditions, regarding ways of strengthening freedom and build a normal, civilized society. Putin spoke of this in his address to parliament last April. He spoke of it again at his press conference on January 31. In his view, across “post-Soviet territory” in general, given the transitional nature of our political system and the objective of “strengthening statehood,” Russia can’t do without “strong presidential rule.”

Based on everything he said at the press conference, we can draw some conclusions about Putin’s philosophy. It’s very simple. The top priorities are Russia’s sovereignty and security, since there can be no freedom or democracy without national statehood. Then comes stability, ensured by “strong presidential rule.” Finally, there’s territorial integrity: indivisible Russia.

I think the Putin phenomenon – the phenomenon of his stable popularity – can also be explained by the fact that people perceive him as the force restraining Russia from any further disintegration. And it’s very important that at his press conference, Putin emphasized once again that no concessions of any kind will be made on questions of territorial integrity.

Behind all his statements about restoring constitutional order in Chechnya is the conviction that the North Caucasus has been and still remains an inalienable component of Russia. The “complete formation of government bodies in Chechnya” means an end to arguments over Russia’s southern borders. Putin stated that he won’t have anything to do with those Japanese politicians who “imagine themselves as samurais” and seek to “use the Kuril Islands problem for their own domestic political agenda.” President Putin stressed once again that “Siberia is a very important area for us, both from the standpoint of its vast natural resources and from the standpoint of personnel resources.”

My observations here don’t claim to be a comprehensive reconstruction of Putin’s philosophy, the philosophy behind his answers at the Kremlin press conference. In my view, however, although our Constitution deters us from having a state ideology, it doesn’t prevent the president from formulating the ideological framework within which he believes it possible to realize our national goals and national values.

For now, at least, it is important to recognize that at this press conference Putin said what Russia was waiting to hear him say; he demonstrated the strong will, intelligence, knowledge, and even courage that enable him to fulfill the mission of the president of Russia in a worthy manner. I think the West will also appreciate his honest and straightforward words, and the fact that Russia is prepared to cooperate with other countries, on the principles of equality and parity, in preserving and developing modern human civilization.

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