A NEW COURSE

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President Putin sets out Russia’s new policy priorities

President Putin has made a number of important statements recently; some far-sighted analysts regard them as the Kremlin’s “new course.” This is new modernization on the march, but with some more important objectives: not only to survive, but to win – preserving Russia’s role as a world power.


President Vladimir Putin has made a number of important statements recently; some far-sighted analysts regard them as the Kremlin’s “new course.”

Here are just a few of President Putin’s new theses.

“If nothing is done, Russia’s population will halve by the end of the 21st Century! We are actually on the brink of a crisis: the number of deaths has exceeded the number of births by 11.2 million over the past 13 years,” said President Putin. The immediate objectives here are to reduce the death rate and increase the birth rate, and to make migration policy more effective. These measures would make it possible to stabilize Russia’s population numbers in the near future. And the key directions of long-term demographic policy should be formulated right now. For this purpose, President Putin has proposed transforming the Council on Implementing National Priority Projects into the Council on National Projects and Demographic Policy.

Indeed, with Russia’s population still shrinking at a catastrophic rate, reform policies become meaningless; by the time these transformations produce the desired effect, there won’t be any people to take advantage of it – or the fruits of these policies will be used by others, not Russians.

President Putin’s second priority is to enhance Russia’s defense capacities. He has instructed the Cabinet to produce a targeted program, by the third quarter of this year, for developing the military-industrial complex. Indeed, we will lose our country unless we have a decent, well-trained, well-armed military.

President Putin also called for an effective model of cooperation between business and government with the aim of advancing high technologies. The Cabinet has been instructed to “propose some economic incentives capable of activating business participation in technological modernization, thus helping to create an environment that generates knowledge and technology.” But this is also a problematic area.

Mikhail Kovalchuk, member of the Presidential Council on Science, Technology, and Education and corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, points out that there is a real danger of Russia being stuck in a catching-up role if it simply copies today’s leading Western models in developing the basic positions for producing a technological breakthrough. After all, by the time we’ve introduced all of that, the rest of the world will have moved on – leaving Russia behind once more. The solution, according to Kovalchuk, lies in rethinking the philosophy behind Russia’s current reform policies and setting up suitable conditions for pre-emptive action. Thus, if we are truly concerned about the future, the time has come to start gradually modernizing the structure of governance itself, changing the rules of the game in Russian politics.

Finally, President Putin said that by the end of this year the Foreign Ministry should prepare a review of Russia’s foreign policy and present some proposals for correcting it. President Putin explained that the potential for global conflict is rising, and there is talk of an inevitable conflict of civilizations, with the prospect of a drawn-out confrontation like the Cold War.

Russia will not participate in any “holy alliances,” since it doesn’t want confrontation; and Russia’s relations with the United States must be based on “equal rights.” However, according to President Putin, some changes are required in relations between the United States and Russia. In his view, Russian-US cooperation in fighting terrorism, and joint efforts to resolve a number of key regional problems, provide a foundation of positive experience which should be extended to cooperation on other pragmatic objectives. Russia is also prepared to accept proportional responsibility for global socio-economic development. And Moscow’s diplomatic efforts should be supported by substantial financial and economic leverage; President Putin has instructed the Foreign Ministry, the Economic Development Ministry, and the Finance Ministry to develop a national mechanism for providing development aid to other countries.

Clearly, the moment of truth is emerging in the Putin theses cited here. This is not a rejection of the “old course” (apparently, that was something Russia had to go through). This is new modernization on the march, but with some more important objectives: not only to survive, but to win – preserving Russia’s role as a world power.

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