Premier Putin’s speech at the United Russia convention as a message to the Russians to prepare themselves for forthcoming difficulties.

Slogan "Russia is an isle of stability" no longer applies. The authorities found the stamina to face the hard facts of life and set out to prepare the population for the forthcoming economic difficulties. It is the only conclusion to be drawn from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s policy statement at the United Russia convention, yesterday.

Bare days ago all national leaders from President Dmitry Medvedev to Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin were telling the population that Russia was one of the few countries that would remain mostly unaffected by the global economic crisis. Putin’s speech yesterday signified a dramatic shift in strategy of the state economic propaganda.

A seasoned politician, Putin clearly aimed to accomplish two objectives at once even though the objectives in question looked mutually exclusive at first sight. He was out to prevent panic in society and simultaneously inform the country that the period of easy living was finally over. Task one was accomplished by a symbolic gesture. The premier’s announcement concerned the Russians who had bought their first apartment – taxes were to be collected on sums beginning with two million rubles instead of one. Political meaning of the gesture was plain. The state made it clear that it remained wealthy, strong, and capable of many things.

Putin’s promise “We will do everything to prevent a collapse and economic shocks like in 1991 and 1998” was quite revealing too. He did not say “we will prevent”, he merely promised to try and prevent it.

The same idea was repeated again soon enough. “Let’s admit it. Like other advanced economies, Russia is facing a great deal of uncertain factors neither we nor anybody else can do anything about,” Putin said. In short, we will do everything but success is not assured.

As for the specific troubles the Russians are about to encounter, Putin mentioned the national monetary unit and promised on behalf of the state to try and make its exchange rate predictable. That was bad news. Weakening of the ruble may be “predictable” and smooth but no easier to endure for that.

Speaking of consolidation of the banking sector, Putin apparently anticipated bankruptcies and other troubles…

By and large, it was not very heartening. On the other hand, the authorities are finally telling the truth which is an accomplishment in itself.