Third Russia: Putin Dots His I’s in the State of the Nation Address
The government creates conditions for economic reforms, but these reforms hardly reach society, President Vladimir Putin said in his annual address to the Federal Assembly. He said that much had been done to reduce bureaucracy and inferred that corruption had yet not been eradicated. It seems the authorities have not found a way to deal with the complex mentality of Russian state officials, especially in the regions, who are duty bound to implement reforms.
Every year I listen to Putin’s and Medvedev’s addresses, during which they invariably say that the decisions of the government and the president must be implemented. And then they ask: What should be done to better implement these decisions? It appears that Russia has not yet created the proper instruments to do this. Officials had their salaries increased to remove some causes of corruption and were offered incentives in the form of opportunities for moving up the job ladder. And yet they fail to implement the policy made at the top, which makes one wonder how this can be.
I dare presume that next year the president will again say the same. The authorities need to create completely new instruments, such as public control, in addition to control from above, and competition for positions and leading jobs. Most important is that higher state officials, who committed crimes and were involved in corruption, are severely punished. Perhaps this could help improve the situation. Putin’s proposal to reduce off-shore business for Russian companies is a step in the right direction. The question again is whether such a policy can be successfully implemented against the opposition of oligarchs.
Russia’s foreign policy
Putin has repeated what he stated during the Valdai meeting last September: Russia is part of Europe, but of “another Europe”, and it has found the identity it was searching for over the past 20-odd years. Moreover, he said that Russia, in comparison with the post-modern West, was a conservative country, but that this did not prevent it from moving forward and upward, while incorporating the best traditional values of the past. Putin positioned his country in contradiction to Western Europe and Western liberal values. Putin incorporated the view of the Russian Orthodox Church which criticizes the Western world for “accepting the equality of good and evil”. The EU has fiercely criticized Putin for his alleged discrimination of sexual minority rights, but Putin stressed in his address again that Russia will not adopt laws that are “unacceptable to Russian society”. He was clearly referring to some ultramodern laws which were, by the way, impossible to be adopted in Europe thirty years ago.
Putin has founded a new political identity for his country. The danger now exists that the identity could now be transferred into a new state ideology.
At the same time, I have not found in his address astonishingly little elements of confrontation with America or Europe, which can be found in the recent rhetoric of the West with regard to Russia.
But Putin indicated the main threats to Russia, especially when speaking about strengthening the armed forces and the defense industry in general. It is no longer Islamic terrorism, which was highlighted in previous addresses as the main threat. The primary causes for his concern is the American strive for world hegemony which in his view is triggering a new arms race. The employment of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad shows that Russia will respond to the challenges of U.S. missile defense.
Putin did not elaborate on whether Russia needs to change its present political system, nor did he make any concrete proposals how to alter the 20-year-old Constitution. Some observers expected him to move in that direction. But Putin indicated that the judicial system would be restructured through a merger of the courts.
Putin gave a routine address, with some i’s dotted and loyalty to the policy outlined when he returned to power in 2012.
I believe that we are witnessing the beginning of a third Russia. Historically speaking, the first Russia was the post-Communist period between 1991 and 2000. It was a time when Russia attempted to become closer with Europe and the West in general and thought it could create a Western-type democratic system. It failed, giving way to a new era of Russia’s evolution and search for a new kind of stability, which ended with the departure of Medvedev in 2012. And we now see the rise of a truly conservative Russia that sees herself as strong enough to offer her own geopolitical and economic visions for the international order and world economy.
Many in the West regard the Putin’s Russia with suspicion and see her as aggressive. Indeed, many elements of the new Russian idea seem to base on a pure rejection of Western liberalism. To be effective, Russia has to become more attractive – for her own people and foreigners, who share traditionalistic-conservative ideals. Russia’s new conservatism must be formulated in the form of “soft power”.
Alexander Rahr is Research Director, German-Russian Forum.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.