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12 Nov, 2009 11:36

Down-to-earth problems at the core of Medvedev’s second address

On Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev delivered his second address to the nation’s parliament, The Federal Assembly. He touched on urgent problems society currently faces, and spoke of pragmatic solutions.

Read the full transcript of the address

At the beginning of his 100 minute-long speech, Dmitry Medvedev referred to his September article “Forward, Russia!” which touched upon the principles of a new political strategy.

Medvedev assured the audience that Russia can bear the status of a world power on a fundamentally new basis.

Russia cannot be stuck in the past

He announced that the future of the country cannot endlessly be based on the achievements of its past, like oil and gas extraction industrial complexes and nuclear weapons. Medvedev put it straight – “All this was not created by us.” And despite keeping the country afloat, this legacy is becoming “increasingly obsolete both physically and morally.”

Medvedev appealed to the Russian people to do what is necessary “to lift Russia to a new, higher stage of civilization.”

The Russian president recalled that in the 20th century an illiterate and agrarian Russia became one of the most influential countries due to the great efforts of its entire population. Many advanced technologies of that time had Russian origin but could not be kept at the same level due to a closed society and the totalitarian regime ruling the country at the time.

Medvedev came to the conclusion that “The Soviet Union, unfortunately, remained an empire producing raw materials and could not compete with post-industrial societies.”

The modernization of the 21st century, with Russia now based on democratic principles for the first time in history, should transform the Russian economy from a primitive raw material economy into a smart economy that produces new technologies.

“Instead of an archaic society where leaders decide for everybody else, we will become a society of intelligent and responsible people,” proclaimed the president.

This new Russia must overcome the Soviet legacy of corruption and its raw material economy to change the quality of life in Russia.

“We do need change and it is up to us to decide what kind of a country Russia could become.”

The aftershocks of the crisis

The Russian President estimated that the global economic crisis is affecting Russia more than other countries because “we have not got rid of the primitive structure of our economy.”

“Our anti-crisis measures helped us to stabilize the situation in our economy. But our priority was and still is supporting people who found themselves in a difficult situation. Despite the decrease of the revenues in the budget, our social responsibilities have been fully taken care of.”

“And we will continue to do so. In the future this applies to pensions. In the next three years, the average pension will increase by at least 50%.”

Medvedev promised to “increase benefits for the unemployed by more than 50%, through professional training, welfare work and help people to relocate and help them to start their own business.”

“In the next six months we will adopt a program for single-enterprise towns and their development, and help people move to more favorable regions,” he said.

In addition, he noted that “We will support agriculture in the future and as a result we will improve the quality of life in the rural areas.”

He added that: “During the crisis we have provided direct support to Russian companies. The volume of support has exceeded one trillion roubles this year."

However, Medvedev said that “In the future we will help only those who have a concrete plan to increase their efficiency to develop some high-tech projects. Companies that are not effective should not be in the market.”

“The best anti-crisis policy, of course, is the stimulation of the private sector. We did something in this regard. This is not sufficient, however. I will instruct the cabinet to prepare additional measures to support credits for people and step up housing projects,” Dmitry Medvedev said.

The president stressed that Russia’s infrastructure is underfinanced and needs more investment. Construction costs are several times higher than they should be and that they should be brought in line with international standards, he believes.

State support for banks

The president said that the wide support the state has offered the financial system in recent months has paid off.

“Our banking system is in a satisfactory condition, given the crisis situation we are in. The growth in crediting has resumed. We have stabilized the situation with stale debts. Inflation is down and interest rates are decreasing. The Central Bank began to completely fulfill its functions as a creditor in the last instance,” he said.

The head of state stressed that the financial sector is still weak in the field of innovation development and not capitalized upon enough. If the situation is not enhanced then it will be unable to meet the needs of the people and companies.

“I think on the whole, the government, Central Bank and the local authorities supported by the legislators on all levels managed to stabilize the situation in economy and the social sphere.”

At the same time, the president warned that it is not the time to be complacent, and that the implementation of anti-crisis measures should be continued and even intensified as the progress of the market is still weak and unstable.

Innovation and efficiency are keys to success

“We have to learn the lesson of the past period – while the oil prices were growing. Many – indeed, almost everybody thought that we could wait with the structural reforms and take advantage of the current prices. We gave preference to further developing our old economy based on raw materials, and few and non-systematic measures were taken to promote our innovative technologies. We can’t put this off any longer. We have to begin modernization of the whole industrial base. I think this is the matter of surviving of our country in the modern world,” Medvedev said.

President Medvedev thinks that “the well-being of Russia in the near future will depend on whether it will be successful in developing ideas, knowledge and science; finding and supporting people, who are creative; and bringing up very young people to be intellectually free and active.”

“Our economy should be oriented towards people’s needs. That is why we chose certain priorities for Russia to go to a new level and become world leader: we need energy, medical, and information technology to develop, as well as our space technology and communication technologies. We need to increase our energy efficiency,” added Dmitry Medvedev.

Talking on medical technology he noted: “Russian companies are able to produce technology and goods that will be in demand on the international market and we need to increase our partnership with foreign producers and developers.”

“I will propose a law to the State Duma that will regulate the medical sphere and we should protect people from counterfeit drugs,” President Medvedev said.

The Russian president also spoke on recent demographic problems in Russia:

“We had a population increase in the country that was achieved through the National Project in Public healthcare and our new demographic policy that we are pursuing. Our work in this area will continue. We have everything we need to make the population of our country increase.”

He also says that energy efficiency in the country relies on taking individual responsibility.

One of the most promising areas is using biological resources – timber and waste that can be used to produce energy.

“Until 2014 we will have a new generation of reactors and a new kind of nuclear fuel that will be in demand both in Russia and abroad. We will also use nuclear research in other areas like medicine,” he told the audience.

He also said that energy efficiency in the country relies on taking individual responsibility. What needs to be done is as follows:

“Today, the residents of our cities are paying too much for the absolute infrastructure. We should only pay for the services that we actually use – energy that we actually consume,” Medvedev said. “Next year we will have a project to increase our energy efficiency in many city areas. We will update our networks, change our tariffs. We will have energy service contracts that will allow us to save a lot.”

Russia currently sits 63rd in the world in the level of telecommunications. According to the president, broadband internet, digital TV and fourth generation mobile services should be implemented everywhere in the country to change the situation.

“Russia, which covers eleven time zones, is to become a crucial element in the global information structure,” he said.

Another priority named by the President was the usage and further development of space technologies, including the GLONASS navigation system.

“By implementing modern engineering approaches and creating next generation spacecraft we will have to reach the international level of wattage and lifetime in orbit for Russian satellites by 2015,” he said.

The fifth priority is the full use of the potential of supercomputers so that in five years it “would be possible to design planes, spacecrafts, cars and nuclear reactors.”

“There will not be a demand for hi-tech products not made by supercomputers on the market in a few years,” the president warned.

Eleven time zones is too much

Dmitry Medvedev noted that Russians were always proud that their country covers eleven time zones, but he expressed doubt that such an approach is sufficient in economic terms.

The president came up with a proposition to consider cutting the number of time zones, based on the example of such big countries like the US and China.

He also suggested discussing the use of daylight saving time and standard time.

“All the advantages of economizing and evident inconveniences in changing time are necessary to assess. I hope experts will give us objective answers to these questions,” the President said.

Improving public services should be another major task for governmental executives, said Medvedev, because today certain services are “more expensive to a Russian taxpayer than in developed countries.”

Medvedev recalled French scientist Louis Pasteur’s saying that “Science must be the most elevated incarnation of the Fatherland, as, of all peoples, the one who will be the first is the one that will overtake the others in the field of thought and mental activity.”

“We should make sure that scientific specialists are willing to work in their own country.”

“The rules of employing from abroad should be changed, concluded Medvedev, because we are interested in them, not the other way round,” and added that Russian scientists working abroad could contribute and help with many scientific projects in Russia. Medvedev shared that the grant programme to support such scientists is already on its way.

Finally, concluded the Russian President, “we should prepare a proposal on creating a serious research center in Russia that would focus on supporting all priority areas, a modern technological center like Silicon Valley and other centers abroad that would create conditions for leading scientists and engineers… to create competitive technologies.”

Another systemic step is to change legislation to ensure making investments into Russia as easy as abroad to make Russian economy more innovative. Those officials who are responsible for delays in establishing business in Russia should be fined or even fired, Medvedev warned.

One of the goals of modernization should be modernizing the country’s financial and insurance systems to support innovative activities, including, but not limited to, a five year transition plan. “Our tax system needs to be reformed,” Medvedev concluded, “and tax burden to be revised.”

Russian language – foundation of interethnic communication

”We need to preserve our common national cultural space in Russia. We need to help preserve our rich ethnic traditions and also promote the Russian language, which is the foundation of interethnic communication in the country. At one of my meetings with the teachers they rightly noted: “Stop rearranging the stresses in Russian words; we have to deal with many real problems that exist in the state,” Dmitry Medvedev said.

Medvedev also said innovations in art are as important as in economy and other areas.

“We must pay maximum attention to support innovative areas in art. The state must not only keep the traditions and very rich classical heritage of our culture, but also take care of those who are looking for new ways in art. We have to realize that the works of art we call classics today, were often created in spite of the canon, through the rejection of conventional forms, by breaking tradition. The spirit of innovation should be encouraged in all spheres of cultural life.”

Culture, in general, demands wider exposure across the country.

The president said that infrastructure for culture should be present not only in big cities, but also in small villages and rural areas, where there are no cinemas or exhibition centers.

“Those areas should be the foundation of cultural modernization,” Medvedev stressed.

Musical, theatrical and other art classes should also be available to all Russian students no matter where they live.

Strengthening the political system

The political parties that are currently acting in our countries have passed the test of time. They strengthened in fights for people’s votes, earned their trust, and became very popular with the masses. They have everything that is needed for working on national scale,” the president said. At the same time, he added that “some aspects of our political life are subject to public criticism. The critics note problems in organizing the elections, the low level of political culture and the deficit of deeply elaborated alternative suggestions on particular questions of socio-economic development.”

The president said that large steps have already been taken to improving the quality of public representation in the power bodies and thanked the parliamentarians for their assistance. He said that on the next stage, special attention must be drawn to the problems of regional elections and named the most crucial objectives:

First, he said there was a need for a single criterion for setting the number of deputies in local legislatures.

Second, all parties represented in regional parliaments will get the right to form factions so that all movements have a guaranteed right to have their representatives on ruling posts.

Third, the parties that get more than five percent of votes in regional elections must have guaranteed representation in the legislature of the subject of the Russian Federation.

Fourth, the parties that could not make it to the Lower House of the Federal Parliament but that have factions in regional legislatures must be relieved from the duty of collecting signatures for taking part in regional elections. Eventually, Russia may completely scrap the process of collecting votes for admission to elections.

Fifth, legislatures of all levels must at least once a year hear and discuss suggestions from parties that are not represented in these bodies.

Non-parliamentary parties must have a guaranteed right to participate in the work of election commissions on all levels.

Sixth, early elections in the regions must be put in order, and all illegal manipulations must be prevented.

Seventh, all subjects of the Russian Federation must have legal guarantees of equal media coverage of activities for all parties represented in local parliaments.

Eighth, the heads of executive power in federation subjects must make annual reports to local parliaments.

Ninth, top politicians must decide on the proposal to switch all legislative elections into voting for party lists.

Tenth, national leaders must continue to develop the most modern elections hardware and introduce it to the public.

Medvedev stressed that when all of Russia has access to broadband Internet it will open up a perspective for free public debate on all subjects.

While speaking in support for democracy, Medvedev added that it did not mean any weakening of law and order. “All attempts to rock society under democratic slogans will be cut short. There is one law for everyone – the ruling party and the opposition ones. As we know, freedom brings responsibility,” Medvedev said.

Imprisonment is no panacea from corruption

Over 500 governmental official and over 700 police officers were put in jail in Russia due to corruption charges during the last six months, but the president stressed that the problem can’t be solved by imprisonments alone.

“The problem cannot be solved by imprisonments alone, but imprisonments are needed,” Medvedev said.

According to the president, the state institutions and courts have to become more transparent so that the citizens can understand the processes happening within the country.

Taking about the legal system, the president announced that Courts of Appeal will be created in general jurisdiction courts in Russia. They will start working for civil cases beginning from January 1, 2012.

Medvedev said the difference between the old and the new systems is that courts of appeal consider appeals contesting court rulings “fully, that is, checking and evaluating both the factual circumstances of the case and their legal qualification.”

Courts of appeals will either uphold rulings issued by lower courts or issue new rulings.

Police force cleanup

Medvedev called for a thorough crackdown of law enforcement agencies, determining which people are not worthy of their positions.

“We have to take vigorous steps to make police and special services are separate from unworthy members. They should be brought to court,” he said.

This follows a series of scandals in Russia involving policemen and the Interior Ministry, from the bloody tragedy in a Moscow supermarket to the alleged training of riot police to disperse crowds of protesting pensioners with water cannons.

The Interior Ministry must be more vigilant to expose and prosecute corrupted or mentally unstable policemen, the president said. This will not only solve its internal problems, but also help mend the image of police in the country.

“Most policemen are honest people,” Medvedev stressed. “They risk their lives doing their job. They are on the frontline of the fight against crime. Society must respect their work, as it happens in the rest of the world.”

Dmitry Medvedev also suggested a reform in Russian criminal law that will have punishment for non-violent crimes reduced. Fines should be applied more for such crimes. One example is tax evasion. Medvedev believes criminal prosecution should not be effected against people who voluntarily covered their tax debt, which would mean a sort of permanent tax amnesty in Russia.

At the same time, the president suggested introducing forced public labor as a variant of punishment in Russia. It would apply to offenders who cannot pay due fines. At the moment courts in Russia can only deduce part of a salary as a means to make debtors pay.

On relations with Caucasus republics

Speaking about the situation in Russia’s southern regions, Dmitry Medvedev called it the worst problem in the country’s domestic politics. The Caucasus republics are plagued with corruption, nepotism, low level of education and high unemployment, which leads to a lot of young people living in poverty and with no hope for a better future. This breeds extremism and violence.

“The amount of financial aid we allocate to the Northern Caucasus is considerable, but the efficiency of its spending leaves much to be desired. Moreover, part of the money is almost openly embezzled by officials. This happens as the unemployment and poverty in the Caucasus reaches extreme heights,” Medvedev stressed.

Part of the solution voiced by the president is to establish the post of a single official in the government who will solely supervise federal efforts in the troubled region and evaluate its efficiency.

He announced a series of investments in the south into energy, construction and tourism, which the government will prepare. He also called on people, who were born in the Caucasus, to take their part in the development of their homeland.

Strong military remains an objective

President Medvedev appealed to the deputies entering the Russian State Duma in 2010 to support the program of army modernization.

The president underlined that supplying the army with up-to-date weapons is crucial.

“We don’t need to make abstract conclusions, we must buy hi-tech weapons.”

“In 2010 we need to supply troops with more than 30 ballistic missiles, both sea and land based, five Iskander missile systems, about 300 up-to-date armoured vehicles, 30 helicopters, 28 jets and other military planes, three nuclear submarines, one corvette battleship and 11 military satellites,” enumerated Medvedev.

By 2012 it is absolutely necessary to replace outdated analogue communication systems with digital computerized command systems, particularly for those troops in the North Caucasus, he added.

Medvedev expressed concern that the military order should be well-balanced and cost effective. Three new military academies will open their doors in 2010 alone, he said.

The financing of housing servicemen has been increased by 50%. The salary funds are also to be considerably increased by 2012.

On foreign policy

Russia does not need to be arrogant in relations with other countries, said Dmitry Medvedev. “We need investment and technology.”

“Therefore our policy should be purely pragmatic… to improve the living standards in our country.”

“We are supporting multi-polarity and the world is becoming increasingly clear about this… Ten years ago it was impossible to imagine that leaders of so many different countries sitting at one table discussing global problems,” recalled Medvedev.

"Today, the international financial and political system is being reformed considering the interests of as many countries as possible,” said Medvedev.

He pointed out that "We need to find collective solutions and there is a universal mechanism for this – the United Nations, which for the first time since the end of the Cold War began to function properly… And we will help it to strengthen its positions.”

“Sometimes people criticize us saying we have invented all this against NATO. That is not so. Our foreign policies are not against someone, but we are not a NATO member.”

“All of us [in Europe] need a new effective institute to stop an aggressor. If we had one [back in August 2008], Georgia would not have had the insolence to start a war in South Ossetia.”

The president said that it is important to coordinate the defending of Russian interests abroad. This diplomatic work means not only supporting of Russian companies abroad, but also attracting direct investment into Russia, especially modern technologies. Russia’s Foreign Ministry should be consistently working on using foreign policy factors for Russia’s long-term development.