Putin vows crackdown on high-profile corruption and money laundering

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers on December 12, 2012 an annual state of the nation address at the Kremlin in Moscow. (RIA Novosti / Alexei Kudenko)
President Putin urged tighter measures against corruption and a ban on ownership of foreign property for top level officials in this year’s address to the Federal assembly.

Putin advocated legislative measures in the fight against corruption, a lingering vestige of the Soviet period, as a means for ensuring Russia’s economic development.

The Russian leader says he supported tighter control over the foreign assets of officials, but cautioned his audience after they broke into applause.

“Don’t cheer so soon, you might not like what I am going to say next,” he warned.

Putin explained that legislation regulating the ownership of foreign accounts, securities and other assets will affect not only top officials, but their family members as well.

“The law must regulate the activities of government members, presidential administration officials and also the deputies of the Upper and Lower houses of Parliament,” he said.

Concerning real estate that is held abroad, such assets should be duly declared and the owner must be able to explain the source of the funds used to purchase it, the Russian President noted.

Though Putin said he believes the majority of civil servants are decent and responsible people, he told parliamentarians that “modern political realities” require public officials to be transparent in all of their activities.

“How can we trust a politician who speaks out on Russia’s behalf, but then attempts to transfer all of his means, all of his money abroad,” Putin asked, before requesting parliament to support legislation that will curb such behavior.

Russia – and world – facing transitional period

Putin, showing a profound grasp of not only the domestic situation, but the global as well, stressed the entire world is facing momentous challenges that do not exclude Russia.

“The coming years will be decisive and groundbreaking not only for Russia, but for the whole world, as it enters a period of transition and possibly even shocks,” he said.

The Russian leader noted that in the near future nations will be fighting not for natural resources, but for human resources and especially for human intellect. Increasing levels of consumption can be provided only by moving to a new level of production, which requires constant technological upgrades, Putin advised.

Given these new economic realities, “the demand for intellectual resources will only increase,” he added.

In this new world, which has significant implications in the economic and military sectors, “Russia must develop with confidence and maintain its national identity,” the President stated.

Married, with Children – the new Russian standard

Putin told his audience that in order for Russia to remain strong and sovereign, the country must not only improve its demographic situation. It must also provide the basic requirements that allow Russians to excel in terms of their morality, creativity and professionalism.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Russia confronted “a demographic crisis, as well as a crisis of values,” the Russian leader stated.

If such a dangerous trend is allowed to continue, Putin warned, there will be “no need for an external enemy.” Once a nation is unable to preserve and reproduce itself, if it loses its sense of direction and ideals, everything will “fall apart by itself.”

Putin noted that thanks to government initiatives aimed at boosting dwindling population rates, Russia has managed to overcome a major demographic crisis.

Today, the national birth rate is on the upswing.

Despite these encouraging signs, however, Russia cannot afford to become indifferent to the situation. Moreover, initiatives should be taken that encourage Russian families to have more children.

According to demography experts, Putin observed, the decision by a family to have a second child is a potential step toward having a third one.

“It’s important that a family should make that step,” the President stressed. “I still believe that a family with three children should become the standard for Russia.”

Spiritual revival – without the chauvinism

The President acknowledged that while the economic revival of the nation can be considered a success, it has come at a price. “It is painful for me to say this, but I must say it:Russian society is experiencing an evident deficit of spiritual bonds,” he told the assembly.

Putin, with a nostalgic eye to the past, said that Russia “tossed out the baby with the dirty water” around the time of the nation’s dramatic transition from communism to capitalism.

The Russian leader pointed to the values that Russians were once proud of – “mercy, compassion and sympathy.” He called these values the very things that have made Russians unique and strong.

"We should do everything to support the institutions that are bearers of traditional values," he advised.

However, the Russian leader strongly rejected the possibility of the nation returning to a totalitarian path, pledging that Russian authorities will not be acting through bans and limitations.

Putin, sensitive of the strain of nationalism that is beginning to rear its head in the country, touched upon the issue of the many ethnic groups that live in the country, commenting that “the strength and beauty of the Russian state lies in its ethnic diversity.”

Putin strongly denounced all manifestations of chauvinism and nationalism, as they only inflict great damage first of all on the very nation the nationalists are pretending to defend.

“All simple and final decisions suggested by nationalist extremists of all inclinations are pulling us to social degradation and to the country’s collapse,” Putin noted.

At the same time, Putin promised that Russia will never allow ethnic enclaves with their own set of rules and laws. The Russian leader also called upon parliamentarians to approve legislation to discourage illegal immigration, as well as regulate the registration of legal immigrants.

Rules for acquiring Russian citizenship must be eased

In an effort to attract professionals to Russia, Putin urged parliament to work out a simpler procedure for acquiring Russian citizenship. This legislation would apply for citizens of the former Soviet republics, as well as for direct descendents of people born in the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire.

Individuals who would like to move to Russia and renounce their current citizenship should be able to do so without unnecessary complications, the Russian leader said in his state-of-the-nation address.

Russia needs an inflow of professional and diligent people who want to live in the country and consider it their Fatherland, Putin remarked.

The Russian leader lamented the fact that government bureaucracy hinders this process.

“Existing rules do not help (individuals who want to repatriate to Russia); rather, they have the opposite effect,” he confirmed. “Naturalization of our compatriots, people close to Russia culturally and spiritually, is difficult and terribly bureaucratic."

International passports: mandatory for all nationals entering Russia

In an effort to more effectively control the flow of people entering the country, foreigners should be prohibited from entering Russia with national passports, Putin said.

The Russian leader set a date of 2015 when it will only be possible for foreigners to enter the country with international passports. This legislation would also apply to individuals arriving from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In Russia, as well as in some other countries, a passport for travel abroad is a document that citizens get in addition to their internal passports. National passports – similar to ID documents in many western states – are normally used only within the state and contain information only in a national language. The President urged Russian authorities to work on the issue with their colleagues from the CIS.

"We shouldn't create problems for anyone; if need be, we should provide them with assistance, including financial and technical,” Putin said. “We are talking about simple preparation of appropriate forms.”

Democracy is the only political choice for Russia

Putin then touched upon the subject of democracy, saying that it is the only way to develop Russia. However, it should be based on its own traditions rather than implement standards imposed on the country from outside, he underlined.

“We share precisely the universal democratic principles adopted throughout the world,” he noted. “But Russian democracy – is the power of just Russian people, with their own traditions of self-rule, and it is not at all a fulfillment of standards imposed on us from the outside.”

The President pointed out that democracy implies observance of adopted laws and regulations. While ruling parties, governments and presidents can change, the basic principles of the state and society must not be affected.

"Democracy is the chance not only to elect the authorities, but also to keep these authorities under permanent control," he concluded.