Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Thank you for coming. I am delighted to see such a representative audience and so many familiar faces, many people whom I have known for years. Thank you for your participation and for being so forthcoming in dealing with the issues which I hope we will solve together with you now.
I am not going to present a full-scale programme, but still I would like to share with you some ideas so that we can use them in our joint work. Because I understand that you are in a much better position than I am to address the electorate directly, for a variety of reasons. In fact, I very much count on your active involvement. Naturally, your position can and must stem from our common notion of the challenges that face the country, and our notion of what forces and instruments are at our disposal and should be used to achieve these common goals.
I don’t think our campaign should centre around a concrete political figure; instead, we should effectively unite around a political theme, around ideas that appeal to the majority of the country’s people. I don’t think we need to go into detail about the problems of different segments of the population. You know very well the state of affairs in the regions – there are many people from the regions here – you know the state of affairs in the spheres in which you work, but we should take a thorough look at the main problems and determine our priorities.
Our political will and voter support are equally important if our common programme is to be a success. In fact, I am sure society needs a concrete plan of action that it is willing to back and accept. A plan which sets goals that are clear and understandable and that, as I said, the overwhelming majority of the population identifies with.
I think those who say that our people are passive and indifferent to what is happening in the country are wrong. Developments inside the country and abroad, and indeed the experience of the past months, especially the results of the Duma elections, have shown that this is far from being the case. Our people are very politically active. There is even, I think, some untapped potential. There is no apathy in the population. But there is untapped potential. And there is an expectation of change, of truly important new developments.
It is above all the people in government agencies who need this feedback. The election campaign does provide an element of renewed feedback from the population. This is the rationale for holding events that enable the people who have climbed to the top and sit in various government bodies, in offices with a lot of telephones, to become aware of and get a sense of what makes people tick, how they feel. I think our meeting today and your work in this election campaign are important, if only in the light of what I have said. Especially since the people in this hall are people who are well known in their regions, in their professions, wherever you work. You are prominent individuals who have achieved much in your own lives, and ordinary people tend to trust the kind of individuals gathered here today.
At the same time, I am aware that practical campaigning has already got under way, and many of my friends and colleagues here are already very active. I would urge you to proceed very carefully. Everything is good in moderation. We should steer clear of misguided methods of campaigning. We have no need for them, and it would harm the country, your candidate and the goals that we set ourselves. On the one hand, of course, we should campaign aggressively, but on the other hand, we should not create a syrupy image of the candidate.
Permit me to dwell on some key points of the election campaign. The Russian people have always been noted for their special moral criterion and shared goals that have cemented the nation. These enabled the people to survive and win in the most trying and difficult years, before, during and after WWII. This is not to say that we should again start looking for an elusive national idea, a subject that many people talk about frequently and generally pointlessly.
I think the idea is there. It has already manifested itself in society quite clearly. It is the need for coherent and truly feasible goals. It is the expectation that the government will back up its words and promises with concrete deeds and results. The authorities, of course, have to start with themselves and should display fortitude, firmness and will. They should not hide their head in the sand to avoid issues that turn out to be difficult, but confront the concrete problems in the economy, the development of the state, and the humanitarian sphere, while not being afraid of taking difficult and unpopular decisions and assuming responsibility for tough measures.
When I look at analyses of how countries have developed in the past decades – and just yesterday we were reviewing together with a colleague the development of the leading countries of the world over the last 100 years – all this is not exactly depressing, but it does prompt a sense of alarm over the destinies of our country and the future of Russia. Of course, we are a great power. Arguably, Russia is indestructible. But if we proceed only from that notion, we will not get very far.
We should understand that we have very serious rivals in the world arena. Look at how many countries in Asia and Latin America are developing, not to mention Europe and the leaders in North America. We should not comfort ourselves by saying that we have huge resources and that is enough. We should have a clear idea of effective ways for the country to develop and take responsible decisions if we believe and are sure that these decisions, even if they are not very popular, will ultimately benefit the country and its future. So, we need a government that is effective, responsible and persevering. The state apparatus must be competent, flexible and disciplined, not a bloated or loose assemblage of bureaucrats who are indifferent to ordinary people.
Another serious challenge we must meet is that posed by the difficult but universally recognised rules of the game that we should all follow – both citizens and state bodies. I am referring to compliance with the law and the Constitution. I am referring to the rule of law in the country. I think that this is one of the biggest and most serious problems for present-day Russia in politics and in economics. We believe that all the players in politics and the economy must have a level playing field so that nobody can gain any advantages by cozying up to the authorities from the left or the right. This is very important for the domestic and the potential foreign investor. Nothing can be accomplished without solving this issue.
That is why the building of a legal structure and the fight against corruption take on such importance. This is not just routine work in the law enforcement field. It is, in effect, about creating a new image of the country.
Of course, before we put our house in order we have to know exactly and clearly what there is in that house. And that is in itself a major problem. I have already had occasion to speak about it and when I affirm the need for stock-taking in the country I mean the following: we need a clear picture of our resources, both natural and intellectual, a clear idea of the real potential of our treasury, state and private property, of everything that Russia today owns, uses and disposes of.
But we also need a different kind of inventory. An inventory of the moral values, the right benchmarks, common goals, criteria and assessments. It is only by taking stock that we will understand how much or how little we have in reality. Little, that is, because we are unable to make good use of these resources.
A wealthy Russia will not forgive anyone the humiliation of poverty. In fact, I am prepared to repeat the view that is contained in my letter to the voters: we have to admit that we are a rich country of poor people. That situation cannot be tolerated.
So our priority is a life of dignity. Any opinion survey to find out what worries the ordinary citizen will show that people have the right to and want to lead a life of dignify. Working towards that goal, I think, is the moral and political duty of any government, wherever it draws its support. So, the good of the people and the welfare of the ordinary citizen is the ultimate goal of any authority.
On the question of inventory, I think we should distinguish between two things: drawing up a balance sheet and revising fundamental principles. We will never revise certain fundamental principles. Guaranteeing property rights and securing the market from extortion on the part of bureaucrats or criminals are principles that are not subject to revision. What I am saying about property rights is exceedingly important and is closely related to the problem I mentioned a few moments ago.
Keeping all the players on the market at an equal distance from the authorities, on the one hand, and guaranteeing property rights, on the other, is a cornerstone of the political and economic spheres. Obviously, if the state cannot cope with the tasks I have mentioned, with the functions I have mentioned, and does not set guaranteed rules of the game, the field will be occupied by players from the shadow economy. That is how all these criminal front organisations appear. This is a sign of a weakening of the state. The criminal front groups are simply a surrogate of the function that the state should perform but is not performing.
Another side of the problem is competent and, I should say, delicate work with the market. State regulation is of course necessary. A country cannot be strong without it. But regulation is not a noose around the neck of the market; it is intended to help it. It means creating equal conditions for all businesses, as I have said. That alone can provide a foundation for honest and effective business. On it depends the confidence of the private sector in the state and consequently the replenishment of the treasury through taxes, which affects the salaries of civil servants, judges, doctors, teachers and so on. All these things are closely intertwined.
A strong state is impossible without respect for the personal dignity of its citizens and the dignity of the nation as a whole. These basic principles underlie the approach we are taking to our domestic and foreign policy. I think we are capable of mobilising all the resources of the state, all the potential of society, and the efforts of all the Russian people. I think at the end of the day this is my main goal and the main goal of all those present here.
I suggest that we proceed to a free exchange of questions and answers and express our wishes.
I would like the upshot of your work to be the flow of feedback from the average man, the ordinary Russian, the country’s people, so that the mandate you get from the citizens extends to the government and the presidential administration. For my own part, I promise that it will be so.
Thank you very much for your attention.