OPEN LETTER BY VLADIMIR PUTIN TO RUSSIAN VOTERS
On 15 February, the Central Election Commission registered me as a candidate in the election for the presidency of Russia. The decision to enter the presidential race is a well-considered one and I made it public long ago. However, the election campaign imposes many responsibilities on me. It also imposes some fair and just restrictions and makes me draw the line between what I am obliged to do daily as the leader of the country and what I am permitted to do as a participant in the election campaign.
As in all previous months, I will go on fulfilling my usual official duties. There are no special campaign events on my working schedule and my recently established campaign headquarters will confine its functions to what is prescribed by the Presidential Election Law and by Central Election Commission instructions.
However, there is another side to the issue, a presidential candidate's responsibilities to Russian voters. The most important of which is to lay down one’s plan and to tell the voters what problems you intend to solve in the capacity of the Russian head of state. In a word, I am speaking of an election platform.
This is truly important. On the one hand, my position on domestic and international issues is open and familiar to everyone. The last six months have given people ample opportunity to see what I consider important and what I am doing in the nation's politics and economy. On the other hand, the question remains: "Who is Putin and what are his political plans?"
Once asked, the question calls for an answer.
That is why I thought it would be best to address you directly. I decided to tell you, without intermediaries, in a concise and clear manner what I think about our life today and what I believe should be done to make it better.
ABOUT OUR PROBLEMS
Many people are searching for the root of our trouble in error-filled interdepartmental decisions; this is only part of the problem. Experts to this day argue over exactly where the decisive mistakes occurred. They cannot be blamed for looking at life from their own perspective, defending their position.
I am convinced that it is not possible to have a coherent, workable program if in one department economic policy is written, in a second, political policy is determined and in a third, international relations are conducted. To then mechanically "glue" all of this together to form a reasoned government platform is not pragmatic
This is not the right approach and it will not get us anywhere.
Any program begins with the setting of goals. Our state program is what unites us as citizens of our country.
Any program begins with the setting of goals. Our state program is what unites us as citizens of our country. For the citizens of Russia, moral values are most important. These moral values, first cultivated in the family, form the foundation of patriotism. This is very important. Without them it would be impossible for us to come to terms on anything; without them Russia would have to forget about its national dignity and even about its national sovereignty.
This is our starting-point. The task of a leader is to tune everyone into shared goals, to put everyone in their right places, to help everyone acquire confidence in their own abilities. This is the only way to build team spirit; this is the only way to win. Therefore, the most important thing today is to openly admit our core problems and to arrange our priorities accordingly.
I am prepared to tell you how I see them.
Our first and most important problem is the weakening of our will. I am referring to the loss of governmental will and the lack of persistence in carrying things through. Hesitation, swaying from one extreme to another, a habit of putting off the most difficult tasks, these are our problems.
It is high time we finally started confronting our problems. First and foremost, we should confront the most dangerous of them. We should challenge those, which keep arresting our movement, which prevent the economy from breathing and the state from developing. These forces, to put it bluntly, threaten our very existence.
To continue evading these problems is much more dangerous than to take up the challenge. People no longer believe promises and the authorities are losing face to a greater and greater degree. The State has become loose, its engine - the executive branch- wheezes and sneezes every time you try to start it. Officials are "pushing paper", not attending to real-life business, and they have practically forgotten what subordination and discipline mean. In such conditions, it is only natural that people can count neither on the force of law nor on the justice of organs of power. They can only rely on themselves. If this is the case, then what need have they of such state power?
A vivid example of this deep-seated evil is crime.
As we were idly speculating for many years on combating crime, we were only driving the evil deeper inside Russia. Banditry was growing stronger, penetrating cities and villages, taking root everywhere. Things had come to the point where an entire republic, a subject of the Russian Federation - Chechnya – had become occupied by the criminal world, which then turned it into their own fortress. We had just to meet the bandits in open confrontation and to rout them and a very substantial step was made towards establishing the supremacy of law, a dictatorship of the law that is equal to all.
Now, wherever a terrorist or
criminal might be hiding - be it Novgorod, St. Petersburg or Kazan, any
Russian city, he will no longer be able to hope to find aid and refuge in
Chechnya. A terrible blow has
been dealt against the world of organized crime.
This could not have been done by just sitting in Moscow and concocting more and more "programs for combating crime". We had to take the initiative and smash the enemy in the enemy's own field. I believe I have explained exactly how other grave problems can and must be solved. Life itself suggests the answer: it is only by openly accepting a challenge that one can win.
Another major problem is the absence of firm and generally recognized rules. Like any individual, society cannot do without them. As applied to the State, these rules are the law, constitutional discipline and order. This means the safety of family and property, personal safety, as well as confidence in the immutability of the established rules of the game.
The State will have to begin with itself here. It must not only establish rules that are equal for all, but must also observe these rules itself. It is only in this manner that we can make everyone observe a single set of norms of behavior determined by the law. In an ungoverned, i.e. weak state, the individual is neither protected nor free. The stronger the state, the freer the individual. In a democracy, your and my rights are limited only by the same rights enjoyed by other people. It is on recognizing this simple truth that the law is based, the law that is to be followed by all- from an authority figure to a simple citizen.
Democracy- this is a dictatorship of the law, not of those placed in an official position to defend that law.
Democracy- this a dictatorship of the law, not of those placed in an official position to defend that law. I think a reminder won't be out of place here: a court passes decisions in the name of the Russian Federation, so it has to be worthy of that lofty name. The police and the prosecutor’s office must uphold the law, not try to "privatize" the powers vested in them to suit their own interests. Their direct and sole responsibility is the protection of the people, not of any false notions of the "honor of the regiment" or of their own departmental interests.
Rules are necessary and important to everyone everywhere. This is true of the authorities, of businesspeople, and to a much greater degree, of those who are weak and in need of social protection. It is impossible to help the weak if no taxes are paid into the public treasury. It is impossible to build a civilized market in a world permeated with corruption. No economic progress is possible if bureaucrats are beholden to well financed interests.
How then, some would ask, should the authorities relate to the so-called oligarchs? Without special preferences, that's how! They must relate in exactly the same way as they would to the owner of a small bakery or a shoemaker's shop.
Only an efficient, strong state can afford to live according to rules (i.e. according to the law). In addition, it is only such a state that can guarantee freedom: freedom of enterprise, personal freedom, and public freedom.
If we teach each other to respect the established rules, if we learn to behave decently ourselves, we can then compel others to do the same. If we start punishing transgressions in strict accordance with the law, those who, to date, have found it more profitable to break the laws, will no longer choose to take us on. To those who may have forgotten, we can offer this reminder: power is something, which is paid for out of the taxpayer's pocket, out of your and my earnings.
I know there are many today who are afraid of order. However, order is nothing more than rules. And let those who are currently engaged in pedaling substitutes, trying to pass off the absence of order for genuine democracy - let them stop selling us fool’s gold and trying to scare us with the past. "Our land is rich, but it lacks order", they used to say in Russia.
Nobody will ever say such things about us again.
Finally, there exists another major problem, which if we do not face up to it, will render whatever plans we may make for the future futile.
We have a very inadequate idea of the resources that are at our disposal today. For instance, everybody seems to understand that property is inviolable - but how much property is there in Russia, where is it and who is it owned by? Today, we do not even know the precise figures of what is possessed by the state. Beginning with the treasures held by the State Depository and ending with patented inventions, which by right belong to Russian citizens, we have no idea of what we possess. It is shameful to confess, but no one in the country now is capable of giving the precise number either of working enterprises or of their revenue or even reliable data on the country's population.
It is high time we clearly understood who owns what in Russia. Only then will it be possible to correctly assess and value our resources and identify tasks, which are feasible. This is the luggage, which we are taking on our journey. Today, what is as necessary to us as the air we breathe is a comprehensive inventory of the country. We need a truly credible account and proper stock taking of everything we have.
The first thing a new CEO of a business does when he takes over is to ask for the balance sheet. Russia is a business too, a vast, complicated and enormously diversified business. It is meaningless to argue whether we are poor or rich until we have taken proper stock of all our successes and failures, our past losses and our new achievements.
Each of you is sure to have your own idea about where the root source of our setbacks and miscalculations lies. Indeed we, the citizens of Russia, should have agreed long ago on what we are expecting from the State and on how we are willing to support it. I am referring to our national priorities. Lacking this, we will once again waste our time and leave our common destiny to be decided by irresponsible windbags.
ABOUT OUR PRIORITIES
In recent years, we have adopted hundreds of programs of "priority" and "top priority" measures. The fact that there are so many of them means that nobody has actually gotten down to the real business at hand. We have constantly allowed ourselves to be led by events, after which, we have had to clean up the mess of our own rash decisions. We have continually lumped big and small tasks together. Moreover, we have enthusiastically taken up, and let ourselves be distracted by easier tasks, thus trying to justify our unwillingness and our fear of facing really serious challenges.
If we do not want to repeat our earlier mistakes, if we do not want our country to lag behind, we must decide which tasks are really urgent. There really are not very many of them if you approach the matter with intelligence. Unfortunately, they are quite daunting.
Our priority is to eliminate our own poverty.
We have gotten used to being proud of our own wealth: a vast territory, natural resources, a multi-ethnic culture and a highly educated populace. All of these do, in fact, exist. Nevertheless, these alone are woefully inadequate for the great power that is Russia.
We have to say to ourselves just once: we are a rich country of poor people. Generally speaking, Russia is a nation of paradoxes. It is a country not so much of political paradoxes, as of social, economic and cultural ones.
Our children win gold medals at international Olympiads. Our best minds are in high demand in the West. Russian musicians and conductors play to full houses at the best concert venues in the world. The theaters in our capital city are always crammed full of spectators. All of this is our wealth.
However, there is another side to the matter. It does not simply appall one; it also calls one to action. Millions of people in the country are still struggling to make ends meet, they have to economize on everything, even on food. Parents and children cannot, even over the space of many years, scrape together enough money to buy tickets to visit each other. The aged, the victors of the Second World War and the founders of Russia as a world power, eke out a meager existence, or still worse, beg in the streets. And it is the fruits of their labor, the resources accumulated by them that our generation is "eating up" today, while contributing practically nothing to the national "piggy bank". The repayment of the debt owed to senior citizens is no longer a social problem; it has become a political and moral task in every sense of the word.
True, we have finally started paying pensions on time. We have started, as far as possible, to aid the needy. However, one cannot solve this problem of truly nationwide significance just by endlessly patching up holes, without breakthrough ideas or approaches.
We have to say to ourselves just once: we are a rich country of poor people. Generally speaking, Russia is a nation of paradoxes. It is a nation not so much of political paradoxes, as of social, economic and cultural ones.
To do away with our humiliating poverty without money, of course, is simply not possible. Alas, to further bloat our already oversized social welfare sphere is no method either. We have already been there. Here the key resource is the new, able-bodied generation. It is exactly those who want and are able to become well-to-do in the conditions of a civilized society.
Young and energetic people, all those who know the real value of labor and are capable of earning their own living, will know the way to deliver the nation from the humiliation of poverty. They are capable of restoring to Russia not only its economic dignity, but its moral dignity as well. This is a common task for the entire country and together we will surely cope with it. Russian history provides plenty of examples; Russia has more than once pulled itself out of worse scrapes.
Our priority is to protect the market against illegal intrusion, both bureaucratic and criminal.
Today, we are simply obligated to ensure property rights and to shield the entrepreneur from arbitrary, unlawful interference in his activities. If these guarantees are not given by the State, the vacuum is promptly filled by criminal groups, taking under their protective "wing" all those who struggle in vain to gain protection from the State.
The term "economic crime" has come into circulation in our time. Though it has gained currency, it is not simply legally inaccurate, it is a mistake. One cannot lump together in one pile all crimes connected with the economy and finance in order to organize campaigns to combat "economic criminals".
The criminal community is strictly orientated toward economic ends, by this I mean that they are only interested in questions of capital, obviously our financial and economic sectors provide the most fertile soil for their designs. No one but the State itself, by its action or inaction, has helped bring this about. It has helped by poor laws, by the lack of well-defined rules and by muddled, incompetent interference in the market.
A strong state is interested in having well-to-do citizens. Therefore, the key aim of all of our economic policies must be to make it more appealing to work honestly then to steal.
Of course, rigorous state control is necessary. However, it alone is not sufficient. Lets have a look at what happens: you cannot believe in the stability of your business because you cannot rely on the force of the law or the honesty of officials. Therefore, you are dissatisfied with the services rendered by the State and alas you do not pay all of your taxes. What is more, you can live pretty comfortably while doing this. Therefore, the State fails to get sufficient revenues to keep an impartial judicial system, it pays small salaries to its officials and they take bribes. The result is a vicious circle.
We have already for many years talked about state regulation of the economy. All of us may understand it in different ways. Nevertheless, the essence of this regulation consists not of stifling the market or promoting bureaucratic expansion into new spheres, on the contrary, it consists of helping the market stand on its own feet. People have the right to demand protection against their enterprises falling into the hands of criminal groups. They also have the right to demand observance of the rules of fair competition. All business agents must be placed in equal conditions. It is inadmissible to use government institutions in the interests of clan or group fighting.
In my opinion, the picture is clear. Our taxes are high, but their collection is low. What we need is low taxes and high collection. Collection must be high enough to make the State strong and effective. It must be high enough to allow the state the ability to maintain just and fair courts and an incorruptible bureaucracy. So that it will be able, at last, to help those who are incapable of supporting themselves.
Our place in the world, our prosperity, and our newfound rights directly depend on the successful resolution of our internal problems.
I am absolutely convinced that a strong State is interested in having well-to-do citizens. Therefore, the key aim of all of our economic policies must be to make it more appealing to work honestly then to steal.
I think we have had enough of "sitting on our suitcases" and stashing our cash under the mattress. Enough of feeding foreign countries, of forcing our people to keep their hard-earned money in bank accounts abroad, this is wrong. It is high time we created for young and hard-working citizens sound conditions for development. They have no need either for artificial protection or for stringent restraints. Let those who want and are able to live well, help themselves and their country.
Our priority is to reawaken the personal dignity of citizens in the name of a higher national dignity.
Russia long ago ceased to be a truncated map of the Soviet Union; it is a self-confident power with an excellent future and a great people.
In the last decade, our consciousness has undergone a great change. Our citizens are still not rich but they are independent and completely sure of themselves. Our press has become irrevocably free. Our army, coming out of a prolonged crisis with honor, is improving and becoming professional.
Yes, Russia has ceased to be an empire but it has not dissipated its potential as a great power. We no longer dictate anything to anyone nor do we keep anyone under our influence, instead we now have the time and energy to better take care of ourselves. Our new generation now has a magnificent and historical chance, the chance to build a Russia, which they would be proud to pass on to their children.
Those who are inducing fear, who would rather that we use this chance to build a dictatorship, are shying at their own shadow. A great country values its own freedom and respects that of others. A strong Russia should not be feared but it has to be reckoned with. Offending us will cost one dearly.
Our priority: to build our foreign policy based on the national interests of our country.
Essentially, we need to recognize the primacy of internal goals over external ones. We must, at last, learn this lesson. If this or that international project is not in the interests of our citizens, then, however impressive or attractive it might sound, we should exclude ourselves. If Russia is being pressed to join some global undertaking, which would entail great expense when at the same time we are living on credit, unable to pay salaries to our people, we must weigh the possibilities first and perhaps wait.
Russia long ago ceased to be a truncated map
Of the Soviet Union, it is a self-confident power
With an excellent future and a great people.
There is not, nor can there be a superpower where weakness and poverty reign. It is time to understand: our place in the world, our prosperity, and our newfound rights directly depend on the successful resolution of our internal problems.
Let us remember our national interests not only on those occasions when we must make a forceful statement. Instead, let us formulate them intelligently and precisely and then consistently defend them. It is only the real interests of the country, meaning economic interests, which must be the guiding principle for Russian diplomats.
At this point, I would like to clarify: our current economic power in no way means that we do not seek foreign expansion (in the good sense of the word). We also covet that, which in other countries is referred to as zones of vital interests. However, we view them as a source of future peaceful development: economic, international, and political.
It is possible, of course, to continue with this list. But aren't the enumerated problems more than enough to get down to the job of addressing them at once? Have we not enough urgent tasks, already? If we pool our efforts, we will solve them all, one after the other.
ABOUT OUR COMMON GOAL
At election time, it is usual to have a sea of political platforms released. These bulky documents are rarely read to the end.
I have laid out here that, which I believe to be most important. Those who would claim that this couldn’t be the whole program are right. I do not pretend to have all of the answers but I considered it my duty to tell my fellow citizens what my principles and my vision of the State are.
I am convinced that the defining feature of the new century will not be a battle of ideologies, but a sharp competition over the quality of life, national wealth and progress. Speaking of progress, either it is there or it is not. The poverty of a people cannot be justified by any references to the purity of party principles, be they "Right" or "Left" ones.
If I were to look for a slogan for my election platform, it would be a very simple one. It is: dignified life. Dignified in the sense that it is life, as the majority of my fellow citizens would like to see it, the life they believe in. The life I would like to see myself, as a Russian.
Translated by Jeffrey M Letino.
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