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Putin's Plan for Russia

How high are Putin's hopes for his country?

July 2, 2004

How high are Putin's hopes for his country?

With a democratic constitution dating back only to 1993, Russia still has a long way to go in building a strong democratic nation. President Vladimir Putin's overwhelming victory in the elections last March will keep him in office for another term. In this Globalist Document, he lays out his vision for Russia’s economic priorities over the next four years.

Over these last four years, we have traversed a difficult but very important path.

Now, for the first time in a long time, Russia is politically and economically stable.

It is also independent, both financially and in international affairs — and this is a good result in itself.

Our goals are very clear. We want high living standards and a safe, free and comfortable life for the country.
We want a mature democracy and a developed civil society. We want to strengthen Russia's place in the world.

But our main goal is to bring about a noticeable rise in our people's prosperity. Russia could be said to have passed through several stages since the beginning of the 1990s.

The first stage involved dismantling the old economic system. It brought with it hardships and upheavals to the familiar way of life, acute political and social conflicts — and was a very difficult time for our society.

The second stage was the time of clearing the debris resulting from demolishing the old edifice. At the same time, we managed to check the most dangerous tendencies in economic and political life.

We have only recently reached the third stage in modern Russia's development — the possibility to achieve more rapid development and resolve more ambitious national tasks.

We now have the necessary experience and tools to set ourselves genuinely long-term objectives.

Our economy has grown at a good rate overall over the last four years. There has been a 1.5-fold increase in real incomes.

The number of people with less than subsistence-level incomes has dropped by a third. The economic growth rate was 7.3% last year — and 8% over the first four months of 2004. Only by maintaining high growth rates of the kind we have now will Russia avoid being relegated to the backwaters of the world economy.

We must grow faster than the rest of the world if we want to take the lead within today's complex rules of global competition.

We must be ahead of other countries in our growth rate, in the quality of our goods and services — and the level of our education, science and culture.

This is a question of our economic survival. It is a question of ensuring that Russia takes its deserved place in these changing international conditions.

Whether or not we can become a society of truly free people — free both economically and politically — depends only on us.

Reaching our priority national goals depends only on us. These goals are well-known: doubling our gross domestic product over the next decade, reducing poverty, increasing people's prosperity and modernizing the armed forces.

Russia's greatest competitive asset and the main source of its development is its people. Making our country strong and prosperous requires ensuring a normal life for all our people.

Those people who are producing quality goods and services are enriching our national culture and building a new country.

Our task now is to resolve the most pressing problems for our citizens. These are, above all, accessible and good-quality housing, education and healthcare.

There will be no going back on the fundamental principles of our politics. Commitment to democratic values is dictated by the will of our people and by the strategic interests of Russia itself.

It must be admitted that very many people still live in dilapidated and unsafe buildings and apartments. Not enough housing is being built and what is built often does not measure up to modern safety and quality standards.

Only people with high incomes can afford to buy new housing. The fact that young families are unable to afford housing of their own affects their plans to have children. It is still quite common to find several generations all having to share the same apartment.

Russia lags behind many countries today in its basic healthcare situation. Life expectancy in Russia is 12 years lower than in the United States, eight years lower than in Poland — and five years lower than in China.

This is due above all to a high mortality rate among working-age people. Child mortality is decreasing, but is still 1.5-2 times higher than in the developed countries.

The main aim of modernizing the Russian healthcare system is to ensure affordable and good-quality healthcare for broad sections of the population. This means above all that guaranteed free healthcare services should be clear and known to all.

The next priority is to develop the Russian education system. I want to emphasize that Russian education — with its fundamental approach to learning — held, and still holds, a leading place in the world. It would be absolutely unacceptable to lose this advantage.

The global competitive environment demands of us that we strengthen the practical component of our higher education system. This means, above all, placing higher demands on professional education.

Ensuring affordable and accessible healthcare and education — and giving people the possibility of buying housing — will help alleviate the problem of poverty.

We currently have around 30 million people who earn less than the subsistence level. That is a huge figure, it being known that most of the poor people in this country are people of working age.

But only economic growth can provide a genuinely reliable foundation for long-term solutions to social problems — including the struggle against poverty.

I particularly want to emphasize that achieving an optimum level of state spending should be a basic principle of our economic policy. We do not have a lot of money to spend.

The government must carry out restructuring of the huge network of budget-funded institutions that sprout up all around the country and change procedures for their financing — and, in many cases, even change their status.

Among the most important tasks that the country faces, I would like to single out the development of transport infrastructure.

When we take into account the size of Russia and the geographic remoteness of certain territories from the political and economic centers of the country, I would say that the development of infrastructure is more than an economic task.

Solving it will not just directly affect the state of affairs in the economy, but ensure the unity of the country as a whole — whether people feel they are citizens of a united, large nation and whether they can make use of its advantages.

We need to unite the economic centers of the country, to provide economic subjects with unhindered access to regional and international markets — and to provide infrastructure services of a world standard.

The growth of the economy, political stability and the strengthening of the state have had a beneficial effect on Russia's international position. We have been able to a significant degree to make our foreign policy both dynamic and pragmatic.

We need to use the tools of foreign policy for a more appreciable practical return in the economy and in the realization of important national tasks.

We are interested in further integration of the Russian economy into the international economy, including joining the WTO on conditions that are beneficial for us.

Increasing competitiveness on international markets stimulates developed countries to increase support of their manufacturers and exports.

This approach is particularly important now, when Russia and the EU are already immediate neighbors. The expansion of the European Union should not just bring us closer geographically — but also economically and spiritually.

An adequate response to the most serious threats of the 21st century — international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts — can only be provided by the united efforts of the international community, relying on the tools of the UN and on international law.

No one and nothing will stop Russia on the path to consolidating democracy — and ensuring human rights and freedoms.

At the same time, I would like to note that no excuses about the necessity of fighting terrorism could be an argument for restricting human rights — or for creating unjustified difficulties in contact between people on the international stage.

In aiming for a growth in citizens' prosperity, we will continue to maintain and stand up for the democratic achievements of the Russian people. We will consolidate the security of the state and strive for civilized solutions to key issues of world politics — founded on international law.

I count on the support and solidarity of all citizens of Russia. I count on their faith in themselves. In their abilities. In the success of our country.

This Globalist Document is adapted from a speech President Putin gave before the Federal Assembly on May 26, 2004. For the full text of Mr. Putin’s speech, click here.