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Safeguarding Russia’s Freedom

What are Putin's views on the relationship between freedom and the economy?

May 10, 2005

What are Putin's views on the relationship between freedom and the economy?

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has been strongly criticized for a rollback of economic and political rights in his country. Where does Mr. Putin see Russia heading in the future — both economically and politically? We present his key points in this Globalist Document, excerpted from his Annual Address to the Federal Assembly.

I consider the development of Russia as a free and democratic state to be our main political and ideological goal. We use these words fairly frequently, but rarely care to reveal how the deeper meaning of such values as freedom and democracy, justice and legality is translated into life.

Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.
As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.

Individual savings were depreciated and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Oligarchic groups — possessing absolute control over information channels — served exclusively their own corporate interests.

Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances and the paralysis of the social sphere.

Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse — the prolonged agony of the Soviet system.

But they were mistaken. That was precisely the period when the significant developments took place in Russia. Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life.

In those difficult years, the people of Russia had to both uphold their state sovereignty and make an unerring choice in selecting a new vector of development in the thousand years of their history.

They had to accomplish the most difficult task: How to safeguard their own values, not to squander undeniable achievements and confirm the viability of Russian democracy. We had to find our own path in order to build a democratic, free and just society and state.

When speaking of justice, I am not of course referring to the notorious “take away and divide by all” formula, but extensive and equal opportunities for everybody to develop. Success for everyone. A better life for all.

In the ultimate analysis, by affirming these principles, we should become a free society of free people. But in this context, it would be appropriate to remember how Russian society formed an aspiration for freedom and justice, how this aspiration matured in the public mind.

Above all else Russia was, is and will, of course, be a major European power. Achieved through much suffering by European culture, the ideals of freedom, human rights, justice and democracy have for many centuries been our society’s determining values.

For three centuries, we — together with the other European nations — passed hand in hand through reforms of Enlightenment, the difficulties of emerging parliamentarism, municipal and judiciary branches and the establishment of similar legal systems.

Step by step, we moved together toward recognizing and extending human rights, toward universal and equal suffrage, toward understanding the need to look after the weak and the impoverished, toward women’s emancipation and other social gains.

I repeat that we did this together, sometimes behind — and sometimes ahead —of European standards.

It is my firm belief that for present-day Russia, democratic values are no less important than economic success or people's social welfare.

First, every law-abiding citizen is only entitled to firm legal guarantees and state protection in a free and just society. And, no doubt, safeguarding rights and freedoms is crucial both to Russia’s economic development and its social and political life.

Second, only in a free society do economically active citizens have the right to participate in a competitive struggle as equals and choose their partners and earn accordingly.

The prosperity of every individual should be determined by his or her labor and abilities, qualifications and effort. Everyone has the right to dispose of what he or she earned at will, including bequeathing it to his/her children.

In that way, the observance of principles of justice is directly connected with the equality of opportunities. And this, in turn, must be guaranteed by no one other than the state.

Third, the Russian state, if it wants to be just, must help its impoverished citizens and those that cannot work — the disabled, pensioners and orphans. These people must live a decent life and the main benefits must be accessible to them.

All these functions and duties are directly invested in the state by society.

And finally, a free and just society has no internal borders or travel restrictions and is open to the rest of the world. This enables citizens of our country to fully enjoy the benefits of human civilization in its entirety — including education, science, world history and culture.

It is our values that determine our desire to see Russia’s state independence grow and its sovereignty strengthened. Ours is a free nation. And our place in the modern world will only depend on how strong and successful we are.

And finally, one more crucial problem: Russia is extremely interested in a major inflow of private, including foreign, investment. This is our strategic choice and strategic approach.

In practice, investors sometimes face all kinds of limitations, including some that are explained by national security reasons, though these limitations are not legally formalized. This uncertainty creates problems for the state and investors.

It is time we clearly determined the economic sectors where the interests of bolstering Russia's independence and security call for predominant control by national — including state — capital.

I mean some infrastructure facilities, enterprises that fulfill state defense orders, mineral deposits of strategic importance for the future of the country and future generations, as well as infrastructural monopolies.

Investors do not need riddles and charades. They will invest their money only in a stable economy with clear and comprehensible rules of the game.

And this approach will be fair to both society and the state, which should protect its prospective interests and take care of the country's development for years and decades to come.

Editor’s note: This essay is adapted from President Vladimir Putin’s Annual Address to the Federal Assembly, on April 25, 2005.