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Britain’s ultimatum to Russia BACKFIRES, NATO and EU allies reject demands for action on Skripal

British diplomacy fails to unite West in strong action against Russia

Alexander Mercouris

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Donald Trump’s latest tweets saying that the US should aim for better relations with Russia underscores a crucial point about the Skripal case: the British are failing to win the support of their allies that they seem to have expected.

At this point it is necessary to say something about the British diplomatic strategy last week,

On Monday 12th March 2018 British Prime Minister Theresa May gave Russia a 36 hour ultimatum saying that unless it proved itself innocent the British government would deem it guilty of the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal

Here is what Theresa May said to the British House of Commons on 12th March 2018

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.

This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’.

Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Mr. Speaker, there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March.

Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country.

Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

This afternoon my Rt. Hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has summoned the Russian Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and asked him to explain which of these two possibilities it is — and therefore to account for how this Russian-produced nerve agent could have been deployed in Salisbury against Mr Skripal and his daughter.

My Rt. Hon. Friend has stated to the Ambassador that the Russian Federation must immediately provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

And he has requested the Russian government’s response by the end of tomorrow…….

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday we will consider in detail the response from the Russian State.

Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.

(bold italics added)

The last highlighted words are unequivocal.  Unless the Russians admitted to the existence of its Novichok stockpile by midnight British time on 13th March 2018 and provided an explanation for the use of the Novichok chemical agent in the Skripal attack by that same deadline, the British government would conclude that it was the Russian government itself which had carried out the attack.

As I have previously pointed out, this was a transparent attempt to reverse the burden of proof, with Russia being required to prove itself innocent instead of Britain being required to prove Russia guilty.

In the event – and as was to be expected – the Russians denied Theresa May’s claims.  They pointed out that the OPCW had certified that Russia had destroyed all its stocks of chemical weapons.  They categorically denied possessing or stockpiling Novichok agents.  They demanded sight of the evidence upon which Theresa May was making her claims, and insisted on adoption of the procedure set out in Article IX(2) of the Chemical Weapons Convention.  They denied any role in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

Accordingly, and consistent with the logic of her ultimatum, Theresa May on 14th March 2018 went before the House of Commons again and declared Russia guilty of a chemical weapons attack on British territory and of the murder attempt on Sergey and Yulia Skripal

……there were only two plausible explanations.

Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country.

Or conceivably, the Russian government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

Mr Speaker, it was right to offer Russia the opportunity to provide an explanation.

But their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events.

They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent.

No explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom; no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law.

Instead they have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

So Mr Speaker, there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter – and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey.

This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.

(bold italics added)

Britain’s subsequent actions followed this logic.

Since it was supposedly “proved” that Russia had carried out a military attack on Britain (“an unlawful use of force….against the United Kingdom”) the British took the matter to the UN Security Council, which is supposed to consider all cases where “an unlawful use of force” is used.

It was at this point that the whole British strategy unravelled.

Firstly, the Russians insisted that the UN Security Council debate be held in public and not in private as the British had originally sought.

The Russians then responded strongly to the British claims, denying them and insisting that proper procedures be followed.

To see what happened next, it is necessary to read through the UN Press Office’s summary of the debate.

Though the British got strong support from Nikki Haley (as was to be expected), the British failed to win unequivocal support for their claim that Russia is guilty from any of the other ambassadors present in the UN Security Council, even from those ambassadors who represent France, Poland, the Netherlands and Sweden, who are Britain’s closest allies.

Instead, in what looks to have been a coordinated position, the ambassadors of Poland, the Netherlands and Sweden followed the lead of the French ambassador whose comments are summarised by the UN Press Office as follows

The United Kingdom Prime Minister had stated that the Russian Federation was responsible.  He expressed full confidence in the United Kingdom investigation to shed light on the use of that chemical weapon.  The perpetrators must be identified and prosecuted, with responses provided to the United Kingdom’s legitimate questions.

(bold italics added)

The sting in the highlighted words has not been widely grasped.  The point however is that earlier on that same day – 14th March 2018 – Theresa May on the expiry of her ultimatum had already pronounced Russia guilty (see above).  Yet here was the French ambassador just a few hours later on the same day saying – along with the ambassadors of Poland, the Netherlands and Sweden – that the question of Russia’s guilt had still not been determined, with Russia being asked to answer Britain’s questions, with no deadline for those answers being demanded of Russia, in the context of an investigation which was still underway.

That this is a completely different position from the one taken earlier on the same day by Theresa May has not been generally reported, a fact which is a testament to the extraordinary and continuing power of the passionately anti-Russian English speaking media.  However it is clear if one reads carefully the words used.

In other words, though dressing up their position in supportive language, Britain’s allies were declining to echo what the British were saying: that Russia had already been proved to be guilty of the Skripal attack.

The summary of the debate provided by the UN Press Office shows that the non-aligned states were much more equivocal even than this.

None of their ambassadors said that Russia was guilty whilst Russia got support from its allies: China and Kazakhstan.

The ambassador from Peru made a comment which looks like an implied rebuke of the British.  The UN Press Office summarises his comment as saying that the incident in Salisbury should be

….investigated in the framework of the rule of law and due process, while the parties involved must fully cooperate in an investigation that would determine those responsible and any applicable sanctions.

(bold italics added)

The ambassador of Ethiopia is reported to have spoken in similar terms

He voiced hope that an independent investigation would be conducted, and vetted, on the Salisbury incident, including by holding consultations on the basis of the Chemical Weapons Convention, with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice.  He encouraged good-faith cooperation between United Kingdom and the Russian Federation, which was critical to ensuring that the issue did not get out of hand.  Given the United Kingdom’s justified concern, he hoped all concerned would fully cooperate and that the matter would be handled in a fair manner.

(bold italics added)

The point behind these words is that – as Russia’s formidable ambassador Vasily Nebenzia pointed out, it is Britain not Russia which is not following due process and which is acting outside the rule of law, and which is refusing Russia’s offer to cooperate with the investigation.

Here is how the UN Press Office summarises what Nebenzia said

The United Kingdom ignored the procedures in line with international commitments.  The matter was being dragged into the Council while the real experts were in The Hague, and those experts would not be convinced.  The letter stated that the Russian Federation had something to do with the use of toxic agents in Salisbury.  His country had been given 24 hours to admit that it had committed a crime.  His country did not speak the language of ultimatums, and would not be spoken to in that language….His country had nothing to do with the incident, and the ultimatum from London was something that it could not pay attention to and that he considered null and void.  He expected that the United Kingdom should act in strict adherence to the Convention on Chemical Weapons and would provide samples of the substances for joint investigation, as it was saying that it was Russian in origin.  That was not optional; it was mandatory under the Convention.

I am not privy to Britain’s diplomatic strategy, but I suspect that the British expected much stronger support in the UN Security Council than they got, and expected that their NATO allies at least would simply accept and echo their assertion of Russian guilt.

My guess is that the British plan was to follow this up by presenting a Resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Russia.

After the Russians vetoed the Resolution – as it would of course do – the British intended to call on the support of their NATO allies by invoking Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which reads as follows

Article 5

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

Note how Article 5 uses essentially the same language – “an armed attack” – as Theresa May used in her statements to the House of Commons on 12th and 14th March 2018 – “an unlawful use of force” – and how it envisages an “immediate report to the Security Council” and “measures necessary to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area” until “the Security Council has taken the necessary measures”.

In other words the British referral to the UN Security Council had the purpose of preparing the ground for an emergency NATO summit at which Britain would invoke Article 5.

My guess is that the British planned to get their NATO and EU allies at this summit to impose across the board sanctions on Russia as “necessary measures” for “collective self-defence” pursuant to Article 5 in light of the “unlawful use of force” that they all agreed Russia had carried out against one of their members ie. Britain.

If this is correct – and I am sure it is – then Britain’s allies saw through this British strategy and quietly sidestepped it.

The result is a series of ritual statements which appear to support Britain but which actually do no such thing.

Here is the first of them, a joint statement made by the US, Britain, Germany and France on 15th March 2018

We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2018. A British police officer who was also exposed in the attack remains seriously ill, and the lives of many innocent British citizens have been threatened. We express our sympathies to them all, and our admiration for the United Kingdom police and emergency services for their courageous response.

This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War. It is an assault on the United Kingdom’s sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all.

The United Kingdom thoroughly briefed its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack. We share the United Kingdom’s assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia’s responsibility. We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury.

Russia should, in particular, provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behavior. We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the U.N. Security Council to uphold international peace and security.

Craig Murray has correctly pointed out the careful use in this statement of the formula “a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia” as opposed to a simple and outright statement that the “military grade nerve agent” was “made by Russia“.

However what has so far as I know has up to now gone unnoticed is that the statement actually falls well short of saying that Russia actually carried out the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

On the contrary, repeating the formula used by Britain’s Western allies in the UN Security Council on the previous day (see above), it continues to treat the question of Russia’s guilt as undecided, and continues to ask Russia to answer Britain’s questions, without setting any deadline for Russia to do so.

This despite the fact that Theresa May’s deadline for Russia to answer these questions had by then already passed, so that she had already declared Russia guilty.

On 19th March 2018 the EU issued its own statement which proved to be even weaker and more equivocal than the statement issued by the US, Britain, Germany and France on 15th March 2018.  Its full text is as follows

The European Union strongly condemns the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, UK on 4 March 2018, that also left a police officer seriously ill. The lives of many citizens were threatened by this reckless and illegal act. The European Union takes extremely seriously the UK Government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible.

The European Union is shocked at the offensive use of any military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, for the first time on European soil in over 70 years. The use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is completely unacceptable and constitutes a security threat to us all. Any such use is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a breach of international law and undermines the rules-based international order. The EU welcomes the commitment of the UK to work closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in supporting the investigation into the attack. The Union calls on Russia to address urgently the questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW.

The European Union expresses its unqualified solidarity with the UK and its support, including for the UK’s efforts to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.

The EU will remain closely focussed on this issue and its implications.

Once again we see the formula identified by Craig Murray – “a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia” – instead of “a military-grade nerve agent, made by Russia“.

However the sting in this statement is again contained in the following words

The Union calls on Russia to address urgently the questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW

Once again Theresa May’s ultimatum of 12th March 2018 is treated as if it had never been made.

There is no statement of Russia’s guilt, despite Theresa May having already declared Russia guilty on 14th March 2018.

Instead the Russians are asked to cooperate with the OPCW – whose investigation of the type of chemical agent used in the attack the Russians were the first to insist upon – by making a full disclosure about the Novichok programme to the OPCW – something which the Russians have always said they are prepared to do.

Note that though the statement demands “immediate disclosure” it too sets no actual deadline, whilst it ignores the fact that Theresa May’s deadline has already passed.

It also speaks of a “Russia’s Novichok programme” as opposed to “Novichok stockpiles in Russia”, leaving open the possibility that – as the Russians say – no such Novichok stockpiles in Russia exist.

Britain’s Western allies have in the meantime made it absolutely clear that they do not consider that the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal is such a one as to merit Britain invoking Article 5.

Even Boris Johnson, Britain’s buffoonish Foreign Secretary who presumably devised its diplomatic strategy, now accepts – to his obvious disappointment and frustration – that Article 5 is not going to be invoked

Mr Johnson said that Russia had skilfully chosen a series of targets just beneath the level at which Nato’s Article 5 would be triggered. Article 5 commits member states to consider an armed attack on one to be against them all.

As to what Britain’s core allies really think of the whole Skripal affair, that is shown by the fulsome way they have all rushed to congratulate Vladimir Putin following his recent re-election.

This is how the Kremlin summarises the call from US President Trump

Donald Trump congratulated Vladimir Putin on his victory in the presidential election. The leaders spoke in favour of developing practical cooperation in various areas, including efforts to ensure strategic stability and combat international terrorism, with particular emphasis on the importance of coordinated efforts to curb an arms race.

The exchange on economic cooperation revealed an interest in bolstering it. Energy was discussed separately.

The problem of Syria was discussed, as was the internal crisis in Ukraine. There was recognition on both sides of the need to make rapid strides toward achieving settlements.

Satisfaction was expressed with the limited reduction of tensions around the Korean Peninsula. The expediency of continuing consistent efforts to resolve the situation by peaceful, diplomatic means was underscored.

It was agreed to develop further bilateral contacts in light of the changes in leadership at the US Department of State. The possibility of organising a top-level meeting received special attention.

On the whole, the conversation was constructive and businesslike, with a focus on overcoming the accumulated problems in Russian-American relations.

Note that there is no reference here to the Skripal attack here at all, a fact which echoes Donald Trump’s total silence about the Skripal attack in his twitter feed, which is the place where he expresses those things on his mind.

Instead what we have from Donald Trump on his twitter feed is more restatements of his long standing wish for good relations with Russia

More words of congratulation for Putin came from President Macron of France.  Here is how the Kremlin summarises those

Emmanuel Macron congratulated Vladimir Putin on winning the presidential election and spoke in favour of continuing joint work aimed at the further expansion of multifaceted Russian-French cooperation, in particular, between civil societies, as part of the Trianon Dialogue.

The Syrian settlement within the context of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2401 and the Ukraine crisis were discussed extensively, given the importance of complying with the Minsk agreements.

The incident in Salisbury was also touched on. Russia focused on the unsubstantiated nature of the charges brought against it and reiterated its willingness to conduct a joint investigation into the incident.

It was agreed to continue exchanging views on the issues raised during the conversation at various levels.

Here we do see a mention of the Skripal attack, with Putin however restating Russia’s position and reiterating Russia’s willingness “to conduct a joint investigation”.
We are not told what Macron said in reply.  However he apparently “agreed to continue exchanging views on the issues raised during the conversation”.
What Macron really thinks about the Skripal affair is shown by what his spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said shortly after Britain announced it was expelling 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Skripal attacK
We don’t do fantasy politics. Once the elements are proven, then the time will come for decisions to be made.
The cruellest blow of all has however come from German Chancellor Angela Merkel – the person the British were counting on to rally European support behind them – who instead has sent a fulsome telegram congratulating Putin on his victory

Dear Mr. President, with all my heart I congratulate you on your next reelection Russian president.

Today, it is vitally important to continue dialogue and maintain relations between our countries and nations. With this in mind, we should take efforts for constructive work on major bilateral and international problems to find proper solutions. I wish you success in your work to resolve the tasks facing you

Note that there is no reference here to the Skripal attack either.

Britain’s anger at the fulsome letter of congratulation sent to Putin by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is in my opinion a mask for British dismay at the telegram sent to Putin by Merkel.

In truth Juncker’s words of congratulations to Putin were fulsome enough

However Merkel is a far more powerful and important person than Juncker.  The British dare not criticise her, so they are taking out their anger by criticising Juncker instead.

All the indications are that the same pattern will continue at the EU Council meeting today.

There will be what superficially looks like strong statement of support for the British.  When examined closely it will turn out that the statement however actually says less than it seems to, with even the BBC admitting that

EU countries were not united in “being willing to point their finger at Russia” or taking further steps, such as expelling diplomats.

As for concrete measures against Russia, already it seems that the British are scaling down their demands.

Suggestions that Nord Stream 2 be cancelled have apparently already been rebuffed.  The BBC quotes British officials saying the following

……..a senior Whitehall official said Russia had “shown itself to be a strategic enemy not a strategic partner”.

The official stressed that the UK’s response to the Salisbury attack had been carefully calibrated to remain within the law, and that the UK was “not looking for some big confrontation with Russia or regime change”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the UK’s Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “very important to stand up” to Russia over the attack, but the UK must “continue to engage” with the country.

He added: “We continue to engage with Russia because we seek a position where Russia does abide by internal rules and norms [and] where Russia is a grown-up player on the world stage abiding by the international approaches, for instance not using chemical weapons.”

That Britain is “not looking for some big confrontation with Russia” after all the fire and thunder of last week will have come as a surprise to many people.

In truth what those words show is that the “big confrontation with Russia” has already happened, and that the British have lost it.

Quite simply their allies don’t want it, and for that reason it isn’t going to happen.

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Vladimir Putin: 2019 State Of The Union Address To Russia’s Federal Assembly (Full Text)

In 2019 State of the Union Address Russian President Putin outlines massive investment programme to upgrade Russia’s heath and education services and its scientific and communications infrastructure.

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This is the official translation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s State of the Union Address to Russia’s Federal Assembly as first published by the Kremlin’s website.

Members of the Federation Council, State Duma deputies, citizens of Russia,

Today’s Address is primarily devoted to matters of domestic social and economic development. I would like to focus on the objectives set forth in the May 2018 Executive Order and detailed in the national projects. Their content and the targets they set are a reflection of the demands and expectations of Russia’s citizens. People are at the core of the national projects, which are designed to bring about a new quality of life for all generations. This can only be achieved by generating momentum in Russia’s development.

These are long-term objectives that we have set for ourselves. However, work to achieve these strategic goals has to begin today. Time is always in short supply, as I have already said on numerous occasions, and you all know this all too well. There is simply no time for getting up to speed or making any adjustments. All in all, I believe that we have already completed the stage of articulating objectives and outlining tools for achieving our goals. Departing from the targets that were outlined would be unacceptable. It is true that these are challenging objectives. That being said, lowering the requirements for specific targets or watering them down is not an option. As I have already said, these are formidable challenges that require us to undertake major efforts. However, they are in step with the scale and pace of global change. It is our duty to keep pushing ahead and gaining momentum.

If someone prefers to work in the business as usual mode, without challenges, avoiding initiative or responsibility, they had better leave immediately. I already hear that some things are “impossible,” “too difficult,” “the standards are too high,” and “it will not work.” With such an attitude, you had better stay away.

Besides, you cannot fool the people. They are acutely aware of hypocrisy, lack of respect or any injustice. They have little interest in red tape and bureaucratic routine. It is important for people to see what is really being done and the impact it has on their lives and the lives of their families. And not sometime in the future, but now. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past decades and wait for communism to arrive. We have to change the situation for the better now.

Therefore, the work of the executive branch at all levels should be coordinated, meaningful and energetic. The Government of Russia must set the tone.

At the same time, I would like to emphasise and repeat: our development projects are not federal and even less so agency-based. They are national. Their results must be visible in each region of the Federation, in every municipality. It is here, on the ground, that the majority of specific tasks is implemented.

Allow me to underscore: thanks to years of common work and the results achieved, we can now direct and concentrate enormous financial resources – at least enormous for our country – on development goals. These resources have not come as a rainfall. We have not borrowed them. These funds have been earned by millions of our citizens – by the entire country. They need to be applied to increase the wealth of Russia and the wellbeing of Russian families.

Very soon, this year people should feel real changes for the better. It is on the basis of their opinion and assessments at the beginning of next year that we will evaluate the first results of our work on the national projects. And we will draw the appropriate conclusions about the work quality and performance at all levels of executive power.

Colleagues,

Let me now share some specifics on our objectives. I will begin with the key objective of preserving our nation, which means providing all-around support to families.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. Photo: TASS

Family, childbirth, procreation and respect for the elderly have always served as a powerful moral framework for Russia and its multi-ethnic people. We have been doing everything in our power to strengthen family values and are committed to doing so in the future. In fact, our future is at stake. This is a task shared by the state, civil society, religious organisations, political parties and the media.

Russia has entered an extremely challenging period in terms of demographics. As you know, the birth rate is declining. As I have already said, this is caused by purely objective reasons, which have to do with the immense human losses and birth dearth experienced by our country in the 20th century, during the Great Patriotic War and the dramatic years following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This does not mean, however, that we must accept this situation or come to terms with it. Definitely, not.

We succeeded in overcoming the negative demographic trends in the early 2000s, when our country faced extreme challenges. This seemed to be an impossible challenge at the time. Nevertheless, we succeeded, and I strongly believe that we can do it again by returning to natural population growth by late 2023 – early 2024.

Today, I wanted to talk about a new package of measures that has already been prepared to support families.

First, it is important that having children and bringing them up do not put families at the risk of poverty or undermine their wellbeing. As you know, we have already provided for the payment of subsidies for the first two children until they reach 18 months. Benefits for the first child are paid from the federal budget, and families can use the maternity capital subsidy for obtaining benefits for their second child. The size of the subsidy depends on the regional subsistence level for a child. It may vary from 8,000 rubles in Belgorod Region, for example, to 22,000 rubles in Chukotka Autonomous Area, with the national average of over 11,000 rubles a month per child. Currently these allocations are reserved to families whose income does not exceed the subsistence wage multiplied by 1.5 per person. It is time that we make the next step.

Starting January 1, 2020, I propose raising the bar to two subsistence wages per family member. This is what people have requested and these requests come directly into the Executive Office. This measure will increase the number of families entitled to additional benefits by almost 50 percent. Some 70 percent of families with one or two children will be able to benefit from help from the Government.

Second. At present, carers looking after children with disabilities and people disabled since childhood receive an allowance of only 5,500 rubles. I suggest increasing this to 10,000 rubles, starting July 1. Of course, I understand that it is still a small amount. However, it will be an additional measure of support for families with a child who needs special care.

Third. The income of Russian families must, of course, increase. This is a serious task that requires a comprehensive solution. I will speak about this in greater detail later. But we need direct measures. First of all, the tax burden on families needs to be relieved. The approach should be very simple: the more children there are, the lower the tax. I propose increasing federal tax relief on real estate for families with many children. I also propose lifting taxes on 5 square metres in a flat and 7 square metres in a house per each child.

What does this mean? If, for example, right now, 20 square metres in a flat are not subject to tax, the new measure will mean that for a family with three children, an extra 15 square metres will not be subject to tax. Regarding plots of land that belong to families with many children, I propose that 600 square metres should be exempt from tax, and this means most plots of land will be free from taxation. Let me remind you that this benefit is already available to pensioners and people of pre-retirement age. Of course, in many Russian regions there are local tax benefits on land and property for large families. However, the benefit being imposed at the federal level guarantees that it will be available everywhere in the country. I want to ask regional officials to propose additional tax measures to support families with children.

Fourth, the Government and the Central Bank need to consistently maintain the policy to lower mortgage rates to 9 percent, and then to 8 percent or below, as stipulated in the May 2018 Executive Order. At the same time, special measures of support should be provided for families with children, of course. As a reminder, last year, a preferential mortgage programme was launched for families that have had their second or subsequent child. The rate for them is 6 percent. Anything higher is subsidised by the state. However, only 4,500 families have used the benefit.

The question is why. It means that people are somehow dissatisfied with the proposed conditions. But it is also clear why. A family making a decision to buy housing certainly makes plans for a long or at least medium term, a lasting investment. But with this programme, they take out a loan, start paying the instalments, and the grace period ends. The interest is actually subsidised only for the first 3 or 5 years. I propose extending the benefit for the entire term of the mortgage loan.

Yes, of course, it will require additional funding, and the cost will be rather high: 7.6 billion rubles in 2019, 21.7 billion rubles in 2020, and 30.6 billion rubles in 2021. But the programme is estimated to reach as many as 600,000 families. We certainly need to find the money. We know where to get it. We have it, and we just need to use it in the areas that are of major importance to us.

And one more direct action solution. Considering the sustainability and stability of the macroeconomic situation in the country and the growth of the state’s revenues, I consider it possible to introduce another measure of support for families having a third and subsequent children. I suggest paying 450,000 rubles directly from the federal budget to cover this sum from their mortgage. Importantly, I propose backdating this payment starting January 1, 2019, recalculating it and allocating relevant sums in this year’s budget.

Let us see what we have. If we add this sum to the maternity capital, which can also be used for mortgage payments, we will get over 900,000 rubles. In many regions, this is a substantial part of the cost of a flat. I would like to draw the attention of the Government and the State Duma to this issue. If need be, the budget will have to be adjusted accordingly. An additional 26.2 billion rubles will be required for this in 2019. The relevant figures for 2020 and 2021 are 28.6 billion rubles and 30.1 billion rubles, respectively. These are huge funds but they should be allocated and used in what I have already described as a very important area.

It is necessary to give families an opportunity not only to buy ready-made housing but also to build their own housing on their land. I would like to ask the Government to draft in cooperation with the Central Bank convenient and, most importantly, affordable financial instruments for supporting private housing construction because it is not covered by mortgage loans today.

And, last but not least, the tax on land must be fair. Obviously, the cadastral or market value of a land plot can change but tax rates must not go up and down unpredictably like roller coaster rides. We have already limited to 10 percent the annual growth of the tax rates for residential property. I suggest establishing the same limit for land plots.

Moving on, today, when construction companies build social facilities and transfer them to the state or municipalities, they have to pay profit tax and VAT. We need to relieve construction companies of this burden (including our innovations in the construction sector). This will serve as an impetus for the comprehensive development of cities and townships, ensuring that families have everything they need near their homes: clinics, schools and sports facilities. By doing this, we will enable parents to work, study, live happily and enjoy parenthood.

We have come close to guaranteeing universal access to kindergartens, but by the end of 2021, we will have to resolve the problem with nurseries by enabling them to accept 270,000 more children, including in the private sector, with 90,000 places to be created as early as this year. The federal and regional budgets should allocate 147 billion rubles for this purpose, over a three-year period. Let me add that enrolling in a nursery group, kindergarten, getting subsidies, benefits or the tax deductions that I have already mentioned and, I hope, that we will come up with, together with you, all this should happen without any additional applications, excessive paperwork or having to visit various social services. By the end of 2020, all the key government services must be provided in a proactive format where a person will only need to send in a request for a service that he or she needs, and the system will take care of all the rest independently and automatically.

I would like to emphasise that the package of measures to support families proposed today is not an exhaustive list of initiatives. It sets the priorities. Considering the challenges posed by the state of Russia’s demographics, we will continue to channel more and more resources into this area. I ask all of you, colleagues, including both the Government and the Federal Assembly, to think about it and suggest solutions.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Colleagues, solving our demographic problems, increasing life expectancy and reducing mortality rates are directly related to eradicating poverty. Allow me to remind you that in 2000, there were more than 40 million people living below the poverty line. Now there are about 19 million, but this is still too many, too many. However, there was a time when their number dropped to 15 million, and now it has grown a little again. We must certainly focus our attention on this — on combating poverty.

Furthermore, there are even more people facing serious financial problems than those officially living below the poverty line. They are forced to cut spending on such essentials as clothes, medicines and even food. Those most often faced with poverty are large or single parent families, families with members with disabilities, as well as single pensioners and people who cannot find a good job, a well-paid job because there are no openings or they lack qualifications.

There are many reasons for poverty, not only in our country, but also in the world, but it always literally crushes a person, dimming their life prospects. The state must help people, help them out of difficult life situations. The experience of some of our regions shows that it is possible to work effectively for this. I will name these regions: Kaluga, Ulyanovsk, Tomsk, Vologda, and Nizhny Novgorod Regions, and a number of other regions of Russia. Their experience shows that so-called social contracts can be a working mechanism of such support.

How does it work and what is this all about? The state helps people find jobs and improve their skills. The state provides financial resources to families to run a household farm or to start a small business, and by the way, these are substantial resources of tens of thousands of rubles. Let me emphasise that support programmes will be tailored to meet the needs of every specific applicant. The allocation of these resources creates some obligations for the recipients: they have to go through training, find a job in the given field and provide a steady income for their family and children. Mechanisms of this kind are in place around the world and are very effective. Social contracts can change the lives of those who really want to do it.

It is estimated that more than 9 million people will be able to benefit from these support measures over a five-year period. I instruct the Government to assist the regions that are proactive in introducing social contracts and work with them on co-financing mechanisms.

Moving on, there are currently many people and families taking out loans for various purposes, including consumer loans. Of course, borrowers have to be aware of their obligations and refrain from assuming an excessive burden. That being said, anything can happen: people can lose their job or become ill. In this case, the last thing is to force people into a corner, and it is also pointless in economic terms. Additional legal guarantees are needed to protect people. I propose introducing mortgage payment holidays, as we have recently discussed in Kazan, to enable people who lose their income to suspend mortgage payments. They must get a chance to keep their home, if it is the only property they own, and postpone loan payments. This is not an easy task, and we have to understand how this can be done so as not to harm financial institutions while supporting the people. This can be done, however.

I also ask the Bank of Russia and law enforcement agencies to put things right without delay in the microlending segment and protect people from fraud or extortion by dishonest lenders.

Let me emphasise that as we seek to overcome poverty and develop the social security net, we need to reach every family in need and understand the problems it faces. It should not be possible to refuse assistance simply because the life circumstances a person is facing are slightly inconsistent with the criteria set by a programme.

And, of course, it is necessary to be scrupulous and attentive to every detail. By way of example, and this is not a very good example for our work, I would like to say the following: pensions were adjusted for inflation under the pension reform this year. But if a pensioner’s income exceeded the subsistence rate, the social payments were no longer made at the same level. They were either cancelled altogether or reduced. As a result, the pensions were not increased at all, or the increases were much less than a pensioner expected. So many people feel cheated with good reason. Probably, many people in this hall understand what this is all about. We made payments from the regional or federal budget to achieve the subsistence level. We made adjustments for inflation and the cost of living either matched or exceeded it. So these payments were discontinued and that was it.

It was necessary to take into account all the nuances but this was left undone, and of course, this should not be allowed to happen. This injustice, and it is certainly an injustice, should be sorted immediately. Starting this year, adjustments of pensions and monthly payments should by all means be above the subsistence rate of pensioners that is established every year. In other words, the state should first bring pensions to the subsistence level and only after that make adjustments in pensions and monthly payments. Payments for the first months of this year must be recalculated and people should be paid the money due to them that they have not received.

I would like to emphasise that all those who work in the social sphere or join the government or municipal services in order to help people resolve their urgent problems, must meet the highest professional standards. I believe by and large this is the case. Of course, this is a very complicated job. We all understand that working with people every day, from morning until night, is indeed difficult. But if you have this job you should realise that it is no less important to understand people, to know what they feel, empathise, share their worries and concerns and never permit yourself arrogant attitudes or a lack of respect for people, either in word or deed. I would like you to always remember this.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. Photo: TASS

Colleagues,

The next important subject is healthcare. I know that, on the one hand, its current state seems to be improving, and medical treatment is becoming more accessible. Nevertheless, many people are not satisfied. It is easy to understand the reasons for this. As a rule, people judge the healthcare system by its primary component, that is, outpatient clinics and paramedic stations. People voice complaints with regard to their work. Quite often, they have to wait many days to see a specialist, and it is impossible to quickly undergo the required tests free of charge. People in remote communities are even having trouble getting appointments with medical personnel. Yes, the number of paramedic stations and mobile medical units continues to increase, but people in areas where there are no such facilities care nothing about the overall statistics.

I want to emphasise that medical treatment should become accessible for everyone by the end of 2020 in all populated areas across Russia without exception and for all citizens, regardless of their place of residence. For your information, an additional 1,590 outpatient clinics and paramedic stations are to be built or renovated in 2019–2020, and I hope that this will be accomplished.

Today, a number of regions are implementing the Thrifty Outpatient Clinic project. As a result, the waiting time to get an appointment and see a doctor is reduced three or four times over, on the average. I have visited such outpatient clinics, and they are operating very well. Much better conditions are created for people with disabilities and for parents with children. Unfortunately, there are very few such outpatient clinics so far; they are rather an exception than the rule all across the nation.

Considering the best regional practices , and, I repeat, there are such practices, I hereby instruct the Government to approve the high standards of thrifty outpatient clinics by the end of the year and their certification regulations. Next year, you have to team up with the regions to introduce mechanisms incentivising managers and medical personnel to improve the quality of their work. First of all, we have to completely convert all paediatric outpatient clinics to new standards already in 2021. Please note that the sign “Thrifty Outpatient Clinic” is not what counts. Most importantly, people should at long last perceive the state’s respectful and truly considerate attitude towards their health.

Improving IT penetration in healthcare will make it more accessible. Online links between medical institutions, pharmacies, doctors and patients must be streamlined over the next three years. Let me add that social security medical assessment boards must be finally included into this digital network in order to free elderly people, people with disabilities and families with children from waiting lists and the need to produce various certificates that are often useless.

Primary care is understaffed. To address this matter, comprehensive efforts to develop medical education should be accompanied by initiatives that produce immediate results. In this connection, I propose removing age restrictions for the Country Doctor programme so that professionals over the age of 50 can also receive a one-time payment when moving to a rural area or a small city: 1,000,000 rubles for doctors and 500,000 rubles for paramedics.

The most complex surgery is currently performed not only at federal, but also at regional clinics and centres using the most advanced equipment. At the same time, patient recovery is also critical. We have never had a system of this kind, but we have to start with something. A lot has to be done in this area. Let us begin by creating at least two world-class recovery facilities for children, just as we did with perinatal centres, and proceed from there.

In my last year’s Address, I proposed a programme for fighting cancer. At least 1 trillion roubles will be allocated to this effect over the next six years. This is about providing timely, effective and accessible treatment, using advanced technologies that are effective in most cases and enable people to overcome this dangerous disease. Today, the leukaemia recovery rate for children exceeds 80 percent, and for certain types of cancer, more than 90 percent of patients recover. Not that long ago, in the mid-1990s, this disease was almost untreatable and only 10–20 percent of children could be saved. Russia lacked both the technology and capabilities at the time. In many cases, the only option was to turn to foreign clinics. Those who could afford it did so.

We were aware of how tragic this situation was, which prompted us to focus on improving cancer treatment for children, developing oncohaematology, using the capabilities offered by our research institutions, the healthcare system, and worked proactively with our foreign partners (some doctors simply moved from Germany to Moscow, and spent a lot of time here, and probably still do), which yielded results.

We will continue working to overhaul the system of cancer care. Early detection is of crucial importance. In fact, we have revived the system of health screening and regular medical check-ups. These have to include cancer screening. It has to be made obligatory. People must have the opportunity to make appointments remotely, to choose a suitable time for visiting an outpatient clinic, including in the evening or at the weekend, so that the check-up can be carried out without any additional formalities.

Next, over the next few years we must create a number of new areas combining healthcare with social services. Thus, we must overhaul the system of assistance for people who need long-term help at medical facilities or at home, adjust this system to the needs of specific families and individuals, support people with their everyday needs by assigning district nurses or carers, or training relatives in medical or other necessary skills. The application of these recipient-oriented principles of assistance began last year in Volgograd, Kostroma, Novgorod, Pskov, Ryazan and Tula regions. We must introduce them throughout the country within a timeframe of four years.

Palliative care is a matter of not only medical but also of social, public and moral concern. According to the available information, some 800,000 people need this assistance, and volunteers have told me that the figure is around one million. As you know, in January I visited a children’s hospice in St Petersburg, where we discussed this matter. I know that yesterday the State Duma adopted in the second reading amendments to the legislation on palliative care. I would like work on this law to be completed as soon as possible. We will then monitor its application so we can promptly make amendments, taking into account the opinions of volunteers, whom I have mentioned, doctors, carers, members of the public and religious associations and benefactors, that is, everyone who have long been providing heartfelt palliative care.

Colleagues, people have increasingly high demands on environmental safety issues. Perhaps, the most painful topic is municipal waste. If you remember, it came up for the first time during one of my Direct Lines. Yes, we have probably neglected the waste disposal problems for maybe a hundred years, which means we have never paid attention to them. Many landfills are overfilled because waste has been accumulating there for decades. The landfills have turned into real mountains of garbage near residential areas.

By the way, I am also interested to know how you issued permits for the construction of residential neighbourhoods next to these dumps and landfills. Didn’t you think of that? You should have. I urge the representatives of the authorities at all levels: pretending that nothing is happening, turning away, brushing aside people’s needs is absolutely unacceptable. These issues are difficult, of course, but difficult issues must also be addressed.

Before the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Before the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

This year, the regions began adopting a new system of solid municipal waste management. However, if the only change is a rise in rubbish clearance prices – well, this is not real work; it is a sham. People need to see what they are paying for and what real changes are happening. It is necessary to restore order in this area, to get rid of shady businesses that do not bear any responsibility and only get super-profits dumping trash at random sites.

We need to build a civilised and safe system of waste treatment, recycling and disposal. Surprisingly, a year ago I personally had to interfere on some matters. I had to talk to the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office several times. You know, surprisingly, I would like to say it again, almost nothing moved forward until I gave an order to station a guard there and not to let anyone in. This is the only way it works, because these shady companies, the so-called fly-by-nights, they just make quick profits and shut down their so-called business.

I ask the Russian Popular Front to ensure effective public control here, including reliance on public environmental inspectors. Their signals regarding any violations must be considered by the authorities, who must adopt specific measures. In the next two years, 30 large problem landfills within city boundaries must be closed and rehabilitated, and in six years, all the rest. At the same time, it is necessary to increase the share of waste treatment from today’s 8–9 percent to 60, so as not to accumulate new millions of tonnes of trash.

It is necessary to introduce stricter environmental requirements when it comes to utility services and energy and transport enterprises. In part, I am urging businesses to play a more active role in natural gas motor fuel projects, and invest in the formation of a network of fuelling stations and fuel systems using liquefied natural gas. We have enough of it, more than any other country. Indeed, this is a complicated and costly project but it should be carried out because it will produce results not only for businesses but for the people as well.

A positive effect from the industry’s transfer to the best affordable technologies and strict environmental standards should be felt by residents of major industrial centres of the country, primarily the 12 cities I mentioned in the 2018 Address. These places should be finally removed from the zone of real environmental disaster. Over a period of the next six years, the amount of polluting emissions in the air should be reduced there by no less than 20 percent.

To prevent anyone from the temptation of dodging the implementation of this job, it is necessary to strictly monitor industrial and other companies responsible for this, to map out the specific steps they should take to minimise environmental damage, and to register all this in a law on emission quotas. I know all too well what this is all about. I know that fairly influential lobbyists are trying to impede this draft law as much as they can. I know their arguments very well too: the need to preserve jobs and a complicated economic situation.

But this cannot go on endlessly in this manner. It must not. Let me recall that in making such decisions we should be guided by the interests of the people of Russia rather than corporate interests or interests of some individuals. Colleagues, please pass this law during the spring session.

Finding solutions for environmental problems is the job of our researchers and people in industry. Each of us is responsible for this. I am urging young people, among others, to take a more active part in this work. We must hand over to the future generations an environmentally safe country and preserve Russia’s natural potential as well as its specially protected areas. This year new national parks will open in the republics of Daghestan, Komi and Sakha (Yakutia), Altai Territory and Chelyabinsk Region. However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that many specially protected areas do not yet have precise borders and their regulations are not observed.

I have instructed the Ministry of Natural Resources to conduct a detailed audit. All sanctuaries must be registered in the cadastre. It is also necessary to adopt a law according to which only environmental tourism can take place in nature reserves, without any withdrawal of territories, wood cutting or major construction work. Naturally, it is necessary to take into account the interests of the locals but these issues should be resolved in a package.

Colleagues, the number of students from small towns and remote areas studying at the best Moscow and regional universities is increasing. According to international assessments, our elementary, middle and high school students demonstrate good results in the humanities and hard sciences. We can see it ourselves, based on the results of contests and various student competitions. All this is an indicator of qualitative changes in our school education.

However, despite all these achievements, we must not overlook the obvious problems in this crucial area. The share of schools with modern study conditions has increased from 12 percent in 2000 (only 12 percent) to 85 percent in 2018. But even today, some 200,000 children still go to schools where there is no proper heating, water supply and sewage system. Yes, it is less than 1.5 percent of all schoolchildren, but when their parents see these conditions, any words about justice and equal opportunities only irritate them. I want to draw the attention of the heads of the regions where poorly equipped schools still exist. This problem can be completely resolved within two years. We can do it. I know that the Government is thinking about it and making certain decisions. I am asking you to support the regions that lack their own resources.

When in 2006 we started providing internet connections to schools, the technology was completely different. You know, it seemed like a real breakthrough. And it was indeed a breakthrough at the time. Right now, this technology seems ancient, and we have new tasks to resolve. By the end of 2021, all Russian schools must have a high-speed internet connection rather than just a connection. Let me remind you that in 2006, when schools were being hooked up to the internet, the recommended speed was 128 kbps. Now we need 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps, which is at least 400 times higher. This will help our kids to gain access to lessons and lectures by prominent teachers, to contests and Olympiads; it will allow them to significantly expand their capabilities and get involved in online projects with their fellow students from other regions and countries. The content of educational programmes must also change. The national standards and programmes must reflect the priorities of the country’s science and technology development, while the federal lists of recommended textbooks must include the best of the best books.

Of course, human resources are the most important issue. I have already spoken today about expanding the Country Doctor programme. I propose starting a similar programme for education, the Country Teacher. Teachers who decide to move to smaller towns and villages will receive a one-time payment of one million rubles.

We must work consistently to strengthen the common environment of education and culture. The culture and education centres in Kaliningrad, Kemerovo, Vladivostok and Sevastopol will open no later than in 2023. Our leading museums and theatres will be represented there, and branches of art schools will start working there already next year. The demand for a rich cultural environment is very high, primarily in the regions, where a great number of talented and committed people are working.

I propose greatly expanding assistance to local cultural initiatives, that is, projects dealing with local history, crafts and the preservation of the historical heritage of our peoples. For example, additional allocations can be made towards this from the Presidential Grants Fund. In addition, we will allocate over 17 billion rubles within the Culture national project for the construction and renovation of rural culture clubs and over 6 billion rubles for supporting culture centres in Russia’s small towns.

I would like to remind you that medical and educational institutions are exempt from profit tax, but only until January 1, 2020. I propose making this incentive of unlimited duration and also extending it to the regional and municipal museums, theatres and libraries. By the way, this will allow them to save some 4 billion rubles, which they will invest in development or will use to raise salaries. And lastly, this measure will encourage private investment in local cultural establishments.

Colleagues, I would like the heads of regions to ensure that salaries in education, healthcare, culture and other public sectors are kept on a par with the average wage in the given region’s economy. Colleagues, this is very important. I keep talking about this at all my meetings. We must not lower this standard. At the same time, the average wage in the economy must grow. Over 40 million people who work in the public and defence sectors and are non-working pensioners receive fixed payments. These payments must grow together with the inflation at the least. I ask the Government to take this into account.

More than 70 million people work in manufacturing, agriculture or the services or are small business owners. The state of Russia’s economy has a direct bearing on their income, wellbeing and confidence in the future. The primary tool for achieving steady wage increases is to promote quality employment and free enterprise, qualified, well-paid jobs in all regions, including both traditional and new sectors. High economic growth rates are essential. This is the only way to overcome poverty and ensure steady and perceptible increases in income. This is the key to success. As soon as in 2021, Russia’s economic growth rate must exceed 3 percent and stay above the global average afterwards. This objective should not be discarded.

The Government and the Central Bank are once again tasked with complying with the target inflation rate. I have already said this, and we knew that this would happen when we put aside financial resources for the national projects. This was an expected outcome, and now we need to make sure that the situation gets back to normal. We can do this. As I said, the Government and the Central Bank must ensure that the inflation targets are met and create a favourable macroeconomic environment for facilitating growth in general. We have a strong financial safety cushion.

I have something positive to share with you. For the first time ever, our reserves fully cover not only the sovereign debt, which is quite small, but also private borrowings. These funds are at work, and investment of the National Welfare Fund generates budget revenue. Therefore, I would like to address those of our colleagues who constantly criticise the Government, its financial and economic ministries and ask where the money went and where we invested it. We set a target to reach a certain level, after which we can use these funds, although cautiously so as not to cause any macroeconomic disturbances. We are about to reach this level, and are beginning to do it. The proceeds from these investments go to the federal budget. In 2018, proceeds from investing the National Welfare Fund in the amount of 70.5 billion rubles were added to the budget.

To achieve high growth rates, it is also necessary to resolve systemic problems in the economy. I will highlight four priorities here.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

The first one is faster growth in labour productivity, primarily based on new technologies and digitalisation; the development of competitive industries and, as a result, an increase in non-primary exports by more than 50 percent in six years.

The second one is to improve the business climate and the quality of national jurisdiction, so that no one moves their operations to other jurisdictions, to ensure that everything is reliable and runs like clockwork. Growth in investment should increase by 6–7 percent in 2020. Achieving this level will be one of the key criteria for evaluating the Government’s work.

The third priority is removing infrastructural constraints for economic development and for unlocking the potential of our regions.

And the fourth thing is training modern personnel, of course, and creating powerful scientific and technological foundations.

Now I would like to expand on our specific tasks in these fields.

A colossal guaranteed demand for industrial and high-tech products is being formed in Russia, I can say this without any exaggeration. So the words I would like to use – we are faced with historical opportunities for a qualitative growth of Russian business, mechanical engineering and machine-tool making, microelectronics, IT-industry, and other industries. The national projects alone include – just think of it – 6 trillion rubles worth of procurement plans for medical and construction equipment, instruments, telecommunications systems, and systems for housing and public utilities. And these resources should work here in Russia.

So I am urging the Government, the regions, the representatives of state-owned companies I see here in this room – you certainly want to buy all the most modern equipment and as inexpensively as possible. Naturally, everyone wants to be and should be competitive, but wherever possible, you need to rely on our producers, on domestic ones. We must find them, and even work together with them. Of course, there must be a competitive environment, but we already have the tools to support Russian manufacturers. We must not forget about these tools, and use them.

I would like to emphasise that access to state contracts must be equal (at least for our own, for national companies), and the orders should go to those who prove their sustainability with hard work and results, with willingness to change, to introduce advanced technology and increase labour productivity, and offer the best competitive products.

As concerns the defence industry, we must use our current capacities for diversification, to expand civil production. Colleagues understand what I am talking about here. There are certain targets for each year. And they must be achieved, no matter what.

And of course, now is the time for more daring initiatives, for creating businesses and production companies, for promoting new products and services. This wave of technological development allows companies to grow and win markets very quickly. There are already examples of successful companies, innovative companies. We need many more of them, including in such fields as artificial intelligence, Big Data, the Internet of Things and robotics.

I am instructing the Government to create the most comfortable conditions for private investment in technological startups and to involve development institutions in their support. I am asking members of parliament to promptly pass the laws that are most crucial for creating the legal framework of the new digital economy, laws that will allow to close civil deals and raise funds using digital technology, to develop e-commerce and services. The entire Russian legislation must be geared up to reflect the new technological reality. These laws must not restrict the development of innovative and promising industries but push this development forward.

The most crucial indicator of a business’s efficiency and competitiveness lies in expanding export and entering external markets. The success of our agricultural industry is, of course, a good example of such development. Our agricultural export increased by 19.4 percent in 2018 reaching $25.8 billion. In 2024, we must reach $45 billion. Incidentally, we are not only one of the largest wheat exporters (last year we exported 44 million tonnes). We have at least one more significant achievement. Thanks to the developments of Russian researchers we are no longer dependent on other countries for wheat seeds. Experts will confirm how critically important this is. Russia must have the entire range of its own advanced agricultural technology, which must be available not only to large but also to small farms. This is literally a matter of national security and successful competition in the growing food markets.

Improving the quality of life for those who work in rural areas is a key long-term factor of the agricultural industry’s steady growth. I would like to point out to the Government that as soon as this year, they must approve a new development programme for rural territories that must be enforced as of January 1, 2020.

One more thing. I think everybody will agree that our massive natural resources constitute our natural advantage. They need to be used for increasing the production of organic produce. I am instructing the Government to create a protected brand for clean products, a brand that will guarantee safety of the technology used and win the reputation of high quality both on the domestic and foreign markets. Trust me, it will be extremely popular abroad. There is hardly anything clean left there.

Colleagues, to achieve the ambitious goals facing the country, we must rid the system of everything that restricts freedom of enterprise and business initiative. Honest businesses should not face the risk of criminal or administrative prosecution. I have already noted this matter in one of my Addresses, and I have cited the relevant figures. Unfortunately, the situation has not improved much.

Today, almost half of all cases (45 percent) opened against entrepreneurs do not get to trial. What does this mean? This means that they were opened in a slipshod manner or under some unclear pretext. And what does this mean in practice? As a result, 130 jobs are lost on average every time a business closes down as result of an investigation. Let us think about this figure; this is becoming a major economic problem.

The business community points to a number of legislative and law enforcement problems. I agree that we need to closely analyse the criteria under which all employees of a company can be considered to be part of a group that is guilty of collusion just through the fact of working for that company. To be honest, this is complete nonsense, but, unfortunately, it happens time and again. And this leads to a stricter detention during the investigation and a more substantial penalty later on. Additionally, we need to strictly limit the grounds for extending the term of detention during the investigation of so-called economic criminal cases. Today, this sometimes happens without any grounds, simply because the investigators had no time to conduct the required expert checks or as a result of delays in the investigation.

We have discussed this matter with the Prosecutor General and the President of the Supreme Court. This is what happens: a person is kept behind bars, and he has not been summoned for questioning for several months. The prosecutor wants to know why he had not been questioned, and they tell him that the investigator was on holiday. Of course, investigators, especially those at the Interior Ministry, handle a tidal wave of criminal cases, and we need to do something about that, we need to take a closer look at this matter. Perhaps we should set aside additional resources and increase the number of investigators. Nevertheless, how can this be explained? A person is kept behind bars while the investigator has left on holiday and has not questioned him for several months. This should not happen, we need to sort this out. I ask the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General’s Office to analyse all these problems once again and to submit their proposals.

I suggest that our business associations and the Agency for Strategic Initiatives create a special digital platform – in fact, they themselves have advanced this initiative – which entrepreneurs will use to make public any instances of pressure on business and to demand a formal court hearing.

I urge the heads of law enforcement agencies not to be wary of this. This initiative will serve as an additional support, so that senior officials at these agencies will promptly receive the objective information they need to make decisions, at least at the departmental level. I ask the Government and the business community to discuss the technological solutions and the legal framework for implementing this initiative, and the law enforcement agencies – the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee – to coordinate regulations for working with the entrepreneurs’ complaints, including deadlines. This platform must start working, at least in pilot mode, by the end of the year.

Next, the Government has proposed overhauling the regulatory framework. This is good, and we must give all-round support to this. However, I believe that this is not enough. We must take even more radical steps. Indeed, let us draw the line and suspend all the existing regulatory laws and departmental regional orders, letters and instructions as of January 1, 2021. In the two years until then, we must update the regulatory laws together with the business community, retaining only those documents that satisfy current requirements and shelving the rest.

When we discussed this issue, many of our colleagues said honestly that they were terrified. Yes, this is scary, but the problem does exist. It will not be an easy job. The files are really thick in some areas and departments. They have been piling up for decades since the Soviet era, or even “as far back as Ochakov and the Crimean war.” [The quote is from Alexander Griboyedov’s Woe from Wit written in 1824.] I am not referring to the year 2014, of course. (Laughter) Some of these documents go back to the time of Alexander Griboyedov or even before him. So much has been written and regulated. But frankly, I doubt that even the personnel of these agencies know everything that is written in these documents. Hence, we must complete their analysis within two years. There is nothing to fear. We must roll up our sleeves and do it, keeping or updating only the documents we really need to properly organise our activities.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Colleagues, infrastructure upgrades need to be accelerated using state-of-the-art technology. This is essential for enhancing a country’s connectivity, and especially for Russia, the world’s largest country with its vast territory. This is essential for strengthening statehood, unleashing the country’s potential and driving national economic growth.

This year, the railway section of the Crimean Bridge will be launched, and will become a powerful impetus. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the construction and railway workers. We saw that a bypass railway was built near Krasnodar alongside an approach railway to this junction from the Caucasus coast. As I have said, trains will begin using the Crimean Bridge in 2019, creating a powerful development driver for Crimea and Sevastopol.

In addition to this, the expressway linking Moscow and St Petersburg is expected to be completed, creating new business opportunities and jobs for people living in Novgorod, Tver, Leningrad and Moscow regions.

More than 60 airports will benefit from upgrades over the next six years, including international airports in Khabarovsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

In 2025, the throughput capacity of the Baikal-Amur Mainline and Trans-Siberian Railway will grow 1.5 times, reaching 210 million tonnes, which is very important for the development of Siberia and Russia’s Far East.

Let me reiterate that key indicators related to social and economic development and quality of life in all Russia’s Far Eastern regions are expected to exceed the national average. This is a national cause, and a major priority of our efforts to promote Eastern Siberia and the Far East as strategic territories. All agencies have to constantly keep this in mind.

In September, we will have a meeting in Vladivostok to discuss what each of the federal agencies has done and intends to undertake for the Far East. All the plans for building and upgrading roads, railways, sea ports, air service and communications must prioritise regional development, including promoting these regions as travel destinations.

There is enormous interest in Russia, our culture, nature and historical monuments. Taking into consideration the success of the World Cup, I propose making greater use of e-visas and thinking more broadly about how to streamline visa processing for tourists coming to Russia.

Next. This year we must adopt a master plan for developing the infrastructure of a digital economy, including telecommunications networks, as well as data storage and processing capacities. Here we need to look ahead as well. The task for the next few years is to provide universal access to high-speed internet and start using 5G communications networks.

To achieve a revolution in communications, navigation and systems for remote sensing of the Earth, we must dramatically increase the capabilities of our satellite group. Russia has unique technology for this, but such tasks require a fundamental upgrade of the entire space industry. I am instructing Roscosmos and the Moscow Government to establish a National Space Centre. My colleagues came to me and told me about it. This is a good project is designed to unite relevant organisations, design bureaus and prototype production facilities, and to support scientific research and the training of personnel.

We are seeing that global competition is increasingly shifting to science, technology and education. Just recently, it seemed inconceivable that Russia could make not just a breakthrough but also a high-tech breakthrough in defence. This was difficult, complex work. Much had to be restored or started from scratch It was necessary to break new ground and find bold, unique solutions. Nevertheless, this was done. It was done by our engineers, workers and scientists, including very young people that grew up with these projects. Let me repeat that I know all the details of this large-scale effort and I am completely justified in saying, for instance, that the development of the Avangard strategic hypersonic glide vehicle is tantamount to the launching of the world’s first artificial satellite. And not just in terms of enhancing the country’s defence capability and security, although this is the primary goal, but in influencing the consolidation of our scientific potential and the development of unique technological assets.

At one time, the nuclear defence project gave the country nuclear power. The construction of a missile shield that started with the launch of the world’s first artificial satellite allowed the country to begin peaceful space exploration. Today, we need to use the personnel, knowledge, competences and materials we have acquired from developing the next generation of weapons to produce the same kind of results for civilian applications.

We have yet to implement new ambitious scientific and technological programmes. An Executive Order on genetic research has already been signed, and I propose launching a similar large-scale programme at the national level on artificial intelligence. In the middle of the next decade, we should be among the leaders in these science and technology areas, which, of course, will determine the future of the world and the future of Russia.

To implement such projects, we need to accelerate the development of an advanced scientific infrastructure. Incidentally, the reactor PIK, a mega-science class research unit was recently launched in Leningrad Region. Over the next 20 years, it will be one of the world’s most powerful sources for neutron research, enabling scientists to conduct unique research in physics, biology, and chemistry, and to develop new drugs, diagnostic tools, and new materials.

For the first time in decades, Russian shipyards will break ground for several modern research vessels capable of working in all strategic areas, including the Arctic seas and the Antarctic, exploring the shelf and the natural resources of the World Ocean.

To promote powerful technological development, we need to build a modern research and development model. This is why we are setting up research and education centres in the regions that will integrate all levels of education with the potential of research facilities and business. Within three years, centres like this should be established in 15 regions in the Russian Federation, the first five this year. Three of them – in Tyumen and Belgorod Regions and Perm Territory – are close to completion and are to open this year.

We need specialists capable of working at advanced production facilities, developing and applying breakthrough technology solutions. Therefore, we need to ensure a broad introduction of updated curricula at all levels of professional education, to organise personnel training for the industries that are still being formed.

At the end of August, Russia will host the WorldSkills world championships – so let us wish our team success. Their success is significant for increasing the prestige of the skilled labor occupation. Relying on the WorldSkills movement experience, we will accelerate the modernisation of secondary vocational education, which includes installing modern equipment at more than 2,000 shops in colleges and technical schools by 2022.

Passion for a future career and creativity is formed at a young age. In the next three years, thanks to the development of children’s technology parks, quantoriums and education centres for computer skills, natural sciences and the humanities, around one million new spots in extracurricular education programmes will be created. All children must have access.

The Sirius educational centre in Sochi is becoming a true constellation. The plan was for centres supporting gifted children, based on its model, to open in all regions by 2024. But our colleagues said they can finish this work early, within two years. Such proactive efforts deserve praise.

I think every national project has reserves for increasing the pace. I expect that our companies and the business community will get involved in such projects as Ticket to the Future that provides school pupils in their sixth year and above with the opportunity to discover their career interests and intern at actual companies, research centres and other places.

I want to speak directly to our young people. Your talents, energy and creative abilities are among Russia’s strongest competitive advantages. We understand and greatly value this. We have created an entire system of projects and personal growth competitions in which every young person, from school to university age, can show what they are made of. These include ProeKTOriYA, My First BusinessI Am A ProfessionalRussian Leaders and many others. I want to stress that all this is being created for young people to take advantage of these opportunities. I urge you to take a chance and use them, be bold, realise your dreams and plans, do something of value for yourself, your family and your country.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Colleagues, Russia has been and always will be a sovereign and independent state. This is a given. It will either be that, or will simply cease to exist. We must clearly understand this. Without sovereignty, Russia cannot be a state. Some countries can do this, but not Russia.

Building relations with Russia means working together to find solutions to the most complex matters instead of trying to impose solutions. We make no secret of our foreign policy priorities. These include strengthening trust, countering global threats, promoting cooperation in the economy and trade, education, culture, science and technology, as well as facilitating people-to-people contact. These tenets underpin our work within the UN, the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as within the Group of 20, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

We believe in the importance of promoting closer cooperation within the Union State of Russia and Belarus, including close foreign policy and economic coordination. Together with our integration partners within the Eurasian Economic Union, we will continue creating common markets and outreach efforts. This includes implementing the decisions to coordinate the activities of the EAEU with China’s Belt and Road initiative on the way to a greater Eurasian partnership.

Russia’s equal and mutually beneficial relations with China currently serve as an important factor of stability in international affairs and in terms of Eurasian security, offering a model of productive economic cooperation. Russia attaches importance to realising the potential of the special privileged strategic partnership with India. We will continue to promote political dialogue and economic cooperation with Japan. Russia stands ready to work with Japan on finding mutually acceptable terms for signing a peace treaty. We intend to promote deeper ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

We also hope that the European Union and the major European countries will finally take actual steps to put political and economic relations with Russia back on track. People in these countries are looking forward to cooperation with Russia, which includes corporations, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, and European businesses in general. It goes without saying that this would serve our common interests.

The unilateral withdrawal of the USA from the INF Treaty is the most urgent and most discussed issue in Russian-American relations. This is why I am compelled to talk about it in more detail. Indeed, serious changes have taken place in the world since the Treaty was signed in 1987. Many countries have developed and continue to develop these weapons, but not Russia or the USA – we have limited ourselves in this respect, of our own free will. Understandably, this state of affairs raises questions. Our American partners should have just said so honestly rather than make far-fetched accusations against Russia to justify their unilateral withdrawal from the Treaty.

It would have been better if they had done what they did in 2002 when they walked away from the ABM Treaty and did so openly and honestly. Whether that was good or bad is another matter. I think it was bad, but they did it and that is that. They should have done the same thing this time, too. What are they doing in reality? First, they violate everything, then they look for excuses and appoint a guilty party. But they are also mobilising their satellites that are cautious but still make noises in support of the USA. At first, the Americans began developing and using medium-range missiles, calling them discretionary “target missiles” for missile defence. Then they began deploying Mk-41 universal launch systems that can make offensive combat use of Tomahawk medium-range cruise missiles possible.

I am talking about this and using my time and yours because we have to respond to the accusations that are leveled at us. But having done everything I have just described, the Americans openly and blatantly ignored the provisions envisaged by articles 4 and 6 of the INF Treaty. According to Item 1, Article VI (I am quoting): “Each Party shall eliminate all intermediate-range missiles and the launchers of such missiles… so that… no such missiles, launchers… shall be possessed by either party.” Paragraph 1 of Article VI provides that (and I quote) “upon entry into force of the Treaty and thereafter, neither Party may produce or flight-test any intermediate-range missile, or produce any stages or launchers of such missiles.” End of quote.

Using medium-range target missiles and deploying launchers in Romania and Poland that are fit for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, the US has openly violated these clauses of the Treaty. They did this some time ago. These launchers are already stationed in Romania and nothing happens. It seems that nothing is happening. This is even strange. This is not at all strange for us, but people should be able to see and understand it.

How are we evaluating the situation in this context? I have already said this and I want to repeat: Russia does not intend – this is very important, I am repeating this on purpose – Russia does not intend to deploy such missiles in Europe first. If they really are built and delivered to the European continent, and the United States has plans for this, at least we have not heard otherwise, it will dramatically exacerbate the international security situation, and create a serious threat to Russia, because some of these missiles can reach Moscow in just 10–12 minutes. This is a very serious threat to us. In this case, we will be forced, I would like to emphasise this, we will be forced to respond with mirror or asymmetric actions. What does this mean?

I am saying this directly and openly now, so that no one can blame us later, so that it will be clear to everyone in advance what is being said here. Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapons that can be used not only in the areas we are directly threatened from, but also in areas that contain decision-making centres for the missile systems threatening us.

What is important in this regard? There is some new information. These weapons will fully correspond to the threats directed against Russia in their technical specifications, including flight times to these decision-making centres.

We know how to do this and will implement these plans immediately, as soon as the threats to us become real. I do not think we need any further, irresponsible exacerbation of the current international situation. We do not want this.

What would I like to add? Our American colleagues have already tried to gain absolute military superiority with their global missile defence project. They need to stop deluding themselves. Our response will always be efficient and effective.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

The work on promising prototypes and weapon systems that I spoke about in my Address last year continues as scheduled and without disruptions. We have launched serial production of the Avangard system, which I have already mentioned today. As planned, this year, the first regiment of the Strategic Missile Troops will be equipped with Avangard. The Sarmat super-heavy intercontinental missile of unprecedented power is undergoing a series of tests. The Peresvet laser weapon and the aviation systems equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missiles proved their unique characteristics during test and combat alert missions while the personnel learned how to operate them. Next December, all the Peresvet missiles supplied to the Armed Forces will be put on standby alert. We will continue expanding the infrastructure for the MiG-31 interceptors carrying Kinzhal missiles. The Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile of unlimited range and the Poseidon nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicle of unlimited range are successfully undergoing tests.

In this context, I would like to make an important statement. We did not announce it before, but today we can say that as soon as this spring the first nuclear-powered submarine carrying this unmanned vehicle will be launched. The work is going as planned.

Today I also think I can officially inform you about another promising innovation. As you may remember, last time I said we had more to show but it was a little early for that. So I will reveal little by little what else we have up our sleeves. Another promising innovation, which is successfully being developed according to plan, is Tsirkon, a hypersonic missile that can reach speeds of approximately Mach 9 and strike a target more than 1,000 km away both under water and on the ground. It can be launched from water, from surface vessels and from submarines, including those that were developed and built for carrying Kalibr high-precision missiles, which means it comes at no additional cost for us.

On a related note, I want to highlight that for the defence of Russia’s national interests, two or three years ahead of the schedule set by the state arms programme, the Russian Navy will receive seven new multipurpose submarines, and construction will begin on five surface vessels designed for the open ocean. Sixteen more vessels of this class will enter service in the Russian Navy by 2027.

To conclude, on the unilateral withdrawal by the USA from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, here is what I would like to say. The US policy toward Russia in recent years can hardly be called friendly. Russia’s legitimate interests are being ignored, there is constant anti-Russia campaigning, and more and more sanctions, which are illegal in terms of international law, are imposed without any reason whatsoever. Let me emphasise that we did nothing to provoke these sanctions. The international security architecture that took shape over the past decades is being completely and unilaterally dismantled, all while referring to Russia as almost the main threat to the USA.

Let me say outright that this is not true. Russia wants to have sound, equal and friendly relations with the USA. Russia is not threatening anyone, and all we do in terms of security is simply a response, which means that our actions are defensive. We are not interested in confrontation and we do not want it, especially with a global power like the United States of America. However, it seems that our partners fail to notice the depth and pace of change around the world and where it is headed. They continue with their destructive and clearly misguided policy. This hardly meets the interests of the USA itself. But this is not for us to decide.

We can see that we are dealing with proactive and talented people, but within the elite, there are also many people who have excessive faith in their exceptionalism and supremacy over the rest of the world. Of course, it is their right to think what they want. But can they count? Probably they can. So let them calculate the range and speed of our future arms systems. This is all we are asking: just do the maths first and take decisions that create additional serious threats to our country afterwards. It goes without saying that these decisions will prompt Russia to respond in order to ensure its security in a reliable and unconditional manner.

I have already said this, and I will repeat that we are ready to engage in disarmament talks, but we will not knock on a locked door anymore. We will wait until our partners are ready and become aware of the need for dialogue on this matter.

We continue developing our Armed Forces and improving the intensity and quality of combat training, in part, using the experience we gained in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria. Much experience was gained by practically all the commanders of the Ground Forces, by covert operations forces and military police, warship crews, army, tactical, and strategic and military transport aviation.

I would like to emphasise again that we need peace for sustainable long-term development. Our efforts to enhance our defence capability are for only one purpose: to ensure the security of this country and our citizens so that nobody would even consider pressuring us, or launching an aggression against us.

Colleagues, we are facing ambitious goals. We are approaching solutions in a systematic and consistent way, building a model of socio-economic development that will allow us to ensure the best conditions for the self-fulfillment of our people and, hence, provide befitting answers to the challenges of a rapidly changing world, and preserve Russia as a civilisation with its own identity, rooted in centuries-long traditions and the culture of our people, our values and customs. Naturally, we will only be able to achieve our goals by pooling our efforts, together in a united society, if all of us, all citizens of Russia, are willing to succeed in specific endeavours.

Such solidarity in striving for change is always the deliberate choice of the people themselves. They make this choice when they understand that national development depends on them, on the results of their labour, when a desire to be needed and useful enjoys support, when everyone finds a job by vocation one is happy with, and most importantly, when there is justice and a vast space for freedom and equal opportunity for work, study, initiative and innovation.

These parameters for development breakthroughs cannot be translated into figures or indicators, but it is these things – a unified society, people being involved in the affairs of their country, and a common confidence in our power – that play the main role in reaching success. And we will achieve this success by any means necessary.

Thank you for your attention.

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Trump’s speech in Miami plays up anti-socialism, as Bolton focuses on Venezuela regime change (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 180.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Trump’s recent speech in Miami, Florida, where the US President condemned Venezuela’s socialist government and called on military command within the Latin American country to defect over to the Juan Guaido camp.

Venezuela’a elected president Maduro dismissed Trump’s remarks as an “almost Nazi-style” speech.

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Via Washington Times

Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolas Maduro, is rejecting President Donald Trump’s call for a new day in Venezuela and comparing the tone of the American president’s speech in Miami to that of a Nazi.

Trump said Monday that the U.S. stands behind opposition leader Juan Guaido and condemns Maduro and his government’s socialist policies. Trump pleaded with Venezuela’s military to support Guaido and warned of dire consequences for standing with Maduro.

Maduro responded to Trump in comments broadcast on state television. He accused the U.S. president of speaking in an “almost Nazi-style” and lashed out at Trump for thinking he can deliver orders to Venezuela’s military.

Maduro said, “Who is the commander of the armed forces, Donald Trump from Miami?” and added, “They think they’re the owners of the country.”

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First Venezuela, now Nicaragua? Bolton says Ortega’s days ‘numbered’ & people ‘will soon be free’

The Central American nation has been rocked by unrest since April last year, with protesters demanding the resignation of Sandinista party leader Ortega.

RT

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Via RT…


US President Donald Trump’s top foreign policy advisor John Bolton appears dead set on resuming his decades-long stand-off with Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega, hinting that Washington-backed regime change may be in the offing.

“The Ortega regime has sentenced three farm leaders to 550 years in prison for their roles in protests in 2018, where Ortega’s police forces reportedly killed 300 activists. As President Trump said Monday, Ortega’s days are numbered and the Nicaraguan people will soon be free,” the national security advisor to the US president tweeted on Wednesday.

The leaders of anti-Ortega protests were given jail terms this week, after they were implicated in the deaths of four policemen and a teacher during a shootout last July.

The Central American nation has been rocked by unrest since April last year, with protesters demanding the resignation of Sandinista party leader Ortega, who has been president since 2007, and convincingly won another five-year term in 2016.

The US has repeatedly backed the uprising against the left-wing government, and last November Bolton made a keynote speech calling for the “crumbling” of what he called the “Troika of Tyranny” – Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba – saying the states represented a “a sordid cradle of communism in the Western hemisphere.”

On Monday, Trump name-checked the same three countries, saying their “great potential” would be unlocked with the collapse of socialism. To expedite the process, Congress last year imposed financial measures that would make it difficult for the economically-stricken Nicaragua to obtain international loans, as well as slapping sanctions on top officials in Managua.

Revenge served ice-cold

Bolton’s history with Ortega goes back to the 1980s. Just as now, Ortega was the leader of Nicaragua, first as he spearheaded the revolution in 1979, and when he was elected president in 1985.

The Ronald Reagan administration spent significant financial resources backing the right-wing Contra rebels during the civil war, which lasted nearly the entire decade.

Bolton, at that time a legal specialist, held a number of senior positions in the Reagan White House, and was more than a witness to its shadowy CIA-aided schemes to bypass a Democrat-run Congress ban on helping the opposition militants.

He reportedly played a crucial part in hobbling both the scope of the Iran-Contra investigation and an inquiry into drug- and gun-running militants, who were enabled by Washington.

 

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We have run out of red ink

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After he returned to prominence under George W. Bush in yet another chapter of an unsinkable career, Bolton failed to dislodge Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the Sandinistas, or Cuba’s Fidel Castro (at one point, he accused Havana of developing biological weapons, without solid evidence). But as a man who with permission from Donald Trump now seems to be steering US foreign policy on dozens of key issues, Bolton has more resources than ever before to settle his lifelong ideological grudges.

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