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Kudrin Returns?

Why did Putin bring Alexey Kudrin back?

Alexander Mercouris

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The announcement that former Russian Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin has been appointed deputy head of Russian President Putin’s Council of Economic Advisers has provoked a stir.

This is not surprising. Few individuals in Russian politics polarise opinion as strongly as Kudrin does.

Kudrin’s admirers are to be found in the business community, amongst liberal economists and amongst people of generally elite backgrounds and liberal views. Amongst people of this sort Kudrin’s reputation is of the highest.

The wider Russian population – to the extent it is aware of him – however views Kudrin very differently, whilst his name is anathema across the very large “patriotic/left wing” section of Russia’s political spectrum

So who is Alexey Kudrin and why does he arouse such strong feelings? Kudrin was Russia’s Finance Minister from 2000 to 2011 as well as the Deputy Prime Minister in overall charge of the economy from 2007 to 2011.

Amongst his liberal admirers Kudrin is the official who is widely credited with engineering the economic boom Russia experienced during Putin’s first two terms as President. He is lauded for his rigidly orthodox free market economic thinking, his tight fiscal management, his refusal to run deficits, and for Russia’s early repayment of its sovereign debt just a few years after its humiliating default in 1998.

Above all he is credited with the creation of Russia’s two national savings funds, the Reserve Fund, which funds the national budget when it is in deficit, and the National Welfare Fund, which acts as Russia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Kudrin’s glowing reputation amongst people of elite and liberal backgrounds both in Russia and abroad is well illustrated by the awards they have showered on him.

He was named “Best Finance Minister of the Year 2005” by The Banker magazine, “Best Finance Minister of a Developing European Country”; in 2006 by the Emerging Markets newspaper (a journal published by the IMF and the World Bank) and “Best Finance Minister of the Year 2010” by Euromoney magazine.

Kudrin’s Russian critics have a very different view of him. They see him as a doctrinaire laissez faire Atlanticist, as the Finance Minister whose dogmatic insistence on cutting spending strangled the economy, causing its productive sectors to wither away as money which should have been used for investment was instead accumulated uselessly, becoming “dead money” in the two Funds.

In addition many Russians have not forgotten or forgiven Kudrin’s monetisation in 2005 of many of their Soviet era social security benefits, turning them from benefits in kind into benefits paid in money.

Given Russia’s historically high inflation and its two periods of hyperinflation in the 1990s this understandably was a very unpopular move and one which provoked widespread protests. Though in the West these protests are largely forgotten, they actually involved more people than the much better known protests which took place during the election season in 2011-2012.

Kudrin is also known to be a supporter of increasing the pension age – another reform that is for equally understandable reasons also very unpopular with many Russians. Beyond these very practical criticisms, much of the hostility to Kudrin within Russia has a distinct ideological hue.

In a country where opinion polls show a clear majority of the population favours a planned economy it is unsurprising that the man who was known as the most prominent economic liberal in the government became unpopular with many people. Russians also tend to conflate support for liberal economic policies with pro-Western political positions. As Russia’s relations with the West have deteriorated this has inevitably exposed economic liberals like Kudrin to charges that they are part of a pro-Western Fifth Column. In Kudrin’s case some of his actions have lent force to these fears.

Lastly but crucially, for many Russians an economic liberal like Kudrin who supports private business and private enterprise is almost by definition an apologist for the system that created the oligarchs – the hated class of plutocrats who emerged in Russia during the corrupt privatisations of the 1990s.

All these factors taken together explain why the individual who in the West was the most highly regarded official of Putin’s government in Russia is one of its least popular. The truth about Kudrin is that both the praise he gets and some – though not all – the criticism is overdone.

Kudrin as Finance Minister did indeed run a tight ship. He did indeed create the two Funds which did indeed help keep the economy stable by financing the budget deficit after the financial crash of 2008.

However the praise for Kudrin’s tight fiscal management ignores the fact that fiscal policy has been no loser since he left the government in 2011. On the contrary the high oil prices in 2012 and 2013 enabled the government to avoid running deficits in those years even though Kudrin before his dismissal had actually planned for them.

Since then the government has managed to run lower deficits during the current recession than those Kudrin ran and planned for during the 2008 crisis. In 2015 the federal deficit was just 2.4% of GDP and though it will probably be higher this year the target is still 3% of GDP.

If Kudrin is a fiscal conservative and a supporter of balanced budgets the record shows his successors also are. In the Russian government and in the Finance Ministry, Kudrin’s fiscal conservatism is not the exception. It is the rule.

This point about Kudrin that is consistently overlooked by his admirers is that whilst he was a member of the government he worked as part of a team. The head of that team was not Kudrin but Putin.

It is Putin not Kudrin who must ultimately take the credit – or blame – for the tough fiscal discipline of the Kudrin years. It is because of Putin’s heavy emphasis on budget discipline that budget spending has continued to be tight since Kudrin left the government in 2011. It was also Putin more than Kudrin who insisted on early repayment of Russia’s debt.

As for the idea of setting up the two Funds, credit – or blame – for that does belong to Kudrin. However it could not have happened without Putin’s support. One must resist the temptation – irresistible to Kudrin’s admirers – of giving Kudrin all the credit for everything that went right under his watch whilst putting all the blame on Putin for everything that went wrong.

If one believes that keeping tight control of budget spending, accumulating reserves and paying off debt is the hallmark of a good manager, then the record shows the good manager in Russia’s case is Putin not Kudrin and that it is Putin not Kudrin who should be given the credit.

In fact Kudrin’s record as an economic manager is decidedly mixed. It is certainly true that Russia’s economy grew rapidly during Putin’s first two terms when Kudrin was Finance Minister and that Kudrin’s success in restoring order to Russia’s previously chaotic budget played a role in this.

However though Kudrin – with Putin’s support – kept a tight lid on government spending he was far too complacent about the borrowing and spending binge Russian companies were cranking up towards in the years immediately prior to the 2008 financial crash.

Several commentators warned at the time that the credit build-up – much of it in foreign currency loans from Western banks – was getting out of control. However the mounting concern appears to have passed Kudrin completely by. Presumably as an economic liberal and as a believer in the virtues of free enterprise he found it difficult to believe the private sector could do wrong.

The result was that the country found itself dangerously exposed in the weeks and months following the financial crash of 2008 as Western banks at the urging of their own central banks scrambled to get cash out of Russia as fast as they could by calling in their loans.

Money poured out of the country putting the very existence of some of the country’s biggest companies at risk. The panic fed on itself as investors then also began to pull out of Russian companies causing Russia’s two stock markets to crash. For a few terrifying weeks it looked as if the entire economy was about to collapse.

In the event the reserves Kudrin and Putin had built up in the previous years proved sufficient to avert disaster, though the single thing that saved the economy… from a much more severe crisis was the sharp recovery in oil prices that took place in the spring of 2009.

Kudrin was obviously not solely to blame for all this. However as the country’s Finance Minister and as the man in overall charge of the economy he must bear the principal blame. At a crucial moment he took his eye off the ball and it was as much a matter of good luck as of good management that the country came through.

By contrast one of the reasons why the Russian economy has proved so resilient in the face of the sanctions and the 2014 oil price collapse is precisely because the lesson of those terrible months in 2008 and 2009 has been learnt. Instead of resuming their wild borrowing and spending spree when the crisis abated Russian companies and businesses instead – at the urging of their government – reined their borrowing and spending in as they moved to hedge and consolidate their positions.

The result was that this time round with the help of a certain amount of support from the government and the Central Bank they have been able to meet their debt obligations without undue strain and without the economy spiralling into crisis.

I would add in passing that the much discussed fall in the Russian growth rate since 2012 is in part a consequence of this process. Reining in borrowing and spending and consolidating positions has inevitably led to a cut in investment causing growth to slow. In other words the frenetic growth of the immediate period prior to the 2008 crash (which touched an annualised rate of 9% in the months preceding the crash) has had to be paid for by a lower growth rate since then.

None of these points are ever made by Kudrin’s admirers, just as when they claim – as they often do – that the Russian economy has been badly managed during Putin’s period as President so that the economy is supposedly insufficiently diversified they somehow manage to forget who was actually in charge of the economy during most of the time that Putin has been President.

This same exercise in selective memory comes up whenever the circumstances of Kudrin’s leaving the government are discussed. Kudrin’s admirers tend to claim that Kudrin left the government because of disagreements between him and Putin over defence spending. Kudrin supposedly was unhappy that defence spending was getting out of control and was becoming unaffordable. Putin supposedly refused to listen and

Kudrin therefore left the government rather than carry out a policy he considered irrational and unrealistic. No part of this is true. The true reason Kudrin was dismissed from the government was not because there was a row between him and Putin over defence spending. Kudrin was dismissed from the government because he made public his strong disagreement with Putin’s decision to appoint Dmitry Medvedev Prime Minister after the so-called “tandem switch” in 2011 when Putin and Medvedev swapped jobs, with Medvedev stepping aside from the Presidency to allow Putin to stand for the Presidency in the 2012 Presidential election and Putin in return nominating Medvedev to be his Prime Minister.

kudrin:medvedev

Alexey Kudrin with then President Dmitry Medvedev

What is strange about the claims Kudrin quit the government over defence spending is that his row with Medvedev which led to his dismissal was carried out in the most public way imaginable on national television for everyone to see. Kudrin started it all by saying on US television that he would not be able to stay in the government if Medvedev was appointed Prime Minister. There was then a public row between Medvedev and Kudrin in Russia shown in full view on national television during which an ashen-faced Kudrin asked for time to speak to Putin only to be sacked by Medvedev on the spot.

The issue of defence spending came up incidentally during the row as Kudrin searched for a reason to justify his objection to Medvedev’s becoming Prime Minister. The reason he hit upon was that he disagreed with Medvedev’s commitment to higher defence spending. He did not however exactly say it was completely unaffordable. Rather he said he wanted to spend more money on education instead.

As to the reasons for Kudrin’s objections to Medvedev’s appointment those to this day remain unclear. There were suggestions Kudrin was disappointed not to have been appointed Prime Minister himself.

There were also suggestions that he had come in for some criticism from within the government for his failure to foresee and pre-empt the 2008 financial crisis (see above) and that his position was already becoming shaky and that this provoked him to lash out.

It seems there was also a plan hatched by someone in the government (probably the Kremlin spin-doctor Vladislav Surkov) for Kudrin to leave the government to head a loyalist liberal pseudo-opposition party. It seems that Kudrin was unenthusiastic about this idea. However the fact it was floated at all shows that at the time of his dismissal the idea of Kudrin leaving the government was already in the air.

The true reason for Kudrin’s row with Medvedev is in fact obvious to anyone who watches the television film of their row: the two men detest each other. Quite why they do is unknown. Possibly it was rivalry for Putin’s favour and resentment by Kudrin that Medvedev – whom he obviously considers his inferior – was stealing a march on him.

Kudrin’s and Medvedev’s mutual dislike does however show one thing. This is that there is no united liberal Atlanticist bloc inside the government. At the time of their row Medvedev and Kudrin were widely credited with being the two most prominent liberal Atlanticists in the government.

Their all too evident mutual dislike however makes it all but inconceivable that they could forge a united front together. Having managed to get himself thrown out of the government in the most public way imaginable Kudrin then committed an action that deeply angered his former colleagues in the government and which has ever since fuelled widespread distrust of him in the country.

During the protests that followed the parliamentary elections in December 2011 Kudrin turned up and spoke at a liberal opposition rally on Sakharov Avenue in Moscow. By doing so he appeared to burn his bridges with the government and seemed to be aligning himself with the pro-Western liberal opposition against Putin.

Kudrin’s speech at the Sakharov Avenue rally in fact demonstrated something else: Kudrin’s complete lack of the most basic political skills needed by a successful politician. His speech at the rally was by common consent a disaster – a boring lecture from a former academic and technocrat that turned everybody off – very far from the rallying cry the situation demanded.

From that moment it was obvious to everyone including Kudrin himself that he could never successfully lead a political party or make himself a significant political force and that he represented no conceivable political threat or challenge either to Putin or to the government.

That realisation almost certainly explains Kudrin’s actions since then. Having realised that he had `no future as an opposition leader he began instead to try to work himself back into Putin’s favour.

The story of Kudrin’s career since then has been one of constant lobbying both by himself and by his supporters to bring him back into the government. Though during this period he regularly made coded criticisms of the government he always stopped short of direct attacks on it. The impression he gave was of someone who wanted the government to succeed but thought it was not being reformist enough. As is often the case with those in Russia who call for more reform he was vague about what was the reform he wanted but he tended to give the impression that he wanted to cut budget spending even more and wanted to raise the pension age.

It seems Kudrin finally persuaded Putin some months ago to bring him back and that the one issue that delayed his return was disagreement about the post he would be given.

In the event the post Kudrin was eventually given – deputy head of Putin’s Council of Economic Advisers – though important is advisory and hardly compares with the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister he held before he was sacked in 2011. If Kudrin held out for a more important position -as is likely – then he clearly didn’t get it. In fact it seems that both Medvedev and Sergey Ivanov (Putin’s Chief of Staff) vetoed any possibility of Kudrin being given executive posts either in government or in the Presidential Administration.

Why then did Putin bring Kudrin back?

There may have been an element… of political calculation behind the decision. Though Kudrin’s new post is hardly one of key importance his reappointment does carry important symbolism. It could be intended as a gesture to the West – where Kudrin is held in high regard – at a time when the anti-Russian policy the US and the EU have been following has been coming under increasing challenge.

More cynically, bringing Kudrin back into the fold might have been intended to keep him quiet and onside in the run-up to the pending parliamentary elections this autumn. More practically, it seems Kudrin is being asked to work on a national economic plan. Almost certainly this will include a recommendation to raise the pension age – a deeply unpopular measure which Putin is known however to have come round to. Possibly Putin is using Kudrin for political cover – looking to Kudrin to recommend an unpopular reform Putin realises is needed whilst setting Kudrin up as the fall guy who will take the flak if or rather when the measure is opposed.

However beyond these tough-minded political calculations personal factors have probably also played an important role. One must put aside the idea of major ideological differences between Putin and Kudrin. To the constant dismay of most of his supporters Putin’s record shows that he is a convinced economic liberal. Putin has never shown the slightest inclination to row back on the market reforms Russia has followed since the USSR’s collapse. If Kudrin is an economic liberal then the record shows Putin is one too.

As for Kudrin he is not quite the doctrinaire liberal or Atlanticist he is sometimes made out to be. He supported Putin’s action against Khodorkovsky and Yukos in 2004. As Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister he supported investment in Russia’s infrastructure. He also voiced support for the government’s policy of creating national champions in specific sectors of the economy.

Though a supporter of privatisation he never made this a fetish of his policy. Kudrin has also been careful not to challenge openly Putin’s foreign policy. Whatever his private thoughts on the matter he has never spoken out publicly against Crimea’s reunification with Russia. He surely knows that both for Putin and for the Russian public this question has become the touchstone of loyalty to the country.

Not only is there therefore enough common ground for Putin and Kudrin to work together in the future but there is a long history of close friendship and collaboration between them. Both Kudrin and Putin worked together in St. Petersburg in the 1990s for the city’s then mayor Anatoly Sobchak. Both Kudrin and Putin were then transferred to the Presidential Administration in Moscow when Sobchak failed to gain re-election in 1996. When Putin became the country’s President in 2000 he appointed Kudrin his Finance Minister and backed him in that post thereafter.

If there is one consistent pattern to Putin’s career it is his fierce loyalty to his friends even when – as in Kudrin’s case – that loyalty has not been fully reciprocated. It is probably Putin’s sense of friendship and loyalty to Kudrin which more than anything else explains his decision to bring him back.

Whether Putin’s feelings of friendship and loyalty to Kudrin will be enough to outweigh Kudrin’s unpopularity in the country and with many of his colleagues is another matter. On balance it is unlikely. However by bringing Kudrin back Putin has brought back into the fold an old friend and collaborator with a history of loyal service.

Should Putin decide to take a more liberal turn in managing the economy after the 2018 election Kudrin is there to help him take it. Whilst perennial rumours that Kudrin will become Prime Minister in place of Medvedev are probably misplaced, it is very much in character of Putin to move to keep his options open, and by bringing Kudrin back he has done just that.

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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.

The Duran

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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.

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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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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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