Putin’s Address Suggests Presidential Run, Analysts Say

Vladimir Putin. Source: ITAR-TASSOn Wednesday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave his annual address to the State Duma regarding the work done in the country over the past year. Although according to analysts, the speech seemed more like a plan of action for the country to follow through the year 2020. Putin entered into polemics with President Dmitri Medvedev, in absentia, arguing that there was no need for “unjustified liberalism” when modernizing the country. As he sees it, Russia awaits a bright future where it becomes part of a unified economic space stretching from Lisbon to the Pacific Ocean.

The Prime Minister arrived at the State Duma altogether two minutes late. His arrival, as is customary, came along with heightened security measures: in front of the main entrance, federal security officers demanded that drivers remove their vehicles from the parking lot. LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s luxury Maybach was among the victims. Reinforced police squadrons could be seen all the way from the Okhotny Ryad metro station, but police officers were deathly silent in response to questions from bewildered Muscovites as to whether or not there’d been a terrorist attack.

In his address, which was constantly interrupted by enthusiastic applause from State Duma deputies, Putin did not fail to bring attention to his traditional political topics. In particular, he remarked upon “the destabilization of the entire region,” a transparent hint at the unrest across the Arab world, where “economic and state infirmity is inevitably resulting in a threat to sovereignty.”

“If you’re weak, somebody will drive to you or fly to you and tell you what side to move to without fail. And behind such benevolent and unobtrusive advice – behind this is blatant interference in the internal affairs of different states,” said Putin, hinting at the civil war in Libya.

“Modernization is something that needs to be concentrated on,” Putin went on, echoing Medvedev’s choice topic. But he then followed to enter into a certain polemic with the president, noting that in the course of the development of Russia’s competitiveness and innovative industries, it needs neither “unjustified liberalism” nor “social demagogy,” as this “will distract from development.”

Speaking about the competitiveness of the country over the next ten years, Putin said that Russia should become one of the top five global economies and double its productivity. Putin returned several times to the topics of the development of high-tech and science-driven industries, special economic zones, technology parks, and foreign investment in the Russian economy – the amount of which could, in Putin’s words, reach $60-70 billion a year if administrative and customs barriers were removed. The first steps to create a unified economic space from Lisbon to the Pacific Ocean with a continental market in the trillions of euros, he said, is the creation of a united energy complex and the abolition of the visa regime with the European Union, which Russia is prepared to do.

Summing up the results of his work in the past year, Putin said that Russia’s main achievement in 2010 was that there was no serious upheaval during the global crisis. He noted the economic problems in Portugal, Greece and Iceland, which were forced to seek external financial help, and then gave the example of Russia, where GDP rose 4% in the past year. “The highest percentage among the G-8 countries,” he said.

The prime minister also touched on a number of high-profile events in 2010. About twenty minutes was dedicated to the summer drought. Putin noted that the country coped with the forest fires and their consequences much more successfully than they did in the 1930s. Thanking the Ministry of Emergency Situations, military troops and volunteers, he expounded upon the merits of the government’s efforts to distribute new housing to victims of the fires and to provide credit to farmers, as well as other measures that helped people survive the drought better than Russians did during the Stalin era.

The motif of the Stalinist era came up a second time in Putin’s address when he spoke of the tragedy in the Raspadskaya mine and the need to modernize industry.

“We need a new wave of industrial development in Russia,” Putin proclaimed, before criticizing federal television channels for rarely showing examples of the conscientious and heroic labor of the working man.

Anticipating questions by deputies that had been announced earlier, Putin spoke about support of the domestic automobile industry, defense industry, aviation and the agro-industrial complex. This part of the report was socially-oriented and dedicated to state support for these industries.

According to Putin, the government plans to allocate 20 trillion rubles (712.2 billion USD) for the development of the defense industry. “It’s scary to say such figures out loud,” Putin said, noting that these funds should go to domestic businesses and that only new technologies should be acquired from abroad. Putin reassured the deputies that the distribution of these funds to the defense complex does not mean that Russia is planning to go to war with anyone, but has to do with the need to upgrade obsolete systems.

As is traditional, the prime minister dedicated a great deal of time to social politics, speaking about state programs to create new jobs, support for women and the disabled, health care, raising pensions, and reducing unemployment from 7 million at the peak of the crisis to 5 million in 2010.

The address lasted nearly three hours.

A group of political analysts interviewed by Kasparov.ru concluded that the prime minister’s address makes it look as if Putin is preparing to run for a third term for president in 2012.

Gregory Satarov, president of the Indem research foundation:
“This wasn’t a prime ministerial address, but more so an address by the director of a sanatorium for high-ranked psychos in for follow-up care. He told them what the situation is with the toilets, the barns, the sewers, and the address had nothing to do with Russia, although the psychos in follow-up care are going to like it.

“Putin said who the money is going to be dished out to and in what amounts. So it was entirely a pre-election speech.”

Sergei Ryzhenkov, political analyst and editor-in-chief of Demagogiya.ru:
“Putin’s report can be seen both as an electoral speech for himself and one from United Russia. But most of all it was his pre-electoral programme. He’s stylizing the speech of [Imperial Prime Minister Pyotr] Stolypin, promising 10 years of stable development. Putin himself came alive, the steely notes in his voice came back, there was certainty. All signals indicate that he’s going to run in the election.”

Olga Mefodeva, analyst from the Center for Political Technologies:
“These were strategic remarks, precisely in Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s style. The address concerned various topics and was directed at a wide circle of people so that there’d be more of a public reaction. Putin showed that he has his own point of view.”

Stanislav Belkovsky, political analyst, president of the Institute of National Strategy:
“Putin’s report can be seen as part of President Dmitri Medvedev’s electoral campaign, because Putin has once again positioned himself as an anti-modernization conservative. All liberal and progressive people should grasp at their hearts and say “Bloody Putin is returning” and run to vote for Medvedev. That is to say, the project of the ‘lesser evil’, where the lesser evil is represented by Medvedev, continues to come unwound.

“As far as the content of the report is concerned, it needs to be analyzed by a psychiatrist. Everything that Putin isn’t doing, didn’t think and doesn’t plan to do – he named it in this programme. First he says that it’s necessary to turn away from dangerous liberal experiments and social demagogy, and then he speaks in favor of ‘Strategy 2020,’ which was developed by Rector Vladimir Mau from the Academy of National Economy and Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov of the Higher School of Economics.

“Mau and Kuzminov propose abandoning the pension system, abolishing export duties on raw materials, and eliminating the mining industry. What is that if not a dangerous liberal experiment and social demagogy?

“There’s the impression that Putin doesn’t know what his government is doing.”

Compiled by reports from Gazeta.ru and Kasparov.ru.