Russian foreign minister answers questions on Ukraine and world issues

Text of "Answers to questions from the ITAR-TASS news agency by the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, Moscow, 4 August 2014" published on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website on 6 August; subheadings added editorially.

Question: How do you assess the results of the meeting of the Contact Group on Ukraine in Minsk, and what are the prospects of a future meeting in this or another format? Please comment on the messages that Ukrainian soldiers have gone to Russia en masse. And what, in general, can you say about the topic of Ukraine?

Dialogue needed to resolve Ukraine conflict

Sergey Lavrov: The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has already provided his assessment of the meeting in Minsk, including in his contacts with foreign leaders. We welcome any steps aimed at dialogue rather than continuation of armed confrontation. Any dialogue should be equal to be productive. In other words, representatives of the south-east of Ukraine must be perceived as partners in the situation, which should be settled to make all those who live in Ukraine feel Ukrainians, part of their state, to make them to directly participate in reforms in their country, which were due long ago or even overdue. To be noted, the Ukrainian representatives said this when they were in opposition. Now they are heads of the state, and we would like them not to forget about the requirements to create structures, which allow reinforcing national unity, which they set when they were in opposition. Otherwise, they are no more than the current climate and temporary leaders.

It is also very important to stick to the other agreements which have been reached at the international level. In particular, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine with the participation of the US secretary of state and the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy signed a statement aimed at the resolution of three quite urgent tasks on 17 April in Geneva.

The first was to stop the use of force immediately, the second was to resolve humanitarian problems immediately, and the third was to start constitutional reform in a format which envisages the participation of all the Ukrainian regions and is open and accountable to public opinion.

None of those three requirements, to which the Ukrainian foreign minister signed, were implemented, primarily because Kiev chose another path and attempted to replace its internationally-agreed obligations with the so-called "peace plan by [Ukrainian President] Petro Poroshenko", which went in the right direction proposing a cease-fire, but its further points requested this cease-fire so that all the militia lay down weapons and surrender "at the discretion of the winner". This is directly contradictory to the obligations undertaken by Ukraine to start an equal and respectful dialogue with all the regions on how to build their state in such a way to make everything good in it, to make regions feel part of their country, which is respected, which chooses its leaders independently, has certain rights in the area of economics, finance and tax collection, and which guarantees the cultural and humanitarian traditions of its populations, including the use of their native language. I reiterate again that this has not been done. We drew the attention of our partners in the Minsk meeting to the fact that nobody has cancelled these criteria. They were agreed and approved, including by Ukrainians with the participation of the United States and the EU. It is not fair to try to "sweep this under the carpet", and we will not allow this to be done.

Ukrainian troops have asked for help in Russia

As to the situation with Ukrainian troops, according to reports, 438 troops asked to save them from military actions in the Russian territory. A total of 164 of them were border guards. We have helped the Ukrainian forces many times when they asked for help, accepted their wounded colleagues, and provided them with medical aid. For all those who wanted to return we provided such a possibility, nobody was kept against their will. However, to be honest, those who decided to return to Ukraine were later accused of desertion and court-martialled. I expect that the Ukrainian authorities will show their human side and understand that it is absolutely unacceptable when Ukrainians fight against each other, when they are forced to fight their own people, but those who refuse to do this become traitors and parricides.

I do not mean that orders should be disregarded, what I mean is that the current Ukrainian authorities have to fulfil the obligations which they have undertaken. I have already mentioned this. They made commitments on the international stage – both when Viktor Yanukovych was in power and after he was overthrown by an armed coup – to start a comprehensive dialogue with all the regions and political forces of the country. That is their main task. If they start it now, it will allow the resolution of a lot of problems. The militia will be able to relieve the minds of their families and those who rely on them, because they are defending populated areas. This will probably allow the insanity to stop, when day after day we receive more and more messages that there is shooting at populated areas using heavy armaments and missile systems, including Grads.

Russia wants to send humanitarian aid to east Ukraine

Orphanages, hospitals, schools and kindergartens have been damaged. Our appeals (it is not the first week when we address them to international organizations, including the UN, the OSCE, the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and the Council of Europe) to intervene, and, if it is currently impossible to make the Ukrainian authorities agree on a cease-fire, then, as a minimum, to undertake a humanitarian action and organize an international humanitarian mission. We have attempted to send a convoy with humanitarian aid through the Russian Emergencies Ministry many times: food, medical equipment, essentials. Officially, as we have to, we asked the Ukrainian authorities to coordinate such a supply of aid through a note. They gave an outrageous reply, I would even say that it was hooliganism: "We do not require any aid, resolve your humanitarian disaster in Crimea". This was the official note of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. It is outrageous, not humane from any point of view.

Today I am sending an official appeal to the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the ICRC and the UN again appealing to them to organize something like an international humanitarian mission, to send humanitarian aid to Donetsk and Luhansk under the aegis of the ICRC, as well as to the populated areas around these large megalopolises. There is no water or power supply in Luhansk, its infrastructure needs to be fixed immediately.

I expect that the international community, which is enthusiastic and concerned about other cases of humanitarian crises, for example, in the Gaza strip, will pay attention to the south-east of Ukraine, where the population is suffering no less than civilians in Gaza. There is only one difference: the Gaza strip launched missiles at Israel, which was forced to respond, although it was not proportionate. To be noted, Russia expressed its position that everybody should use and demonstrate maximum restraint.

Things were different in the south-east of Ukraine, people took weapons to protect themselves from the Ukrainian army, the National Guard and battalion created by God knows whom and paid by private individuals, who intend to suppress legitimate manifestations of those whom the new authorities started to promote, suppressing the Russian language, rights of regions and so on. This is not a response by force to force, it is about the use of force against those who spoke in favour of protecting their legal rights: language, cultural and historical.

I expect that international organizations will respond to the crisis in Gaza, which is absolutely necessary to stop the incidents which lead to sufferings of innocent Palestinian nationals, but hopefully they will also not forget about the aggression in the south-east of Ukraine, which they are currently attempting to put aside from the community.

West’s Middle East policies based on "personal attitudes"

Question: The crises in Ukraine and Gaza removed the situation in Syria from newspaper headlines. Some time ago, Russia’s initiative actually prevented a strike at Syria related to the elimination of its chemical weapons. There have been elections since then. How do you assess the situation in this country today? Did the prospects of a Syrian settlement get closer?

Sergey Lavrov: These prospects are getting closer, but unfortunately only because more and more lives are being lost in this terrible conflict, which is already acquiring a trans-border nature. The former Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL], which now goes by the Islamic Caliphate, has not only seized some Syrian regions, but is also occupying more and more land in Iraq. According to media reports, this terrorist group has already occupied the hydroelectric dam in Mosul. These are the same terrorists, who, when they acted in Syrian territory, were considered by our western partners (primarily Washington) as a force which probably did not comply with "high western values", but still they were fighting against the "bloody regime". When we drew attention to the fact that it was dangerous to connive with such groups, what our close US partners said actually was that terrorists using all the other forces should first overthrow President Bashar al-Asad and then they would deal with them.

For now, this group is unfortunately "dealing" with Iraq. The Americans have started to worry. This is another proof that the United States has no well thought-out strategy in this region, and all our attempts to start an intelligible talk at an early state of the Syrian crisis unfortunately failed. Our propositions were very simple: nobody should constantly adapt their internal climate on the international stage, as well as foreign policy, to their personal likes and dislikes. It happened in this way in Libya, when, as you recall, everybody was "angry" at Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, whom they accused of all the sorrows of the region. Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi was overthrown using radical groups, who received arms from France and several Persian Gulf states, despite the embargo which existed that time for supplies of weapons to anybody in Libya. Nevertheless, they were supplied, and we heard public statements from Paris and some Persian Gulf states – "yes, we are doing this, because Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi must be overthrown". Later, these French fought the same "guys", whom they armed to overthrow Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, in Mali. This is a true fact. These groups are still not "finished off", they are creating more and more problems and putting obstacles in the way. It seems that it is getting quieter in Mali, although the problem is still there, like it is there in the Central African Republic, in Chad, and many other countries of the African regions.

Now the same mistake is being repeated in Iraq, where, after they overthrew Saddam Husayn, the US governor-general actually drove off all the structures where Sunnis were represented (it was army, security forces and police). Now these Sunnis are attempting to take revenge, although it was clear from the very beginning that the problems of such a complicated country like Iraq can be resolved thought national consent only.

Russia proposes fight against terrorism as basis for Middle East policy

Instead of such actions, which are dictated purely by a personal attitude to one or another country’s leader, Russia proposed choosing some uniform essential criteria, in particular, the fight against terrorism. If this criterion were selected as a common denominator for actions by Russia, the United States, Europe, the Persian Gulf states, the Middle East and other countries, many things would become clear. For this we need to make an honest choice and refuse cooperation with those who can today be your ad hoc help in overthrowing a leader, whom you do not like personally, but later you have to decide what to do with them when they have become a burden. If we do not choose clear approaches and, primarily, consolidate on the anti-terrorist platform, we will constantly face such problems. Hundreds and thousands of lives will be the price of such twists, as we continue to observe in Libya, where the state has been destroyed.

The same thing is happening in Iraq, which is also "bulging at the seams". We are attempting to prevent such a scenario, because then the Kurdish problem will blow up, and this is terrible. We see this in Syria, where they are attempting to do the same for the sake of overthrowing one man. When we communicate with our western partners, they have kept saying the same thing to us for a year or two: "We understand everything – the threat of terrorism, which has won in Syria, is much worse than President Bashar al-Asad in power." They make such statements directly. We propose to be based on this and fight against terrorism. In response, they whisper that this is not so, but the US president and heads of several leading European countries have already said that Bashar al-Asad is nonhand- shakeable. And that is all. As we say, "a spoken word takes its flight", however, in this case, if we are guided by this Russian proverb, nothing good will come of it.

NATO searching for a reason to exist

Question: A remarkable date of 20 years since the removal of troops from Europe is approaching. Maybe it is not that big, but it is remarkable for the Russian-European angle. How do you assess this date and how do you see this situation after 20 years?

Sergey Lavrov: It is a complicated question. I will not go deep into the history. I will only say that many people criticized the haste in which this was done. They criticized the situation when Russia received almost nothing in exchange, even to simply accommodate the officers and soldiers who left Europe, as humans deserve. They were in tents somewhere in the field together with their families. It is evident for me that this haste was dictated by the need. Moreover, when the Soviet leaders agreed to deadlines and even set them, the Western partners were seriously and pleasantly surprised. They expected other deadlines and financial conditions.

However, we need to take into account the following. It was probably not euphoria which prevailed, but apart from momentary expectations to make it into history, the leaders of that time probably sincerely wanted to start a new life and see partners in Europe, hoping that Europe and the West in general would see us as partners. They hoped that everything would be equal, friendly and fair. They hoped that if there was no Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet Union, and the troops had been removed, why did they need NATO and other attributes which belonged to the "Cold War" era? These hopes were in vain. As you know, NATO did not stop and still continues to expand. This organization is searching for a reason for its existence. Afghanistan helped for some time. Now everybody has understood that Afghanistan is something that drags NATO solidarity to the "bottom". It is useless to do what the North Atlantic Treaty Organization did: the situation with the drug threat and the drug industry has worsened considerably.

Russia seemed to be a good target in NATO’s search for its reason for existence. I assure you, if there was no Ukraine, they would use another aspect of Russia’s domestic or foreign policy for speculation. We are observing this. Firstly, these are our disagreements on Syria with the West, which I have already mentioned. When the West announced that the President of Syria Bashar al-Asad could not be a partner any more, Russia believed that regimes should not be overthrown, we should agree. They accused Russia of everything that was happening in Syria. Then the former employee of the CIA and the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, showed up. They were also offended and "had a go" at Russian policy because of him. Then there were the Olympics – no idea why. Either it was because these Olympics happened, or because they seemed "too expensive" to the West. Or somebody thought that they were too successful, and Russia won. I do not know. We felt this prejudiced attitude long before the Ukrainian events.

Unfortunately, with all the good intents which our Western partners in Europe and America demonstrated to us, there is still the inertia of the "Cold War" and the inability to confront the continuing attempts to drive all the Europeans under the NATO "roof" and to talk from under it with a "strict voice". We regret all this, because it is not a far-sighted policy. It is based on a desire to establish their own order at any cost, and use sanctions and take revenge (I cannot find another word for it) in all other ways against those who do not agree, who are independent and do not want to go on the leash of the unipolar world.

New US ambassador will follow Washington’s line

Question: I would like to ask you about the forthcoming arrival of a new US Ambassador, John Tefft, in Moscow. We and our colleagues and see him as "Count di Cagliostro" or as Gogol’s "Government Inspector". There is so much talk about his personality, although a quite professional diplomat is coming, nothing more. Have you communicated with John Tefft? What do you expect from him? Is there "light at the end of the tunnel" in the development of Russian-American relations?

Sergey Lavrov: I do not know John Tefft personally, although some of my colleagues know him. He truly is a professional, career diplomat. In terms of this, I agree with you absolutely that there is no need to create a boom around the arrival of a new head of the diplomatic mission in Moscow. He is a career diplomat and in these terms it will probably be easier, because such a diplomat does as he is ordered. Washington makes the decisions. When he was ambassador to Georgia and Ukraine, he did not play "his own game". John Tefft is a disciplined man, who worked in the US Department of State all his life, because he did as he was ordered, unlike his predecessor, who, to a known extent, was a "freestyle artist". He was appointed politically and could allow himself liberties, and did this.

At the beginning this complicated our understanding: was this his independent action or the line followed at the instruction of Washington? In the case of John Tefft there will be no such doubts. All his actions will be those of Washington, and it will be easier for us to understand what the United States wants.

As to "light at the end of the tunnel", we have never created a tunnel from our side, we did not cement brickwork from our side, it was open. I do not know what the US armoured train is doing on their side, if it is on a side-track or symbolizes peaceful people. It is hard to understand Washington’s real approaches to their relations with us. The presidents of Russia and the United States communicate, they talk regularly. They had a phone conversation just recently. They have normal personal relations. I can say the same about my relations with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, whom I contacted a few days ago. We agreed to think about whether we can meet in the near future. The signals in such contacts are sufficiently positive. Of course, our partners always insist that they cannot share our approaches on Ukraine, but they are interested in achieving peace as soon as possible, they have no and cannot have any hidden agenda in Ukraine. They constantly propose organizing some contacts, continuing discussions with us, Europeans and Ukrainians. We are ready.

I have already referred to the Geneva Statement, which was adopted by Russia, the United States, the EU, Ukraine and Russia on 17 April. There was also an event in Berlin, where Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine adopted the Berlin Declaration on 2 July. We are ready to work in different formats (with the participation of the OSCE, as during the Minsk meeting), which can promote dialogue between the Kiev authorities and regions, primarily the south-east. They offer us to hold Russian-American or Russian-European consultations having invited, let’s say, the Kiev authorities to see what can be done. I reiterate again that we will agree to any format, but we can hardly achieve anything until those who represent the interests of the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, the south-east, receive a place at the negotiating table, until they are perceived as the people representing large Ukrainian territories and the people living there, until the approach to them changes, when they are called terrorists and separatists without understanding that this distorts the entire situation, when they stop persuading the rest of the country that they are separatists and schismatics [secessionists].

Armenia and Azerbaijan need to negotiate over Nagornyy Karabakh

Question: The forthcoming meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Sochi was announced recently. At the same time, the situation in Nagornyy Karabakh, in the area of contacts of Azerbaijani and Armenian units, has escalated. What do you expect from this meeting? Can we expect a breakthrough, or is it just a step towards a Nagornyy Karabakh settlement?

Sergey Lavrov: Separate meetings between the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, with the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, and then Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, are scheduled for the end of this week in Sochi. When they all get to one place at one time, it will probably be impossible to avoid talks about Nagornyy Karabakh. The way it happens will depend on the leaders.

Of course, we are worried about the events on the so-called "contact line". The parties accuse each other of provocative actions. Such things happened before, and, unfortunately, we have been observing periodic outbursts of such kinds for many years. However, this time everything is presented and perceived in a worse way. Many people died. Together with other countries, including the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the Nagornyy Karabakh settlement (these are Russia, the United States and France), we have insistently appealed to show maximum restraint, to avoid any actions which can lead to another outburst of violence. We will talk to our partners from Azerbaijan and Armenia about ways of helping in trust-building and reducing confrontation risks in which we and the OSCE Minsk Group (primarily the co-chairs) can assist.

Some time ago, at one of the meetings between the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, quite a modest statement was coordinated: on the need to develop trust measures in case of shooting. That time they needed to exchange dead bodies and captives and to agree on additional steps which would calm the situation down on the "contact line".

This conflict is perceived from both sides quite emotionally. We, as one of the co-chair countries, are undertaking a lot of efforts jointly with our US and French partners to help to deal with several issues which are preventing them from concluding a document laying down the political principles of a settlement, so that the parties form a package which is acceptable to them. The adoption of such extensive political statements, laying down the principles, by which they will be guided when settling the conflict, would certainly contribute to a normalization of the atmosphere. It is not easy to do so. There have been many attempts and each time it seemed that the important limit for consent was almost achieved, but then something went wrong. Therefore I will not make any forecasts. I believe that we need to insistently and stubbornly continue helping Armenians and Azerbaijanis in their search for wording which will be acceptable to both parties.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Moscow, in English 6 Aug 14

Pro-Kremlin party leader hails people’s republics in southeast Ukraine


Text of report by the website of Russian newspaper Izvestiya on 31 July

[Article by Sergey Mironov, leader of the A Just Russia faction in the Russian Federation State Duma: "Novorossiya – new Russia. Just Russia faction leader Sergey Mironov on what Russians want and how they are able to defend their interests"]

Novorossiya [southeast Ukraine] has been occupying the principal place in the picture of Ukrainian events recently. Politicians, political analysts, journalists, and experts are talking about bombardments and bombing raids, the deaths of children and old people, thousands of refugees, the destruction of the Malaysian Boeing, and the militias’ retreats and counteroffensives. But among all of this there is a subject to which nobody is paying attention, and I would like to do so. It seems to me that it is exceptionally important. More important than many other issues if you look at it in terms not of days and weeks but months and years.

Let us ask ourselves: What is happening in Novorossiya if we look at this process from an ideological and world-view angle? What kind of state do the defenders of the DNR [Donetsk people’s republic] and the LNR [Luhansk people’s republic] want to build?

A. proviso. I do not know whether the insurgents will succeed in defending their motherland against highly superior enemy forces, although I wish them success with all my heart. But in any event we have to acknowledge something that is obvious: The existence of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics is an established historical fact. This event has already divided the history of Ukraine into "before" and "after." You can burn cities to the ground and not leave a single person alive in the southeast, but you cannot erase these pages from history with Grad, Uragan, and Smerch missiles.

The inhabitants of Novorossiya are compelled to exist in a state of permanent stress; they feel that they are living on the brink of death. At the same time they feel their historic predestination, and this feeling is proving to be stronger and deeper than the fear of death – it outweighs it. So it is not just war that is determining the life of the state of Novorossiya. Activists and politicians in Donetsk and Luhansk are engaged in imposing order in civil matters.

What does all this mean? A process of forming a nation is underway. Collective creativity by Russian people who, through the culpability of former leaders, are compelled to live other than in Russia, is underway. It was difficult and agonizing for them to exist in an aggressive environment that denies their identity. This aggression began with the language issue and ended in bombing raids. But there is a paradox here: Against the backdrop of explosions, while war is waging, people are thinking about how they would like to live in conditions of peace. What should the republic be like? How should it be organized?

DNR and LNR constitutions have already been written. A vigorous lawmaking process is underway. Novorossiya has a name and policy documents, albeit they have not yet – in wartime conditions – been completely honed. The constitution of Novorossiya has been published. In accordance with this constitution Novorossiya is a rule-of-law democratic state. Secular, but with clear moral points of reference. At the present time it is a parliamentary republic although it might possibly become a presidential republic once it has withstood the Kiev authorities’ terror and consolidated itself. In Novorossiya there is a mixed economy and equality among all types of ownership, and in domestic policy there are social priorities.

The legislative initiatives that are emerging testify that these few million people want to see their republic as a social state based on traditional values. Social justice and tradition form the essence of the societal and state project that is currently being built in the DNR and the LNR.

In there is a flag and coat of arms incorporating symbols from prerevolutionary and Soviet traditions. This choice testifies to a desire to overcome the historical fractures in Russian history. And overcoming historical fractures and divisions is a guarantee of stability in present-day politics. In other words, healthy conservatism is inherent in Novorossiya’s citizens in peacetime. But today they are compelled to defend themselves and their historic choice.

Despite the mass killings of civilians that the Ukrainian army is perpetrating, these people are not retreating from the choice that they made in the course of the referendum. They are not turning their back on their ideals. They are fighting and dying for them. The current (essentially temporary) Kiev government hates their flag, hates their ideals, and is blatantly ignoring their social project. It is ignoring their historic rights and expression of their wishes, denying the indisputable fact that everyone has his own path within a common European tradition. This government talks about a "conflict of mentalities," repudiating the principle of pluralism and describing their opponents as "nonhuman" and "subhuman," and is terrorizing the civilian population.

But, I repeat, even if Ukrainian troops were to destroy all the defenders of Novorossiya and carry out mass purges, it will no longer be possible to erase the fact of the emergence of the state of Novorossiya from world history. We will have to live with this understanding. Consequently it is necessary to formulate a systemic attitude towards this historical phenomenon.

The Russian intellectual elite will have had to answer the question as to why a logical merging of social democratic and conservative ideals – that is to say, ideals of social justice and traditional values – has taken place in Novorossiya’s public consciousness. This set of ideals emerged on the soil of Donetsk and Luhansk not under pressure from external forces but as the free choice of the people.

Here it is impossible to get away from the simple and obvious fact that these ideals reflect the views and ideals of not only several million inhabitants of Novorossiya but also the enormous overwhelming majority of the population of Russia. The nationwide Russian support for Donetsk and Luhansk is largely determined by a community of ideas, especially a community of values and historical reference points. What are they?

First, in Novorossiya and Russia people identify themselves with the Russian Orthodox tradition – not in a strictly church sense but in a broader interpretation. As opinion polls demonstrate, around 80 per cent of our country’s citizens describe themselves as such. Second, these are the same 80 per cent who today support Vladimir Putin and expect him to strengthen the Russian state. Finally, these are the same people who are proud of our army, which crossed the Alps, halted Napoleon, saved Russia during the years of the Great Patriotic War [as World War II is known in Russia], and very recently protected the population of Crimea from the fate that subsequently overtook the inhabitants of Donetsk and Luhansk. The army that is ensuring the country’s sovereignty and integrity, to which a recent session of the Russian Federation Security Council was devoted….

The word Novorossiya today has not one but two meanings. On the one hand, it is the name of former Russian lands. On the other, it means "new Russia." A little Russia that is seeking to follow the same path along which the Russian Federation is also travelling.

Today those who lay claim to global control within the framework of a unipolar world are attempting to obstruct progress in this direction. To obstruct it to the detriment of their own and – even more so – European interests. But the historical journey of large and small nations cannot be halted. The example of Novorossiya has shown what Russians want and how they are able to defend their interests. And I would not advise anybody in the world to even try to do in Russia what they are trying to carry out in Ukraine. The outcome for such experimenters would be extremely inauspicious.

Source: Izvestiya website, Moscow, in Russian 31 Jul 14

Putin-Niinisto Meeting on 15 Aug 14

Russian, Finnish presidents discuss ties, situation in Ukraine

Text of statements at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s "meeting with President of Finland Sauli Niinisto on 15 August 2014" in English by Russian presidential website on 15 August

Vladimir Putin met in Sochi with President of Finland Sauli Niinisto to discuss, in particular, possibilities for settling problems that have arisen in bilateral trade and economic relations. The two presidents also discussed the situation in Ukraine.

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr President, friends, it is a great pleasure to welcome you to Sochi.

Russia and Finland have always had very good and business-like relations. Finnish business has made big investments in the Russian economy and I hope that Finnish investors feel at ease here in general in Russia.

There are Russian investors too. I think that our two countries are developing good relations in the shipbuilding sector, and Helsinki has received orders from Russia for another three ships to be built at the shipyards there. Russia remains one of Finland’s top economic partners in terms of the volume of trade and economic ties.

Sadly, our trade turnover has dropped slightly of late, falling by around 8 per cent. This is not just the result of political difficulties, but is also linked to purely economic causes.

We are therefore especially pleased to see you and your colleagues here, Mr President, so as to have the chance to discuss the full range of our relations.

PRESIDENT OF FINLAND SAULI NIINISTO- (retranslated): Thank you for giving me the chance to come here and visit Sochi once again. The weather is completely different now to what it was last time.

Yes, we do have traditionally good bilateral relations. We have many common affairs in economic and political areas, and of course our people on each side of the border also have very close contacts.

Of course the political events and the political climate that reigns right now do have an impact on our relations, especially our economic ties. Our relations have traditionally shown steady growth, but the picture has changed a little now.

It is true that we were still feeling the consequences of the financial crisis, but the changing political circumstances have put us in a new situation. The disaster that is taking place in Ukraine affects all of us and concerns all of us, and its impact goes far beyond just local consequences.

As a result of these events, the traditionally good relations between the European Union and Russia have suffered a blow. For this reason too, changes have taken place at the global level. Some are talking of the start of a new ‘Cold War’, or suggest that we are on the way towards a new ‘Cold War’.

It is therefore good to have this chance to discuss the possibilities we have for finding a way of settling the situation in Ukraine, stopping this negative spiral of events and helping to stabilize the situation, because this really is something that affects us all.


Source: President of the Russian Federation website, Moscow, in English 1205 gmt 15 Aug 14


Russian, Finnish president’s statements following meeting in Sochi

Text of report in English by Russian presidential website on 15 August

Press statements following meeting with President of Finland Sauli Niinisto in Sochi on 15 August 2014

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ladies and gentlemen, let me say a few words about our work today.

The talks with the President of Finland were substantial and constructive. We discussed the current state of our bilateral cooperation and the development prospects, and exchanged views on current issues in international politics.

Russia and Finland are bound by solid and good-neighbourly relations that have stood the test of time over the decades and are based on traditions of friendship, mutual trust and respect. We have always paid particular attention to our trade and economic ties.

Russia is Finland’s biggest trade and economic partner and in 2013 was firmly in first place in terms of trade volume. Russia is the reliable supplier for practically all of Finland’s natural gas needs, and is a reliable supplier of other energy resources to the Finnish market too.

Finland is also one of Russia’s key economic partners. Our bilateral trade grew at an excellent pace over the last few years. In 2012, it increased by 6.5 per cent and in 2013 added another 10 per cent and reached nearly $19 billion.

Our investment cooperation also reached a high level. Our companies are engaged in big joint projects together. Last year, we were both at the ceremony inaugurating the Nyagan Power Plant, one of the biggest and most modern thermal power plants in the world. The project was carried out by Finnish company Fortum. We have been working actively in other fields too – construction materials, shipbuilding, forestry, and many other areas.

But the European Union’s sanctions have jeopardized the whole range of Russian-Finnish trade and investment ties. Negative trends are emerging in our bilateral cooperation: our trade turnover has dropped by 8 per cent since the start of the year. Russia is categorically against the situation developing this way.

President Niinisto and I discussed these negative developments. I think that the sanctions will have a negative effect on trade, business interests, our countries’ development outlook, and ultimately on the entire world economy.

Of course we discussed in detail developments in the serious internal political crisis in Ukraine. We are both seriously concerned about the large-scale military operations in Ukraine’s southeast regions and the genuine humanitarian disaster that is unfolding there.

We will do everything within our power to end this military conflict as soon as possible, establish a dialogue between all parties concerned, and provide humanitarian aid to those who need it.

Let me conclude by thanking Mr Niinisto for this visit and for the substantial and very useful talks.

PRESIDENT OF FINLAND SAULI NIINISTO- (retranslated): I want to thank President Putin for the candid discussion.

As you said, Russia and Finland have very wide-ranging and diverse relations. We have traditionally had good trade and economic relations and our political cooperation has also been good. The people in our border regions, people close to the state border, visit each other and go back and forth across the border, going about their business.

We discussed today the big projects that will have a long-term impact on our relations. These projects continue to move ahead and have nothing to do with the sanctions. As President Putin noted, the sanctions do affect the economy of course, and will have an impact in general on global economic activity. These sanctions were imposed because of the Ukrainian crisis, and so we discussed this crisis at length and in detail today.

This crisis concerns not just Ukraine itself but has a wider impact and has an effect on many different issues. We, myself included, are all very concerned at the cooling in relations between Russia and the European Union. At the global level, we are hearing talk about how we have come to the gate that will lead us into a new ‘Cold War’.

Today, we heard the news that the Russian Federation’s humanitarian mission is going ahead and that an understanding has been reached between Ukraine, Russia, and the Red Cross on delivering this humanitarian aid.

We hope that this news signals the possibility of building confidence between the sides. We really do need this mutual confidence in order to take the next step and achieve the next objective, that of a ceasefire.

But for the guns to fall silent there must be mutual trust, and here we need the Russian Federation to take some steps too, for example, ensuring that no weapons cross the Russian-Ukrainian state border.

We are seeing some desire to sort out the situation, just the first signals of this desire, but we nonetheless see this aspiration and wish it success, including with Russia’s involvement.

In conclusion, I would like with your permission to remind you that Finland was, is, and always will be ready to perform good services if needed and if they can be of any help in resolving the situation.

Thank you (said in Russian).

Source: President of the Russian Federation website, Moscow, in English 1530 gmt 15 Aug 14

Putin meets Russian MPs in Yalta, focuses on Crimea


Text of statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin at a "meeting with members of political parties represented in the State Duma on 14 August 2014" in English by Russian presidential website on 18 August. Subheadings have been inserted editorially:

Vladimir Putin had a meeting in Yalta with members of political parties represented in the State Duma.

Taking part in the meeting were Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, heads of State Duma political party groups and heads of federal ministries.

* * *

Excerpts from transcript of meeting with members of political parties represented in the State Duma

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon, colleagues, friends,


We are meeting today in Crimea. It was a conscious choice to meet with you here. I want to start by thanking you all for the ceaseless attention you have been paying to developing our two new regions, and of course for the consolidation, unity and solidarity that all parties in the State Duma and indeed all of our country’s political forces showed during those days that were of such decisive importance for the fate of Crimea and Sevastopol and for our entire country.

Let me take this opportunity to note the productive and substantial work the State Duma accomplished during the spring session. You approved amendments to our country’s Constitution and passed important laws concerning the economy and social sector. In just a short timeframe you examined the so-called ‘Crimean package’ of laws, which were passed in order to regulate key areas of life in Crimea and Sevastopol during the transition period. This was extremely important and concerns the operation of the banking and financial systems and pension payments. You took a number of important decisions that directly concern people’s interests. I remind you that 12 federal constitutional laws and 283 federal laws were passed in all.

Finally, during the spring session, you began work on improving the local self-government system and took a decision that significantly increases the role and responsibilities of municipalities and regions. Overall, you have accomplished a lot, done a lot of hard work, and we all deserve to meet now in Crimea at this time.

Looking at the decisions taken to develop municipal and regional government, we see that they are based on a flexible approach, and this kind of flexible approach and logic is especially important for our two new regions, Crimea and Sevastopol, where so much has to be done from scratch.

Regional and local elections will take place here in September, as in many other Russian regions. It is important that regional and local government work be organized effectively and that powers and responsibilities be clearly delineated.

But I say again, we must at the same time take into account the regions’ particular circumstances and traditions and best practice in local and regional government. First and foremost of course are the interests of the people living in these regions.

I know that many deputies arrived in Crimea on the eve of our meeting – probably not only to enjoy the summer sun and the southern coast, but because I know you also met with people, and this is extremely important. Indeed, it is important and highly useful. After all, State Duma deputies are constantly doing this work in other territories. It is very important, of course, to visit this place as well and talk to local people.

A serious expert discussion also occurred within the framework of the special seminars on economic issues that were held yesterday, as well as on the history of Crimea. I hope that today, we will discuss many of the suggestions made within the framework of the seminars. I generally suggest that we not only conduct today’s meeting as an evening or day of questions and answers, but count on us to exchange ideas and suggestions. It will be a pleasure for me and Mr Medvedev to hear the suggestions you may have for developing these territories.

We have a great deal to do here. We have accumulated an enormous heap of problems that have essentially been unresolved for decades. Sometimes, one gets the sense that Crimea lived like a poor relation. The previous authorities pumped a lot out of it and gave little or nearly nothing back. My sincere discussions with certain leaders speak to this directly. Indeed, they do not even try to hide it.

Yes, there were many problems, and now there are even more in that nation. And, of course, they should have supported other territories. They took a lot from Crimea and gave little back. That is the cause for the neglect of infrastructure, the economy, the social sector, and the low incomes of the majority of citizens. Now, within the framework of the transition period, we are taking the most pressing, priority measures to remedy the situation.

First of all, we are working to improve the reliability of Crimea’s energy supply. Reserve capacities have been created for key social facilities.

The next step is integrating Crimea’s energy systems with all of southern Russia, which will allow us to solve the energy deficit problem. A great deal of work is also underway to set up water supplies and create new communication and telecommunication systems.

Second is infrastructure and removing transport limitations. Despite the increased amount of flights and ferries in the Kerch Strait, we still have problems. And here, we will need the Cabinet and the regional authorities to do some extra work. Corresponding instructions have already been set forth and issued.

I want to point out that this year we allocated over 5.6 billion roubles [about $156 million] from the federal budget on fixing roads and railways in Crimea. We are about to set off on a project to build the Kerch Bridge. Works on the site will begin in the next few weeks. The bridge must be opened by the end of 2018.

We just discussed this issue yesterday and came to the conclusion that even if it is not effectively used up to its maximum capacity at first, we still need to complete this project with a certain potential, in the sense that it will certainly reach its full capacity, because we will need to develop the port infrastructure as well.

Third is the social sector. I have already said that it has been neglected. This concerns both healthcare and education. This year, we will direct about two billion roubles from the federal budget alone for modernizing hospitals and clinics in Crimea and Sevastopol. People who need high-tech medical assistance can get it at leading clinics in Russia. We have already allocated the funds for this – half a billion roubles for Crimea and Sevastopol for 2014.

In the future, healthcare sector in Crimea and Sevastopol will operate within Russia’s compulsory medical insurance system. We will renovate and reequip the entire network of medical facilities.

We will also bring the educational system in order, from universities to preschools and children’s vacation facilities. This is a lot of work and it is impossible or very difficult to do it all overnight, but we will certainly work consistently in this direction and do everything over time.

Yesterday, I met with regional leaders in Sevastopol; there is a natural population decline. It is surprising. The birth rate is lower than Russia’s average. And where do we see it? In Crimea, on the Black Sea coast. It seems unbelievable! So we will have to do a great deal.

I will note that children’s health camps in Crimea were at 100 per cent capacity during the first session of this summer. And right now, the Taurida international youth forum is currently under way here in Crimea.

The potential for organizing children’s and youth recreation in Crimea is great, enormous, and naturally, it is not fully realized, but should be. In this regard, of course, I support the suggestion by leader of the Communist Party faction in the State Duma Mr Zyuganov to create a presidential international children’s centre on the basis of the legendary Artek.

Moreover, we need to prioritize resolving the issue of increasing pensions and salaries for public employees. They were significantly lower than in Russia. We gradually increased pensions and salaries. Thus, the pensions in Crimea have already grown nearly two-fold, nearing the average Russian indicator. From January 1, 2015, public employees’ pensions and salaries will be paid in full accordance with Russian legislation.

Colleagues, friends, right now, the long-term economic and social development challenges in Crimea and Sevastopol have particular significance. A corresponding federal programme has been drafted. The Cabinet and Prime Minister Medvedev are giving this a great deal of attention. The total amount of funds for the programme through 2020 is over 700 billion roubles.

Its main goal is to ensure dynamic growth in Crimea and Sevastopol, to make them economically self-sufficient and successful, to create new jobs, upgrade the infrastructure, industry, agro-industrial complex, social sector and tourist sector. I count on the State Duma deputies and the regions you represent to get actively involved in implementing these objectives and providing support to Crimea and Sevastopol.

The most important condition for success is maintaining stability, interethnic and interfaith harmony in the region. I already spoke about this yesterday at the Security Council meeting in Sevastopol. It is important to fully rehabilitate the repressed peoples and, what I feel is extremely important, to ensure real equality for three languages: Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar. Preserving and developing ethnic cultures and traditions of all peoples living here is an extremely important challenge.

Looking at history, I want to note the following. Crimea truly does hold a special place in the history of our nation, our Fatherland. The Crimean land also remembers our triumphs and our victories, but it also recalls the tragedy of the fratricidal Civil War and other woes. Here in Perekop, Russians killed other Russians while blinded by mutual hate, and over 150,000 compatriots were forced to leave their Fatherland at the end of 1920.

But Crimea’s legacy also includes the poet Maximilian Voloshin, who called for reconciliation during the years of the Civil War and provided shelter in his home to people from both sides of the conflict. In the last several months, I have received many letters from the descendants of those who left Russia after the revolution and the Civil War. They now live all around the world – in the US, Europe and Australia. They are everywhere!

But I must note – and I say this with respect and love for these people – their letters include words of support, belief in Russia, concern for the future of our nation and, of course, Crimea and Sevastopol. And these people have carried their love for the Fatherland over generations. This certainly calls for respect.

I feel that Crimea can serve as a unique bench mark even today; it can play a unique, unifying role for Russia, becoming its own sort of historical, spiritual source, another way of reconciliation, to finally cure the wound inflicted upon our people as a result of the dramatic split of the 20th century, to restore the link of times and eras, the unity of Russia’s historical path, our national consciousness, conduct our own kind of cultural and historical therapy. And let’s think about how to meet this objective together with participation by deputies, representatives of political party, public and religious organizations and cultural workers.


Colleagues, unfortunately, today we see how fraught the national and civil divide, radicalism and intolerance is in Ukraine. The situation becomes more dramatic with each passing day; the nation has plunged into bloody chaos and a fratricidal conflict. The southeast is suffering from a large-scale humanitarian crisis; thousands of people have already been killed and hundreds of thousands have become refugees, literally losing everything. It is a great tragedy.

We are carefully monitoring what is happening there, putting these questions before Ukraine’s leadership and the international community, as well as key international organizations, and we will do everything we can in order for this conflict to end as quickly as possible, so that the bloodshed in Ukraine comes to an end.

Response to sanctions

As you know, the Government of Russia has made the decision to limit imports from many nations that imposed entirely unfounded and unlawful sanctions on Russia. But I want to note that this is not just a retaliatory measure. This is, first and foremost, a measure for supporting Russian manufacturers as well as opening our markets to the nations and manufacturers that want to cooperate with Russia and are prepared for that kind of cooperation.

Strengthening Russia, traditional values

At the same time, regardless of the external political and economic situation, the most important thing for us right now, as always, are our internal affairs, our goals, concerns and objectives that are set before us by the people of Russia, the citizens of Russia. We must focus on resolving our national problems and challenges. Our future is only in your hands. We must ensure high-quality governance and work by political and civil institutions. And most importantly, we must provide high living standards for Russian citizens.

We must strengthen traditional values. Incidentally, many people support Russia in this choice – not only citizens of our nation, but many other nations around the world as well, including western countries where these values are deteriorating in the current political environment.

We must ensure the successful development of our nation, using our wealth of internal reserves. We must create additional incentives for industrial and agricultural development, conditions for developing the creative potential of Russian producers, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and workers.

This is what builds Russia’s competitiveness and its appeal. I repeat: we must calmly, commendably and effectively build our nation, not fencing it off from the outer world, not breaking ties with partners, but also not allowing them to treat us with disparagement or boss us around.

We must consolidate and mobilize. But not for wars or conflicts, not for countering anyone – rather, for hard work in the name of Russia and for Russia.

It is very important to strengthen the unity of Russian society. A great deal depends on you, colleagues, on the deputies, politicians and public leaders. It depends on how persuasive we are in conversations with our voters, our citizens, how decisive and insistent we are in implementing initiatives and projects that we announce. The citizens’ trust in public authorities is the key, the most important and most critical factor in our movement forward.

I want to thank you for our joint work during the previous period and wish you success. Thank you very much.



VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are approaching a very important moment (I mean in our activities in general) – in autumn, we will have to approve the budget. This is a complicated procedure, and usually results in a compromise between industries, between various spheres of life. Certain priority areas were mentioned here, and I share them overall, without any extreme views, but still. We also spoke of the need to further develop agriculture. The Prime Minister already said that, given the decisions to limit imports, we are not only creating preferential conditions for our agricultural producers and clearing out the market for them. I have to tell you, and there are people here who deal with this professionally, that as you may know we have been regularly hearing requests of late from our agricultural producers regarding the market: they are asking for a possibility to develop their own market on an adequate comprehensive basis. Now this opportunity is being given. Naturally, this is followed by yet another request – for financial help. This is a fair and proper question. I would like to repeat that we spoke about this with our colleagues in the Government, and they are working on an additional programme of support for agriculture.

Militarization of economy

Now regarding the militarization of our economy. As you may know, in the Soviet Union, we had complete militarisation. We need competent, modern, efficient and compact Armed Forces. This is the target of the programme until 2020. We are developing it in segments, but this is overall an ambitious goal and huge money – 20 trillion roubles [over $550 billion]. We need to properly spend the money, and I assure you that we are talking about the most sophisticated arms, such offensive and defensive systems that are as yet unavailable to other armies of the world. We are yet to cheer up our partners with ideas and their implementation – in terms of the systems I have just mentioned.

Some things have already been disclosed; say in the area of strategic offensive arms, I mean nuclear deterrence forces. Some information remains secret, but we will disclose it when the time comes. We are working hard, and our engineers, researchers and workers are putting a lot of effort into it. Overall, I have to say that we need to create it all first. This is not militarisation, but, as you understand, this is a very significant extra impulse for the development of the defence industry. This means orders and extra funding for modernization – the 3 trillion you all know about.

Foreign policy

Now regarding our foreign policy principles. It should remain peaceful. Mr Zhirinovsky [Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] said that the czar, instead of sending humanitarian aid to the Serbs, sent his army, though he quickly added that that was a mistake. You know, we should learn from others’ mistakes, not from our own. We have already made a lot of mistakes, and will make more, therefore let us at least try to avoid making the obvious mistakes. Though I have to agree with some of the speakers that all our partners in the world should see that Russia, just as any other large, powerful, sovereign state, has different tools for ensuring its national interests, and these include the Armed Forces and military equipment. However, this is not a cure-all and we do not intend to run around the world waving a razor blade, as some people do. Nevertheless, everyone should know that we have such means available.

Russia will not give up Crimea

Now about whether we will give it [Crimea] up. Mr Vasilyev [Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, leader of the United Russia faction] spoke here. How can we do that? This would be the same as giving ourselves up. This is impossible. The decision was made, and it is irrevocable.

I think it was Mr Mironov [leader of A Just Russia party faction] who spoke here of the military component in Crimea. I would like to inform you: the Defence Ministry has drafted both addenda to the arms programme and a separate programme for the creation and development of a military grouping in Crimea, and I have already approved this programme. It will not be excessive, it will not be costly. We will not have excessive personnel or arms here. However, this programme is an integral part of the overall development plan of our Armed Forces, including its territorial component.


Constitution, European Court of Human Rights, treaties

VLADIMIR PUTIN (responding to a statement by State Duma deputy from A Just Russia party Yelena Mizulina regarding certain amendments to the Constitution, possible withdrawal of Russia from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and possible denunciation of international treaties): Regarding amendments to the Constitution, you know what I think of this document, it holds together the entire country and all our lives. I think we should be very careful in our approach. We need to get a very detailed expert opinion in every case, and discuss all these issues with the public, but with great care.

We have a well-balanced document. It is like a living organism: if something is removed, something else might grow where we do not need it. Therefore, we need to show great care. This does not mean we have the text for all times and we should not consider ways to improve our Constitution. Of course, we can and should consider this. I am only calling on you to be very careful here.

Regarding the European Court of Human Rights. I agree that some of its resolutions are politicized and far from its initial purpose: it does not regulate legal relations and does not protect any rights; it simply executes some political functions.

A good example is when Russia was awarded some penalty regarding Transnistria [Dniester region]. We had nothing to do with it, a person was held in prison in Transnistria and Russia was awarded a penalty. This is total nonsense, an unlawful decision, but this is the way it was. Generally, this is possible, but for now, we have all sorts of discussions with them and maintain dialogue. However, if this practice continues, this is possible, but it is not on our agenda now.

Now regarding a mechanism for denouncing agreements and treaties. I am not sure we need any special mechanism. The United States simply unilaterally withdrew from the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement, and that was it, no matter how hard we tried to convince them. They proceeded from what they considered their national security interests. We will do the same when we find it right and important for the maintenance of our interests.


Crimea’s incorporation was will of people

VLADIMIR PUTIN (responding to a statement by State Duma deputy Leonid Kalashnikov of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation): You have briefly mentioned the problem. Naturally, since we are here, in Crimea, this is what I can say. I actually said this many times before, but I will use this opportunity to repeat that we never annexed Crimea. We did use our Armed Forces, but only to give the people living here the opportunity to express their views regarding their future. This may have been the first time such a comprehensive plebiscite was ever held here, a comprehensive referendum on issues vital for the people living here. Therefore, any mention of illegal action is nonsense. We simply asked the people what they wanted. What is this if not democracy? What is democracy if not the power and the opinion of the people? Therefore, all these accusations are groundless. But this is so.

Medium and short-range missiles

Now over to medium and short-range missiles. A reasonable question. Why? We signed this agreement with the United States. Only Russia and the United States limit themselves in the production and possible use of these weapons. However, this does not really make any difference to the United States. They have friendly Canada on one side, Mexico on the other. Our situation is completely different. Only our two states do not develop, do not produce medium-range missiles. Meanwhile, North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, Pakistan, India, Israel, Iran – almost all the countries in the world are working on this type of weapons. So, the development of these missiles in China or India does not cause any concern to us, because these are friendly states and I am certain that the relations we have established with China and India will last, bearing in mind the peculiarities of international relations and prospects for their development. However, the development of this class of missiles, say, in Pakistan cannot but raise our alarm because, frankly speaking, we know that this country has a complicated and so far unstable political regime, unfortunately, and we do not know how the situation will develop and who will have control over these weapons, especially considering that this is a nuclear power. There are many other questions as well regarding other countries. Meanwhile, we have imposed a limit on ourselves. But we are of course considering this and analysing the situation. We are now quite capable of ensuring our own security with the systems we have got and the ones we are working on. However, this was not an idle inquiry.

US Afghan transit, food import ban

Regarding the Afghan transit. Should we denounce corresponding agreements with the United States? As you may know, there was a lot of talk about the possible use of the airfield in Ulyanovsk, wasn’t there? I know that your party, the Communist Party was strongly opposed to this. However, nothing happened and it is not used. Zero use. This is one thing.

The other is that we should never follow the principle of harming ourselves simply out of spite. We are interested in stability in Afghanistan. So, if some countries, say the NATO states, or the United States are investing resources, including money into this – it is their choice, but it does not run counter to our interests. So why should we stop them?

Do you want us to get into war there again? No, I do not believe anybody wants this. Therefore, if we see any unlawful actions regarding this country, we consider them and look for ways to respond. However, our response should not harm us; it should only be beneficial for us. The way we are acting now and the way the Government is acting in connection with the limitations of food imports. Exactly!

You see, if this happened four years ago we would not have done so, because our agricultural producers were not ready to supply the required products to our markets. A decade ago, we imported 360,000 tons of poultry from the United States. Last year, as far as I remember, the figure was only 200. This is because we have managed to set up such poultry raising facilities that even Europe does not have – wonderful, modern and efficient.

We have significantly raised the production of so-called ‘red meat’, primarily pork. However, we have not yet reached the required rates of beef production, because the production cycle there is longer. Say, with pork it is about 5-6 years after capital investment, while with beef, the cycle is 8-12 years, and it requires greater investment. Therefore, we only need some time.

Nevertheless, we are ready to supply to the domestic market enough products of adequate quality to meet at least the basic demand. Today we made the move. I cannot say it is catastrophic for our partners, but rather painful. I believe our actions are justified.

First, we did not violate any WTO rules or any of our commitments to the WTO. They are now considering taking us to courts; I am not sure if they have formulated their claims yet, but when we joined the WTO we clearly wrote in our agreement that we have the right to introduce limitations if this has to do with the national security. After western states – the USA, Europe, Australia, Canada, Norway – introduced limitations, including financial limitations on the activity of Rosselkhozbank [Russian Agricultural Bank] – now, what does this bank have to do, say, with our disagreements over Ukraine?

They limited this bank’s access to international lending institutions. Thereby they are actually creating more favourable conditions for their products on our domestic market; therefore, our response was absolutely justified. This is not only about Rosselkhozbank; Sberbank [Savings Bank], VTB and others are providing significant funds for agriculture.

Therefore, our actions are a) legal, b) justified and c) are not detrimental, but beneficial to our economy and our producers. These are the kind of tools we should look for, the kind of actions we should take – ones that would not do us any harm. We may want to pinch someone hard, but if it can harm us – we should better not. Let us follow this principle.


International trade, moving away from the dollar

VLADIMIR PUTIN (responding to a statement by State Duma Deputy from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Ilya Drozdov): Regarding selling energy resources for roubles. I believe this would be the right thing to do, and we should work in this direction. The point is that this is not easy.

Say, crude oil is traded at international stock exchanges for dollars. This is an international practice that took shape decades ago, and it is very difficult to break. Moreover, our companies engaged in this trade are interested in receiving euros or dollars. Oil is traded only in dollars. This is a kind of unilateral dollar monopoly on this trade. In my opinion, it is detrimental to this very sector of the global economy itself. We have to move carefully here. We are already trying to reach agreements wherever it is possible, feasible and meets our interests to trade in commodities, which could include energy resources, in national currencies. Say, we are working on an agreement with the People’s Republic of China to trade in roubles and yuans – not an easy process. This should be done gradually, step by step. We are taking the first steps.

We are discussing the issue of trade in various commodities within BRICS as well. We have even signed a corresponding agreement on expanding trade in national currencies. I repeat that this is a matter of time and major efforts by experts. We will do this gradually, while it is a fact that we need to shift to trade in national currencies in certain segments of the global market.

Now about the quality of our agricultural produce. Of course, it is better, 100 per cent. Unfortunately, mass food production in many industrially developed countries is largely based on the use of chemicals, on medicines that they give to cattle to keep it healthy, and the various growth stimulators: the faster your cattle grows the faster your turnover and the more money you can make. But this is harmful.

Look at the situation with obesity in some countries. It is terrible! This has to do with food. Our produce is of course much better and healthier. The issue is that there should be enough of it. As I already said, the production cycle, say, of beef is longer and requires significant investment. We are already doing this, we already have large facilities and we will develop them.

I already spoke about the development of relations within BRICS. We have just signed two very important documents in Brazil: on setting up a joint bank and on creating a currency reserve pool. This is very important. These are only the first steps. The bank is a financial institution that should be used to develop our economies, and the currency reserve pool is of equal importance.

This means that Russia, China, Brazil, South Africa and India should all allocate part of their currency reserves to this pool. Russia suggested allocating $30 billion. This is done for various reasons, primarily to strengthen macroeconomic stability in these countries, including Russia. Another goal is to maintain our currency reserves intact.

Our colleagues have already spoken of this here. I would like to stress that this is very important. For instance, Mr Zhirinovsky spoke here, among other things, of the huge national debt of the United States, and this is the dollar – the main currency in the world. What will happen to it? I am certain our American partners do not know for sure, to say nothing of the other countries. Our currency reserves are nominated largely in US dollars. Therefore, the creation of a reserve currency pool is a very important measure.

Alcohol and tobacco

Now over to some products you mentioned: tobacco and alcohol. We should fight alcoholism among the population, and we should limit smoking. However, this should not be done the way it was done back in Soviet times, when in the course of the anti-alcohol campaign they cut down entire vineyards, here in Crimea most probably, and in Krasnodar Territory they destroyed all the vines. Did this help reduce alcoholism? I do not think so.

People started drinking methylated spirits, they distilled their own ‘moonshine’, and so on. There is no simple solution here. This requires a complex effort. We have to promote a healthy lifestyle and develop sports – not only big sports, but mass sports as well. We should always offer people an alternative. And we should be just as careful with fighting smoking.

If we simply raise prices (we often discuss this with the Government, you seem to have supporters there who suggest raising excise duty 5 or 10 times) people will not smoke less if we do it in one click. They will simply switch to all sorts of substitutes, that is all. We need to work towards this goal calmly and steadily, explaining things to people, and if we do raise excise duty, we should do it gradually.

Assurances to foreign investors

As for foreign investment, I do not agree with you at all here. We have to create such conditions in Russia that both foreign and our own investors get a clear signal: they do not cheat in Russia. If an individual or a company decides to invest, they should be certain that nobody would take their investment away, that it is guaranteed by our state policy.

I call on all of you to take on such an attitude to this issue, because this is the only way we can increase trust in our economy and attract all the investment we need not only into tobacco or alcohol production, but into other sectors of the economy as well. It only takes one wrong signal in a certain sector of the economy to get a negative impact on all the others. However, this does not mean we should not fight smoking. This can be done by means of a tax policy, by means of explanations and certain limitations – all of this is possible. We need to consider it all calmly and professionally.

Regarding the ban on energy drinks. You know, I share your position. Though I do not want it to sound as though we intend to ban them all tomorrow, I would be a bit more proactive in this respect than we have been so far.


Trade with US and EU, reserves, taxation

VLADIMIR PUTIN (responding to a statement by State Duma deputy from United Russia party Andrey Makarov): Concerning the pressure exerted [on Russia] by the economic measures you mentioned, these measures are indeed very primitive and in my opinion ineffective and harmful. I agree with you that they pursue the goal of ensuring and maintaining US global domination, and perhaps they even seek to consolidate their competitive advantage on global markets by squeezing us out a bit from the European market and pulling Europe a bit closer their way.

As our colleagues have noted already, our bilateral trade with the United States comes to slightly more than $27 billion, but our bilateral trade with Europe comes to $440 billion. You see the difference? Any changes in these relations have an immediate impact on us and on the Europeans, but have practically no impact at all on the United States. In this respect, your analysis of the situation is entirely correct.

I want to point out that the Government is constantly drafting and implementing economic stimulus measures. We can debate about what hasn’t been addressed yet and what still needs to be done, but if you look at all of the Government’s proposals, you will see that practically all of our policies aim to stimulate the economy.

Our recent infrastructure development plans are a good example, including in the east of Russia, the plans to modernize the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian railways and so on, or the new ring road in the Moscow Region. All of these measures aim to free up the bottlenecks in the economy caused by lack of infrastructure. These are also stimulus measures. The entire programme to support the agriculture sector is a stimulus measure too.

Yes, during the 2008-2009 economic crisis we took measures of an even clearer nature, directly supporting, for example, the automotive industry so that it would not collapse like a house of cards. But that was in the middle of a serious crisis. It probably would not be the best course to act in this same way now, because we would risk creating disincentives for building up the base for companies to develop on their own resources. But I do agree that we need to keep reflecting on measures to stimulate growth.

You asked what I think about raising taxes and spending our reserves. I am not in favour of either. I would rather not raise taxes or spend our reserves. But the fact that the Finance Ministry and the Economic Development Ministry are always arguing with each other about the need to either raise taxes or dip into the reserves is just part of normal professional discussion. I do not want to waste everyone’s time here by going deeper into this issue now. But let me assure you that we are giving these matters our constant attention.

Back in the days of ancient Rome there was a senator who declared that Carthage must be destroyed, and he always ended all his speeches that way. We are exactly the same in that we always end up arguing about whether or not to spend our reserves, whether or not to raise taxes, and what exactly the tax manoeuvre is about: just idle talk, or would they lead to a real increase in the tax burden on the economy?

I would rather not raise the tax burden or eat into the reserves, but it would be wrong to just sit on a sack of money and do nothing at all. No one can accuse us of doing nothing, however. I already mentioned the big infrastructure projects to develop the eastern regions, for example. We will finance these projects with money from the Reserve Fund. The Reserve Fund is our safety cushion, but we also need to keep it at a certain level. It would be the wrong course, however, to keep these funds in foreign securities alone. We have heard criticism on this point, and if anyone thinks that we do not pay attention to this criticism, they are wrong. We are taking appropriate steps in response.

On the subject of a tax amnesty, the idea looks quite attractive in principle. We did carry out such an amnesty a few years ago. But the effect was not what we had hoped for, and that is the whole problem. We have to be very cautious when it comes to tax amnesties or any other kind of amnesty, otherwise someone commits a crime, serves half their sentence, and then there’s an amnesty, and a year later there’s another amnesty, and then another. Taking this road would only cancel out the state authorities’ efforts to combat crime. It is the same when it comes to tax amnesties.

People happily evade taxes and then along comes an amnesty, and three years’ later there’s another amnesty. I am not saying an amnesty is impossible. In principle, if the issue is analysed at the expert level, and if the State Duma examines it and ultimately takes a legislative decision, I would sign the law. But we need to think about the expediency of such a measure too. We need to look at its effectiveness, examine things from this angle. That is what I am trying to say.



VLADIMIR PUTIN (responding to a statement by State Duma deputy from A Just Russia party Svetlana Goryacheva): Regarding the idea of studying and applying other countries’ experience, including in work with young people, we most certainly should and will do this. But there is a lot of negative experience abroad too, a lot of problems with drug addiction, often xenophobia flourishing, and various other things, not so traditional things… You know the sort of thing I have in mind. We don’t need that kind of experience. But they have positive experience too of course. We need to analyse the overall situation and take the best of what they can offer, that is without question. We also need to take the best of what our own history offers, draw on our own culture, and at the same time look at what other countries are doing too.

When it comes to foreign experience with migrants, say, there is nothing worth borrowing abroad. They have nothing but problems and even worse than our own. They have already publicly declared the failure of the policies they have been following so far, publicly said that they don’t work. This is a unique situation for the Western establishment. Just five or so years ago, no one could have imagined anyone would be so bold as to say such a thing. Now they are not just talking about it but are trying to address the problem. Their attempts have been very clumsy so far.

We have more positive experience to draw on here because Russia developed right from the start as a country of many ethnicities and faiths. We have a tradition not just of coexistence but also of interpenetration of cultures and religions. This is a very important historical background that we certainly should put to good use. Nearly 10 per cent of Russia’s population are Muslims, for example, but these are not migrants, these are our citizens, they have no other homeland and most of them see Russia as their greater motherland. They have their own local native land, and then there is their big home, Russia. We must not allow discrimination of any sort. But at the same time, we also need to learn how to regulate local employment markets using modern methods.

You noted the sectors in which immigrants or migrants are particularly prominent: the construction sector, produce markets and so on. Of course, we need to open schools of different levels, and vocational colleges, and we must give young people the opportunity to get an education. This is all needed. But we also require other measures, too, to regulate the labour markets. In the construction sector, for example, if business finds it more profitable to hire a migrant for a cheap wage, you won’t get anywhere even if you send a policeman to watch over every company. They will still keep hiring migrants, you see? This is why we need to take rational economic measures, but coming up with the right policies is not so easy.

Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin proposed extending the permit system and making it more flexible, adapting it to each of the country’s regions so as to give us economic means and levers for influencing the business community’s hiring practices. The permit would have one cost in Moscow, for example, and a different cost in Ryazan, say. We would need to give the regions the right to be flexible in regulating and using this system.

Let’s try introducing this system and see if it brings some results. But let me appeal to you, colleagues, and say that if you have your own ideas, we would be happy to hear your proposals on the modern and civilized methods we could use to better regulate this very sensitive area. I do agree with you here.


Colleagues, I want to thank you once more for the work together over the first six months of the year, and for today’s meeting. I wanted very much for us to have the chance to meet in an informal setting here in Crimea. Your colleagues from Crimea’s parliament and Sevastopol’s legislative assembly came to Moscow during those decisive days that I already mentioned. I imagine that many of you have already been to Crimea, but probably not all, and I wanted all of you to come here, spend some time looking around, talk with people, get a feel of the atmosphere, breathe the air, and have an opportunity to see Crimea and Sevastopol.

Everything becomes a lot clearer, a lot fresher and more vivid, when you see and hear it for yourself, and this first hand impression of these regions will help us to respond better to the problems that have built up here and take more considered decisions on issues in areas such as transport, energy, water supply and any other problems.

One other thought that I want to mention with respect to Crimea, something that we have already heard here. We hear some people say that it is an expensive undertaking [to support Crimea], and people ask how does public opinion in Russia feel about this?

Crimea and Sevastopol are part of Russia, and so it is therefore absolutely natural to develop our country and develop its individual regions. We do this for the people living in these regions, and also for the entire country. This is not some kind of gift, but our duty, our obligation to develop all of Russia’s regions.

If a particular region is lagging behind, we must give it more attention. We do this for the Far East, for example, and we have not changed our plans in this respect. We do this for some of the regions in the south of Russia, and here too our plans remain unchanged.

We need to take this same special approach now to Crimea and Sevastopol because they lag behind the Russian Federation average in terms of their socioeconomic development. But we are doing this in the interest of the entire nation.

Thank you very much.

Source: President of the Russian Federation website, Moscow, in English 0840 gmt 18 Aug 14

Pakistan’s Moscow option

Kashmir Monitor (India) | August 18, 2014

Srinagar, Aug. 18 — SINCE independence, Pakistan’s relations with Moscow have been mostly adversarial. Pakistan was America’s "most allied ally". India aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Moscow’s veto in the UN Security Council to block Kashmiri self-determination, the U2 flight from Peshawar, Soviet support in 1971 for India’s war to dismember Pakistan and Islamabad’s collaboration with the US in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan punctuated the hostile relationship.

Although the hostility slowly dissipated after the collapse of the Soviet Union, friendship eluded Moscow and Islamabad, for several reasons: Russia’s continuing defence relationship with India, Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban – and by extension their Chechen and Uzbek associates -Moscow’s alignment with the Northern Alliance and Pakistan’s post 9/11 alliance with the US.

However, the new ‘Cold War’ in Europe, ignited by the Ukraine crisis, has profound strategic implications not only for Europe but also for other ‘theatres’ where Russia’s interests and objectives intersect with those of the US and Europe. Sino-Russian relations have become dramatically closer. Moscow is reasserting its role in the Middle East. It is also likely to do so in East and South Asia.

Pakistan-Russia relations have been evolving in positive directions during recent months. Pakistan is acting against Central Asian terrorists. As India has moved closer to the US, Russia has warmed to Pakistan. The closer Sino-Russian relationship has reinforced this trend. There are clear recent signs that Moscow is now open to substantive security collaboration with Pakistan. Russia’s aims are: to secure Pakistan’s cooperation to stabilise Afghanistan, combat Chechen and Central Asian terrorist groups present in the region, compensate for India’s tilt towards America and thereby retain leverage in New Delhi.

There are many areas where mutually beneficial cooperation can be promoted between Islamabad and Moscow.

There are a number of areas where mutually beneficial cooperation can be promoted between Islamabad and Moscow.

Afghanistan: Over the past year, quiet talks between Pakistan, China and Russia have been under way to consider ways to stabilise Afghanistan. Russia’s old relationship with the Northern Alliance and influence with Iran; Pakistan’s influence with the Pakhtuns and the Afghan Taliban; and China’s FINANCIAL and economic capacity can be a powerful combination to promote reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan as the US disengages from that country.

Indo-Pakistan: As India’s major defence partner and a member of BRICS, Moscow continues to enjoy considerable, if reduced, influence in India despite New Delhi’s tilt towards the US. Russia desires Indo-Pakistan normalisation to prevent a disastrous conflict, limit American influence and develop new avenues for energy, TRADE and industrial cooperation with the South Asian region. Given the new global political alignments, Moscow’s mediation between India and Pakistan could be more even-handed and effective than the skewed policies presently pursued by Washington.

Defence: Russia’s defence industry is still among the best in the world. Moscow may now be willing to lift its self-imposed embargo on defence supplies to Pakistan. The dimensions of such cooperation will depend considerably on Pakistan’s ability to pay for defence equipment and, to a lesser extent, on the vigour of New Delhi’s anticipated objections.

Oil and gas: Russia is the world’s largest producer of oil and gas. The expertise of Russia’s Rosneft and Gazprom can contribute significantly to developing Pakistan’s oil and gas potential, onshore and offshore. Western sanctions have enhanced the incentive of these giant Russian companies to find new frontiers of cooperation.

Gas supplies: In the wake of the Western embargoes, Russia is looking for alternate MARKETS for its abundant gas production. Its $400 billion gas deal with China has been the most prominent response. Moscow is also interested in building gas supply routes to India and Pakistan. Russian gas could be added to supplies from the proposed TAPI pipeline. New pipelines can be built to Pakistan and India through China. Russia’s Gazprom could also help in executing the projected Iranian gas pipeline to Pakistan (and India).

Nuclear reactors: So far, Russia has refused to supply nuclear power reactors to Pakistan due to the restrictions imposed by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group on non-members of the NPT – with the significant exception of India. It is possible that in the new strategic circumstances, and in exchange for appropriate safeguards, Russia, like China, may consider the sale of nuclear power plants to Pakistan, especially if India acquires its new plants from the US.

TRADE: If Afghanistan can be stabilised, it would open the way for expanded TRADEbetween Pakistan, Central Asia and Russia. While Pakistan requires Russian oil, gas and industrial products, Pakistan can be a competitive source of agricultural and textile goods to Russia. Pakistan could also offer Russia trade access to India in exchange for its help in normalising Pakistan-India ties.

Industrialisation: Russia retains some of the industrial prowess of the Soviet Union. It can modernise the Soviet-supplied Pakistan Steel Mills. Similar cooperation can be pursued in a number of ‘high-tech’ sectors, such as biotechnology, aviation and space, where Russia possesses competitive capabilities.

In some areas – such as Afghanistan, Indo-Pakistan normalisation and counterterrorism – the objectives of the US and its allies are convergent with Russia’s. In other areas – energy, defence, nuclear generation – opposition can be expected from the West to Pakistan-Russian cooperation. India may also object, although its opposition may not be decisive.

While Pakistan no longer requires, nor is likely to receive, US arms supplies or nuclear power plants, its ability to resist Western objections to cooperation with Moscow could be constrained by its FINANCIAL and trade dependence on the West. Pakistan’s financial stress may also restrict its ability to pay for Russian supplies of defence and other equipment.

Pakistan needs to identify realistic goals for its new relationship with Russia, evolve sustainable ways to minimise its financial vulnerability (including greater financial integration with China) and deploy adroit diplomacy to capitalise on the emerging global and regional strategic realities. Of course, while its politicians squabble on the streets, adding to the country’s turbulence, it is difficult for Pakistan to devise well-considered policies to exploit the Moscow option or other strategic opportunities.

Inside Vladimir Putin’s Mind: Looking Back in Anger

Nina L. Khrushcheva
World Affairs | July/August 2014


“Civilians are dying . . . in South Ossetia . . . the majority of them are citizens of the Russian federation. . . . We will not leave unpunished the deaths of our compatriots. The guilty parties have brought upon themselves the punishment they deserved.” This announcement about the invasion of Georgia’s territory came from then Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in August 2008. Medvedev was firm, citing the Russian Constitution and federal law, but while it was his lips moving, the words were clearly those of Vladimir Putin.

Medvedev, just installed in the Kremlin as a trusted flunky, was fighting Putin’s war on a personal as well as a political level. Mikheil Saakashvili, the tall and flamboyant pro-Western president of Georgia, had once called Putin a “LilliPutin,” an insult that the five-foot-seven Russian strongman never forgave.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, one comparison still cannot be overlooked in addressing Putin’s vindictiveness, and that is to Joseph Stalin. No one cherished a vendetta more than he; no one inspired more terror in the hearts of those who feared they had offended him. But Putin, while not quite in Stalin’s league in this regard, is also hands-on in the fate of his political opponents. Mikhail Khodorkovsky of the now defunct oil company Yukos, who challenged Putin’s presidential ambitions in the early 2000s, and Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the band Pussy Riot, who in 2012 sang an anti-Putin punk prayer, all spent time in prison as a result.

Ukraine is also an example of how the political is personal for Putin. In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev, my great-grandfather, transferred its jurisdiction from Russia to Ukraine, both republics within the USSR. Many Russians have been upset about it ever since. Yet Putin did something about it not only to right what his fellow citizens consider a historical wrong but also because he felt the Ukrainian people had insulted him personally. In February, they dared to oust President Viktor Yanukovich, his man in Kyiv.

Never mind that already some half a century ago, in his 1956 Secret Speech, Khrushchev unmasked Stalin’s paranoid version of communism—a prison state with sealed international borders, driven by militant industrialization. All these years, Putin has managed to employ similarly extreme Stalinesque tactics to build Putinism. As Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Lilia Shevtsova wrote in the American Interest in April, “Russia’s actions with respect to Ukraine are part of the Kremlin’s preventive doctrine, which seeks to ensure the survival of autocratic rule by restoring militarism and a fortress mentality in Russia.”

However, Marx’s dictum that history repeats first as tragedy and then as farce is not quite true today. Putin’s Russia is tragedy and farce all at once. And while a leader who parades his naked man-boobs in the Siberian wilderness can barely be taken seriously, the man who starts wars only to halt them when convenient, and who sends opponents to prison and unexpectedly pardons them years later, must unfortunately be watched quite seriously.

Putin is not, Stalin of course. Not only because Stalin was incomparably more brutal and deadly in his tactics, but also because his goal, as perverse as it may appear today, was to better the future. In Putin’s case, there is nothing visionary in his approach. It is all about the past.

When Pussy Riot’s Alekhina and Tolokonnikova went to the Sochi Olympics in February to speak against the Kremlin human rights abuses, they were attacked by the Cossacks, the unofficial nationalist army, who also claim that to bring Ukraine, the whole Ukraine, into the Russian fold by any means possible is their patriotic duty.

These Cossacks, fanatical descendants of Catherine the Great’s ruthless watchmen, stand for the outdated feudal traditions of the eighteenth century in which Putinism has sought its legitimacy. They may seem similar to the colorful Swiss Guard of the Vatican or the red-and-black Beefeaters protecting the Tower of London, but the Cossacks, in their black capes and tall lamb-fur hats, administer beatings and start violent clashes rather than merely provide a ceremonial presence.

Putin maintains that Russia’s problem today is not that we, the Russians, lack a vision for the future but that we have stopped being proud of our past, our Russian-ness, our difference from the West. “When we were proud all was great,” he said at the Valdai International Discussion Club meeting last September. While he may bemoan the death of the Soviet state, Putin’s search for greatness extends even further back in history, to Byzantine statehood.

Byzantium, the Eastern Roman Empire, which ruled over south and eastern parts of what is now Europe in the first millennium, also attacked Western decadence and hypocrisy and touted its own spiritual superiority. When its capital, Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), crumbled under the encroaching Ottoman Empire in 1453, Russia declared itself the Byzantine successor, a belief Putin has put back into vogue today.

In 2007, Nikolai Patrushev, at the time the Russian minister of internal security, insisted—in all seriousness—that the Byzantine-turned-Russian princess Sophia Palaiologina (ca. 1455–1503) had interpreted national security as uniting Russian lands and protecting them from the West’s meddling. Russia should follow in her footsteps, he suggested, by increasing its military might (and indeed it did, stepping up military spending by 4.8 percent over the next five years).

Why is Putin’s idea of going back to the future attractive to Russians? More to the point, why doesn’t Russia follow the West in competing internationally with soft power rather than military hardware?

It is the Gulag of our own minds.

This gulag does not even need barbed wire to keep us penned in as prisoners. We are our own guards, overeager participants in clinging to and reinventing our self-perception of a Great Nation—an empire of enormous size, of almost seven million square miles and nine time zones stretching from Germany to Japan, a land of riches and international influence superior to any other in the world.

With Stalin’s current popularity at almost fifty percent, despite the fact that he killed at least twenty-five million during his Kremlin tenure from 1922 to 1953, and with Putin’s approval rating recently hitting eighty percent, how can Russia be regarded as anything other than a mental prison?

With the talents of our people we should be able to export more than just guns and gas. Those who travel to Russia know that Korkunov candy can take on its Swiss competition, and Miracle yogurt and Village Hut milk put Danone and Chobani to shame.

But our problem is that our idea of greatness doesn’t involve such small stuff. It is extreme, everything or nothing. That’s why Stalinism worked. It offered people a cause greater than themselves; they were told they were saving humanity from the greedy clutches of imperialism through their personal sacrifice. In Russia—because of its large size and its communal religion of Eastern Christianity (whose idea of creating a paradise for all communism savagely parodied)—people want to feel bigger than their private lives, and so the state always comes first.

Even the Sochi Olympics, designed as an attempt at soft power, turned into a desperate attempt to achieve victory. The original idea was to show that Russia was a successful nation up to the task of hosting a first-rate international event even in its remote corners (Sochi is eight hundred and fifty miles southeast of Moscow). But because of the Western media predictions that the games could be threatened by problems, such as attacks by Islamic fundamentalists from the nearby North Caucasus or malfunctions of hastily constructed sporting venues, the Russian press covered the Olympics as if it were a replay of World War II. Athletes were seen as soldiers defending the Motherland; it was Russia against everyone else.

Carrying off the Olympics could have led to an even greater display of soft power at the Group of 8 summit in June. But instead of going for this parlay, Putin immediately veered into Crimea, as if returning the peninsula into the Russian fold was an epic addition to the thirty-three medals the country had just won.

Was scoring patriotic popularity points with his nationals worth alienating the West and turning Ukrainians into enemies for years to come? According to Shevtsova’s “Preventive Doctrine” theory, it is. “One of the key premises of the doctrine stems from the fact that Russia is entering a period of economic recession,” Shevtsova writes in her American Interest article. “This recession has advanced beyond the point at which it could be either dismissed or ignored, and it was running the risk of generating a crisis that the regime would be unable to prevent. The Kremlin team understands this; it hopes to restore militarism before Russians start taking to the streets.”

Making a nation rally round the flag has been a policy that worked for governments for centuries all around the globe. Putin’s annexation of Crimea fits this mold, but its consequences were more dangerous than those of the average wag-the-dog adventure.

The Russian president believes he can act with impunity. And why not? The West had swallowed his Georgian war in 2008, in which he grabbed South Ossetia along with another republic, Abkhazia, and made them de facto Russian territory. Ukraine should be no different, Putin thought. The nations have had even closer ties than Russia had with the pieces of Georgia he peeled away. Ukraine and Russia share a common heritage—Kievan Russia of the 800s. In an independence dispute between, say, Scots and Brits, Russia wouldn’t have a say, so it’s not the West’s business to take Ukraine out of Putin’s traditional sphere of influence.

In 1962, the US exercised its Monroe Doctrine—viewing other nations’ interference in American affairs throughout the Western Hemisphere as acts of aggression—to confront Nikita Khrushchev’s sending rockets to Cuba. Crimea was Putin’s own Monroe Doctrine in action, a doctrine given added force by the sense of victimhood on which it rests.

On April 17th, Putin defined the Russian (and his own) psyche in a televised four-hour-long conversation with the nation: “We are less pragmatic than other people, less calculating. But then we have a more generous heart. Perhaps this reflects the greatness of our country, its vast size.”

A month earlier, in the Crimean annexation speech, he explained how this wonderful and trusting character was maliciously betrayed: “Russia strived to engage in dialogue with our colleagues in the West. We are constantly proposing cooperation on all key issues; we want to strengthen our level of trust and for our relations to be equal, open, and fair. But we saw no reciprocal steps.”

Another famous dictum states that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Putin’s mind has fermented, as Stalin’s did (and, regrettably, Khrushchev’s; at home I often heard that the stubborn Khrushchev of the Cuban Missile Crisis was no longer the reformist Khrushchev of the Secret Speech), during the time he has been the Kremlin’s ruler. Fourteen years ago, stepping into the Russian leadership role, Putin had different, more hopeful ideas. Interviewed by David Frost on the BBC in March 2000, when he was a presidential candidate, Putin insisted that “Russia is part of the European culture. And I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and what we often call the civilized world. So it is hard for me to visualize NATO as an enemy.”

Eager to sit at the Western table, Putin became buddies with then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom he saw five times in 2000, thus announcing Russia’s European orientation. George W. Bush joined this circle of friends a few years later, when he memorably looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his soul. Both religious Christians, the two leaders struck a bond.

The friendship was short-lived. In 2002, Bush and Blair took into NATO seven countries, including the Baltic states. Because he was ignored in this historical reshuffling, Putin felt personally betrayed. As Blair candidly admitted in his memoir, “Vladimir later came to believe that the Americans did not give him his due place.”

The grievance has festered, as Putin showed in the Crimea speech with almost surprising openness: “They have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the East, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders.”

Speaking to Time magazine in 2007, Putin was already lamenting that Russia’s “generous heart” was misunderstood and that instead of empathy there was “a purposeful attempt by some to create an image of Russia” in which Russians “are a little bit savage still or they just climbed down from the trees, you know, and probably need to have . . . the dirt washed out of their beards and hair.”

This humiliation notwithstanding, in 2008 he was still willing to give the West a chance to acknowledge his democratic efforts when he installed Dmitri Medvedev as president. He could have amended the Constitution after his second term to allow himself an indefinite presidency, but he continued to care about the world’s opinion then. In a few short months, the August Georgian war would change that, shattering forever Putin’s hope to be accepted by the West as equal.

What Putin saw as the double standards of this nasty little war confirmed his paranoia. The pro-Western yet unstable President Saakashvili of Georgia recklessly (but not without Russian provocation, mind you) bombed Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. However, he was deemed a hero, while the Kremlin was seen as a villain for defending the Russian nationals in Ossetian territory.

Vice President Dick Cheney expressed America’s “solidarity with the Georgian people . . . in the face of this threat to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and lectured Putin on the “Russian aggression [that] must not go unanswered.” And that was Cheney, who started his own reckless wars, with no regard for the international outcry against the United States’ almost unilateral invasion of Iraq in 2003.

From then on Putin has been firm in his conviction that the US continually advances its own agenda—“use slogans of spreading democracy . . . to gain unilateral advantages and ensure their own interests.” Just during his fourteen years in power, he, indeed, can cite not only the Iraq War but widespread, invasive National Security Agency spying and the American drone program. In his mind, Russia must be able to pursue its own interests in the same way.

Yet for all the West’s inconsistency and even hypocrisy, since the 1991 Soviet collapse we have (for the most part) lived in the world of comfort and civility, not ideological fervor and militant rejection of legal and economic institutions. On a larger scale, this has benefited all. Putin’s Russia will never be able to make the same claim.

Even if his regime succeeded in becoming the new Byzantium by patriotically ignoring the isolation falling like night all around it (and also somehow curtailing all Western influences in its domain), the result would mean the end of Russia as we know it. Putin may be able to turn his post–Cold War grievances into a new Cold War patriotic nationalism, which may even allow him to hold on to power for a while. This ideology, however, offers no future, no constructive formula, no human benefits. It is time to dust off George Kennan’s 1946 views on how to deal with the Soviet Union and apply them to the new Russia, the militant yet victimized Un-West that the country has mutated into in the Putin years. But this will be a challenge unless the United States, too, returns to what Kennan called “the American principles,” to what has always been America’s strength—“the power of example.”

Nina L. Khrushcheva teaches international affairs at the New School in New York City and is the author, most recently, of The Lost Khrushchev: A Journey into the Gulag of the Russian Mind.

Did Vladimir Putin call the breakup of the USSR ‘the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century?’

Tampa Bay Times | March 6th, 2014

Says Vladimir Putin once said, "The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century."
John Bolton on Monday, March 3rd, 2014 in comments on Fox News Channel

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s handling of the uprising in Ukraine is not surprising if you look at telling comments he made years ago, says former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations turned conservative television pundit John Bolton.

A Fox News host asked Bolton if he agreed with Ukraine’s prime minister who said the country is "on the brink of disaster." Bolton, who served at the U.N. during George W. Bush’s time in the White House, said it seemed pretty accurate.

"I think Putin knows that he has the high cards, militarily, economically and politically, and he’s prepared to use them," Bolton said. "He gave us notice of his strategy seven or eight years ago when he said, in what is now one of the most frequently repeated quotes from his leadership in Russia, when he said, ‘The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.’

"It’s clear he wants to re-establish Russian hegemony within the space of the former Soviet Union. Ukraine is the biggest prize, that’s what he’s after. The occupation of the Crimea is a step in that direction."

We wanted to know if Bolton correctly characterized Putin’s comments. We reached out to Bolton through his political action committee and the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a senior fellow, but did not hear back.

Putin’s 2005 speech to Russians

Putin, a veteran of the Soviet spy agency called the KGB, made the comments Bolton cites in an April 2005 state of the nation address to the country’s top politicians and parliament. A version is available in English from the Kremlin archives. Putin’s words vary depending on the translation, but the idea remains the same.

From the Kremlin:

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

The Associated Press translation is a little differently, subbing "catastrophe" for "disaster," and calling the breakup the "greateast geopolitical catastrophe of the century."

That language is a little more in line with what Bolton said. Whatever the word choice, it’s clear Putin believed there were problems created by the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Putin, who had revived some Soviet iconography as president, focused the rest of his speech on developing Russia as a free and democratic country, though he promised to be tough on popular uprisings inspired by surrounding countries. His speech came as President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered public skepticism of the country’s "managed democracy," leading Putin to declare Russia would "independently determine" its definition of democracy.

Still, it was his lament for the dissolved Soviet Union that dominated news coverage.

The remark was alarming to westerners, illustrating a deep contrast in perspectives of an event that many consider a glorious moment in time, said Dina Spechler, an Indiana University associate professor of political science who teaches Soviet and Russian foreign policy.

Spechler said she did not find a problem with Bolton’s characterization, though she added Putin does not want a return of Soviet-era economic centralization.

"I think it’s quite legitimate and fair, and it’s been true for some time now that Putin wants to re-establish Russian hegemony," Spechler said. "He calls it an area of primary Russian interest — making sure that these countries remain loyal."

Spechler does not predict a full-scale escalation of force by Russia in Ukraine, she said, but she would not rule it out given the crisis between Russia and Georgia in 2008. Ukraine is a large country with strong cultural links to Russia looked upon as a Slavic brother, she said.

"What we’re seeing today is the most significant step Russia has taken, and it is likely to take a while, to fulfill the agenda that was heralded when he called the breakup a tragedy," she said.

The "upshot" of the speech was that if the greatest geopolitical tragedy was the breakup of the USSR, the greatest geopolitical achievement should be the reformulation of a Russian superstate, said Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the Heritage Foundation.

He wasn’t pining for a new USSR

That’s not the only view of Putin’s remarks, however. Other scholars we consulted say there is more nuance in the meaning of Putin’s words.

Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, a 2013 book by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy of the Brookings Institution, addresses the "often misquoted line" about the demise of the USSR:

"Most references to this line have suggested that Putin was bemoaning the loss of the communist economic and political system," the book reads, "but Putin has since frequently underscored that he was talking about the collapse of the Russian state itself."

Gaddy elaborated in an interview with PunditFact, saying Putin is not eager to re-establish the USSR, partly because it would be costly for Russia, which subsidized many Soviet countries during that era. He does, however, want to make sure surrounding countries are not used against Russia.

Gaddy said Putin does not see Ukraine as a prize, as Bolton suggested, but as a potential liability and realm for anti-Russian activity.

"His nightmare has long been that Ukrainian instability would be used to sap Russia’s attention and strength, or worse — that it would be used to entrap Russia into intervening militarily and getting bogged down," Gaddy said. "The nightmare is coming real."

Lance Janda, chairman of Cameron University’s history and government department, challenged Bolton’s assertion that Putin’s remarks in years past foreshadowed the modern events in Ukraine. It’s more complicated, he said.

Yes, Russia moved aggressively into Chechnya, South Ossetia and Crimea, but it was not on a whim — it was to prevent instability along the border after years of NATO expansions, Janda said. Plus, Russia would not have worked in recent years to stabilize its dealings and cooperation with Western countries if it had planned to invade Ukraine all along, he said.

"All Putin meant when he said in 2005 that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a catastrophe was that it launched protests and uprisings and sectarian violence, which is true," Janda said. "Those of us in the West are okay with that because we saw in those uprisings the birth of new nations and greater freedom, but that doesn’t mean it came without cost or that the Russians were thrilled by it."

Our ruling

Bolton told a Fox News host that Putin once said, "The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century."

Putin did say those words, or at least words close to that, in a 2005 address to Russian political leaders.

Bolton went on to tell a Fox News host those words are evidence Putin wants to expand Russia’s influence to where it was in the Soviet days.

The record there is not as clear. We found some experts who agree with Bolton’s interpretation, while others who say Bolton is extracting a quote that does not quite mean what he says it does.

Bolton’s statement is accurate but needs clarification. We rate it Mostly True.



by Patrick Armstrong
Russia Other Points of View| 30 July 2014

The idea for what follows came from a Facebook discussion. One individual, certain that Russia was to blame for the situation in Ukraine, said, among other things, that Putin claimed the biggest mistake was the collapse of the USSR and that he wanted to restore it. I said Putin did not say anything like that and challenged him to find the original. I was hoping to make a point and lead him to understanding something for himself. He dug up a number of statements from the Western media saying the Putin had called the end of the USSR the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the Twentieth Century”. Not so hard to find examples: Google returns 15 pages of hits for that exact search, starting with the BBC and ending with it used as a put-down by a commentator on a mildly approving Polish newspaper piece about Putin. The phrase has now become something like what Pravda used to say when it wanted to spread a lie, but had no real evidence, как известно: as is well-known.  Over and over we see it used as the triumphant final proof of the argument. “Putin wants a new Russian empire”; “Ukraine PM: Putin wants to rebuild Soviet Union”; “Putin longs to be back in the USSR”; “Putin’s obsession is the restoration of Russia’s pride through the restoration of its imperium.”

Perhaps the most interesting reference my correspondent pulled up, however, was this from an essay by Anders Åslund:

In his annual address in April 2005, Putin went all out: ‘the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the century…. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory…old ideals [were] destroyed.’ He presented himself as a neoimperialist.

What is interesting about it is that he actually footnotes the original source. I assume Åslund expected that no one would bother to look it up or be unable to find it. But it’s out there on the Internet.

So it is now perhaps time to see what it was that Putin actually said. Here it is: first in Russian, “Прежде всего следует признать, что крушение Советского Союза было крупнейшей геополитической катастрофой века.” and then in the official translation into English, “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Hyperlinks take you to Putin’s Address to the Federal Assembly on 25 April 2005 on the Presidential website. That is the “original source”.

Not the greatest; not the most important; not the largest of anything. Not Number One. Not the superlative. One of many geopolitical disasters of the century, but a “major” one. If you like, you could argue with Putin about whether it was “major” or “minor” – here are his reasons for putting it on the “major” side of the list; you put yours:

As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself. Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere. Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse, the prolonged agony of the Soviet system.

(Note, by the way, how deceptive Åslund was with his second ellipsis).

Certainly big; anyone would agree that it was a bad enough disaster at least for those who lived through it. But bigger than any other disaster? No, but Putin isn’t saying it was. It ought to be perfectly obvious what he’s talking about: not a desire to re-create the USSR but an accurate description of how miserable the 1990s were for Russians (and, actually, for most other people in the former USSR). But, read on. This statement was part of the orator’s pattern, after the bad times, things are getting better: “Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those difficult years…”. And so on. Ex tenebris lux, or something like that.

The message is plain: Putin thought Russia was over the worst and better things can now happen (he was right, wasn’t he?). To use this as “proof” that he wants the USSR back, or is a “neo-imperialist” is wilfully to misunderstand what he said.

But just think how feeble your assertion that Putin wants to re-build the empire would be if the only quotation direct from his mouth that you had to nail your argument down tight with was “Putin did say that the collapse of the USSR was a pretty big disaster because people lost their savings, a lot of crooks stole stuff and many other sufferings ensued”. Doesn’t have quite the same ring does it?

So, the point that I was trying to get my correspondent to understand is that you simply cannot trust Western media reports on Putin or Russia. There is so much distortion, mis-quoting and outright falsifications that nothing you read in your newspaper, see on your TV or hear from your politicians can be accepted at face value. This particular quotation was ripped out of its context and made to serve another purpose; then it was endlessly repeated to cap the assertion that Putin is the world’s enemy because he wants to conquer his neighbours. The history of its use is a perfect illustration that the default position is always antiPutin. No secondary source can be trusted, always go to the original: is it an accurate quotation? what is the context? If you cannot find the original (both President and Prime Minister have a site in English, by the way; it’s not that hard to find the original), then doubt.

But there is a greater point. The West, NATO, the USA and its followers, we are at war with Russia. A rhetorical war with economic aspects at the moment but it may already be a shooting war by proxy. It will get closer to a real war if the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014 is passed. The authors of the bill are quite certain that Russia is expansionist, aggressive and wishes domination over its neighbours. The famous quotation is not in the bill but it is alive in the US Senate:

“The reality, however, is that Putin is not concerned with international law or historical justice. His sole focus is on correcting what he considers to be the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ by reassembling the Soviet Union.” (Sen Ted Cruz)

“He sees the fall of the Soviet Union as the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.’ He does not accept that Russia’s neighbors, least of all Ukraine, are independent countries.” (Sen John McCain)

“His grip on the Russian presidency is central to his designs to restore Russian dominance. After all, Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the last century’.” (Sen Roger Wicker)

And it’s in the White House too: “‘He’s been willing to show a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union,’ Obama said of Putin in that interview.”

An influential mis-quotation, wouldn’t you say? Creating and supporting anti-Russian propaganda since 2005. It would, of course, be wrong to say that we are creeping closer to war with Russia only because of a mis-quotation, but the mis-quotation has certainly played its part in the creep.


Addresses to the Federal Assembly

Annual Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation
The Kremlin, Moscow
April 25, 2005


Distinguished Members of the Federal Assembly,

Citizens of Russia,

In this Address of 2005 I will dwell on a number of fundamental ideological and political issues. I believe such a discussion is essential at the current stage of Russia’s development. The most important social and economic tasks facing us, including specific national projects, were set out in the previous Address. I intend to elaborate them in the coming Budget Address and in a series of other documents.

At the same time I would ask you to consider last year’s and this year’s Address to the Federal Assembly as a unified program of action, as our joint program for the next decade.

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

Meanwhile, there is a need for such an analysis. The objectively difficult processes going on in Russia are increasingly becoming the subject of heated ideological discussions. And they are all connected with talk about freedom and democracy. Sometimes you can hear that since the Russian people have been silent for centuries, they are not used to or do not need freedom. And for that reason, it is claimed our citizens need constant supervision.

I would like to bring those who think this way back to reality, to the facts. To do so, I will recall once more Russia’s most recent history.

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

Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere.

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

But they were mistaken.

That was precisely the period when the significant developments took place in Russia. Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those difficult years, the people of Russia had to both uphold their state sovereignty and make an unerring choice in selecting a new vector of development in the thousand years of their history. They had to accomplish the most difficult task: how to safeguard their own values, not to squander undeniable achievements, and confirm the viability of Russian democracy. We had to find our own path in order to build a democratic, free and just society and state.

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

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

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

For three centuries, we – together with the other European nations – passed hand in hand through reforms of Enlightenment, the difficulties of emerging parliamentarism, municipal and judiciary branches, and the establishment of similar legal systems. Step by step, we moved together toward recognizing and extending human rights, toward universal and equal suffrage, toward understanding the need to look after the weak and the impoverished, toward women’s emancipation, and other social gains.

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

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

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

The right to be elected or appointed to a state post, as well as the opportunity to use public services and public information, must be equally available to all the country’s citizens. And any person who breaks the law must know that punishment is inevitable.

Second, only in a free society do economically active citizens have the right to participate in a competitive struggle as equals and choose their partners, and earn accordingly. The prosperity of every individual should be determined by his or her labor and abilities, qualifications, and effort. Everyone has the right to dispose of what he or she earned at will, including bequeathing it to his/her children.

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

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

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

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

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

I dealt at such length with these key and on the whole general concepts to show how these principles must be reflected in our daily work. I think these activities should be pursued as a minimum along three lines: first – measures to develop the state; second – strengthening the law, developing the political system, and making the judicial system more effective; and, third – developing the individual and civil societyas a whole.

First, about the state.

You know that in the last five years we have had to tackle difficult tasks to prevent the degradation of state and public institutions in our country. At the same time, we had to create the foundation for development in the next few years and decades. We cleared the debris together and gradually moved ahead. In that sense, the stabilization policy was practically a policy of reaction to the accumulated problems. This policy was, in general, successful. However, it has reached the limit of its effectiveness.

It must be replaced with a policy oriented towards the future. And for that, we must have an efficient state. However, despite many positive changes, this key problem has not been solved so far.

Our bureaucratic apparatus is still largely an exclusive and often arrogant caste regarding state service as an alternative form of business. Therefore, our priority remains making state management more effective, ensuring that officials strictly obey the law, and quality public services are provided to the population.

A specific feature of recent times has been that the dishonest part of our bureaucracy (at the federal and local levels alike) has been particularly keen on using the achieved stability in its own mercenary interests. It started using the favorable conditions and emerging opportunities to achieve its own selfish goals rather than to increase the prosperity of society.

It is worth mentioning that in this respect the party and corporate elites behave no better than the state bureaucracy.

Today, when we have created the necessary preconditions for serious and large-scale work, if the state falls into the trap of finding simplified solutions, the bureaucratic reaction will only benefit from it. Instead of a breakthrough, we will face stagnation. The potential of civil society will not be used effectively, while the level of corruption, irresponsibility and lack of professionalism will rocket, throwing us back on the way of economic and intellectual degradation and creating a growing rift between the authorities and public interests, with state apparatus refusing to heed public requests.

I repeat: we cannot be satisfied with the current situation in the country. While freeing major mass media from the oligarchs’ censorship, we failed to protect them from the unhealthy zeal of certain officials. Focusing the efforts of law enforcement bodies on the fight against crime, including tax evasion, we encountered frequent violations of the rights of our business community, and sometimes a blatant racket on the part of state officials.

Many bureaucrats believe this situation will never be changed, and such violations are the inevitable result of past and current polices.

I must disappoint them. Our plans do not include handing over the country to the inefficient rule of a corrupted bureaucracy.

We proceed from the idea that it is both essential and economically advantageous to have developed democratic procedures in the country; that it is politically prudent to maintain a responsible dialogue with society. Therefore, a modern Russian official must learn to speak with the public using the modern language of cooperation, the language of common public interest, dialogue and real democracy, rather than the jargon of military orders.

This is our fundamental approach and we will strictly follow it.

Another important task in the sphere of state development is bolstering the Federation. The major goal that we are pursuing is to build an effective state system within the current national borders.

You know that constituent members of the Federation have recently begun to display a desire to unite. It is a positive trend, and it is important to avoid turning it into another political campaign. We should not forget that Federation members do not merge for the sake of unification itself, but to make their management more efficient, and their social and economic policies more effective, which will ultimately lead to increased social prosperity.

Naturally, this process is complicated, but in certain cases, and I want to stress, not always or everywhere, but in certain cases, it is the only way to consolidate the state’s resources to manage such a unique and vast country as Russia. After all, many constituent members of the Russian Federation have compound subordination, and they often have to face problems related to the delineation of powers between various state bodies (primarily in the sphere of taxation and budget allocation). However, all the efforts have so far been wasted on disputes and coordination, and sometimes even on legal action in the courts, including the Constitutional Court. All this is happening when new opportunities have already emerged and we need to implement a number of large national projects.

You know specific examples well. The ongoing unification of the Krasnoyarsk Region, the Taimyr and the Evenkia autonomous districts must help the development of new deposits of natural resources and provide the eastern regions of Siberia with constant energy supplies. Clear and sound administrative decisions must open up new opportunities for major investments in the development of Russia’s regions.

In my opinion a third important task is to pursue vigorous policy in promoting liberalization in private enterprise. I’d like to focus on measures to stabilize civil law relations and to achieve a dramatic increase in opportunities for free enterprise and capital investment.

First, measures need to be taken to consolidate civil law relations. I have already mentioned that we should reduce the statute of limitations for minor transactions to three years. Now this statute is 10 years. This proposal is already in the focus of a broad discussion and for this reason I would like to emphasize once again the ideas that guided us.

Stability of the right to private property is the alpha and omega of any business. The rules to which the state adheres in this sphere should be clear to everyone, and, importantly, these rules should be stable. This enables people developing their business to plan normally both this business and their own lives. This allows citizens to feel comfortable and conclude, without any apprehensions, contracts on such vital issues as the acquisition of housing or its privatization, which has already been almost completed in our country. In general, this encourages people to buy property and expand production.

At the same time, those people who deviated from law in business transactions cannot be ignored. The state should certainly respond to that. But I must point out that three years is also a big term that gives both the parties concerned and the state enough time for clearing up their relations in court. I’d like to emphasize that a three-year statute of limitations has been the longest one in our legislation in the last hundred years. Ten years is too long both in terms of economic and legal considerations. Such a term creates a host of uncertainties, primarily dampening the ardor of the state, and not only of the state but also of other participants in the process.  Incidentally, we have submitted our proposals on the relevant amendments to law to the Government of the Russian Federation. Regrettably, we have not heard a thing from them so far even though all they have to do is to amend one word in one clause. I request that formal agreement be accelerated.

Secondly, it is necessary to help our citizens legalize in a simplified way the real estate that belongs to them de facto. I mean garages, housing, suburban cottages and the relevant land plots in different cooperative societies and horticultural associations.

The legalization procedures should be as simple as possible, while the relevant paperwork should not create additional difficulties for our citizens. Incidentally, this will open up such additional opportunities as the legal inheritance of property, and will allow citizens to take out a mortgage in a bank with this property as security.

And, thirdly, the flow of capital accumulated by our citizens needs to be encouraged into our national economy. Citizens should be allowed to declare the money they have saved in previous years, in the previous period, in a simplified procedure. This procedure should be accompanied by only two provisions: one should pay a 13 per cent income tax and deposit the relevant sums into Russian bank accounts.

This money should work in our economy, in our country, not lie in offshore zones.

Another, systemic task of state development, in my view, is concerned with the work of tax and customs agencies. I believe their priority task should be to check compliance with tax and customs legislation, rather than the fulfillment of some “plans” to collect taxes and duties.

The fiscal agencies in any country should obviously exercise control over the correct payment of taxes. But it would be fair to say that our tax system has been in the making in the past few years; it took time and rich legal and judicial practice to receive clear answers to all of our questions.

The fiscal agencies must not close their eyes to legal violations. But we should find ways for back taxes from previous years to be repaid in the interests of the state without destroying the economy and pushing business into a corner. The tax agencies must not “terrorize” business by returning to the same problem again and again. They should work rhythmically, promptly reacting to violations but spotlighting above all inspections of the current period.

I believe that all of the above measures will help stabilize civil transactions, create additional guarantees for the long-term development of business, and ultimately ensure greater freedom of enterprise and a fair approach taken by the state to it.

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

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

It is time we clearly determined the economic sectors where the interests of bolstering Russia’s independence and security call for predominant control by national, including state, capital. I mean some infrastructure facilities, enterprises that fulfill state defense orders, mineral deposits of strategic importance for the future of the country and future generations, as well as infrastructural monopolies.

We should draft and legally formalize a system of criteria to determine the limitations on foreign participation in such sectors of the economy. Simultaneously a corresponding list of industries or facilities will be determined that shall not be extended or receive extended interpretation. Some industrialized countries use this approach and we should also use it.

While maintaining such control and limitations in some economic sectors, we should create favorable conditions for the inflow of private capital to all the other attractive sectors. I think you will agree that, regrettably, we have accomplished too little in this sphere so far.

I repeat, all of these decisions must be formalized in legislation. The goal of these measures is apparent: investors do not need riddles and charades. They will invest their money only in a stable economy with clear and comprehensible rules of the game. And this approach will be fair to both society and the state, which should protect its prospective interests and take care of the country’s development for years and decades to come.

Dear Colleagues,

The creation of an effective legal and political system is an essential condition for developing democracy in our country. But developing democratic procedures should not come at the cost of law and order, the stability that we worked so hard to achieve, or the continued pursuit of our chosen economic course.

The democratic road we have chosen is independent in nature, a road along which we move ahead, all the while taking into account our own specific internal circumstances. But we must and we shall move forward, basing our action on the laws and on the guarantees our constitution provides.

Of course, the state authorities must refrain from any abuse of the administrative levers they have at their disposal, and must work continually to open up new opportunities for building up the institutions of a genuine democracy in our country.

To deny our people, to deny ourselves the ability to live according to democratic laws is to have no respect either for ourselves or for our fellow citizens and would signify that we neither understand the past nor see the future.

“State power,” wrote the great Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, “has its own limits defined by the fact that it is authority that reaches people from outside…  State power cannot oversee and dictate the creative states of the soul and mind, the inner states of love, freedom and goodwill. The state cannot demand from its citizens faith, prayer, love, goodness and conviction. It cannot regulate scientific, religious and artistic creation… It should not intervene in moral, family and daily private life, and only when extremely necessary should it impinge on people’s economic initiative and creativity”. Let us not forget this.

Russia is a country that has chosen democracy through the will of its own people. It chose this road of its own accord and it will decide itself how best to ensure that the principles of freedom and democracy are realised here, taking into account our historic, geopolitical and other particularities and respecting all fundamental democratic norms. As a sovereign nation, Russia can and will decide for itself the timeframe and conditions for its progress along this road.

But consistent development of democracy in Russia is possible only through legal means. All methods of fighting for national, religious and other interests that are outside the law contradict the very principles of democracy and the state will react to such methods firmly but within the law.

We want all our law-abiding citizens to be able to be proud of the work of our law enforcement agencies and not to cross the street when they see someone in uniform. There can be no place in our law enforcement agencies for people whose primary aim is to fill their own pockets rather than uphold the law. The motivation for our law enforcement officers should be above all about providing quality protection of our citizens’ rights and freedoms.

Finally, if part of Russian society continues to see the court system as corrupt, there can be no speaking of an effective justice system in our country. 

Overall, I want to note that we need principally new approaches to fighting crime in our country. The relevant decisions will be prepared.  

Eradicating the sources of terrorist aggression on Russian territory is an integral part of ensuring law and order in our country. We have taken many serious steps in the fight against terrorism over recent years. But we cannot allow ourselves to have any illusions – the threat is still very real, we still find ourselves being dealt serious blows and criminals are still committing terrible crimes in the aim of frightening society. We need to summon our courage and continue our work to eradicate terrorism. The moment we show signs of weakness, lack of firmness, the losses would become immeasurably greater and could result in a national disaster.

I hope for energetic work to strengthen security in the southern part of Russia and firmly establish the values of freedom and justice there. Developing the economy, creating new jobs and building social and production infrastructure are prerequisites for this work.

I support the idea of holding parliamentary elections in the Republic of Chechnya this year. These elections should lay the foundation for stability and for developing democracy in this region.

I want to note that the North Caucasus region already has good conditions for achieving rapid economic growth. The region has one of Russia’s best-developed transport infrastructures, a qualified labour force, and surveys show that the number of people in this region wanting to start up their own business is higher than the national average. At the same time, however, the shadow economy accounts for a bigger share in this region and there is criminalisation of economic relations in general. In this respect, the authorities should not only work on strengthening the law enforcement and court systems in the region, but should also help develop business activity among the population.

We should be paying no less attention to other strategically important regions of the Russian Federation. Here, I am referring to the Far East, Kaliningrad Region and other border areas. In these areas we should be concentrating state resources on expanding the transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructure, including through the creation of cross-continent corridors. These regions should become key bases for our cooperation with our neighbours.

Esteemed Assembly,

Very soon, on May 9, we shall celebrate the 60th anniversary of victory. This day can be justly called the day of civilisation’s triumph over fascism. Our common victory enabled us to defend the principles of freedom, independence and equality between all peoples and nations.

It is clear for us that this victory was not achieved through arms alone but was won also through the strong spirit of all the peoples who were united at that time within a single state. Their unity emerged victorious over inhumanity, genocide and the ambitions of one nation to impose its will on others.

But the terrible lessons of the past also define imperatives for the present. And Russia, bound to the former Soviet republics – now independent countries – through a common history, and through the Russian language and the great culture that we share, cannot stay away from the common desire for freedom.

Today, with independent countries now formed and developing in the post-Soviet area, we want to work together to correspond to humanistic values, open up broad possibilities for personal and collective success, achieve for ourselves the standards of civilisation we have worked hard for – standards that would emerge as a result  of common economic, humanitarian and legal space.

While standing up for Russia’s foreign political interests, we also want our closest neighbours to develop their economies and strengthen their international authority. We would like to achieve synchronisation of the pace and parameters of reform processes underway in Russia and the other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. We are ready to draw on the genuinely useful experience of our neighbours and also to share with them our own ideas and the results of our work.  

Our objectives on the international stage are very clear – to ensure the security of our borders and create favourable external conditions for the resolution of our domestic problems. We are not inventing anything new and we seek to make use of all that European civilisation and world history has accumulated.

Also certain is that Russia should continue its civilising mission on the Eurasian continent. This mission consists in ensuring that democratic values, combined with national interests, enrich and strengthen our historic community.

We consider international support for the respect of the rights of Russians abroad an issue of major importance, one that cannot be the subject of political and diplomatic bargaining. We hope that the new members of NATO and the European Union in the post-Soviet area will show their respect for human rights, including the rights of ethnic minorities, through their actions.

Countries that do not respect and cannot guarantee human rights themselves do not have the right to demand that others respect these same rights.

We are also ready to take part in an effective partnership with all countries in order to find solutions to global problems – from finding effective ways to protect the environment to space exploration, and from preventing global man-made disasters to addressing the threat of the spread of AIDS. And of course we are also ready to join efforts to fight challenges to the modern world order such as international terrorism, cross-border crime and drug trafficking.

I would like now to say a few words about our priorities for developing civil society. [Sergei] Witte once wrote, “The state does not so much create as add substance. The genuine creators are all the citizens themselves… The aim should be not to hinder independence, but to develop it and encourage it in every way”.

This piece of advice is still just as relevant today.

I think that our primary task should be to ensure that our citizens have objective information. This is a political issue of vital importance and it is directly linked to putting the principles of freedom and justice into practice in our state policy.

I think that in this respect the draft law on information openness of the state agencies is a very important document. It is important that it be passed as soon as possible. Its implementation will enable people to receive more objective information about the work of the state bodies and will help them to protect their own interests.

I also wanted to raise another, very specific, issue here today, namely, what must be done to ensure that national television fully takes into account Russian civil society’s most relevant needs and protects its interests. We need to establish guarantees that will ensure that state television and radio broadcasting are as objective as possible, free from the influence of any particular groups, and that they reflect the whole spectrum of public and political forces in the country. 

I propose reinforcing the Public Council’s powers in the area of civilian control over respect for freedom of speech by the television channels. To do this, a commission could be established with the Public Council that would be made up of people respected by the professional community, who would ensure the independence of broadcasting policy and bring in qualified specialists to help them in their work. To this effect, I plan to introduce to the State Duma the relevant amendments to the legislation. Furthermore, all parliamentary factions should have access to the media. 

I am sure that these proposed measures will improve the quality and objectivity of the information our society receives today, intensify cultural life and enable everyone, even those in the most remote corners of our country, to have access to the immense wealth of achievements that our modern world offers.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about guarantees for the activities of political parties in parliament. I think that every faction should have an equal opportunity to express its views on the key development issues facing the country, propose its representatives to head committees and commissions and seek to have the problems that interest it included on the agenda.

I think we also need to confirm by law the procedures for parliamentary investigations.

Furthermore, in the interests of continuing to strengthen the role of political parties in forming state power, I propose that the State Council of Russia discuss precisions to the new procedures for appointing the chief officials of the executive branch of power in the regions. The President could propose a representative of the party that wins the regional elections as candidate for this post.

Dear colleagues,

Having spoken about the fundamental problems of developing the state and civil society, I cannot ignore a number of concrete issues that are long since needing to be addressed.

It is my firm conviction that success in many areas of our life depends on resolving the acute demographic problems we face. We cannot accept the fact that on average Russian women live 10 years less than women in Western European countries, and Russian men live a whole 16 years less on average.

But not only can many of the reasons for this mortality rate in Russia be addressed, in many cases the costs involved would not even be very high. For example, almost 100 people a day are killed here in traffic accidents. The reasons for these accidents are well known and we should take a whole series of measures to improve this dramatic situation.

We keep coming back to the state of the healthcare sector. An active discussion is underway today to find ways of improving this sector. Without anticipating the final decision, I can say that I am sure that, above all, we need to ensure that medical care is accessible and of high quality, and we need to revive the traditions of preventive medicine as a part of the Russian healthcare system.

I particularly want to stress another, more complex issue for our society – the consequences of alcoholism and drug addiction. Around 40,000 people a year die from alcohol poisoning in Russia, above all as a result of drinking alcohol surrogates. Most of these people are young men, the breadwinners for their families. But prohibitive methods will not resolve this problem. Our work should be focused on encouraging the young generation to make a conscious choice in favour of a healthy way of life, encourage them to get involved in sports and physical culture. Every young man should be aware that a healthy way of life is a key to success, a key to his personal success. But I did not see any desire to address this problem at federal level when I looked through the budget programmes for next year and the government’s investment programmes. We realise that these issues come more under the competence of the regional and municipal authorities, but without support from the federal government we will not manage to resolve this problem. I ask you to make the necessary changes.

The low birth rate is another national problem. There are more and more families in the country with just one child. We need to make being a mother and being a father more prestigious and create conditions that will encourage people to give birth and raise children.

Incidentally, I think it would be a good decision to abolish the inheritance tax, because billion-dollar fortunes are all hidden away in off-shore zones anyway and are not handed down here. Meanwhile, people have to pay sums they often cannot even afford here just for some little garden shack.

I also think that an increase in our population should be accompanied by a carefully planned immigration policy. It is in our interest to receive a flow of legal and qualified workers. But there are still a lot of companies in Russia making use of the advantages of illegal immigration. Without any rights, after all, illegal immigrants are convenient in that they can be exploited endlessly. They are also a potential danger from the point of view of breaking the law.

But the issue here is not just one of scaling back the shadow sector of the economy but of bringing real benefit for the entire Russian state and society.

Ultimately, every legal immigrant should have the chance to become a Russian citizen.

We cannot afford to postpone tackling these problems. We need to act simultaneously to create conditions that will encourage people to have children, lower the mortality rate and bring order to immigration. I am sure that our society is up to these tasks and that we will gradually stabilise the size of the Russian population.

We also must find definitive solutions for other problems that have built up over the years. This concerns, above all, wages for teachers, medical doctors, people working in the arts and sciences, and servicemen. They should finally begin to see benefits from the economic growth in the country.

It is they who carry the responsibility for ensuring that future generations of Russian citizens grow up healthy and educated and preserve the traditions and spiritual values of their forebears.

It is they who set the modern standards for society’s development and take part in forming the country’s current and future elite. They are the guardians of our country’s rich cultural and spiritual heritage. This is why the quality of these people’s work is no less important for the country than economic growth results. What kind of country we will be living in tomorrow, what level of freedom, justice and democracy we will have, and how reliably our country will be defended all depends on them. 

But at the same time, the level of real wages in these sectors is still lower than it was at the end of the 1980s. The average public sector wage is still considerably lower than the average wage in the country in general. Of the common tariff grid’s 18 rates, 12 are lower than the survival minimum. In other words, most employees of budget-funded organisations face a very high risk of ending up in poverty. This humiliating situation is stopping people from being able to work effectively and creatively.

I think we need to increase public sector wages at least 1.5-fold in real terms over the next three years. In other words, public sector wages should rise at least 1.5 times faster than prices for consumer goods. 

I stress that what we are talking about here is the necessary minimum below which we must not and do not have the right to go. In this way, we could substantially reduce the disparity between public and private sector wages in the country. And we should also remember that setting wages for most budget-funded organisations and paying them on time is the responsibility of the regional authorities. We need to establish inter-budgetary relations in such a way so that the regions are also able to increase public sector wages at a faster pace.

But we should also keep in mind that simply increasing wages is not going to solve all the problems in the public sector. The time has long since come for introducing financial solutions and mechanisms that will encourage better results and more effective organisation of the social sphere. Financial policy should be used as an incentive for increasing the accessibility and quality of social services.

Finally, we need to create conditions for actively raising investment from other sources besides state funds into the healthcare, education, science and culture sectors.

I want to stress also that the objectives of modernising the education and healthcare systems that were set out in the previous Address should still be pursued, but pursued very carefully.

Reorganisation for its own sake is not the aim. The aim is to improve the quality of service, make services accessible for the majority of citizens and ensure that they have a genuine influence on socio-economic progress in the country.

In speaking of our values, I would like to raise another issue I think is very important, that of the level of public morals and culture.

It is well known that a good business reputation has always been a prerequisite for concluding deals, and human decency has been a necessary condition for taking part in state and public life. Russian society has always condemned immorality, and indecent behaviour has always been publicly reprimanded.

Law and morals, politics and morality have traditionally been considered close and related concepts in Russia, at least, such was always the declared ideal and aim. Despite the problems we all know, the level of morality in tsarist Russia and during the Soviet years was always a very meaningful scale and criteria for people’s reputation, at work, in society and in private life. No one can deny that values such as close friendship, mutual assistance, trust, comradeship and reliability have flourished in Russia over the course of centuries, becoming enduring and immutable values here. 

Prominent Russian legal theorist, Professor Lev Petrazhitsky, noted that the duties to help the needy and pay workers their agreed wages are above all ethical norms of conduct. I want to note that this was written almost 100 years ago, in 1910.

I think that unless it follows the basic moral standards accepted in civilised society, Russian business is unlikely to earn a respectable reputation. It will be unlikely to earn respect, not just in the wider world, but even more important, within its own country. After all, many of the difficulties faced by the economy and by politics in Russia today have their roots in precisely this problem of the greater part of Russian society having no trust in the wealthy class.

We should remember that corruption among state officials and rising crime are also consequences of the lack of trust and moral strength in our society. Russia will begin to prosper only when the success of each individual depends not only on his level of wealth but also on his decency and level of culture.

Dear citizens of Russia,

Esteemed Federal Assembly,

Our country is about to celebrate the anniversary of our great victory, a victory that came at the terrible cost of countless lives and sacrifices.

The soldiers of the Great Patriotic War are justly called the soldiers of freedom. They saved the world from an ideology of hatred and tyranny. They defended our country’s sovereignty and independence. We will always remember this. 

Our people fought against slavery. They fought for the right to live on their own land, to speak their native language and have their own statehood, culture and traditions.

They fought for justice and for freedom. They stood up for their right to independent development and they gave our Motherland a future.

Just what kind of future this will be now depends on us, on today’s generation.

Thank you for your attention.


Anders Åslund: re: Putin, Soviet Geopolitical Disaster
JRL 2014-#167 | 1 August 2014

Subject: RE: 2014-#166-Johnson’s Russia List/Patrick Armstrong
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 19:31:4
From: Anders Aslund <AAslund@PIIE.COM>

Dear David,

Absurdly, Patrick Armstrong attacks me (JRL 166 #6) for translating Putin’s words “крушение Советского Союза было крупнейшей геополитической катастрофой века” with the words “the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the century.” Well, that is how it should be translated. Google Translate, our new authority, agrees with me (using two synonyms): “the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

Armstrong makes the point that the official Kremlin translation is “a major” but that would be the positive form “крупный”, not the superlative “крупнейший,” which Putin used. As any scholar of the Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia knows, such an official softening when translating Russian into English is just too common. That is why serious scholars of Russia make their own translations from the Russian original, though that requires sufficient understanding of the Russian language.

Unfortunately for Armstrong, Putin made his point all too clearly.

With best regards,
Anders Åslund
Senior Fellow
Peterson Institute for International Economics


JRL | 3 August 2014

From: Patrick Armstrong (
Sent: Fri, 01 Aug 2014

A number of people have challenged my (and the official Kremlin translators’) choice of “a major” for “krupneyshey” in Putin’s famous sentence “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” I stand by what I said: he did not say that there was no worse geopolitical disaster in the century. Neither did he mean that he wanted the empire back.

1. Meaning of the word “krupneyshey”. I take my authority from Pekhlivanova and Lebedeva: “Russian Grammar in Illustrations”; Moscow 1994; p 161. Here it is stated “To say that an object possesses some quality in extraordinary degree, without comparing it to other objects, the Russian uses a special adjectival form ending in -eyshiy (or -ayshiy, after zh, ch, sh, shch). A footnote tells us “These forms are used more frequently in bookish speech”.

To express the meaning “the object possesses the quality in the highest degree as compared to other objects” the modifier samyy is used.

A photograph of that page of the book is visible at my Facebook page

English does not have such an adjectival form: it has the quality (big) the comparative (bigger) the superlative (biggest). I would therefore suggest that the really correct translation would have been “one of the bigger” or even “one of the biggest”. But, according to my source, it would be absolutely wrong to call it the “biggest/largest/maximal” (which means number one, none bigger).

2. There is the argument from common sense: no Russian would ever say that any “geopolitical disaster” was bigger than the Second World War. His tongue couldn’t even form the syllables.

3. One must assume that Putin chooses his words carefully and knows what they mean especially in a formal speech like his address to the Federal Assembly in 2005 from which the sentence is taken.

4. One must assume that the Kremlin English translators know what they are doing. They chose the word “a major” for “krupneyshey”. By the way, I read the speech when it was given and downloaded the text in Russian and English at the time. There has been no change since. (It occurs to me, given that, in Latin, “maior” is the comparative of “magnus” – big, or great – the translators by that word choice might have been trying to suggest some quality that was on the high side of the scale without being “maximus”; in short “krupneyshey”; not just big but bigger than most? The comparative meaning of “major” seems to be hard-wired: can you even say “more major” or “most major” in English without sounding illiterate?)

5. The context makes it quite clear that Putin is not talking about loss of empire or anything like that. Here is the text around the famous sentence:

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

/Meanwhile, there is a need for such an analysis. The objectively difficult processes going on in Russia are increasingly becoming the subject of heated ideological discussions. And they are all connected with talk about freedom and democracy. Sometimes you can hear that since the Russian people have been silent for centuries, they are not used to or do not need freedom. And for that reason, it is claimed our citizens
need constant supervision. /

/I would like to bring those who think this way back to reality, to the facts. To do so, I will recall once more Russia’s most recent history. /

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

/Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere. /

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

/But they were mistaken./

/That was precisely the period when the significant developments took place in Russia. Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those
difficult years, the people of Russia had to both uphold their state sovereignty and make an unerring choice in selecting a new vector of development in the thousand years of their history. They had to accomplish the most difficult task: how to safeguard their own values, not to squander undeniable achievements, and confirm the viability of Russian democracy. We had to find our own path in order to build a democratic, free and just society and state. /

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

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

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

It is bordering on dishonesty, to take that one sentence out of that context and use it as the capstone of an accusation that Putin wants to get the USSR back. It obvious that he is saying the Russian people are not doomed to become slaves or failures, they have come through this disaster and will grow again; freedom and democracy are possible for them. Ex tenebris lux.

Text of the speech in Russian
in English

6. More quotations.

Speaking of freedom and democracy, if one must quote Putin, why not this one? “History proves all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient. Only democratic systems are intransient.”
(“Russia at the turn of the millennium” 1999). Interesting point, isn’t it? Democracies will outlive dictatorships, no matter how tough the former appear at the beginning.

What’s he mean by “democracy”? “Authoritarianism is complete disregard for the law. Democracy is the observance of the law.” (Interview with reporters, 24 Dec 2000). Depends on the laws, of course, but not a silly or trivial statement, is it?

Or, if we want his opinion on the USSR, how about this one? “In the Soviet Union, for many decades, we lived under the motto, we need to think about the future generation. But we never thought about the existing, current, present generations. And at the end of the day, we have destroyed the country, not thinking about the people living today.” (Putin, press conference in Washington, 16 Sept 2005, White House website). The failure of the USSR was built-in from the start.

I could go on – I have a file of quotations collected over the years – Putin has said a lot about a lot of things. Almost all of it carefully considered and embedded in a deep and broad context. But I’ll stop at one more:

“Our goals are very clear. We want high living standards and a safe, free and comfortable life. We want a mature democracy and a developed civil society. We want to strengthen Russia’s place in the world. But our main goal, I repeat, is to bring about a noticeable rise in our people’s prosperity.” (Address to the Federal Assembly, 26 May 2004″.)

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