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Vladimir Putin's Open Letter To Russian Voters



Last week the Central Election Commission registered me as a candidate to the post of Russian President. The decision to enter the presidential race is a well-considered one and I made it public long ago. However, theelection campaign imposes high responsibilities on me. It also imposes some fair restrictions and makes me draw the line between what I am obliged to do daily as the leader of the country and what I am permitted to do as a participant in the election campaign.

As in all the previous months, I will go on exercising my usual official duties. There are no special campaign events on my working schedule and my recently established campaign headquarters will confine its functions to what is prescribed by the Presidential Election Law and by the Central Election Commission instructions.

However, there is another side to the issue, that is the presidential candidate's responsibilities to Russian voters. The principal one is to lay down a plan, and to tell the voters what problems you intend to solve in the capacity of the Russian head of state. In a word, to present anelection platform.

This is really important. On the one hand, my position on domestic and international issues is open and familiar to everyone. The last six months gave people ample opportunity to see what I consider important and what I am doing in the nations's politics and economy.

But on the other, the question still remains: "Who is Putin and what are his political plans?"

Once asked the question calls for an answer. That is why I thought it would be best to address you directly. I decided to tell you - without intermediaries, in a concise and clear manner - what I think about our life today and what I believe should be done to make it better.



Many people believe that earlier mismanagement and poor decision-making in individual spheres of the country's economy or politics are the root causes of our failures. But this is only partially true. Experts still argue about the critical misjudgement junctures. And they cannot be blamed for looking at life from their own perspective, defending their position.

I am convinced that no coherent workable program can be drawn up if different departments are in charge of preparing its economic, political and international relations sections, which are later mechanically "glued together" into a single government platform.

This is not the right approach and it won't get us anywhere.

Any program begins with setting its goals. In a state program these are things which unite all of us as citizens of this country. Moral values cultivated in the family are vital for each citizen of Russia. They constitute the pivot of patriotism. And this is very important. Without it, it would be impossible for us to come to terms on anything; without it, Russia would have to forget about its national dignity and even about its national sovereignty.

This is our starting-point. And the task of the leader is to tune everyone in to the shared goals, to put everyone in their right places, to help everyone to acquire confidence. This is the only way to build a team spirit, this is the only way to win. And ,therefore, the most important thing today is to openly admit our core problems and to set our priorities precisely.

I am prepared to tell you how I see them.

Our first and most important problem is the weakening of our will. It means lost political will and weaker persistence in carrying things through, hesitation, swaying from one extreme to another, a habit to put off most difficult tasks.

It is high time we started confronting our problems face to face. And this first and foremost means the most dangerous of them. Those which keep arresting our movement, which prevent the economy from breathing and the state from developing. Which, to put it bluntly, threaten our very future existence.

To continue evading these problems is much more dangerous that to take up the challenge. The people no longer believe promises and the authorities are losing face to a greater and greater degree. The machine of the State has become loose, its engine - the executive power - wheezes and sneezes every time you try to start it. The officials are "pushing forward" papers, not real-life business, and they have practically forgotten what subordination and discipline mean. In such conditions, it is only natural that the people can no longer count either on the force of the law or on the justice of the bodies of power. What they can rely on instead is just themselves. Then what do they need such state power for?

A vivid example of a deep-seated evil of this type is crime.

As we were idly speculating for many years on combating crime, we were only driving the evil deeper inside Russia. Banditry was growing stronger, penetrating cities and villages, taking root everywhere. Things became so bad that an entire republic, a component of the Russian Federation - Chechnya - became occupied by the criminal world and turned by it into its fortress. But we had just to meet the bandits in open confrontation and to rout them - and a very substantial step was made towards establishing the supremacy of legality, towards to a dictatorship of the law that is equal to all.

Now, wherever a terrorist or criminal might be hiding - be it Novgorod or St. Petersburg or Kazan, any Russian city - he will no longer be able to hope to find aid and refuge in Chechnya. A terrible blow has been dealt against the bandit word.

This is the first step, it will be followed by others.

But - this could not have been done by just sitting in Moscow and concocting more and more "programs of combating crime". We had to accept the challenge and smash the enemy in that enemy's own field.

I believe I have explained exactly how other grave problems can and must be solved. Life itself suggests the answer: it is only by openly accepting a challenge that one can win.

Another major problem of ours is the absence of firm and generally recognized rules. As well as any individual, society cannot do without them. As applied to the State, these rules are the law, constitutional discipline and order. This means the security of a citizen's family and property, his or her personal safety, as well as his or her confidence in the immutability of the established rules of the game.

The State will have to begin with itself here. It must not only establish rules that are equal for all, but also observe them itself. It is only in this manner that we can make everyone observe a single set of norms of behavior, determined by the law. In a non-law-governed, i. e. weak, state the individual is defenseless and not free. The stronger the state, the freer the individual. In a democracy, your and my rights are limited only by the same rights enjoyed by other people. It is on recognizing this simple truth that the law is based, the law that is to be followed by all - from an authority figure to a simple citizen.

But democracy is the dictatorship of the law - not of those placed in an official position to defend that law. I think a reminder won't be out of place here: a court passes decisions in the name of the Russian Federation, so it has to be worthy of that lofty name. The militia and the prosecutors' offices must serve the law, not try to "privatize" the powers vested in them to suit their own interests. Their direct (and sole) responsibility is the protection of the people, not of any false notions of the "honor of the regiment" or of their own departmental interests.

Rules are necessary and important to everybody everywhere. To the authorities, to the businesspeople and - much more so - to those who are weak and need social protection. It is impossible to help the weak if no taxes are paid to the public treasury. It is impossible to build a civilized market in a world permeated with corruption. No economic progress is possible if the officials are dependent on the capital.

How then, some would ask, should the authorities build their relations with the so-called oligarchs? Without special preferences, that's how! In exactly the same way as they build their relations with the owner of a small bakery or a shoemaker's shop.

Only an efficient, strong state can afford to live according to rules (which means, according to the law). And it is only such a state that can guarantee freedom: freedom of enterprise, personal freedom, public freedom.

If we teach each other to respect the established rules, if we learn to behave decently ourselves, we will compel others to do the same. If we start punishing transgressions in strict accordance with the law, those who, to date, have found it more profitable to break the laws, will become afraid to take us on. And one can remind the following simple fact to those who might have forgotten it: the exercise of state power is a job paid for out of the taxpayer's pocket, out of your and my earnings.

I know there are many now that are afraid of order. But order is nothing more than rules. And let those who are currently engaged in substituting concepts for one another, trying to pass off the absence of order for genuine democracy - let them, I say, stop looking for hidden dirty tricks and trying to scare us with the past. "Our land is rich, but there is no order in it", they used to say in Russia.

Nobody will ever say such things about us in future.

Finally, there exists another major problem - and if we do not take it into consideration, whatever colossal plans we might be making for the future will turn out to be futile.

We have a very inadequate idea of the resources that are at our disposal today. For instance, everybody seems to understand that property is inviolable - but how much property is there in Russia, where is it and who is it owned by? Today, we do not even know the precise figures on what belongs to the state, beginning with the treasures held by the State Depository of Valuables (Gokhran) and ending with the patented inventions, which belong to the Russian citizens by right. It is shameful to confess, but no one in the country now is capable of giving either the precise number of the working enterprises or the exact figures on their incomes or even reliable data on the country's population.

It is high time we definitely understood who owns what in Russia. Only then will it be possible to correctly assess our potential resources and identify tasks which are feasible. Because this is the luggage we are taking on the journey. What is necessary for us as the breath of our life today is making a major inventory of the country. We need a trustworthy register and proper stock-taking of everything we have.

The first thing a new CEO of a business will do when he takes over is to ask for the balance-sheet. Russia is a business too, a vast, complicated and enormously diversified business. It is meaningless to argue whether we are poor or rich until we have taken proper stock of all our successes and failures, our past losses and our new achievements.

Each of you is sure to have your own idea about where the root source of our setbacks and miscalculations lies. Indeedwe, the citizens of Russia, should have agreed long ago on what we are expecting from the State and where we are ready to support it. I am referring to our national priorities. Lacking this, we will once again waste our time and leave our common destiny to be decided by irresponsible windbags.



In the recent years, we adopted hundreds of programs of "priority" and "top priority" measures. If there are so many of them, it means that nobody has gotten down to the real priorities. We have constantly allowed ourselves to be led by the events, then trying to clear up the mess of our own rash decisions. We have constantly been lumping big and small tasks together. And we have enthusiastically taken up, and let ourselves be distracted by, easier tasks, thus trying to justify our unwillingness and our fear of facing really serious challenges.

If we don't want to repeat earlier mistakes, if we don't want our country to be lagging behind, we must decide which tasks the really urgent . There are not so many of them, ifone approaches the matter with intelligence. But they are really daunting.

Our priority is to eliminate our own poverty.

We have got used to being proud of our own wealth: a vast territory, natural resources, a multiethnic culture and a highly educated population. All these are really there. But these alone are woefully inadequate for a great power that Russia is.

We have to say it to ourselves just once: we are a rich country of poor people. Generally speaking, Russia is a nation of paradoxes. Not so much of political paradoxes, as of social, economic and cultural ones.

Our children win gold medals at international contests. Our best brains are in high demand in the West. Russian musicians and conductors play to full houses at the best concert venues in the world. And the theaters in our capital city are always crammed full of spectators. All of this is our wealth.

There is another side to the matter, however. It does not simply appall one, it also calls one to action. Millions of people in the country are still struggling to make ends meet, they have to economize on everything, even on food. Parents and children cannot for years scrape together enough money to buy tickets to visit each other. The aged, who won the Second World War and created the fame of a world power for Russia, eke out a meager existence, or, still worse, beg in the streets. And it is the fruits of their labor, the resources accumulated by them that our generation is "eating up" today, while contributing practically nothing to the national "money-box". Repaying the debt owed to senior citizens is no ordinary social-security problem, it is a political and moral task in the proper sense of the word.

True, we have finally started paying old-age pensions on time. We have started, as far as possible, to aid the needy. But one cannot solve this problem of truly nationwide significance just by endlessly patching up holes, without breakthrough ideas or approaches.

Of course, we can hardly expect to do away with our humiliating poverty without money. But further bloating our already oversized social security sphere is no method either. We have been there before. The key resource here is the youngerhard-working generation. Those who want and are able to become well-off in a civilized society.

The young and energetic people, all those who know the real value of labor and are capable of earning their own living, will know the way to save the nation its humiliation by poverty. They are capable of restoring to Russia not only its economic dignity, but its moral dignity as well. This is a common task for the entire people and together we are sure to cope with it. Russian history provides plenty of examples - Russia would more than once pullitself out of worse scrapes.

Our priority is to protectthe market against illegal intervention, both bureaucratic and criminal.

It is plainly our duty today to ensure property rights and to shield the entrepreneur from arbitrary, unlawful interference in his activities. If the State fails to give such guarantees, the vacuum is promptly filled by criminal groups, taking under their protective "umbrella " all those who struggle in vain to get protection from the State.

The term "economic crime" gained currency some time ago. This is not simply legally inaccurate, this is a mistake. One cannot lump together all crimes connected with the economy and finances to launch campaigns to combat "economic criminals".

But if the criminal community has developed a super lucrative "economic specialization" it meansthat our financial and economic sector today provides the most fertile soil for it. And no one but the State itself, by its action or inaction, has helped bring this about - by poor laws, bythe lack of well-defined rules and by messy, incompetent interference in the market.

Of course, rigorous state control is necessary. But it is not sufficient . Look what happens. You are not sure of the stability of your business because you cannot rely on the force of the law or the honesty of the officials. So, you are dissatisfied with the services offered by the State and you refuse to pay all the taxes due. What's more, you can well live pretty comfortably while doing this. And the State fails to get sufficient revenues to keep an impartial judicial system, it pays small salaries to its officials and they take bribes. The result is a vicious circle.

We have been talking about state regulation of the economy for many years. And we understand it in different ways. But this regulation essentially consists not in stifling the market or promoting bureaucratic expansion into new spheres, but, on the contrary, in helping the market stand on its own feet. People have the right to demand protection for their business against a bandit group trying to grab them. They also have the right to demand observance of fair competition rules. All business agents must be placed in equal conditions. And it is inadmissible to use government agencies in the interests of clan or group in-fighting .

I believe the picture is clear. Our taxes are high, but their collection is low. What we need is low taxes of high collection . High enough to make the State strong and efficient. So that it would be able to keep just courts and an incorruptible bureaucracy. So that it could, at last, help those who are incapable of supporting themselves.

I am absolutely convinced that a strong State is interested in well-to-do people. Therefore, the key solution for our entire economic policy consists in creating a situation in which honest work would be more profitable than stealing.

I think we've had enough of "sitting on our suitcases" and stacking our cash under the mattresses... No more feeding foreign countries, no more forcing our people to keep their hard-earned money in bank accounts abroad. It is high time we built a sound development environment for young and hard-working people. They have no need either for artificial, "hothouse" protection or for killer restraints. Let those who want and are able to live in wealth help themselves and their country.

Our priority is to reawakenthe personal dignity of citizens in the name of national dignity.

Russia has long ago ceased to be a truncated map of the Soviet Union, it is a self-confident power with a great future and a great people.

The last decade has seen dramatic changes in people's minds . Our citizens are still not rich, but they are independent and quite sure of themselves. Our press has become irrevocably free. Our army, coming out of a prolonged crisis with credit, is improving and becoming professional.

Yes, Russia has stopped being an empire - but it has not dissipated its potential as a great power. We no longer dictate anything to anyone or keep anyone in our orbit by force, but instead we can use the time and energy released to take to take better care of ourselves. A great historic chance has appeared for the new generation: to build a Russia they will not be ashamed to pass on to their children.

Those who are scaring the public that we will use this chance to build a dictatorship are shying at their own shadow. A great country values its own freedom and respects that of others. It is unreasonable to fear a strong Russia, but it has to be reckoned with. Hurting us will cost anyone dear.

Hence another of our priorities: to shape our foreign policy proceeding from our national interests.

Essentially, we need to recognize the primacy of internal goals over external ones. We have to learn to do this, at last. If this or that international project is not in the interests of our citizens, then, however impressive or attractive it might sound, we should stay out of it. If they are pressing Russia to join some global undertaking that costs big money - and the country is living on credit, unable to pay salaries to its people - we must weigh up our possibilities first and maybe wait.

There can be no superpower where weakness and poverty reign. It is time to understand: our place in the world, our prosperity, any new rights our country may win for itself directly depend on our successfully solving our internal problems.

Let us not recollect our national interests only on those occasions when we have to make some loud statement. Instead, let us formulate them competently and precisely and then consistently defend them. It is only the real interests of the country, including economic ones, that must be the law for the Russian diplomats.

I would like to make a point here, however: our current effort-saving and resource-saving approach does not at all mean that we do not seek some foreign expansion - in the good sense of the word. What in other countries is referred to as "zones of vital interests" - we have these too. But we see them as a source of future peaceful development: economic, international, political.

One could go on with this list, of course. But aren't the enumerated problems more than enough to get down to the job of addressing them at once? Are these, the most urgent tasks, too few for us? If we pool our efforts, we will solve them all - one after another.

A whole slew of candidates' political platforms would be released when there is an election. These bulky documents are rarely read through.

Here I have set forth what I believe to be the most important things. Those who will say that it is not the whole of my political program will be right. I do not claim to be in possession of the ultimate e truth, but I have considered it my duty to tell my fellow citizens in a few words what my principles and my vision of the State are.

I am convinced that the main distinctive feature of the new century will be not the battle of ideologies, but a fierce competition over the quality of life, national wealth and progress. Speaking of progress, it either is there or it isn't. The poverty of peoples cannot be justified by any references to the purity of party principles, whether "Right" or "Left" ones.

If I were to look for a slogan for my election platform, it would be very simple. It would be worthy and decent life. Worthy and decent in the sense that it is life as the majority of my fellow citizens would like to see it, the life they believe in. The life I would like to see myself, being a Russian.


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