Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 40

Acting President Vladimir Putin has given voters more hints of what his platform for the March 26 election might look like. In an open letter to voters published in several newspapers today, Putin laid out what he sees as Russia’s main problems and his government’s main priorities.

The immediate challenge for Russia, he said, is to lay down the “moral foundation” which would be “the very heart of patriotism” and without which “national dignity” or even “national sovereignty” would not be possible. Russia’s main problem, Putin explained, is that its “will” has weakened–leading it to vacillation and preventing it from seeing tasks through to the end. It is time, he said, for the country to confront its problems head on, especially those which “prevent the economy from breathing and the state from developing.” Acknowledging that the authorities have lost the faith of the people, he pointed to the rise in crime as an explanation. He then used this point to justify the current military campaign in Chechnya, saying that the republic had been “occupied by the criminal world” and calling the military operation there “a real step toward the supremacy of law” and a “terrible blow” to the “bandit world.”

The state must not only establish “equal rules” for everyone, he observed, but also observe them itself. An “effective strong state” can guarantee entrepreneurial, personal and social freedoms, Putin explained, pointing out that “the stronger the state, the freer the individual.” More specifically, he said that the authority of Russia’s judicial branch of government must be raised, and called upon the country’s police officials and prosecutors to observe the law strictly. He also called for an “inventory of the country” because, in his view, no one knows the exact number of “working enterprises” in the country, their revenues or even Russia’s precise population.

Describing Russia as a “rich country of poor people,” Putin said that fighting poverty should be among the country’s main priorities–and with it both paying back what is owed to the elderly–a task he called “political” and “moral” as well as “social”–and protecting the market from “illegal intrusion, both bureaucratic and criminal.” He explained that state regulation of the economy should not “strangle” the market or expand the bureaucracy into new sectors, but help the market “get on its feet.” All economic actors should be provided with equal conditions. State institutions should not be used as instruments in battles between clans or groups. Taxes should be low, but collected sufficiently so as to make the state “strong” and “effective.” The main task of economic policy is to make it more profitable to work honestly than to steal (Kommersant, Izvestia, February 25).