Remember the much-ballyhooed Russian “national projects”? Evidently, you aren’t supposed to.
Let me remind you then that the national projects were four long-term domestic-policy priorities laid out by then-President Vladimir Putin in 2005. They were supposed to bring dramatic improvements to the areas of housing, medical care, education, and agriculture. And they were under the oversight of then-First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. (The projects are now under Putin’s direct supervision.)
Now, according to a front-page report in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” it turns out that the Kremlin’s priorities have changed. The four projects have become, in the words of one analyst quoted in the piece, “non-priority priority projects.”
Although the national projects played a prominent role in the 2007 Duma “elections” and last year’s presidential “election,” they are rarely mentioned these days. Medvedev gave them a miss during his latest Address to the Federal Assembly and somehow they didn’t get mentioned in his end-of-the-year television interview. He talks about the “national character,” “national habits,” and “national interests,” but no national projects.
During Putin’s four-hour Q&A marathon on December 3, the topic only came up twice in passing, although Putin did pledge to continue the national project in the sphere of education.
The “news” sections of the national projects website haven’t been updated since May. A meeting of the presidential council on the national projects that was scheduled for December 24 was cancelled.
The analysts and economists that “Nezavisimaya gazeta” spoke with were unanimous in their opinion that the national projects were from the inception nothing more than part of the “PR campaign” that was the last national-election season. “Even at the moment when the national projects started, many analysts expressed the opinion that when the new president took office, they would be discontinued. When the financial crisis hit in 2009, no one doubted this any longer,” FBK strategic analyst Igor Nikolayev told the daily.
Medvedev was virtually unknown when he was named to head the national projects. In March 2007 he conducted a stage-managed Internet conference about them, which was his first real foray onto the national political stage and the beginning of his audition for the role of president. He then used the position to get a lot of good photo ops around the country at ribbon cuttings and the like.
Today’s “Nezavisimaya” story, however, notes that only the housing project actually had concrete numbers behind it – and that this project has failed to achieve its targets. In 2007 Putin said the project would be building 80 million square meters of new housing annually by 2010, but the figure for 2008 was just 64.1 million and for the first 11 months of this year, just 45.5 million.
The most successful of the four projects is the one in agriculture, the analysts say. Thanks largely to state subsidies, agricultural production did not fall markedly during the tough economic times of 2009, Nikolayev said.
It is interesting that today’s story appeared in “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” a paper that is supportive of Medvedev and tries to nudge him in liberal directions.
Perhaps the editors are trying to breathe new life into the dormant initiatives by shining some light on them again. But openly stating that the entire program was nothing more than a cynical, populist dog-and-pony show from the very beginning could be going a step too far.