Ten Things That Caught Our Eye In Putin's Inauguration Speech

May 7, 2018

Carl Schreck takes a look at the substance of Putin's inauguration speech.

Annotated by Carl Schreck. Title image by Carlos Coelho.

The transcript of the speech was taken from the Russian President's official website.

Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow Russia

Vladimir Putin: Citizens of Russia, ladies and gentlemen, friends, I salute all the citizens of our great nation and compatriots living abroad, all those who are watching the broadcast of this ceremony and all those present here today, in the historic halls of the Kremlin and on the ancient Cathedral Square.

As I am about to take office as the President of Russia, I am keenly aware of the immense responsibility towards each and every one of you, and towards our entire multi-ethnic nation. I am aware of my responsibility towards Russia, a country of magnificent victories and accomplishments, towards the history of the Russian state that goes back centuries and towards our ancestors. Their courage, relentless work, undefeatable unity, and the way they sanctified their homeland are eternal examples of their dedication to their Fatherland.

I believe that it is my duty and the meaning of my entire life to do everything for Russia, its present and future, to ensure that it is peaceful and prosperous, to preserve and perpetuate our great people, and bring prosperity to every household in Russia. Let me assure you that just as before I will devote my life and my work to serving the people and our Fatherland. This is my outmost [sic] aspiration. I would like to thank the citizens of Russia for their unity, for believing that together we can change many things for the better. Let me extend my gratitude to you one more time. Thank you for the sincere support I received from the citizens of Russia at the presidential election. I view this support as a huge political asset and a reliable moral backing.

Putin officially won the March 18 election with 77 percent, with a turnout of 67.5 percent. There were numerous reports of ballot-stuffing, although Putin probably could have won easily even without election-day shenanigans. The Kremlin made an aggressive push to boost turnout in what was widely seen as a bid to underscore Putin’s mandate. His critics call the election a stage-managed coronation in which the main opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, was kept off the ballot thanks to a criminal conviction he and his supporters call politically motivated.

This support is a sign of faith and a sign of hope that Russia will continue to build up its strength while its people will live better. This support is also essential for asserting our positions on the international stage and for taking resolute action for promoting far-reaching, positive change within the country. Russia must be a modern and vibrant country ready to take up the challenges of time and respond to them with all its energy in order to consistently build up its leadership in areas where our positions have been traditionally strong. At the same time, we need to work with confidence and diligence and to harness all our willpower in areas where we have yet to achieve the results we aspire to, where a lot has yet to be done. The way forward is never easy. It is always a challenging journey. But there is only one thing history never forgives: indifference and inconsistency, slackness and complacency, which rings especially true today, at this turning point in history, as the entire world is undergoing rapid change. The objectives we face and the decisions we will be called upon to take are without exaggeration historic in their scale. They will determine the future of our Fatherland for decades to come. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us that will require the entire Russian society to come together. Every one of us, all responsible political forces and civil society movements, united by the fact that they sincerely care for Russia, must be proactive in these efforts.

A survey published May 7 by the Levada Center, a respected Russian pollster, showed that 47 percent of Russians believe Putin has succeeded in “returning the status of a great, respected power to Russia." That’s just a shade lower than the 49 percent in March 2015, a year after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, triggering Western sanctions.

We need breakthroughs in all areas of life. I strongly believe that only a free society that is open to all new and cutting-edge advances, while rejecting injustice, ignorance, crass conservatism and bureaucratic red tape, is callable [sic] of achieving these breakthroughs. We must cast aside everything that constrains people, prevents them from fully unleashing their potential and their talents, becoming a barrier for the development of the entire nation.

Navalny responded to this line via Twitter on May 7, noting that men wearing traditional Cossack dress attacked demonstrators – including with whips -- during anti-Putin street protests two days earlier that triggered thousands of detentions of the opposition leaders’ supporters. “On May 5, we saw exactly how society rejects Putin’s crass conservatism. And the conservatism (under police protection) lashed people with whips in a cowardly fashion,” Navalny wrote.

Friends, this year we will be marking the 25th anniversary of the Russian Constitution. It stresses the unconditional primacy and priority of the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. It is the harmony between free individuals, responsible civil society and a strong, active and democratic state that creates a solid foundation for the development of Russia.

This part of the speech echoes Putin’s remarks in his March 1 state-of-the-nation address in which he said that “in order to move forward and to develop dynamically, we must expand freedom in all spheres, strengthen democratic institutions, local governments, civil society institutions and courts.” During Putin’s previous term, beginning in 2012, Russian authorities tightened control over the political and media landscape and jailed opponents in politically charged cases.

We have coped with the most difficult economic and social problems. We have realised that, while changing with the world, we should not break away from our own roots, our own history and multinational culture. We have understood that all our beauty and strength are in our distinctness and unity. We have learned to uphold our interests and revived pride in our homeland and our traditional values. Experience shows that today, too, we must cherish what has been achieved and, based on this to move only forward. Of course, we should keep pace with the global changes and organise our breakthrough development agenda so that no obstacles or circumstances could prevent us from determining our future on our own and only on our own and from implementing our boldest plans and dreams. But at the same time, we are open to dialogue. Along with our partners, we will actively promote our integration projects and build up business, humanitarian, cultural and scientific ties. We are in favour of equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation with all states in the interests of peace and stability on our planet. Russia is a strong, active and influential participant in international life; the country’s security and defence capability are reliably assured. We will continue to pay the necessary, close attention to these issues.

This was one of the few references to foreign policy in Putin’s inauguration speech, and is consistent with Russia’s public statements that it remains ready for constructive cooperation with other countries if it is treated as an “equal” partner. Both the United States and European governments have sharpened their criticism of Moscow on a range of issues, including its backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, alleged meddling in U.S. politics, and the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in England that Britain has blamed on Russia.

But now, we must use all the opportunities available to us primarily to address the most vital domestic development objectives, to achieve an economic and technological breakthrough, and to enhance competitiveness in the spheres that determine the future.

The same Levada poll on Putin’s perceived successes was less rosy for the Russian leader on the domestic front. It showed that 14 percent of respondents said Putin had succeeded in overcoming the country’s economic crisis and halting the decline in production. Twelve percent said Putin successfully continued reforms while providing “social protections,” and 5 percent said he succeeded in securing “fair income distribution in the interests of ordinary people.”

This is one of five “breakthrough” references in Putin’s 1,200-word speech and is consistent with his state-of-the-nation address, in which he said that "lagging behind in technology is the main threat and our main enemy." Whether such breakthroughs can be achieved remains to be seen. Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia, wrote in a recent report for the British think tank Chatham House that Russia’s economic performance will likely be “mediocre" in the coming years and that “a context of ‘neo-stagnation’ is anticipated.” Yevgeny Minchenko, a Kremlin-connected political consultant, told Bloomberg that Russia’s modernization would be “authoritarian.”

“The task now is to overcome the technological lag behind the West while surrounded by unfriendly forces abroad,” Minchenko told Bloomberg.

A new quality of life, wellbeing, security and health are what constitutes our main goals and the focus of our policies. Our reference point is Russia for the people, a country of opportunities for self-fulfilment for each person. I strongly believe that everyday challenges people face and demands they have are directly linked to the goals we have as a nation. In fact, this is the only way to put in place the needed conditions for promoting creativity and development, and creating an atmosphere of shared responsibility, support and trust in society, which is essential.

Every person must understand that only our proactive engagement in the country’s affairs can add new momentum to renewal. No one will do it for us, since all of us, the citizens of Russia, are the main force of change. The more people in all walks of life, professions and authority realise the importance of the role they must play in improving how we live, the more effective and rapid will our progress be.

State and municipal authorities have a special responsibility. People have every right to expect matters that cause them concern to be resolved without delay, to have their proposals, observations and demands treated with due attention, so that such things as reputation, honour, generosity and openness become a norm of life for the officials at all levels of government.

This appears to be a nod to several recent outbursts of public anger in pockets of Russia. After Putin’s election, high-profile protests against local and regional governments broke out in several Russian cities and towns over landfills opposed by many residents, as well as in response to a deadly shopping-mall fire in the Siberian city of Kemerovo that killed dozens of people, many of them children.

We must give more freedom to entrepreneurs and researchers, to creative and active people who care, and to all who want to reinvent the world. For me, this is a guarantee of continuity in our strategy and efforts to promote steady development in Russia. I look forward to novel ideas and approaches, to the audacity of young people and their ability to lead the change.
I hope that young people will remain true to the values of truth and justice that guided the older generation, and that the knowledge, experience and wisdom of the preceding generations will be relevant for today’s young.

Russian officials over the past year have publicly expressed concern about the presence of young people – including high-school students – at antigovernment protests spearheaded by Navalny. Images of children being detained at the May 5 protests organized by Navalny in several Russian cities went viral on social media and drew widespread condemnation by Kremlin opponents. Following his swearing-in ceremony, Putin was shown on state television greeting youth volunteers on his presidential campaign and posing for a photograph with them.

By having all people who care for their country and its future work together we will definitely deliver on our objectives and achieve breakthroughs in research and technology. Together, we can bring to fruition large-scale initiatives to upgrade and improve cities and villages and develop regions across Russia. We will be proactive in conducting a modern social policy that caters to the needs of every individual and every Russian household, improves the quality of education and healthcare. We will pay special attention to supporting the traditional family values, motherhood and childhood, so that more and more wanted and healthy babies are born in Russia who go on to become smart and talented people. It will be they, our children, who will take up our efforts to develop the country, and achieve even greater success than their parents, while respecting the history of our Fatherland.

The concept of “traditional values” played a notable role in what is widely seen as Putin’s bid to cement a conservative base of support during his last term, even earning a spot in his national security strategy. Russian officials have also used the term to defend a 2013 law Putin signed that bans “the promotion of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors. Putin has said the law, denounced by critics as discriminatory toward sexual minorities, is aimed at protecting children and encouraging Russia’s birthrate.

As head of state I will do everything to build up Russia’s might, prosperity and glory, and to live up to the expectations and hopes of the country’s citizens. We know that in the 1990s and early 2000s, apart from the far-reaching and necessary historical changes, our homeland and its people went through harsh challenges. Much, though far from all has been restored.

Putin has long cited Russia’s economic convulsions, rampant violence, and diminished role on the world stage in the 1990s following the Soviet collapse to demonstrate how his reign has transformed the country. Putin’s critics accuse him and his government of squandering – through corruption and cronyism -- the oil windfalls that lifted Russians’ economic lot during his first two terms.

Not all the wounds of the past have been healed yet, not all challenges have been overcome. There are new complex tasks ahead of us, and we will have to work hard to deliver on them. We have to act without delay.

That said, we remember all too well that throughout its history, which reaches back centuries, Russia faced a number of dark periods and challenges, and rose like a phoenix from the ashes every time, achieving heights that seemed unattainable to others. Those challenges served as a stepping stone for Russia, setting the stage for the next major breakthrough.

I am confident that we will achieve a breakthrough this time as well, since we are a powerful team that can deliver on any tasks, even the most daunting ones. Let the love for the Fatherland and all the best there is in people inspire each and every one of us to improve ourselves in order to succeed as individuals and for the benefit of our families, and to work hard for the benefit of our homeland. There is no doubt that we will succeed! This is what I believe. I will do everything in my power to achieve this.

Thank you.