Russians’ incomes and fight with poverty — what’s Putin’s address to Federal Assembly about?

Experts on key topics and specifics of Russian president’s address to the country’s parliament

President of Russia Vladimir Putin will deliver an address to the Federal Assembly at 12 o’clock on 15 January. The change of the date of the address from late February to the middle of January itself, moreover, on the opening day of liberal Gaidar Forum, has already fuelled much speculation. Many assume that the Address 2020 will be “special”, “severe dressing-down to functionaries”, “Putin’s U-turn” and “a good sign for Russians”. And in any case less militarised and anti-Western than last year: the main blow will be made to functionaries of the Russian government, including because of a reduction in Russians’ real incomes and a slowdown in the implementation of national projects. Realnoe Vremya newspaper studied both radical and soft predictions of politicians, experts and political experts about what one should expect from the country’s president’s speech.

Much speculation because of change in date of address

One can watch the transmission of the president’s address to the Federal Assembly on Channel One, Russia 1, on the website of Vesti.Ru, OTR, Mir. The Russian leader’s address to both chambers of the parliament is a procedure fixed in Article 84 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation: in his address, the president is obliged to report on the state of affairs in the country and key areas of politics. Apart from senators and State Duma deputies, members of the government, regional leaders and public activists are traditionally present in the event.

The fact of the change of the date of the address a month earlier made experts and observers speculate about key topics of the address. The head of the country himself added fuel to the fire in early January having insinuated key themes of his address. It has been already written for a month in the mass media, on Telegram channels and the Internet that the address will be “special”, “severe dressing-down to functionaries”, “Putin’s U-turn” and “a good sign for Russians”.

Earlier, before 2008, addresses to the Federal Assembly were held in late February or in spring (often in April and May). The tradition began with Boris Yeltsin’s first address on 24 February 1994. President Dmitry Medvedev delivered his first address in November, after that Vladimir Putin who was back in his chair of the Russian president gave an address only at the end of the year, in November or December. Putin went back to the previous tradition giving an address in 2018 in March. A year ago the head of the country addresses the FA on 20 February. Russian presidents have never delivered a speech in early January.

It is noteworthy that this time — also for the first time — Putin will deliver the address on the opening day of liberal Gaidar Forum at which Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is to give a speech at the same time. The change of the date late last year caused considerable speculation: the address allegedly was to be in March but was put off to 15 January, and the employees in the president’s administration had to cancel their holidays due to this. The press secretary named this “speculation” and in answer to the question if it wasn’t early for the president to give an address to the FA he said: “Why early? Everybody is back to work on 9 January.” Vladimir Putin will deliver an address for the 16th time already (Dmitry Medvedev did four times).

Reduction in Russians’ real incomes is key theme

The real topics of the president’s address aren’t known so far, neither did Vladimir Putin know them: according to him, there were just versions of the text of the address by 4 January. However, politicians and experts conclude that there might be questions Vladimir Putin can raise today. They go by his latest big speech during the press conference on 19 December. Then the head of the country surprised everybody with a proposal to delete the proviso about two presidential terms in a row from the Constitution, claimed that “the reduction in the citizens’ real incomes is very bad”, it was necessary to achieve economic growth, but “we won’t squander money” and offered to make 31 December a day off.

Also, Putin claimed that we shouldn’t wait for a new pension reform shortly and refused to change the health care management model. He made some important statements on foreign policy, which indicated that “Russians and Belarusians are almost the same thing”, it is not acceptable to put the Soviet Union and Fascist Germany in line, the expulsion of Russia from the Olympics is an unfair decision, while Lenin wouldn’t be taken out from the Mausoleum. Judging by the themes of the press conference, one can confidently assume that in his speech Putin will certainly comment on the reduction in the citizens’ real incomes. Moreover, Putin himself talked about this issue as early as on 4 January having directly called the “issues related to the eradication of stagnation in the citizens’ incomes, reduction in the population living on minimum wage, poverty” among priorities:

“These solutions must take place,” the president claimed. “It concerns me, it concerns me a lot that there was stagnation in the population’s real incomes.”

Will Putin run for a third term?

For example, First Vice Director of United Russia faction in law-making Andrey Isayev also agreed that Putin would raise the issue of citizens’ well-being and primary health care with the development of drug supply. Moreover, in his opinion, “support for businesses, support for investments in the Russian economy” will also be mentioned.

Putin cannot help but comment on a possible union with Belarus, about which Aleksandr Lukashenko rudely said late last year: “I am sorry, what the hell does anybody need this union?” There has been bargaining between Belarusian and Russian authorities, however, for 20 years already, and the situation with the supply of hydrocarbons to Belarus is its key topic. So it is very doubtful that the head of the country will be talking about a new union with the Belarusian and full integration with the neighbouring republic, which will require making changes to the Russian Constitution as well. Though some political experts didn’t exclude anyway that Putin would announce the new union with Belarus: according to the president’s agenda and his political activity, issues of allied state are ranking first now, they believe.

Head of the LDPR Vladimir Zhirinovsky, in turn, paid attention to Putin’s desire to made amendments to the Constitution and is convinced that he will again offer to delete the words “in a row” from the article on number of presidential terms, which will enable the current head of the country to run for a third term (this will also indirectly hit Dmitry Medvedev’s position who for this reason won’t be able to rule the country for at least four years like in 2008-2012).

“He will be talking about what is on everyone’s lips today — real incomes have fallen”

Putin will certainly sum up national projects on 15 January and express his trust or mistrust in Dmitry Medvedev’s government, which can lead to dismissals of some ministers — it is the point most experts agree with. Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin already partly talked about it last December. Considering that he was the first vice director of the president’s administration until 2016, we can easily say that Putin himself didn’t lie. So Volodin almost accused Medvedev’s Cabinet of Ministers of dragging the execution of the president’s previous address. If the State Duma itself executed this address, by Volodin’s estimates, it did by “81%” (laws came into force in 70 out of 86 clauses, which the 2019 address’s plan consists of), some ministries not only didn’t adopt bills aimed to execute the president’s address but also didn’t prepare regulations: “Not everybody is responsible about meeting their obligations,” Volodin noted.

“We already suppose what tasks the president will give in domestic policy. Of course, he will be talking about what is on everyone’s lips today (and we have repeatedly talked about): the number of Russians facing economic hardship is growing, their real incomes have fallen, purchasing power has been in stagnation due to this,” Russian State Duma deputy, Chairman of the State Duma in Ethnic Affairs Ildar Gilmutdinov told Realnoe Vremya. “The poverty level didn’t decrease, at some point, it even increased. It concerns everyone, including us as State Duma deputies because we daily interact with voters. We hope that the head of the country will be offering proposals to reduce poverty.”

“Raise Russians’ quality of life”

The deputy also hopes that the president in his address will also be talking about the necessity to raise salaries, including in the public sphere. The authorities have leverage in salaries for public workers who today have low salaries, thinks the people’s deputy. So ultimately Gilmutdinov is waiting for further proposals to support families, statements about demography. We should remind that in the previous address Putin already talked about support for families with children and that health care must be available in all settlements of the country by late 2020.

“It is very important, the family must be strengthened, provided conditions so that the family will be strong and it won’t break up in five years. We have very bad indicators, and up to 45% of new families break up in Tatarstan, up to 75% of families divorce in some regions. How can there be good demography in such a situation?” the Russian State Duma deputy from Tatarstan asked the question in a talk with Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent. “We will hope that the president of the country will be talking about support for large families, stimulation of natality in the country.”

Oleg Morozov, senator of the Russian Federation Council from Tatarstan, ex-director of the Russian President’s Administration on Domestic Policy, agrees with him too. Though, he said with a proviso, assumptions about ideas of the presidential address are “always guesswork”.

“One can just assume what Vladimir Putin will be talking about in his address. Once I participated in writing his addresses, now I don’t have such a chance. But the president himself already named the central theme of his speech — it is a topic of economic solutions that would allow significantly increasing Russians’ quality of life, their real incomes and combating poverty. Also, he can mention those situations when a person works, while his income is below the poverty line. It will be the central part of the president’s address about domestic policy,” the senator thinks.

Refusal of idea of global policeman and multipolar world

In his previous address, Vladimir Putin talked about developments and tests of a new weapon in Russia, which caused a strong reaction in the West that decided that this way Moscow could tip the fragile balance of international relations. So we can assume that today Putin will say about external threats and/or peaceful relationships with the West and results of talks with Ukrainian authorities late last December. The main focus in the international state of affairs will be made “considering what’s happening in the Near East (the conflict between Iran and the USA)”, United Russia is convinced. Some observers, by the way, note that a week to the address Putin dealt with mainly international problems, which couldn’t help but influence the text of the address, which the head of the country usually corrects himself: he had a short visit to Turkey, had military and naval exercises in Crimea and talked with head of Germany Angela Merkel.

“As for foreign politics, it is absolutely clear that the key issue will be how to provide global stability in conditions of total international instability and constant external challenges, violation of all norms and rules by some countries, including the USA. Moreover, he will be talking not only about the situation in the Near East but the instability around the world. More and more supporters of our, Russian understanding of the modern world and safety principles are appearing now. In other words, the idea of the global policeman who provides international security alone has collapsed,” Oleg Morozov shared his opinion with Realnoe Vremya.

Voices of discontent about the United States are heard even among some NATO members”

According to him, everybody already understands that this policeman — in the person of the USA — behaves “sometimes unpredictably, absolutely inadequately and only increases tension around the world reducing security for everybody”. Not only regions in which he, the policeman in the person of the USA, expresses his aggression: the policy of economic sanctions affects European countries too.

“We already hear that voices of discontent about the United States are heard even among some NATO members, Europeans themselves. And this shows that we can offer that picture of the world, the world order that will be acceptable for most countries. I think Putin will be talking about it too,” Morozov claimed confidently. “And I mean not a return to the bipolar world when the USA and USSR were in opposition, I mean the creation of a multipolar world that isn’t based on the principles and rules that the USA likes or dislikes but the principles that everybody accepts and become generally accepted. In other words, I mean the role that international law once performed.”

By Sergey Afanasyev

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