Opinion: Putin's 'disappointing' state of the nation address

In his first state of the nation address since his reeletion to the Kremlin for a third term, President Vladimir Putin defended the status quo. It was a disappointing speech, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel.


Russians had eagerly awaited Russian President Vladimir Putin's first state of the nation address. After all, it had been announced as Putin's first strategic speech seven months after taking office in May.


There were, however, no surprises in his address to both houses of Russia's Federal Assembly and further representatives of Russia's state elite. Putin referred to slogans and objectives from his election campaign: He presented himself as a kind, caring czar who understood his subjects' concerns and was going to care for them.


Putin's values and goals


Among a myriad of appeals to patriotic, moral and ethic values, Putin painted a wonderful picture of Russia's rosy future, promising - just as he did during his electoral campaign - the creation of 25 million new jobs over the next decade. Every now and again, he did mention several issues that left room for improvement - as well as reforms he said he would initiate, such as the introduction of a tax on luxury goods. All in all, however, his message was clear: Putin sees himself and Russia as heading in the right direction.


Few would objet to the aims and values that Putin referred to in his words. He is in favour of a free, democratic, and free-market Russia - a Russia where humanistic values, solidarity, and tolerance apply and people live together in a peaceful and harmonious national unity.


In fact, most would wish for these aims to come true soon - for the sake of Russia and its people. But the question remains how these objectives can be reached and whether the instruments Putin propagates are the right ones.


Omissions in the speech


What was interesting about Putin's speech was what he left out: a coherent plan on how to successfully curb corruption in the state sector. The development over the past years certainly does not suggest that simply appealing to state officials' sense of social responsibility will do the trick. Even Putin's appeal to restrict and make more transparent state officials' foreign bank accounts, property and shares abroad will not solve the widespread problem of embezzlement and mismanagement in Russia.


In fact, it would likely consolidate and legalize assets owned by the present Russian state elite.


It is also a mystery how Russia can fight widespread corruption without an independent judiciary, an independent media and free public debate. Nothing significant was said on these matters in the speech. Nothing about real political reforms nor about strengthening an independent judiciary; nothing about creating secure working conditions for journalists and nothing about letting civil society organizations work freely.


When Putin made reference to these issues, it was merely to label them as sources of destabilization and loss of control. Foreign policy also did not play a large role in the speech, with the exception of vague references to dangerous international developments that were not explained in any detail.


Putin's future Russia


Putin's speech was certainly not his strongest state of the nation address. Even though he may have painted a glossy picture of Russia's future, the speech created the impression that Putin lacks a coherent and comprehensive strategy to achieve these goals.


Instead, in his address, Putin defended the status quo in Russia. And whether that is the right strategy for the remaining six years of his term, is questionable.