Dmitry Medvedev delivering the speech (Photo by AP)
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's President, yesterday addressed Russia's Federal Assembly on issues of national security, domestic problems and the global financial crisis. The speech was delivered shortly after it became clear that Barack Obama had been elected as the next President of the United States of America. Surveys showed that Russians favored Obama's candidacy over Senator McCain's, hoping, many said, for a friendlier and more cooperative relationship between the two countries.
Sad to report, Medvedev's words did not live up to these expectations. Either the speech was already prepared and the Russian president did not want to deviate from it, or Medvedev sincerely wished to start the new relationship with his future American counterpart by throwing down a challenge and continuing the old rhetoric. So, instead of extending congratulations to the American President-elect, Medvedev used his address to assure America that if it does not back away from its plan for a missile defense system in Russia's backyard, Russia will put short-range missiles and a radio-jamming installation in Kaliningrad. Western news agencies called Medvedev's statement a "first test" for Obama's presidency.
In his remarks Medvedev harshly criticized the U.S. over security issues and the global financial crisis. He said that he hopes Obama's administration will "make a choice in favor of full-fledged relations with Russia," implicitly suggesting that the United States, not Russia, should make the first steps healing the damaged relationship. "We don't have any problems with the American people, neither have we any inherent anti-Americanism," said Medvedev. "The news of the US presidential election results shows that we can all hope for fresh approaches from the US on all the most complex of issues, including foreign policy and relations with Russia."
So it was that the Kremlin missed an historic opportunity to extend an olive branch to America's new leader. A fresh start requires a fresh approach, not the same old brawling rhetoric. It was a strange way to conduct diplomacy. The reality is such, that at this point, it does not matter where the financial crisis began, what matters is finding ways of solving it. America and Russia are both experiencing major financial problems, and neither of the two countries needs (or can afford) a new missile system in Europe.
Unless there is a new effort by Moscow, the ball is now in Obama's court.
Below is the text of a congratulatory telegram from President Medvedev to President-Elect Obama, and summary of Dimitry Medvedev's Presidential Address to the Russian Federal Assembly (State Duma and Federation Council).
Dmitry Medvedev congratulated Barack Obama on his election as President of the United States of America.
November 5, 2008,
The Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation
"Russian-American relations have historically been an important factor for stability in the world and have great importance and sometimes key significance for resolving many of today's international and regional problems", Mr Medvedev said in his telegram. "We in Russia are certain of the need to work consistently on developing cooperation between our countries not only on the broad range of issues in the international agenda but also on building real bilateral cooperation in all different areas. We have already built up solid positive potential in this area but much still remains to be done for the good of our peoples and in the interests of making the world more peaceful and secure. I hope for a constructive dialogue with you based on trust and consideration of each other's interests".
Main theses of the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly
November 5, 2008,
The Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev proposed giving the Russian Federal Assembly (parliament) greater constitutional powers. In particular, he proposed giving the State Duma [the lower house of parliament] control functions over the executive branch and making it law for the Cabinet to report to the lower house. He also proposed increasing the President's term in office to six years, and increasing the State Duma's mandate to five years.
Mr Medvedev called this simply an adjustment to the country's Constitution. There is no need to change Russia's Constitution, adopted 15 years ago, and its basic provisions should remain firmly in place for many years to come, he said.
The President set out in the Address his vision of the laws, objectives and values that form the foundation of Russian society: the Constitution's decisive role in developing democracy in the country and its importance for building a new legal system, combating corruption and legal nihilism, expanding economic freedom, implementing social guarantees, and consolidating international legality.
Mr Medvedev noted that Russia's people are far readier now than they were when reforms began to pursue their activities in freedom, and criticised the state bureaucracy. A strong state and an all-powerful bureaucracy are not one and the same thing, he said. Civil society needs a strong state to protect and strengthen democratic institutions, whereas an all-powerful bureaucracy is a mortal danger for civil society's development.
With the goal of developing democracy, Mr Medvedev proposed increasing the level and quality of public representation in government and encouraging people to become more actively involved in political life. The President also made proposals concerning representation of small political parties in parliament, the right of parties that have won regional elections to name candidates for the highest executive posts in the region, new principles for the formation of the Federation Council -- the upper house of parliament, specific changes to the law on political parties and other issues.
Mr Medvedev said that freedom of speech should be ensured through technological innovation and the spread of a free internet space and digital television.
The President focused particularly on combating corruption and gave a detailed presentation of prevention measures designed to ensure there is no advantage to be gained from corrupt behaviour. He referred to the package of anti-corruption draft laws already drawn up and said that alongside legal measures efforts must be made to improve the government system itself by optimizing and clarifying the different state agencies' powers.
Mr Medvedev also examined the judicial system's development and listed concrete steps for its improvement.
The President addressed the issue of migration, both within the country and from outside, as well as the question of obtaining Russian citizenship.
Mr Medvedev said that the Russian nation's unity is the guarantee for its stability and civilised development, and that interethnic peace is one of its greatest values.
Mr Medvedev devoted the next section of his Address to the issue of human resources and the extensive and systemic recruitment of talent. Russia's future lies in an innovative economy, and this calls for a new system of building up a human resources pool, the President said. He issued an instruction giving the Government and the Presidential Executive Office until the end of the year to launch a programme in this area jointly drafted by the state authorities, local government, and public organisations.
To resolve the human resources problem, the country's education system needs to undergo a revival, Mr Medvedev said. He noted that its past achievements won it recognition all around the world, but its backwardness today is threatening Russia's ability to compete. The President focused particularly on primary- and secondary-level education and outlined the main goals and means of its modernisation. He instructed the Government to draw up in the nearest future new principles not just for the way schools work but also for their design, construction, and equipment and technical resources base. The President also emphasised the important part schools play in developing a healthy population.
On the subject of modernising healthcare in general, Mr Medvedev said that a state programme in this area will be adopted before the year ends.
The Address also examined the issues of medical and pension insurance.
Mr Medvedev said that in these vital areas -- education, healthcare and pensions -- people should see clearly the results of economic growth and be able to understand how the fruits of growth are distributed.
In the section of the Address dealing with international affairs, Mr Medvedev drew a number of conclusions from the events in the Caucasus, which have gone beyond being a local conflict in importance. First and most important is that a new geopolitical situation is emerging. Second is that Russia's Armed Forces have restored their combat capability. Mr Medvedev said in this respect that Russia will not allow itself to be drawn into an arms race, despite the construction of a global missile defence system, the encircling of the country with military bases, and NATO's expansion. The President listed a series of measures that will be taken as an effective response above all to U.S. deployment of elements of its global missile defence system in Europe.
Mr Medvedev noted the importance of the integration nucleus formed by the Union State of Russia and Belarus, the Eurasian Economic Community, and, in the military-political sphere, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.
The President condemned the double standards applied to Russia's recognition of South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's independence. He said that many negative tendencies have built up in the world over recent years, and only through collective efforts can answers be found to today's new challenges. This is why Russia supports carefully planned reform of the United Nations and bolstering its role.
Regarding relations with the United States, Mr Medvedev said that Russia has no issue with the American people and no inherent anti-Americanism. He said he hopes that the new administration in the USA will make a choice in favour of full-fledged relations with Russia.
Mr Medvedev mentioned his initiative to draft a new treaty on European security. He also declared a commitment to deepening the dialogue with the European Union and continuing work together with Russia's European partners.
The Address also set out the principles for Russia's practical work on the international stage. These principles include strengthening the legal foundations of international relations, developing a polycentric world system, and participation by Russia in different groups such as the G8, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRIC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and others.
The President also set out Russia's proposals on creating a new world financial architecture and proposals drafted for the G-20 summit in Washington on November 15. The minimum set of goals includes developing a new risk assessment system, introducing modern technology for disclosing objective information on market participants and their operations, harmonising accounting standards, and increased capital requirements for financial institutions.
Mr Medvedev also spoke about the steps being taken to turn Russia into a leading financial centre, boost the rouble's role and move over to settlements in roubles for raw materials exports, above all oil and gas exports.
The President also spoke about diversification of relations with the members of the Eurasian Economic Community, the CIS, the EU, China, India and other big Asian partners, and noted too the opportunities opening up in Latin America and Africa.
Russia is ready for mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries and groups committed to developing constructive relations. Geography is not important, Mr Medvedev said. What is important is a positive spirit and mutual interest.