President Vladimir Putin wants to handle the problems of Russia effectively. He proclaimed this more than once. Easy to say difficult to achieve. A significant damage to Russia has been done by previous rulers.
Acceptable terms of stability in Russia that would suite the majority of the population must be defined with great precision. In fact time is running out for Russia. The country is threatened with disintegration and this is not a scaremongering. We shall try to explain why. We shall also try to show some way out of the crises.
At first some general remarks. We do not consider ourselves wiser than other specialists of political studies. On our side is experience and expertise shared with us by Andrei Gromyko. For many years he explained to us the international maze of politics. Often our opinion will differ from an official one; other points of view, no matter where they come from, we shall support. Our Confidential Letter is the first effort of independent communication with foreign readers. Russian TV channels and radio stations, most newspapers are "the voice" of their owners, political parties or "sponsors", who direct their editorial policies and shape their analysis.
We shall try to avoid overreliance on theoretical explanation of international relations and Russia's destiny. We strongly believe that today's complex problems dealing with social and political life, economy and global relations can be explained by new political thinking - a process in which we ought to recognize each other's humanity.
The contemporary world is not only interdependent but fragile. Life supporting systems of the global community are in danger. If this hazard is neglected, soon mankind will reach a point of "no return". A great scramble for survival will dawn upon us. Strong nations and societies can live for a certain period of time at the expense of weaker ones but such concept of life is self-destroying, short-lived and doomed.
Together with our readers we should create a powerful current of public opinion that will help humanity to steer clear of global threats and traps.
Today Russia faces a string of painful decisions. Andrey Gromyko stressed that political agreements and proclamations are important, sometimes immensely important, even historical but their implementation matters not less. Often before materializing potential benefits of fruitful negotiations and political deals go down the drain. Once Andrei Gromyko made a remark on foreign policy of John Kennedy: "How right he was in his judgment that no country can be stronger abroad than at home".
What is a set of mind of president Putin and his team? Recently adopted Concept of National Security of Russian Federation gives us some clues. The document outlines ways of the country's resurgence. Most politicians and diplomats in Russia anticipate resurrection of its influence in the world. At first we also admired the document, than a feeling of distress came over. Why?
In 1997 at the international conference held on Crete we presented a paper "New Foreign Policy for Russia". At that time the country under Yeltsin was in the doldrums. Its foreign and domestic geopolitics were in ruins. Post-perestroika leaders, entrenched in the Kremlin, made so many blunders that prospects for the country were gloomy.
At the conference we explained to the participants our vision of how Russian foreign policy may transit from debacle to revival. Some members of the meeting endorsed out ideas but some were in doubt. At a break a German journalist came up to us and asked a simple question: "You presented a model of foreign policy, which is in Russia's interests. I have nothing against it. But who is going to pay for it, can modern Russia afford it?"
How right he was! By the time we met, Yeltsin, buttressed by Russian notorious oligarchs, had been reelected as a president of the country. Right after the elections sharp deterioration of his health (an information about the heart attack, which he suffered between the first and second rounds of voting, was concealed from the public) enhanced his erratic behavior. The corruption was on the rise. Russia's dependence on the world financial institutions acquired grotesque forms. Its coffers were almost empty and poverty quickly spreading.
In Russia cumulative economic output has plunged by 50% over the past 10 years. A quarter of the population merely survives on 2 US$ a day. The living standards have dropped sharply. Nowadays Russian citizens face the dismantling of social security system, lopsided society of haves and have-nots. Even a minimum social safety net for the poorest, which is an axiom for any developed country, even the most liberal, is non-existent.
The question is: where new rulers of Russia will find finances to realize their nice programs? How Russian will rebound from a long devastating recession in practical terms? There is only one reliable source to revitalize Russia's depleted finances and it is not oil or any other natural resources or new editions of neoliberal "reforms". The real task is to change the course of economic and social reforms in such a way that revenues from domestic industry and other sectors of economy will not be lost in private pockets on their way to the state budget. This change will harm interests of masters of "the gray and black economy" who will ferociously defend their privileges. But the alternative is a new social revolution. Some of the members of a new political elite think that people are too tired to force the state to overhaul its social and economic policy. This approach is at least unwise.
Russia is at a real turning point in its history. No amount of clever documents, summits or foreign loans can change circumstances of Russia's survival. The country can be saved only by abandoning the distorted model of market development, which characterizes by criminal-ridden economy, lack of competition and miserable welfare state. It has nothing to do with modern capitalism. Russia should embrace social-democratic principles of social justice, solidarity, equality of opportunity wedded with a strong welfare state. Anything else will lead our society to murky waters of anarchy and further disintegration.
During the presidential election campaign Vladimir Putin traveled a lot. He met ordinary people, talked to them, behaved as a young healthy man. It was a real contrast in comparison with ailing Yeltsin who had lost reigns of power long before his departure from the political scene. People, in spite of the fact that it was Yeltsin who put forward the candidature of Putin, started to believe and trust him. During one of his trips to Russian regions Putin had a chat with an old peasant woman. She told him: "Please, don't deceive us as your predecessors!" Putin smiled sadly and one could read in his eyes: "Trust me."
The measure of Putin's success will mostly depend upon trust that "people from the street" may or may not confer on him. Now they trust him but it will not go forever if soon there is no real improvement in their lives. The balance of peace and discord in the country is shaky. Everything may change overnight.
Read us in two weeks time,
With best regards,
Anatoli and Alexey Gromyko