Today’s Address is a very special landmark event, just as the times we are living in, when the choices we make and every step we take are set to shape the future of our country for decades to come.
It is at such turning points that Russia has proven, time and again, its ability to develop and renew itself, discover new territories, build cities, conquer space and make major discoveries. This unwavering forward-looking drive, coupled with traditions and values, ensured the continuity in the thousand-year-long history of our nation.
We have gone through major challenging transformations, and were able to overcome new and extremely complex economic and social challenges, preserved the unity of our country, built a democratic society and set it on the path to freedom and independence.
We ensured sustainability and stability in almost all areas of life, which is critical for a huge and multi-ethnic country like ours with its complex federative structure and diversity of cultures, with historical divides that are still alive in people’s memory and major challenges Russia had to face over the course of its history.
However, sustainability is the foundation of development but not its guarantee. We have no right to allow a situation when the stability that has been achieved would lead to complacency, all the more so as many problems remain unresolved.
Today, Russia ranks among the world’s leading nations with a powerful foreign economic and defense potential. But we have not yet reached the required level in the context of accomplishing our highly important task and guaranteeing people’s quality of life and prosperity. But we must do this, and we will do this.
As I said in the past, the state’s role and positions in the modern world are not determined only or predominantly by natural resources or production capacities; the decisive role is played by the people, as well as conditions for every individual’s development, self-assertion and creativity. Therefore, everything hinges on efforts to preserve the people of Russia and to guarantee the prosperity of our citizens. We must achieve a decisive breakthrough in this area.
I repeat, a solid foundation has been created for this. Therefore, we can now set and accomplish new tasks. We already have substantial experience in implementing ambitious programs and social projects. The Russian economy has proved its resilience, and the current stable macro-economic situation opens up new opportunities for surging ahead and maintaining long-term growth.
Finally, the world is now accumulating a tremendous technological potential making it possible to achieve a real breakthrough in improving the people’s quality of life and modernizing the economy, the infrastructure and state governance and administration. How effectively we will able to use the colossal potentialities of the technological revolution, and how we will respond to its challenges depends on us alone. In this sense, the next few years will prove decisive for the country’s future. I reiterate, these years will be decisive.
I will tell you why. What I will say now has no connection to the domestic political cycle or even the presidential election. No matter who is elected President, each Russian citizen and all of us together must be able to see what is going on in the world, what is happening around us, and what challenges we are facing.
The speed of technological progress is accelerating sharply. It is rising dramatically. Those who manage to ride this technological wave will surge far ahead. Those who fail to do this will be submerged and drown in this wave.
Technological lag and dependence translate into reduced security and economic opportunities of the country and, ultimately, the loss of its sovereignty. This is the way things stand now. The lag inevitably weakens and erodes the human potential. Because new jobs, modern companies and an attractive life will develop in other, more successful countries where educated and talented young people will go, thereby draining the society’s vital powers and development energy.
As I have said, changes concern the entire civilization, and the sheer scale of these changes calls for an equally powerful response. We are ready to provide it. We are ready for a genuine breakthrough.
My confidence is based on the results we have achieved together, even though they may seem modest at first glance, as well as on the unity of Russian society and, most importantly, on the huge potential of Russia and our talented and ingenious people.
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, and also open the country to the world and to new ideas and initiatives.
It is high time we take a number of tough decisions that are long overdue. We need to get rid of anything that stands in the way of our development and prevents people from fully unleashing their potential. It is our obligation to focus all resources and summon all our strength and willpower in this daring effort that must yield results.
Otherwise, there will be no future for us, our children or our country. It is not a question of someone conquering or devastating our land. No, that is not the danger. The main threat and our main enemy is the fact that we are falling behind. If we are unable to reverse this trend, we will fall even further behind. This is like a serious chronic disease that steadily saps the energy from the body and destroys it from within step by step. Quite often, this destructive process goes unnoticed by the body.
We need to master creative power and boost development so that no obstacles prevent us from moving forward with confidence and independently. We must take ownership of our destiny.
What should be our priority? Let me reiterate that I believe that the main, key development factor is the well being of the people and the prosperity of Russian families.
Let me remind you that in 2000, 42 million people lived below the poverty line, which amounted to nearly 30 percent – 29 percent of the population. In 2012, this indicator fell to 10 percent.
Poverty has increased slightly against the backdrop of the economic crisis. Today, 20 million Russian nationals live in poverty. Of course, this is much fewer than the 42 million people in 2000, but it is still way too many. There are even working people who have to live very modest lives.
For the first time in our recent history, the minimum wage was equated with the subsistence level. This provision will come into force on May 1, 2018, and will benefit about 4 million people. This is an important step but it still falls short of offering a fundamental solution.
We need to upgrade the employment structure that has become inefficient and archaic, provide good jobs that motivate people, improve their well being and help them uncover their talents. We need to create decent well-paid jobs. This would help deliver on one of the key objectives for the next decade, which is to guarantee sustained long-term real income growth, and to reduce the poverty rate by at least one half over the next six years.
It is our moral duty to provide all-round support to members of the older generation, who have made a tremendous contribution to national development. Senior citizens must have worthy conditions for a long, active and healthy life. Most importantly, we must raise pensions and index them regularly, so that they outpace inflation. We will also strive to reduce the gap between the size of pensions and pre-retirement wages. And, of course, we must raise the quality of healthcare and social support for senior citizens and help people who are alone and those facing problems in life.
We need to address all these issues using a comprehensive approach. As I see it, the future new Government will have to draft a special program for the systematic support of senior citizens and for improving their quality of life.
We consider every person important and valuable. People need to know that they are needed, and they must live a long and healthy life and enjoy their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They need to see their children grow up and become successful in a powerful, rapidly developing and successful country that is attaining new development levels.
Russia must firmly assert itself among the five largest global economies, and its per-capita GDP must increase by 50 percent by the middle of the next decade. This is a very difficult task. I am confident that we are ready to accomplish it.
Of course, life expectancy is a highly important fundamental parameter for gauging the well-being of citizens and the country. In 2000, Russia posted a life expectancy of just over 65 years, with men’s life expectancy falling below 60 years. This is not just low, it is a tragedy, and this parameter is tragically inadequate.
In the past few years, Russia has been posting a major increase in average life expectancy levels, which is among the highest in the world. We have managed to accomplish this task. Life expectancy levels have increased by over seven years and now total 73 years. But, of course, this is not enough either. Today, we must set an entirely new goal. By the end of the next decade, Russia must confidently join the club of countries posting a life expectancy of 80-plus years, which includes Japan, France and Germany.
At the same time, life expectancy levels for people living a healthy, active and full life, when they are not hampered and pinned down by illness, must grow faster than planned. I am confident that we can achieve this goal, considering the positive trends of the previous years. For this purpose, the whole of Russia will have to make a quantum leap in its development, so that the life of every person is transformed.
We need to create a modern living environment and transform cities and villages across the country. In doing so, we must make sure that they preserve their identity and historical heritage. We already have positive experience in renovating the urban environment and infrastructure. Let me elaborate on this point. Cities like Kazan, Vladivostok and Sochi have already benefited from upgrades of this kind. Change is underway in many regional capitals and smaller cities. Overall, we now know how to do it.
I propose launching a large-scale spatial development program in Russia, which would include developing cities and other communities by at least doubling spending in this area over the next six years.
It is obvious that the effort to develop cities and other communities goes hand in hand with the need to overcome challenges in other areas, including healthcare, education, environment and transport. Initiatives in all these segments will require additional funding. I will talk about this matter further in my Address.
Urban renovation should be supported by the introduction of state-of-the-art construction technology and materials, modern architectural solutions, digital technology for social services, transport and utilities sectors. Among other things, this would make the housing and utilities sector more transparent and efficient, so that people receive quality services at a reasonable cost.
This large-scale project brings the promise of better economic and social development prospects, a modern living environment, and a favorable climate for cultural and civil initiatives, for small businesses and start-ups. All this would facilitate the emergence of a large and creative middle class in Russia.
Of course, a lot will depend on municipal and local authorities and whether they will be receptive to new ideas. The ability to respond to the diverse needs of various generations, including families with children, retirees and people with disabilities, will also be instrumental. People must have a decisive say in the future of their cities and villages. We have discussed this many times, including at meetings with heads of municipalities. Today, I am not saying it just to check the box. I ask you to bring it to the attention of decision-makers at all levels.
It is important that the development of cities becomes the driving force for the whole country. Russia is a country with a vast territory, and its active, dynamic life cannot be concentrated in several metropolitan cities. Big cities must distribute their energy, and serve as a support for the balanced, harmonious spatial development of the whole of Russia.
To be continued