From Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 7, 2024, p. 1. Complete text:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration ceremony will be held in the Kremlin on May 7. For the fifth time in the 21st century, he will pronounce not just the oath, but also an address outlining his understanding of what our country has achieved and his promises for the future.

Therefore, it makes sense – or perhaps it’s just interesting – to recall the key points of the addresses Putin gave during previous ceremonies.

In 2000, Putin defined his understanding of his new position: “The head of state has always been and always will be the person who answers for everything, everything that goes on in the country.” And then he kept returning to this theme, proving unequivocally that he wouldn’t dream of shifting responsibility onto someone on his team. But since not everything always goes “according to plan,” when things go wrong the only possible culprit is someone foreign, from somewhere else, not one of his own. More often than not, the collective West.

In his 2000 address, Putin placed special emphasis on the historic nature of the democratic and peaceful transfer of power. He saw this as a test of the constitutional order’s strength: “We have shown that Russia is becoming a truly modern, democratic state. The peaceful transfer of power is a key element of the political stability that you and I have dreamed of, that we have striven for and tried to achieve.”

[In the speech,] Putin recognized that Russia had followed its own path to a free society and said, “[we must] safeguard what we have achieved, we must preserve and expand democracy.” Also of note were the new president’s calls “to [not] deny our roots” and to “preserve this link in time.” At the time, many understood Putin’s statement as an appreciation of the difficulties and discord of the 1990s, which were closely associated with the era of [former Russian president] Boris Yeltsin. This is why they were later surprised by the fierce criticism of the “wild 1990s” portrayed on federal television stations and the obvious desire to be dissociated from that “link in time.”

Four years later, in 2004, Putin was impressed by the economic growth resulting from higher global commodities prices and the overcoming of a “complex ideological confrontation.” On this basis, Putin emphasized that Russia had strengthened its international standing and, most importantly, managed to use “peaceful means to stand up for its lawful interests in a rapidly changing world.” Obviously, it was no accident that he made a point of identifying peaceful ways to fight for the country’s interests: This was a conceptual statement.

Putin’s words that “Russia’s success and prosperity cannot and should not depend on one single person or one political party” sounded even more striking and convincing. And Putin called a “mature civil society” a guarantee of democratic continuity, and said that the foundation of economic growth and political stability can only be seen in free people in a free country.

Putin went on to point out the need to develop “a genuinely multiparty system” and strengthen “personal freedoms.” Knowing how much importance Putin places on precise wording and epithets, the use of the qualifier “genuinely” before “multiparty system” is quite meaningful. In this specific context it is worth noting his desire for the people to “be proud of their strong but peace-loving country and its authority.”

Putin’s 2012 speech was brief. Readers are reminded that the inauguration took place following the protests on Sakharov Prospekt and Bolotnaya Square [in December 2011 and February 2012; see, respectively, Vol. 63, No. 50, pp. 7‑11, and Vol. 64, No. 6, pp. 6‑9 – Trans.]. Nevertheless, the president stated that the country had an “active and responsible civil society.”

He gave credit to [outgoing president] Dmitry Medvedev for this, and he tied the country’s future success to “strengthening our country’s democracy and constitutional rights and freedoms, and expanding our citizens’ participation in government.”

Putin’s 2018 inaugural address was expansive and multidimensional. Speaking about the [then] upcoming 25th anniversary of our Constitution, he emphasized “the absolute supremacy of civil rights and liberties.”

But it was in this speech that the president began speaking about traditional values, about the fact that we must determine “our own future” and that “our country is secure and well able to defend itself.”

At the same time, Putin stressed that all of Russia’s existing resources should be used “to address domestic issues in particular, which are the most pressing for our development. They will enable us to achieve an economic and technological breakthrough.”

Putin also voiced a very important thought: “We must create more freedom for entrepreneurs and scientists, for creative and proactive people, for people who care, for all those who seek change.” The president saw this as a safeguard of “Russia’s stable development.”

At the end of his address, Putin emphasized that “in addition to the historic changes of the 1990s and early 2000s, which were long overdue and absolutely necessary, our Fatherland and our people had to go through some very difficult trials.” This phrase is structured in a nuanced and exact way. The very difficult trials came not during absolutely necessary changes, but somehow in addition to them. It seems that the possibility of reconsidering and revising the results of privatization lies at the bottom of this interpretation, since, as Putin commented, “Not all historical wounds have healed; not all the losses and difficulties have been overcome.”

An analysis of Putin’s four previous inaugurations clearly indicates that a key trend of the past 24 years has been a retreat from a straightforward and direct interpretation of constitutional rights and liberties. Now, the primary focus is on interpreting the various meanings of constitutional guarantees: from freedom of speech and assembly to bans on censorship and state ideology.

Much has changed in this country since 2018. The Constitution was amended [allowing the president to hold office for more than two terms; see Vol. 72, No. 27‑28, pp. 3‑7 – Trans.]; the special military operation [in Ukraine] was launched [see Vol. 74, No. 8, pp. 9‑13]; and an unthinkable number of foreign agents and undesirable organizations have appeared. Such are the times. The country has found itself weighed down by unprecedented sanctions, and a genuine multiparty system is becoming more and more of a charade. Opponents of the government are scattered about in exile. The collective West is the enemy, but the Global South is still not a friend. The turn to the East is looking increasingly unbalanced in terms of exports and imports and has made Russia more dependent on China. The government must develop a strategy to provide genuine assistance to help Russian businesses move into non-Western markets, whose main characteristics are insufficient hard currency liquidity, a weak institutional environment and the absence of any reliable legal guarantees.

The problems cannot be solved by relying on the state sector. Private business is the main driver for adapting to the new reality. It needs to be helped vigorously and in a variety of ways.

Let’s assume that today Vladimir Putin will emphasize the importance of supporting businesses to achieve what is known as “technological sovereignty.” The stakes are too high for the country and its citizens to leave this process to itself.