Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Putin pledges order and continuity
New Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said his government will establish order in the troubled North Caucasus and in economic and political relations with the various regions of Russia.
He told the Duma prior to the vote confirming him as prime minister that the short-term aim of establishing order was to conduct the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, and the long-term aim was to improve living standards.
He said he would try to write off the armed forces' debts, stand up for Russia's "legitimate zones of interest" in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, and threatened the North Caucasus with a "special legal regime" that would nonetheless fall short of a state of emergency.
The following is the text of Putin address, as broadcast live on the Russia television channel
Esteemed Gennadiy Nikolayevich (Seleznev, Duma speaker), esteemed State Duma deputies, my speech will be brief.
The first thing that ought to concern us all equally right now is the stability and reliability of authority.
A cabinet change is not a reason for moving away from the strategic problems that face the country.
I have therefore received the consent in principle of the president of the Russian Federation for most of the ministers to remain in their posts, the more so - as I have already said publicly - since I was to a significant degree, together with Sergey Vadimovich (Stepashin, outgoing prime minister), involved in the selection of this cabinet.
Second, one of the government's main tasks is to ensure calm and order in the country and the holding of honest and just elections, both State Duma elections and presidential elections.
I think that, whatever the government, this is one of the main tasks in the political sphere.
Elections are a struggle for power, but not against the state, and in this case we are obliged to work together, displaying mutual responsibility as befits people who hold state power.
I would like to warn all participants in the pre-election race that, within the framework of its competence, the government plans to act harshly to stop any unlawful actions.
Third, and a most important issue for us, is that of the population's living standards.
You cannot demand people's trust in authorities that scorn the people's real interests and daily needs.
Promises to tackle pensions
The people have paid a great price for the decisions made by the government last year.
Today we are faced with the task of restoring the population's incomes and with stimulating their buying power to the maximum.
Action is required here without delay.
The mistakes of the past will not be repeated.
The short-term benefit of devaluing the rouble has long passed and new and alarming signals have recently begun to appear.
These are the current petrol crisis, the worsening situation with supplying the Far North and problems in the electricity industry and with bringing in the harvest.
All of this points to the fact that something is wrong in the system of government, to the ineffectiveness of our state institutions.
The recent rise in tax receipts is no consolation.
There has been such an increase.
But in no developed country does the corporate sector account for 80 per cent of all revenues and the treasury and personal taxes for only 15 per cent.
Everywhere else, the situation is quite the reverse.
Tax policy cannot be reduced to just asking people to hand it all over and be quiet.
And in this respect, esteemed members of the State Duma, I would like to say the following to you.
Our laws are still a hindrance to enterprise and initiative.
The talent of Russians has been enjoyed in the West for a long time.
But no good use is made of it here, in Russia.
We voluntarily give away that which we need so badly today - our main human potential.
Just ahead of the debate on the year 2000 budget, now is the time to look at the draft of that budget from precisely this standpoint.
And find new ways of boosting our national intellectual resources - our science, culture and education.
Now a few words about other very important economic priorities.
The government's economic policy will to a large extent be a continuation of the previous government's.
This issue has already been raised in this house today, and rightly so.
I intend to continue with the reforms that were begun by my predecessors.
But I want to stress one thing.
Reform is merely a mechanism for improving life for our people.
The life of the ordinary people, first and foremost.
I think we need to put an end to revolutions.
These are staged so that nobody can be rich.
But at the moment the country needs reforms so that nobody can be poor.
Although this task, unfortunately, is becoming harder by the day.
There is no such thing as a thriving state with an impoverished population.
So as early as October, we shall do all within our power to end all pension debts, and after that we shall begin to gradually raise pensions.
We shall also ensure that public-sector workers are paid on time.
Fund army, boost prestige
One of the fundamental tasks is to revive and strengthen the state's defence sector.
This is more important now than ever before.
It cannot be done without moral or financial support for our army, without restoring the prestige and good name of military service in this state.
We are simply obliged, all of us together, to restore public faith in those who wear uniform.
As regards looking after the army.
We shall ensure that the defence sector works more effectively.
So I think it essential - and I ask you to understand me correctly here, this is a very important and responsible statement and I'm ready to clarify it - I think it correct to write off defence-sector factories' debts to the state budget.
What do I mean by this? First of all, I mean that part of their debts to the budget that is caused by failure to provide the full measure of state finance for defence-sector factories.
We will try to put through - if we prepare it correctly - this decision in such a way so that it does not damage the economy and does not lead to a further worsening in the nonpayments situation.
Rein in the black market and wayward regions
A most important instrument and a most important priority for the government is a secure food supply.
We will provide serious assistance to the agrarian sector and in the final analysis to millions of peasants who have just one concern - to feed the country with quality Russian produce.
The situation is intolerable when a considerable part of GDP is still in the shadow sector and the reason for it, of course, is the weakness of state institutions.
In many cases it is namely the latter that is the bait for unscrupulous entrepreneurs and a reason for blackmail and pressure on the authorities in the pursuit of selfish interests.
The result of this is the proliferation of crime throughout our economy.
This is particularly dangerous against a background of attempts to privatize law-enforcement bodies and to turn them into an instrument of war among clans and groups.
In its fight against this phenomenon, the government will avail itself of all of its potential.
Esteemed deputies, we will have to discuss the government' s economic policy many times in the future, both in connection with the adoption of the budget and in connection with the consideration of draft laws linked to this sphere.
But laws on the market are only truly effective when there is no disorder in the united mechanism of state management, when the work of all branches of power is aimed at one thing - preserving the unity and integrity of our state.
I have deep respect for the independence of the regions.
In this independence I see the main line for the development of Russia as a federal state.
But I think that displaying both spinelessness and double standards with regard to various members of the federation is dangerous and simply unacceptable and harmful.
The law and the equality of members of the federation should lie at the basis of relations between the federal government and regional bodies of power.
At meetings with deputies' groups - we have already talked about this - the real economic situation of the subject of the federation should determine the centre's policy towards this or that subject of the federation, and not the national marker.
Economic discipline, a unified system of laws and mutual responsibility are the three most important components of our regional policy.
I wish to dwell in particular on the North Caucasus.
North Caucasus could face 'special legal regime'
The situation in this region has deteriorated in the past year, as we can see.
Chechnya, North Ossetia, Karachay-Cherkessia, all of these are links in the same chain.
Old unresolved conflicts inevitably cause new ones to escalate.
Dagestan is an example.
I have had a serious and in-depth discussion on the situation in Dagestan at the Federation Council.
Regional leaders are looking to the executive authorities for the most resolute measures against the terrorists.
The possibility of imposing a state of emergency there was discussed.
Today, this morning, right up to now, we have been discussing this issue in detail, and demands have been made in this house for a quicker decision, within the law, on a state of emergency.
I think that we can contain the conflict and remove its root causes without resorting to that extreme measure.
We will have to ask the Federation Council for a special legal regime to be introduced in that troubled region.
I should point out to you immediately that the prosecutor-general has at my request looked into the current situation there.
We are acting strictly within the bounds of existing legislation.
I want to say that we will not only fight against terrorism but also remove its social and economic causes.
At least, that is what we will aim to do.
A state commission on the North Caucasus will start working soon, and this commission will work on the issue in its entirety, including the military, political and socioeconomic aspects.
Russia's territorial integrity is not subject to negotiation.
Or, especially, to horse trading or blackmail.
We will take tough action against anyone who infringes upon our territorial integrity, using all the legal means available to us.
Foreign policy to defend 'legitimate zones of interest'
A few words about foreign policy.
It will remain unchanged.
Foreign policy is the prerogative of the president and changes of government cannot have any impact on it.
At the same time, I would like to dwell on a few of the issues.
Firstly, our foreign-policy efforts should in the long run pay their way, if I may use that expression.
Diplomats must remember that their work should result in a favourable environment on foreign markets for Russia's businesses.
Second, protecting the interests of Russians abroad is a priority.
We cannot allow the rights of our fellow countrymen to be trampled upon, or to regard them as second-class citizens.
To that end, we have a wide range of measures available from the traditional diplomatic methods to tough trade and economic methods.
In this regard, our diplomacy should be stronger and more insistent.
It should be clear to all that oppressing Russians is neither sensible nor worthwhile.
The task of our foreign policy is to raise Russia's prestige.
Without that, we will be unable to either protect our citizens or help our exporters.
So we will continue to take the most active part possible in peacekeeping operations and in the major international and regional organizations.
Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so.
It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest abroad in both the former Soviet lands and elsewhere.
We should not drop our guard in this respect, neither should we allow our opinion to be ignored.
Russia has no need to be ashamed of its interests.
It should not descend to that.
Government ready to act
Of course, I cannot cover all the tasks facing the government in this speech.
But I do know one thing for sure: not one of those tasks can be performed without imposing basic order and discipline in this country, without strengthening the vertical chain of command in the executive authorities.
Order means first and foremost the clear and precise responsibility of the authorities to society.
The citizens of Russia expect from us today not more policy statements but action.
The country's government is ready to work to achieve results.
And that is what is expected of authorities at all levels, be they executive or legislative, all the arms of the authorities.
We have had a very detailed discussion this morning, and I have been in the State Duma more or less since half past nine this morning.
There has been a very large number of questions and the work done has been very constructive.
I would like to end on that note, and I am willing to answer any questions you might have for me.
Source: Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 1004 gmt 16 Aug 99
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