This week Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address to the Russian Federal Assembly. According to analysts, the address could be a sign that Putin has reassessed his priorities in favor of social challenges.

The live broadcast of Vladimir Putin's Annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly at the M-Video electronics store in Veliky Novgorod. Photo: RIA Novosti

This year’s Federal Assembly address of Russian President Vladimir Putin was different in comparison with previous years. Putin changed his focus from foreign policy to domestic policy and, particularly, to the country’s social challenges, including the problems in education and healthcare. One of the important points Putin highlighted is the necessity to involve NGOs when dealing with social problems.    

As Pavel Salin, director of the Center for Political Studies argues, Putin is focusing on the interests and demands of society. In comparison to his two previous addresses to Russia’s Federal Assembly, “foreign policy is not the first priority” for Putin in 2017, he told Russia Direct.  This year’s address to Russia’s lawmakers primarily focused on the social and economic agendas.

“This year the President follows closely the public opinion polls,” he said. However, despite his attempts to meet the demand of the population, Putin failed to give specific answers and alleviate their concerns about the future.

“The president failed to establish dialogue with society,” Russian opposition politician and democratic activist Leonid Gozman told Russia Direct. “As indicated by the public opinion pollsters, the key problem is inflation. Putin didn’t say something substantial regarding this topic. This problems overshadows the rest of the challenges. This means that the President doesn’t understand or prefers to ignore the real needs of society.”

Moreover, Putin failed to account for the reasons why Russia is facing the current economic recession, according to Gozman.

“He doesn’t explain why Russia is faced with these problems,” he said. “Putin just voiced a very vague statement that it was hard times for us. Yet, it doesn’t help at all. The president said that we have to look for the problems within ourselves and it is fair, indeed. However, it is also necessary to understand the structure of the government and how it works.”

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In addition, Gozman says, Putin was very vague and lacking in specifics, when he said that the key goal of politics is human capital and increased unity among Russians. It is an obvious fact, which everybody knows, said Gozman, pointing out that Putin didn’t outline his plans for 2017 of how he is going to deal with economic and social challenges of the country, because he doesn’t know how to solve them.

“He didn’t have a vision for the future and he still doesn’t have it,” Gozman said. “His picture is fragmented and inconsistent, yet it doesn’t help. Moreover, he doesn’t explain how he is going to resolve the problems.”

In his address to the Federal Assembly, Putin also touched upon the future reform of the tax system. The concept of the reform will begin preparations in 2017 and in 2019 the changes will come into force. This plan will allow the authorities to increase tax payments after the 2018 presidential election, not before.

Commenting on recent corruption scandals and Russia’s Economic Minister Alexei Ulyukaev’s arrest, Putin asked the Russian people to resist the temptation to transform these developments into a show. He said that the court will rule who is responsible and who is not. The majority of government officials are “honest and decent people that are working for the good of the country,” Putin remarked.

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According to Salin, these statements mean that one should not expect a “tightening of the screws” in Russia. “After Ulyukaev’s arrest many liberal thinkers in Russia thought that the authorities would introduce a mobilization scenario and a ‘tightening the screws.’ But this assessment turned out to be incorrect,” the expert said.