Russian President Vladimir Putin has bid farewell to 2013 with his state of the nation address, followed closely by his annual 4-plus-hour marathon news conference. He even managed to appear magnanimous, notably in his decision to pardon the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovksy.
He is setting the stage for the main event: the Sochi Olympics.
But as Putin subtly warned in his final 2013 appearances — and as the Volgograd bombings so graphically confirmed — major changes must come in the new year. Putin virtually admitted in his December speeches that the current path is not sustainable, while the Volgograd bombings have increased the urgency to face up to Russia’s problems.
The president particularly vented a growing frustration with Russia’s status quo. In his address, for example, Putin returned to the issue of Russia’s crippling capital flight and prevalent use of offshore structures to avoid Russian taxes. He emphasized that he raised this matter a year ago, but “since nothing significant has been achieved,” he proposed new measures to ensure that Russian-owned offshore companies pay their fair share in taxes for the privilege of conducting business in Russia.
Putin displayed exasperation with other aspects of his stalled agenda. We are “always discussing” the question of how to make more land available for home construction, Putin insisted, yet no progress is made. He blamed bureaucratic incompetence and corruption, demanding that this be resolved in the next few months — though he provided no immediate solutions.
Putin also complained about his reforms in healthcare and education. A year and a half had passed since he had issued executive orders, he insisted, yet “things are done in a way that elicits a negative reaction among the public, or nothing is done.”