Vladimir Putin took part in the final plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club. The theme of the club’s anniversary session is Russia’s Diversity for the Modern World.
Excerpts from transcript of themeeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
I hope that the place for your discussions, for our meetings is well chosen and that the timing is good. We are in the centre of Russia – not a geographical centre, but a spiritual one. [Novgorod Region] is a cradle of Russian statehood. Our outstanding historians believe and have analysed how the elements of Russian statehood came together right here. This is in the light of the fact that two great rivers – the Volkhov and Neva – acted as natural means of communication, providing a natural linkage at the time. And it was here that Russian statehood gradually began to emerge.
As has already been pointed out, this year the [Valdai] club has brought together an unprecedented list of participants: more than 200 Russian and foreign politicians, public and spiritual leaders, philosophers and cultural figures, people with very different, original and sometimes opposing views.
You have already been conferring here for a few days now, and I’ll try not to bore you unduly. But nevertheless, I will allow myself to state my views on subjects that you have touched on during these discussions in one way or another. I am not only thinking about analysing Russian historical, cultural, and governance experiences. First and foremost, I am thinking of general debates, conversations about the future, strategies, and values, about the values underpinning our country’s development, how global processes will affect our national identity, what kind of twenty-first-century world we want to see, and what Russia, our country, can contribute to this world together with its partners.
Today we need new strategies to preserve our identity in a rapidly changing world, a world that has become more open, transparent and interdependent. This fact confronts virtually all countries and all peoples in one form or another: Russian, European, Chinese and American – the societies of virtually all countries. And naturally, including here in Valdai, we strive to better understand how our partners are attempting to meet this challenge, because we are meeting here with experts on Russia. But we proceed from the fact that our guests will state their views on the interaction and relationship between Russia and the countries that you represent.
For us (and I am talking about Russians and Russia), questions about who we are and who we want to be are increasingly prominent in our society. We have left behind Soviet ideology, and there will be no return. Proponents of fundamental conservatism who idealise pre-1917 Russia seem to be similarly far from reality, as are supporters of an extreme, western-style liberalism.
It is evident that it is impossible to move forward without spiritual, cultural and national self-determination. Without this we will not be able to withstand internal and external challenges, nor we will succeed in global competitions. And today we see a new round of such competitions. Today their main focuses are economic-technological and ideological-informational. Military-political problems and general conditions are worsening. The world is becoming more rigid, and sometimes forgoes not merely international law, but also basic decency.
[Every country] has to have military, technological and economic strength, but nevertheless the main thing that will determine success is the quality of citizens, the quality of society: their intellectual, spiritual and moral strength. After all, in the end economic growth, prosperity and geopolitical influence are all derived from societal conditions. They depend on whether the citizens of a given country consider themselves a nation, to what extent they identify with their own history, values and traditions, and whether they are united by common goals and responsibilities. In this sense, the question of finding and strengthening national identity really is fundamental for Russia.
Meanwhile, today Russia’s national identity is experiencing not only objective pressures stemming from globalisation, but also the consequences of the national catastrophes of the twentieth century, when we experienced the collapse of our state two different times. The result was a devastating blow to our nation’s cultural and spiritual codes; we were faced with the disruption of traditions and the consonance of history, with the demoralisation of society, with a deficit of trust and responsibility. These are the root causes of many pressing problems we face. After all, the question of responsibility for oneself, before society and the law, is something fundamental for both legal and everyday life.
After 1991 there was the illusion that a new national ideology, a development ideology, would simply appear by itself. The state, authorities, intellectual and political classes virtually rejected engaging in this work, all the more so since previous, semi-official ideology was hard to swallow. And in fact they were all simply afraid to even broach the subject. In addition, the lack of a national idea stemming from a national identity profited the quasi-colonial element of the elite – those determined to steal and remove capital, and who did not link their future to that of the country, the place where they earned their money.
Practice has shown that a new national idea does not simply appear, nor does it develop according to market rules. A spontaneously constructed state and society does not work, and neither does mechanically copying other countries’ experiences. Such primitive borrowing and attempts to civilize Russia from abroad were not accepted by an absolute majority of our people. This is because the desire for independence and sovereignty in spiritual, ideological and foreign policy spheres is an integral part of our national character. Incidentally, such approaches have often failed in other nations too. The time when ready-made lifestyle models could be installed in foreign states like computer programmes has passed.
We also understand that identity and a national idea cannot be imposed from above, cannot be established on an ideological monopoly. Such a construction is very unstable and vulnerable; we know this from personal experience. It has no future in the modern world. We need historical creativity, a synthesis of the best national practices and ideas, an understanding of our cultural, spiritual and political traditions from different points of view, and to understand that [national identity] is not a rigid thing that will last forever, but rather a living organism. Only then will our identity be based on a solid foundation, be directed towards the future and not the past. This is the main argument demonstrating that a development ideology must be discussed by people who hold different views, and have different opinions about how and what to do to solve given problems.
All of us – so-called Neo-Slavophiles and Neo-Westernisers, statists and so-called liberals – all of society must work together to create common development goals. We need to break the habit of only listening to like-minded people, angrily – and even with hatred – rejecting any other point of view from the outset. You can’t flip or even kick the country’s future like a football, plunging into unbridled nihilism, consumerism, criticism of anything and everything, or gloomy pessimism.
This means that liberals have to learn to talk with representatives of the left-wing and, conversely, that nationalists must remember that Russia was formed specifically as a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country from its very inception. Nationalists must remember that by calling into question our multi-ethnic character, and exploiting the issue of Russian, Tatar, Caucasian, Siberian or any other nationalism or separatism, means that we are starting to destroy our genetic code. In effect, we will begin to destroy ourselves.
Russia’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity are unconditional. These are red lines no one is allowed to cross. For all the differences in our views, debates about identity and about our national future are impossible unless their participants are patriotic. Of course I mean patriotism in the purest sense of the word.
Too often in our nation’s history, instead of opposition to the government we have been faced with opponents of Russia itself. I have already mentioned this; Pushkin also talked about it. And we know how it ended, with the demolition of the [Russian] state as such. There is virtually no Russian family that completely escaped the troubles of the past century. Questions about how to assess certain historical events still divide our country and society.
We need to heal these wounds, and repair the tissues of our historic fabric. We can no longer engage in self-deception, striking out unsightly or ideologically uncomfortable pages of our history, breaking links between generations, rushing to extremes, creating or debunking idols. It’s time to stop only taking note of the bad in our history, and berating ourselves more than even our opponents would do. [Self-]criticism is necessary, but without a sense of self-worth, or love for our Fatherland, such criticism becomes humiliating and counterproductive.
We must be proud of our history, and we have things to be proud of. Our entire, uncensored history must be a part of Russian identity. Without recognising this it is impossible to establish mutual trust and allow society to move forward.
Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.
The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.
What else but the loss of the ability to self-reproduce could act as the greatest testimony of the moral crisis facing a human society? Today almost all developed nations are no longer able to reproduce themselves, even with the help of migration. Without the values embedded in Christianity and other world religions, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it natural and right to defend these values. One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question.
At the same time we see attempts to somehow revive a standardised model of a unipolar world and to blur the institutions of international law and national sovereignty. Such a unipolar, standardised world does not require sovereign states; it requires vassals. In a historical sense this amounts to a rejection of one’s own identity, of the God-given diversity of the world.
Russia agrees with those who believe that key decisions should be worked out on a collective basis, rather than at the discretion of and in the interests of certain countries or groups of countries. Russia believes that international law, not the right of the strong, must apply. And we believe that every country, every nation is not exceptional, but unique, original and benefits from equal rights, including the right to independently choose their own development path.
This is our conceptual outlook, and it follows from our own historical destiny and Russia’s role in global politics. Our present position has deep historical roots. Russia itself has evolved on the basis of diversity, harmony and balance, and brings such a balance to the international stage.
I want to remind you that the Congress of Vienna of 1815 and the agreements made at Yalta in 1945, taken with Russia’s very active participation, secured a lasting peace. Russia’s strength, the strength of a winning nation at those critical junctures, manifested itself as generosity and justice. And let us remember [the Treaty of] Versailles, concluded without Russia’s participation. Many experts, and I absolutely agree with them, believe that Versailles laid the foundation for the Second World War because the Treaty of Versailles was unfair to the German people: it imposed restrictions with which they could not cope, and the course of the next century became clear.
There is one more fundamental aspect to which I want to draw your attention. In Europe and some other countries so-called multiculturalism is in many respects a transplanted, artificial model that is now being questioned, for understandable reasons. This is because it is based on paying for the colonial past. It is no accident that today European politicians and public figures are increasingly talking about the failures of multiculturalism, and that they are not able to integrate foreign languages or foreign cultural elements into their societies.
Over the past centuries in Russia, which some have tried to label as the ”prison of nations“, not even the smallest ethnic group has disappeared. And they have retained not only their internal autonomy and cultural identity, but also their historical space. You know, I was interested to learn (I did not even know this) that in Soviet times [authorities] paid such careful attention to this that virtually every small ethnic group had its own print publication, support for its language, and for its national literature. We should bring back and take on board much of what has been done in this respect.
Along with this the different cultures in Russia have the unique experience of mutual influence, mutual enrichment and mutual respect. This multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity lives in our historical consciousness, in our spirit and in our historical makeup. Our state was built in the course of a millennium on this organic model.
Russia – as philosopher Konstantin Leontyev vividly put it – has always evolved in ”blossoming complexity“ as a state-civilisation, reinforced by the Russian people, Russian language, Russian culture, Russian Orthodox Church and the country’s other traditional religions. It is precisely the state-civilisation model that has shaped our state polity. It has always sought to flexibly accommodate the ethnic and religious specificity of particular territories, ensuring diversity in unity.
Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions are an integral part of Russia’s identity, its historical heritage and the present-day lives of its citizens. The main task of the state, as enshrined in the Constitution, is to ensure equal rights for members of traditional religions and atheists, and the right to freedom of conscience for all citizens.
However, it is clearly impossible to identify oneself only through one’s ethnicity or religion in such a large nation with a multi-ethnic population. In order to maintain the nation’s unity, people must develop a civic identity on the basis of shared values, a patriotic consciousness, civic responsibility and solidarity, respect for the law, and a sense of responsibility for their homeland’s fate, without losing touch with their ethnic or religious roots.
There are broad discussions on how the ideology of national development will be structured politically and conceptually – including with your participation, colleagues. But I deeply believe that individuals’ personal, moral, intellectual and physical development must remain at the heart of our philosophy. Back at the start of the 1990s, Solzhenitsyn stated that the nation’s main goal should be to preserve the population after a very difficult 20th century. Today, we must admit that we have not yet fully overcome the negative demographic trends, although we have veered away from a dangerous decline in the national potential.
Unfortunately, throughout our nation’s history, little value was given at times to individual human lives. Too often, people were seen simply as a means, rather than a goal and a mission for development. We no longer have that right and we cannot throw millions of human lives into the fire for the sake of development. We must treasure every individual. Russia’s main strength in this and future centuries will lie in its educated, creative, physically and spiritually healthy people, rather than natural resources.
The role of education is all the more important because in order to educate an individual, a patriot, we must restore the role of great Russian culture and literature. They must serve as the foundation for people’s personal identity, the source of their uniqueness and their basis for understanding the national idea. Here, a great deal depends on the teaching community, which has been and remains a highly important guardian of nationwide values, ideas and philosophies. This community speaks the same language – the language of science, knowledge and education, despite the fact that it is spread out over an enormous territory, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. In this way, the community of teachers, the educational community overall, in the broad sense of the word, binds the nation together. Supporting this community is one of the most important steps on the path toward a strong, flourishing Russia.
I want to stress again that without focussing our efforts on people’s education and health, creating mutual responsibility between the authorities and each individual, and establishing trust within society, we will be losers in the competition of history. Russia’s citizens must feel that they are the responsible owners of their country, region, hometown, property, belongings and their lives. A citizen is someone who is capable of independently managing his or her own affairs, freely cooperating with equals.
Local governments and self-regulated citizens’ organisations serve as the best school for civic consciousness. Of course, I’m referring to non-profits. Incidentally, one of the best Russian political traditions, the country council tradition, was also built on the principles of local government. A true civil society and a true, nationally-focused political elite, including the opposition with its own ideology, values and standards for good and evil – their own, rather than those dictated by the media or from abroad – can only grow through effective self-governing mechanisms. The government is prepared to trust self-regulating and self-governing associations, but we must know whom we are trusting. This is absolutely normal global practice, which is precisely why we have passed new legislation to increase the transparency of nongovernmental organisations.
Speaking of any kind of reforms, it is important to bear in mind that there is more to our nation than just Moscow and St Petersburg. In developing Russian federalism, we must rely on our own historical experience, using flexible and diverse models. The Russian model of federalism has a great deal of potential built into it. It is imperative that we learn to use it competently, not forgetting its most important aspect: the development of the regions and their independence should create equal opportunities for all of our nation’s citizens, regardless of where they live, to eliminate inequalities in the economic and social development of Russia’s territory, thereby strengthening the nation’s unity. Ultimately, this is a huge challenge because these territories’ development has been very unbalanced over the course of decades and even centuries.
I would like to touch on another topic. The 21st century promises to become the century of major changes, the era of the formation of major geopolitical zones, as well as financial and economic, cultural, civilisational, and military and political areas. That is why integrating with our neighbours is our absolute priority. The future Eurasian Economic Union, which we have declared and which we have discussed extensively as of late, is not just a collection of mutually beneficial agreements. The Eurasian Union is a project for maintaining the identity of nations in the historical Eurasian space in a new century and in a new world. Eurasian integration is a chance for the entire post-Soviet space to become an independent centre for global development, rather than remaining on the outskirts of Europe and Asia.
I want to stress that Eurasian integration will also be built on the principle of diversity. This is a union where everyone maintains their identity, their distinctive character and their political independence. Together with our partners, we will gradually implement this project, step by step. We expect that it will become our common input into maintaining diversity and stable global development.
Colleagues, the years after 1991 are often referred to as the post-Soviet era. We have lived through and overcome that turbulent, dramatic period. Russia has passed through these trials and tribulations and is returning to itself, to its own history, just as it did at other points in its history. After consolidating our national identity, strengthening our roots, and remaining open and receptive to the best ideas and practices of the East and the West, we must and will move forward.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Member of the Valdai Discussion Club Advisory Board Piotr Dutkiewicz: Mr President, this is the tenth year that we are meeting with you here.
This is a unique platform and a unique format – there is nothing like it in the world. Thank you for these ten years of warm support for our club.
I have a two-part question concerning your article in The New York Times. It was an excellent idea and a brilliant article. Indeed, you are personally responsible for stopping the expansion and deepening of the Syrian conflict, which is an enormous achievement.
Question: who came up with this idea? Was it Lavrov, Shoigu, Peskov or someone else? And when did you discuss it for the first time with President Obama?
The second part of the question: it seems to me that you put yourself in a rather awkward position with this brilliant idea, this brilliant article, because you became a kind of hostage. You and Russia have taken on the burden of responsibility for the success of this agreement. You already have many detractors because they do not want to see major global policy to develop as a Putin and Obama duet. What happens if it doesn’t work?
Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your kind words.
My colleagues and I have always been pleased that there are people in the world interested in Russia, its history and its culture. Ten years ago, when I was told that these people would like to come to Russia, talk with us, engage in debate, and want to learn about our point of view on key issues in the development of the nation itself and its place in the world, well, naturally, we supported it immediately; I supported it and my colleagues supported it. I am very happy that over the last ten years, this platform has become even more prestigious compared to the first steps taken a decade ago. The interest in our nation is not waning; on the contrary, it is increasing and growing.
I want to respond to your words of gratitude in kind. I would like to thank all the experts on Russia who remain faithful to their love of our nation and their interest in our nation.
Now, regarding the article. I had this idea completely by chance. I saw that President Obama took the discussion on the possibility of attacking Syria to the Congress and Senate. I followed the course of that discussion and I just wanted to convey our position, my own position, to the people who will be forming their opinions on this issue, and to clarify it. Because unfortunately, the media often present various problems very one-sidedly, or simply stay completely silent.
So this was my idea; I called one of my aides and said that I would like to publish an article in an American newspaper – it didn’t matter which one, but one of the leading ones – so that this information would reach the readers, and dictated what I wanted to see written. You may have noticed that it does not contain anything I have not stated earlier, in various places in public. I have already talked about all of it in one way or another. So I just dictated it, and then when my colleagues put it together, I took a look. I didn’t like everything, so I rewrote and added a few things, gave it back to them, they worked on it some more and brought it to me again. I made some more changes and felt it was ready for publishing. We arranged through our partners that it would be in The New York Times; we came to an agreement with this respected publication that the article would be published without any cuts. If they didn’t like it, we could give it to another newspaper.
But I must give credit to the New York Times editors: they completely abided by our agreements and published everything as I wrote it. They even waived their usual requirements on the number of characters and words in the article; it was a little bit over the limit. They were going to submit it, but then one of my aides said, “President Obama is going to address the nation tomorrow. What if he announces that there won’t be any strikes, that they changed their minds? It’s better to wait.” I said, “Very well.” We waited, and the next morning, I was getting ready for work and I was given President Obama’s speech. I began to read it and realised that nothing had changed fundamentally, so I laid it aside without finishing it. But then I thought, “No, I need to read it to the end.” And when I read all of it, it became clear that my article was incomplete. As you understand, the matter at hand was America’s exceptionalism. So I picked up the article, and right then and there, I hand-wrote the last paragraph. I gave it to my colleagues, they passed it on to The New York Times, and there it was.
Now, concerning responsibility. You know, you are all very experienced, smart and clever people. Here is what I will say about Russia’s special responsibility. We have equal rights and equal responsibilities with all our colleagues involved in the discussion on Syria. This is not the first time I hear that I now carry a special responsibility. We all carry a special responsibility; we all carry it equally. If the attempt to resolve the problem by peaceful means is unsuccessful, that will be a tragedy. But we must investigate before we do take any other steps. My good friend Francois Fillon – we have known each other for a long time and have become friends during our years of working together – talked about how after the report was released by UN experts, it became clear that chemical weapons had been used. But this was clear to us from the very beginning, and our experts agreed. The only thing that is unclear is who used it.
We are constantly talking about responsibility on the part of Assad’s government, whether he used chemical weapons or not. But what if they were used by the opposition? Nobody is saying what we would then do with the opposition – but this, too, is an important question. We have every reason to believe that this was a provocation. You know, it was clever and smart, but at the same time, the execution was primitive. They used an ancient, Soviet-made projectile, taken from the Syrian army’s armaments from a long time ago – it even had “Made in the USSR” printed on it. But this was not the first time chemical weapons were used in Syria. Why didn’t they investigate the previous instances?
This matter should be investigated as thoroughly as possible. If we finally get an answer, despite all obstacles, to the question of who did this, who committed this crime – and there is no question that it was a crime – then we will take the next step; we will then work with other UN Security Council colleagues to determine the culpability of those who committed this crime, together and in solidarity.
We are reliably informed that the above video is not of Putin’s 2016 Christmas address but from a 2013 speech at Valdai. Ed.
Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/19243
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