Inaugurated for his fourth official term as Russia’s president Monday, Vladimir Putin surprised many by declaring what sounds like a “Russia first” program: a relentless focus on domestic development, to be partially paid for by sharp cuts in defense spending.
It may sound contrary to Western perceptions of Russia’s global intentions. But the priorities listed in the new Kremlin strategic program suggest that Mr. Putin has decided to use what seems likely to be his final term in office to cement his already substantial legacy as a nation-builder.
The projected surge in spending on roads, education, and health care will have to be paid for. A key source of that funding will be the military budget, which had been growing by around 10 percent annually for much of the Putin era.
“The times when the external threat was used to make cuts in social expenditures palatable has passed. We can’t go on like that any longer,” says Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of the Institute of USA-Canada Studies (ISKRAN), which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “A lot of the goals of military modernization have already been accomplished, so we can afford to slow it down, make selective cuts to fund social goals, while continuing the basic path.”
In his decree, Putin ordered the new government to draw up a detailed plan by Oct. 1, aimed at social objectives that polls show many Russians find attractive. Those include increasing real incomes, raising pensions, improving housing, cutting poverty, and expanding access to quality health care. He also called for plans to invest in high-tech and export-oriented industries, and to create “transport corridors” to strengthen Russia’s road, rail, and sea connections with the wider world.