On October 22, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin took part, via videoconference, in the final plenary session of the 17th Annual Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club. In his speech, Putin stated that the primary source of a state's strength is the confidence that it commanded from its citizenry. He added that each individual country possesses its own political culture, traditions, and its own vision of development, and therefore an attempt to "blindly imitate someone else's agenda" is harmful.
"Genuine democracy" and civil society, warned Putin, cannot be "imported." "I have said so many times. They cannot be a product of the activities of foreign 'well-wishers,' even if they 'want the best for us.' In theory, this is probably possible. But, frankly, I have not yet seen such a thing and do not believe much in it. We see how such imported democracy models function. They are nothing more than a shell or a front with nothing behind them, even a semblance of sovereignty. People in the countries where such schemes have been implemented were never asked for their opinion, and their respective leaders are mere vassals. As is known, the overlord decides everything for the vassal. To reiterate, only the citizens of a particular country can determine their public interest," Putin said.
Putin explained that a strong, free and independent civil society is nationally oriented and sovereign by definition. "It is a cultural phenomenon, a tradition of a particular country, not the product of some abstract 'transnational mind' with other people's interests behind it."
After the end of the Cold War and its clear rules, Putin explained, everything changed. He then stated: "The post-war world order was established by three victorious countries: the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain. The role of Britain has changed since then; the Soviet Union no longer exists, while some try to dismiss Russia altogether." However, Putin cautioned those who are waiting for Russia to fade away: "The only thing we are worried about is catching a cold at your funeral."
Below are excerpts from Putin's speech:
'Genuine Democracy And Civil Society Cannot Be Imported'
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: "… The struggle against the coronavirus threat has shown that only a viable state can act effectively in a crisis – contrary to the reasoning of those who claim that the role of the state in the global world is decreasing and that in the future it will be altogether replaced with some other forms of social organization. Yes, this is possible. Everything may change in the distant future. Change is all around us, but today the role and importance of the state do matter.
"We have always considered a strong state a basic condition for Russia's development. And we have seen again that we were right by meticulously restoring and strengthening state institutions after their decline, and sometimes complete destruction in the 1990s.
"Then, the question is: what is a strong state? What are its strengths? Definitely, not total control or harsh law enforcement. Not thwarted private initiative or civic engagement. Not even the might of its armed forces or its high defense potential. Although, I think you realize how important this particular component is for Russia, given its geography and the range of geopolitical challenges. And there is also our historical responsibility as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to ensure global stability.
"Nevertheless, I am confident that what makes a state strong, primarily, is the confidence its citizens have in it. That is the strength of a state. People are the source of power, we all know that. And this recipe doesn't just involve going to the polling station and voting, it implies people's willingness to delegate broad authority to their elected government, to see the state, its bodies, civil servants, as their representatives – those who are entrusted to make decisions, but who also bear full responsibility for the performance of their duties.
"This kind of state can be set up any way you like. When I say 'any way,' I mean that what you call your political system is immaterial. Each country has its own political culture, traditions, and its own vision of their development. Trying to blindly imitate someone else's agenda is pointless and harmful. The main thing is for the state and society to be in harmony.
"And of course, confidence is the most solid foundation for the creative work of the state and society. Only together will they be able to find an optimal balance of freedom and security guarantees.
"Once again, in the most difficult moments of the pandemic, I felt pride and, to be honest, I am proud of Russia, of our citizens, of their willingness to have each other's backs. And of course, first of all, I am proud of our doctors, nurses, and ambulance workers – everyone, without exception, on whom the national healthcare system relies.
"I believe that civil society will play a key role in Russia's future. So, we want the voice of our citizens to be decisive and to see constructive proposals and requests from different social forces get implemented.
"This begs the question: how is this request for action being formed? Whose voice should the state be heeding? How does it know if it is really the voice of the people and not some behind-the-scenes messages or even someone's vocal yelling that has nothing to do whatsoever with our people and that at times becomes hysterical?
"Occasionally, someone is trying to substitute self-serving interests of a small social group or even external forces for a genuine public request.
"Genuine democracy and civil society cannot be 'imported.' I have said so many times. They cannot be a product of the activities of foreign 'well-wishers,' even if they 'want the best for us.' In theory, this is probably possible. But, frankly, I have not yet seen such a thing and do not believe much in it. We see how such imported democracy models function. They are nothing more than a shell or a front with nothing behind them, even a semblance of sovereignty. People in the countries where such schemes have been implemented were never asked for their opinion, and their respective leaders are mere vassals. As is known, the overlord decides everything for the vassal. To reiterate, only the citizens of a particular country can determine their public interest.
"We, in Russia, went through a fairly long period where foreign funds were very much the main source for creating and financing non-governmental organizations. Of course, not all of them pursued self-serving or bad goals, or wanted to destabilize the situation in our country, interfere in our domestic affairs, or influence Russia's domestic and, sometimes, foreign policy in their own interests. Of course not.
"There were sincere enthusiasts among independent civic organizations (they do exist), to whom we are undoubtedly grateful. But even so, they mostly remained strangers and ultimately reflected the views and interests of their foreign trustees rather than the Russian citizens. In a word, they were a tool with all the ensuing consequences.
"A strong, free and independent civil society is nationally oriented and sovereign by definition. It grows from the depth of people's lives and can take different forms and directions. But it is a cultural phenomenon, a tradition of a particular country, not the product of some abstract 'transnational mind' with other people's interests behind it.
"The duty of the state is to support public initiatives and open up new opportunities for them. This is exactly what we do. I consider this matter to be the most important for the government's agenda in the coming decades – regardless of who exactly will hold positions in that government. This is the guarantee of Russia's sovereign, progressive development, of genuine continuity in its forward movement, and of our ability to respond to global challenges.
'The Soviet Union Is No Longer There. But There Is Russia'
"Colleagues, you are well aware of the many acute problems and controversies that have accumulated in modern international affairs, even too many. Ever since the Cold War model of international relations, which was stable and predictable in its own way, began to change (I am not saying I miss it, I most certainly do not), the world has changed several times. Things in fact happened so quickly that those usually referred to as political elites simply did not have the time, or maybe a strong interest or ability to analyze what was really going on.
"Some countries hastily ran to divide the cake, mostly to grab a bigger piece, to take advantage of the benefits the end of the cold confrontation brought. Others were frantically looking for ways to adapt to the changes at any cost. And some countries – recall our own sad experience, frankly – just fought for survival, to survive as a single country, and as a subject of global politics, too.
"Meanwhile, time increasingly and insistently makes us question what lies ahead for humanity, what the new world order should be like, or at least a semblance of one, and whether we will take informed steps forward, coordinating our moves, or we will stumble blindly, each of us just relying on ourselves.
"The recent report of the Valdai Club, your club, reads: '…in a fundamentally changed international setting, the institutions themselves have become an obstacle to building a system of relations corresponding to the new era rather than a guarantee of global stability and manageability.' The authors believe that we are in for a world where individual states or groups of states will act much more independently while traditional international organizations will lose their importance.
"This is what I would like to say in this respect. Of course, it is clear what underlies this position. In effect, the post-war world order was established by three victorious countries: the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain. The role of Britain has changed since then; the Soviet Union no longer exists, while some try to dismiss Russia altogether.
"Let me assure you, dear friends, that we are objectively assessing our potentialities: our intellectual, territorial, economic and military potential. I am referring to our current options, our overall potential. Consolidating this country and looking at what is happening in the world, in other countries I would like to tell those who are still waiting for Russia's strength to gradually wane, the only thing we are worried about is catching a cold at your funeral.
"As a head of state who works directly in an environment that you and your colleagues describe from a position of expertise, I cannot agree with the assumption that existing international structures must be completely rebuilt, if not dismissed as obsolete and altogether dismantled. On the contrary, it is important to preserve the basic mechanisms of maintaining international security, which have proved to be effective. This is the UN, the Security Council and the permanent members' right to veto. I recently spoke about this at the anniversary UN General Assembly. As far as I know, this position – the preservation of the fundamentals of the international order established after World War II – enjoys broad support in the world.
"However, I believe that the idea of adjusting the institutional arrangement of world politics is at least worthy of discussion, if only because the correlation of forces, potentialities and positions of states has seriously changed, as I said, especially in the past 30 to 40 years.
"Indeed, like I said, the Soviet Union is no longer there. But there is Russia. In terms of its economic weight and political influence, China is moving quickly towards superpower status. Germany is moving in the same direction, and the Federal Republic of Germany has become an important player in international cooperation. At the same time, the roles of Great Britain and France in international affairs has undergone significant changes. The United States, which at some point absolutely dominated the international stage, can hardly claim exceptionality any longer. Generally speaking, does the United States need this exceptionalism? Of course, powerhouses such as Brazil, South Africa and some other countries have become much more influential.
"Indeed, by far not all international organizations are effectively carrying out their missions and tasks. Called to be impartial arbiters, they often act based on ideological prejudices, fall under the strong influence of other states, and become tools in their hands. Juggling procedures, manipulating prerogatives and authority, biased approaches, especially when it comes to conflicts involving rival powers or groups of states, have unfortunately become common practice.
'Multilateralism Should Be Understood Not As Total Inclusivity'
"The fact that authoritative international organizations following in the wake of someone's selfish interests are drawn into politicized campaigns against specific leaders and countries is saddening. This approach does nothing but discredit these institutions, and leads them towards decline and exacerbates the world order crisis
"On the other hand, there are positive developments when a group of interested states joins forces to resolve specific issues, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which for almost 20 years now has been contributing to the settlement of territorial disputes and strengthening stability in Central Eurasia, and is shaping a unique spirit of partnership in this part of the world.
"Or, for example, the Astana format, which was instrumental in taking the political and diplomatic process regarding Syria out of a deep impasse. The same goes for OPEC Plus which is an effective, albeit very complex, tool for stabilizing global oil markets.
"In a fragmented world, this approach is often more productive. But what matters here is that, along with resolving specific problems, this approach can also breathe new life into multilateral diplomacy. This is important. But it is also obvious that we cannot do without a common, universal framework for international affairs. Whatever interest groups, associations, or ad-hoc alliances we form now or in the future – we cannot do without a common framework.
"Multilateralism should be understood not as total inclusivity, but as the need to involve the parties that are truly interested in solving a problem. And of course, when outside forces crudely and shamelessly intervene in a process that affects a group of actors perfectly capable of agreeing among themselves – nothing good can come of that. And they do this solely for the purpose of flaunting their ambition, power and influence. They do it to put a stake in the ground, to outplay everyone, but not to make a positive contribution or help resolve the situation.
"Again, even amid the current fragmentation of international affairs, there are challenges that require more than just the combined capacity of a few states, even very influential ones. Problems of this magnitude, which do exist, require global attention.
"International stability, security, fighting terrorism and solving urgent regional conflicts are certainly among them; as are promoting global economic development, combatting poverty, and expanding cooperation in healthcare. That last one is especially relevant today.
"I spoke in detail about these challenges at the UN General Assembly last month. Meeting them will require working together in a long-term, systematic way.
"However, there are considerations of a more general nature that affect literally everyone, and I would like to discuss them in more detail.
"Many of us read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry when we were children and remember what the main character said: 'It's a question of discipline. When you've finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet. … It's very tedious work, but very easy.'
"I am sure that we must keep doing this 'tedious work' if we want to preserve our common home for future generations. We must tend our planet…
"… Cyberspace is a fundamentally new environment where, basically, universally recognized rules have never existed. Technology has simply moved ahead of legislation and thus, judicial oversight. At the same time, this is a very specific area where the issue of trust is particularly urgent.
"I think that at this point we must return to our historical experience. What do I mean? Let me recall that the established notion of 'confidence-building measures' existed during the Cold War. It applied to relations between the USSR and the US, and between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, that is, military-political relations.
"That said, let me emphasize that now, competition is usually 'hybrid' in character. It concerns all areas, including those that are just taking shape. This is why it is necessary to build confidence in many areas.
"In this sense, cyberspace can serve as a venue for testing these measures, like at one time, arms control paved the way for higher trust in the world as a whole.
"Obviously, it is very difficult to draft a required 'package of measures' in this area, cyberspace. However, it is necessary to start on it. This must be done now.
"As you may be aware, Russia is actively promoting bilateral and multilateral cyber security agreements. We submitted two draft conventions on this subject at the UN and established a corresponding open-ended working group.
'Humanity Has Reached A Very High Level Of Technological And Socioeconomic Development, While At The Same Time Facing The Loss Or Erosion Of Moral Values And Reference Points, A Sense That Existence No Longer Has Meaning'
"Recently, I proposed starting a comprehensive discussion of international cybersecurity issues with the United States. We are aware that politicians in the United States have other things to focus on now because of the election campaign. However, we hope that the next administration, whatever it may be, will respond to our invitation to start a discussion of this subject just like other items on the Russia-US agenda such as global security, the future of the strategic arms reduction treaty and a number of other issues.
"As you are aware, many important matters have reached the point that they require candid talks, and we are ready for a constructive discussion on an equal footing.
"Of course, the times when all important international matters were discussed and resolved by essentially just Moscow and Washington are long gone, lost to the ages. However, we see the establishment of a bilateral dialogue, in this case on cyber security, as an important step towards a much broader discussion involving many other countries and organizations. Should the United States choose not to take part in this work, which would be regrettable, we will still be willing to work with all interested partners, which I hope will not be lacking.
"I would like to point out another important aspect. We live in an era of palpable international shocks and crises. Of course, we are used to them, especially the generations which lived during the Cold War, let alone World War II, for whom it is not just a memory, but a part of their lives.
"It is interesting that humanity has reached a very high level of technological and socioeconomic development, while at the same time facing the loss or erosion of moral values and reference points, a sense that existence no longer has meaning and, if you will, that the mission of humankind on planet Earth has been lost.
"This crisis cannot be settled through diplomatic negotiations or even a large international conference. It calls for revising our priorities and rethinking our goals. And everyone must begin at home, every individual, community and state, and only then work toward a global configuration.
"The COVID-19 pandemic, which we have all been dealing with this year, can serve as a point of departure for such a transformation. We will have to reassess our priorities anyway. Trust me, we really will have to do it, sooner or later. All of us are aware of this. Therefore, I fully agree with those who say that it would be better to start this process now.
"I mentioned history and the older generations who went through all the trials of last century for a reason. Everything we are discussing today will soon become the responsibility of young people. Young people will have to deal with all of the problems which I mentioned and you discussed today. Speaking about Russia, its young citizens, who are still growing up and gaining experience, will have to do this as soon as in the 21st century. They are the ones who will have to confront new and probably even more difficult challenges.
"They have their own views on the past, present and future. But I believe that our people will always retain their best qualities: patriotism, fortitude, creativity, hard work, team spirit and the capacity to surprise the world by finding solutions to the most difficult and even seemingly insoluble problems.
"I touched on a wide range of different issues today. Of course, I would like to believe that despite all the current difficulties the international community will be able to join forces to combat not imaginary but very real problems, and that we will eventually succeed. After all, it is within our power to stop being egoistical, greedy, mindless and wasteful consumers. Some may wonder if this is utopia, a pipe dream.
"To be sure, it is easy to wonder if this is even possible considering what some individuals are doing and saying. However, I believe in reason and mutual understanding, or at least I strongly hope that they will prevail. We just need to open our eyes, look around us and see that the land, air and water are our common inheritance from above, and we must learn to cherish them, just as we must cherish every human life, which is precious. This is the only way forward in this complicated and beautiful world. I do not want to see the mistakes of the past repeated."
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9001, Russian President Vladimir Putin: 'Russia Is Not Afraid Of Anything... I Do Not Know About President Erdoğan's Attitude Towards The Ottoman Legacy... But I Know That Our Bilateral Trade Exceeds $20 Billion', October 30, 2020.
 Kremlin.ru, October 22, 2020.