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Meet Mikhail Mishustin, Russia’s new Prime Minister

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Plucked from obscurity and little known in wide national political scene, the Head of the Federal Tax Service, Mikhail Mishustin, to become the new Prime Minister was a complete surprise, but not the first time in Russia’s politics. President Vladimir Putin was pulled upto the top political field, in a similar way, by Boris Yeltsin. In August 1999, Putin was appointed one of three First Deputy Prime Ministers, and later on, was appointed acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation by Yeltsin.

Yeltsin announced that he wanted to see Putin as his successor. Readily, Putin agreed to run for the presidency and later approved by State Duma with 233 votes in favor (vs. 84 against, 17 abstained), while a simple majority of 226 was required, making him Russia’s fifth PM in fewer than eighteen months.

On his appointment, few expected Putin, virtually unknown to the general public, to last any longer than his predecessors. He was initially regarded as a Yeltsin loyalist, like other prime ministers of Boris Yeltsin, Putin did not choose ministers himself, his cabinet was determined by the presidential administration.

Now, with a new chapter opening, Mikhail Mishustin eventually replaces Dmitry Medvedev who served as Prime Minister until mid-January 2020. Putin and Medvedev worked together and even switched positions between President and Prime Minister. This switch was termed by many in the media as “Rokirovka”, the Russian term for the chess move “casting” and later Medvedev said he himself would be ready to perform “practical work in the government” with under Putin.

On January 15, in his address to the Federal Assembly, Putin explicitly explained: “Our society is clearly calling for change. People want development, where they live and work, that is, in cities, districts, villages and all across the nation. The pace of change must be expedited every year and produce tangible results in attaining worthy living standards that would be clearly perceived by the people. And, I repeat, they must be actively involved in this process.”

Meeting with the Cabinet thereafter, Putin said: “For my part, I also want to thank you for everything that has been done so far in our joint work. I am satisfied with the results of your work. Of course, not everything was accomplished, but things never work out in full.” He thanked the government and added that Medvedev served as President and for almost eight years now he has been the Prime Minister, which is probably the longest stint in this post in Russia’s recent history.

Further, Putin held a separate working meeting with Head of the Federal Taxation Service Mikhail Mishustin and proposed him to take the post of Prime Minister. Having received his consent, the President submitted the candidacy of Mikhail Mishustin for consideration to the State Duma.

On January 16, the State Duma (lower house) endorsed Mishustin, as the new Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. As many as 383 lawmakers supported Putin’s choice, none were against, and 41 parliamentarians abstained. “Colleagues, the decision has been taken. We have given consent to the appointment of Mishustin Mikhail Vladimirovich as Prime Minister by the president of the Russian Federation,” Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said, summing up the results of the vote.

President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree appointing Mikhail Mishustin as the country’s Prime Minister. “In accordance with Article 83(a) of the Russian Constitution, Mikhail Vladimirovich Mishustin is appointed as Russia’s Prime Minister,” says the decree published on the Kremlin’s website. The decree comes into force on the day of its signing.

Mikhail Mishustin was born on March 3, 1966 in Moscow to a father of Russian-Jewish origin and a mother of Russian origin. He completed postgraduate studies in 1992. He is married and has three sons. His interest is in sport, playing ice hockey. He is a member of the supervisory board of HC CSKA Moscow.

In 2003, he defended a thesis, headlined “Mechanism of state fiscal management in Russia” and received a PhD in economics. In 2010, he received a doctoral degree in economics at the Academy of National Economy under the Government of the Russian Federation (currently Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration).

Since graduation, he has worked in several enterprises. In February 2009, he joined the personnel reserve of the President of Russia. In 2010, Mikhail Mishustin was appointed as the Head of the Federal Tax Service (FTS). From 2011-2018, he was a member of the Presidential Council for Financial Market Development.

During this period, the tax service was criticized for its overly strict approach to business, and Mishustin rejected this accusation, citing a significant reduction in the number of inspections. So, with the arrival of Mishustin in 2010, the Federal tax service changed its approach to the organization of control events, focusing on analytical work.

As a result, the number of on-site tax audits has sharply decreased, while their efficiency has increased. If earlier every tenth taxpayer was checked, in 2018, the tax authorities checked only one small business company out of 4,000. The number of inspections of large and medium-sized businesses has also decreased significantly.

“This candidacy comes absolutely unexpectedly, but that does not mean he is a figure who brings about repulsion. Perhaps even the contrary. Not all fiscal heads are likeable and agreeable. In my view, Mishustin is largely seen by the public as agreeable,” Federation Council Deputy Speaker Ilyas Umakhanov told Interfax News Agency.

“This is yet more proof that our president relies on professionals at this difficult, critical moment when the country needs a qualitative leap, primarily in the economic sphere. This is down to new technology, digitalization; this is precisely where Mishustin made a mark as the Russian tax chief. He has huge experience under his belt, which has been embedded into the system,” added Umakhanov.

First Deputy Head of the Federation Council Committee for the Budget and Financial Markets Sergei Ryabukhin, for his part, described Mishustin as a very successful public administrator. “A top professional, a very big statesman and individual who has achieved great successes within the system of public administration in the tax and financial sphere. I think his is a good candidacy,” according to Ryabukhin.

According to experts, the surprise shake-up could have been triggered by launching a reset of the Russian political system and the upcoming power shift. Political Analyst Konstantin Kalachev believes that Putin’s decision to pick Mishustin as the new premier is related to his political neutrality, and he is also known in the business and corporate community. However, the new head of the government is unlikely to become Putin’s successor.

All officials interviewed by Vedomosti have described the choice as a surprise but a good one. Taxation is the only sector that has demonstrated a breakthrough in Russia’s state administration. The Russian Tax Service is one of the best in the world in terms of collecting taxes and developing technologies, an official linked to the financial system said. Mishustin is well-known in the government as a good administrator and his service was a lifesaver during the crisis, according to several media reports.

Mishustin is tasked with fulfilling Putin’s economic program, namely the National Projects to the tune of 26 trillion rubles ($424 billion) up to 2024. The program’s slow implementation and weak economic growth were among the reasons Medvedev’s government came under fire, the paper says. Mishustin’s major achievement is turning the tax-collecting agency into a service tool, said Partner at Taxology Alexei Artyukh.

He reformed the administration of major taxpayers and businesses can coordinate deals in advance in exchange for the Federal Tax Service’s access to companies’ accounting systems. If these approaches are extended to other services, this would result in huge progress, Alexei Artyukh said.

Kommersant, a local Russian newspaper, reported that Russia would remain as a strong presidential republic, and all the upcoming changes are linked to the the upcoming presidential election in 2024. Unreservedly, Mishustin stated during a plenary session of the State Duma that Russia has sufficient funds to achieve all goals set by President Vladimir Putin. Implementation of all the social obligations the president enumerated in his State of the Nation Address would require $64.8 billion.

Russia, with the largest territory in the world, has a wide natural resource base, including major deposits of timber, petroleum, natural gas, coal, ores and other mineral resources that can be used to support the expected economic development and raise the overall living standards of the population.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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INCORVUZ-XXI: Past, Present and Future

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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In the Soviet days, many foreign countries especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America trained their professional and specialists in the Soviet Union. It contributed to human resource development for these countries. According to information made available, the higher educational institutions of Russia and the former USSR trained over 700,000 foreign specialists (excluding graduates of military educational institutions).

The creation of associations of foreign graduates began in the second half of the 1960s, when the first national associations were formed in Sri Lanka (1966) and Nepal (1967). In the 70s, this process accelerated, associations were established in Lebanon, Mongolia, Ghana, Morocco, Finland and other countries.

Currently, national associations of graduates exist in nearly 70 countries, including the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), for example in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and Kazakhstan), so also in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The need to coordinate the activities of graduate associations, therefore started in the late 1980s and was realized as a result of the creation in 1989 of the International Corporation of Graduates of Soviet Educational Institutions, simply referred to as Incorvuz. Decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR No. 483 of May 17, 1990. The regulation on the Corporation’s activities in the USSR was approved and its status as an international non-governmental organization was consolidated.

Incorvuz Corporation laid the foundations for interaction with national associations of graduates and developed the main forms of work. In February 2001, in accordance with the Law of the Russian Federation “On Non-Profit Organizations”, the non-profit partnership “International Coordinating Council of Graduates of Educational Institutions (INCORVUZ-XXI)” was established instead of Incorvuz Corporation.

Currently, the partnership includes national associations of graduates from 38 countries of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America. Chairman – Academician Kostomarov V.G., Deputy Chairman – Ex-Deputy Minister of Education of the PRC Liu Limin. The leadership of the Council since 2015 includes the Alumni Associations of Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Jordan, China, Lebanon, Poland and Ethiopia.

INCORVUZ-XXI, in official consultative relations with UNESCO, has special consultative status of the UN Economic and Social Council, it cooperates and has contractual relations with international, foreign and Russian state and public bodies.

Over the years, the key focus has been the examination of documents on education, academic degrees and advanced training courses received by foreign citizens in universities of the Russian Federation and the issuance on their basis of relevant certificates of international recognition in accordance with the provisions of the UNESCO Conventions.

INCORVUZ-XXI regularly organizes and holds cross exhibitions of higher education in Hubei Province (China), in Moscow (2014) and exhibitions of Russian universities in Wuhan (China) in 2015. It participated in the unveiling of a monument to A.S. Pushkin, the famous Russian poet, in the city of Agadir (Morocco) in 2015, participated in organizing and conducting regional meetings of graduates in Ulan Bator and Amman (2016), the Forum of People’s Diplomacy in Belgorod (2016).

The global movement of foreign graduates of Russian universities is expanding due to new participants. In recent years, members of the organization have become national associations of graduates of Algeria, Israel, Uganda, Belgorod State University Alumni Club. The number of individual partners participating in the INCORVUZ-XXI Alumni World League Program is growing. Events dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Nepal Alumni Association (Mitra Kunj) were held in a festive atmosphere.

Despite its achievements, there are challenges that face the organization. As always, the planning and implementation of new projects are strictly limited by the financial capabilities of an organization that exists on the basis of self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, national associations of graduates in all regions of the world are experiencing an increasing shortage of personnel, because a new generation of graduates prefers virtual communication, which in turn leads to a loss of continuity in work and damages the activities of public organizations.

The strategic vision for organization’s further development, among others, is the Partnership Board hopes for success in the ambitious task of creating an African Regional Union of National Alumni Associations. The problem has remained very relevant for many years, because previous attempts to organize and hold such a forum, first in the Congo and then in Ethiopia, have remained unrealized. INCORVUZ-XXI would very much like to see as many representatives of the African region, as possible, among the participants in various on-going projects, so also Soviet and Russian graduates in regions of Asia and Latin America.

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Will Russia become the brother in arms with Iran?

Punsara Amarasinghe

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The killing of Iranian leader of famous Quds force Gen.Qasem Soleimani in Bagdad seems to have made an apocalyptic move in the beginning of this new decade as some critics have already viewed this incident similar to the the assassination of Austrian crown prince Duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo which paved the path to the First World War in 1914. Perhaps, the assumption could be an exaggeration with the balance of power in the world in early 20th century and now, but certainly the aftermath consequences of death of Soleimani could escalate severe political turmoil that might lead to a grave crisis. The deteriorating relations between Iran and the US in past months have clearly suggested that the killing of Soleimani was not entirely an abrupt situation, but a culminating act of a serious of disturbing events between the two countries. The statement issued by Iranian supreme leader vowing to revenge indicates the wounded pride of a nation, yet the it is disputable whether Iran would retaliate without concerning the strength of the US war machinery that could bring catastrophic effects to the whole country. However, it is a fact beyond doubt, Iran is a regional power with a strong war machinery which has been trained for any military encounter for years and this military and technological sophistication have made Iran a unique example from any country that the US had gone to war since the end of Second World War. But, it seems to indicate that Iran is likely to choose asymmetrical escalation through using proxies or small group attack on American targets to deter Washington.

On the other hand, the main assumption that has fascinated many armchair critics is that Russia will unconditionally assist Iran in any military campaign against the USA. This argument can be bolstered by examining the political affinity between Teheran and Moscow in the recent past. In particular, when Iran was threatened by Trump in last May, it was Moscow who made an official statement in supporting Teheran and also Russia is clearly aware of the importance of keeping Iranian regime without allowing external forces to cripple it, because Iranian stability is a paramount factor of deterring the US and its involvement in the middle east. More importantly both Moscow and Tehran have strengthened their ties for common cause of protecting Assad’s regime in Syria. Furthermore, Russia’s recent involvement in global politics from its relative passivism during Yeltsin’s era have given a signal to its ultimate ambition becoming a global player. This agenda was brought by president Putin in 2007 in his Munich speech showing his antipathy over a “unipolar” world, in other words his denial of US domination in word politics. The audacious conduct of Iran and its military mechanism as a strong state is Russia’s major knight in the Middle East that Moscow does not want to lose. In fact, it was just several days before the killing of Soleimani Iranian, Russian and Chinese naval forces conducted a joint naval exercise in Gulf of Oman. Also deceased general Soleimani was regarded by Moscow as an astute strategist who played a cardinal role in making Russian military presence when Syrian army was in a decaying stage in 2015. Russia’s air strikes finally changed the game and Soleimani made one more visit to Moscow in 2017, this reportedly was to discuss Russia’s bilateral cooperation with Sunni monarchies in Persian Gulf. This background is a good evidence to suggest the dismay of Iranian general to a major blow to Moscow as a loss of a shrewd strategic thinker who could have been further used as a proxy for Russian involvement in the middle east.

However, still it is bit of a hyperbolic assumption to think that Moscow would directly lead her armies to support Iran or encouraging such a military confrontation between the US and Iran. Regardless Moscow has been vociferous in criticising the macho gesture of Trump administration for killing Soleimani, so far it has maintained its silence of what Russia will really do about it. Unconditional military pact with Tehran seems to be a fancy idea to revive old Soviet super power status as how it protected Cuba, yet the political reality piercing Moscow is something bitter. It convinces that any military confrontation Teheran world launch against the US will be devastating blow that would simply weaken the Iranian regime and this will lead to undermine Iran’s role in supporting Assad’s regime. Furthermore, the rapport built by Moscow in the Middle East with Iranian rivals such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and even Israel can become adversaries again leading to an unmitigated disaster of Putin’s grand strategy of keeping ties with American allies in the middle east. These circumstances will create twilight scenario to assess any possible moves by Moscow. Another notable factor emerged after the death of Soleimani is the rapid increase of the oil price as the price of a barrel jumped from 2 US dollars to 69 US dollars and being one of prime oil producers this situation has created a sudden financial benefit for Russia. All in all, Russia’s next move would not definitely be a blatant military assistance to Teheran as a brother in arms. But, Russia is likely to play a key role through its diplomatic means to impede any crisis that would be detrimental to its ally Iran.

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Putin’s Federal Assembly Address

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Every year, Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, which is a combined gathering of all members from the Federation Council (Senate), State Duma (House of Representatives) deputies, members of the Government, leaders of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, governors from all the regions in the Russian Federation.

As always expected, Putin’s address primarily focuses on current achievements, outlines future domestic social and economic development plans and strategies, offers insight into key foreign policy objectives and brings out the challenges and some possible steps in resolving both internal and external setbacks.

According to official reports, Vladimir Putin will hold the next federal meeting on January 15, 2020, to review performance and set new targets. While awaiting his next address, it’s important to look back at a summary of his pledges and promises made on February 20, when the ceremony last took place in Gostiny Dvor, about 100 metres away from the Kremlin, central Moscow.

The objectives, among others, have been designed to raise development infrastructure and to bring about a new quality of life for all generations. “Departing from the targets that were outlined would be unacceptable. It is true that these are challenging objectives. That said, lowering the requirements for specific targets or watering them down is not an option. It is our duty to keep pushing ahead and gaining momentum, results must be visible in each region in the Russian Federation,” Putin said at the gathering last year. Here are few selected from his speech at the Federal Assembly:

*Russia has entered an extremely challenging period in terms of demography. Nevertheless, the country has to return again to natural population growth by late 2023 – early 2024. Preserving the family, childbirth, procreation and respect for the elderly have always served as a powerful moral framework for Russia. Strengthening family values and commitment, this task has to be shared by the state, civil society, religious organisations, political parties and the media.

*Starting January 1, 2020, Putin proposed raising the bar to two subsistence wages per family member. This is what people have requested and these requests come directly into the Executive Office. This measure will increase the number of families entitled to additional benefits by almost 50 percent. Some 70 percent of families with one or two children will be able to benefit from help from the Government.

*The tax burden on families needs to be relieved. The approach should be very simple: the more children there are, the lower the tax. The income of Russian families must increase.An additional measure of support for families with a child who needs special care.

*Considering the sustainability and stability of the macroeconomic situation in the country and the growth of the state’s revenues, it possible to introduce another measure of support for families having a third and subsequent children to pay for morgage. Importantly, proposed backdating morgage payment starting January 1, 2019, recalculating it and allocating relevant sums from budget.

*Moving on, when construction companies build social facilities and transfer them to the state or munipalities, they have to pay profit tax and VAT. The need to relieve construction companies of this burden (including our innovations in the construction sector). This will serve as an impetus for the comprehensive development of cities and townships, ensuring that families have all facilities near their homes: clinics, schools and sports facilities. By doing this, it enables parents to work, study, live happily and enjoy parenthood.

*Solving demographic problems, increasing life expectancy and reducing mortality rates are directly related to eradicating poverty. In 2000, there were more than 40 million people living below the poverty line. Now there are about 19 million, but this is still too many, too many. However, there was a time when their number dropped to 15 million, and now it has grown a little again. The government must, certainly, focus on combating poverty.

*The state helps people find jobs and improve their skills. The state provides financial resources to families to run a household farm or to start a small business. It is estimated that more than 9 million people will be able to benefit from these support measures over a five-year period.

*Pension. Starting 2019, adjustments of pensions and monthly payments should by all means be above the subsistence rate of pensioners that is established every year. In other words, the state should first bring pensions to the subsistence level and only after that make adjustments in pensions and monthly payments. Payments, for the first months of 2019, must be recalculated and people should be paid the money due to them that they have not received.

*The next important subject is healthcare. The current state seems to be improving, and medical treatment is becoming more accessible. Nevertheless, many people are not satisfied. The medical treatment should become accessible for everyone by the end of 2020 in all populated areas across Russia. For information, an additional 1,590 outpatient clinics and paramedic stations are to be built or renovated in 2019–2020.

*Improving IT penetration in healthcare will make it more accessible. Online links between medical institutions, pharmacies, doctors and patients must be streamlined over the next three years.

*Primary care is understaffed. Putin proposed a programme for fighting cancer and leukaemia. This is about providing timely, effective and accessible treatment, using advanced technologies that are effective in most cases and enable people to overcome this dangerous disease. Next, over the next few years we must create a number of new areas combining healthcare with social services.

*In 2019, the regions began adopting a new system of solid municipal waste management. The people have increasingly high demands on environmental safety issues. Perhaps, the most painful topic is municipal waste.need to build a civilised and safe system of waste treatment, recycling and disposal. It is necessary to restore order in this area, to get rid of shady businesses that do not bear any responsibility and only get super-profits dumping trash at random sites. It is necessary to introduce stricter environmental requirements when it comes to utility services and energy and transport enterprises.

*Education. The share of schools with modern study conditions has increased. The number of students from small towns and remote areas studying at the best Moscow and regional universities is increasing. Nevertheless, regions where poorly equipped schools still exist the government the government has to support the regions that lack their own resources.

*The content of educational programmes must also change. The national standards and programmes must reflect the priorities of the country’s science and technology development, while the federal lists of recommended textbooks must include the best of the best books. Expanding assistance to local cultural initiatives, that is, projects dealing with local history, crafts and the preservation of the historical heritage of Russian peoples.

*More than 70 million people work in manufacturing, agriculture, the services or are small business owners. The state of Russia’s economy has a direct bearing on their income, wellbeing and confidence in the future. The primary tool for achieving steady wage increases is to promote quality employment and free enterprise, qualified, well-paid jobs in all regions, including both traditional and new sectors. This is the only way to overcome poverty and ensure steady and perceptible increases in income. By 2021, Russia’s economic growth rate must exceed 3 percent and stay above the global average afterwards. This objective should not be discarded.

*In order to achieve high growth rates, it is also necessary to resolve systemic problems in the economy. Putin highlighted four priorities here. The first one is faster growth in labour productivity, primarily based on new technologies and digitalisation; the development of competitive industries and, as a result, an increase in non-primary exports by more than 50 percent in six years.

The second one is to improve the business climate and the quality of national jurisdiction, so that no one moves their operations to other jurisdictions, to ensure that everything is reliable and runs like clockwork. Growth in investment should increase by 6–7 percent in 2020. Achieving this level will be one of the key criteria for evaluating the Government’s work.

The third priority is removing infrastructural constraints for economic development and for unlocking the potential of our regions. And the fourth is training modern personnel, of course, and creating powerful scientific and technological foundations.

*A colossal guaranteed demand for industrial and high-tech products is formed in Russia. The Government and the regions are faced with historical opportunities for a qualitative growth of Russian business, mechanical engineering and machine-tool making, microelectronics, IT-industry, and other industries. And of course, now is the time for more daring initiatives, for creating businesses and production companies, for promoting new products and services. The entire Russian legislation must be geared up to reflect the new technological reality. These laws must not restrict the development of innovative and promising industries but push this development forward.

*The most crucial indicator of a business’s efficiency and competitiveness lies in expanding export and entering external markets. The success of agricultural industry is, of course, a good example of such development. Agricultural export increased by 19.4 percent in 2018 reaching $25.8 billion. In 2024, it must reach $45 billion. Russia must have the entire range of its own advanced agricultural technology, which must be available not only to large but also to small farms. This is literally a matter of national security and successful competition in the growing food markets.

*Infrastructure upgrades need to be accelerated using state-of-the-art technology. This is essential for enhancing a country’s connectivity, and especially for Russia, the world’s largest country with its vast territory. This is essential for strengthening statehood, unleashing the country’s potential and driving national economic growth.

In 2019, the railway section of the Crimean Bridge becomes a powerful impetus. As said, trains will begin using the Crimean Bridge in 2019, creating a powerful development driver for Crimea and Sevastopol. In addition to this, the expressway linking Moscow and St Petersburg expected to be completed, creating new business opportunities and jobs for people living in Novgorod, Tver, Leningrad and Moscow regions.

More than 60 airports will benefit from upgrades over the next six years, including international airports in Khabarovsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. In 2025, the capacity of the Baikal-Amur Mainline and Trans-Siberian Railway will grow 1.5 times, reaching 210 million tonnes, which is very important for the development of Siberia and Russia’s Far East.

Putin reiterated that key indicators related to social and economic development and quality of life in all Russia’s Far Eastern regions are expected to exceed the national average. This is a national cause, and a major priority of collective efforts to promote Eastern Siberia and the Far East as strategic territories. All agencies have to constantly keep this in mind.

*Next, to adopt a master plan for developing the infrastructure of a digital economy, including telecommunications networks, as well as data storage and processing capacities. The task for the next few years is to provide universal access to high-speed internet and start using 5G communications networks. To achieve a revolution in communications, navigation and systems for remote sensing of the Earth. Russia has unique technology for this, but such tasks require a fundamental upgrade of the entire space industry. Putin instructed Roscosmos and the Moscow Government to establish a National Space Centre.

*For Russian Youth. Passion for a future career and creativity is formed at a young age. In the next three years, thanks to the development of children’s technology parks, quantoriums and education centres for computer skills, natural sciences and the humanities, around one million new spots in extracurricular education programmes will be created. All children must have access.

Relying on the WorldSkills movement experience, Russia will accelerate the modernisation of secondary vocational education, which includes installing modern equipment at more than 2,000 shops in colleges and technical schools by 2022. The Sirius educational centre in Sochi is becoming a true constellation. The plan was for centres supporting gifted children, based on its model, to open in all regions by 2024.

*The Kremlin believes in the importance of promoting closer cooperation within the Union State of Russia and Belarus, including close foreign policy and economic coordination. Together with integration partners within the Eurasian Economic Union, it continues creating common markets and outreach efforts. This includes implementing the decisions to coordinate the activities of the EAEU with China’s Belt and Road initiative on the way to a greater Eurasian partnership.

*Russia also hopes that the European Union and the major European countries will finally take actual steps to put political and economic relations with Russia back on track. People in these countries are looking forward to cooperation with Russia, which includes corporations, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, and European businesses.

*Russia has been and will be a sovereign and independent state. Building relations with Russia means working together to find solutions to the most complex matters instead of trying to impose solutions. Thus, Russia’s foreign policy priorities include strengthening trust, countering global threats, promoting cooperation in the economy and trade, education, culture, science and technology, as well as facilitating people-to-people contacts. These tenets underpin the work within the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as within the Group of 20, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

In this context, Putin emphasised the need for sustainable long-term development. Russia has ambitious goals, is approaching solutions in a systematic and consistent way, building a model of socio-economic development that will ensure the best conditions for the Russian people, and through combined efforts to provide befitting answers to the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

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