Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

A Sneak Preview of a Better Russia

Imagining the post-Putin government that Russians—and the world—deserve.

de-Gruyter-Caroline-foreign-policy-columnist6
de-Gruyter-Caroline-foreign-policy-columnist6
Caroline de Gruyter
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and a Europe correspondent for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
Russian Sukhoi Su-25 jets release smoke in the colours of the Russian flag while flying over Red Square during the general rehearsal of the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 7, 2022.
Russian Sukhoi Su-25 jets release smoke in the colours of the Russian flag while flying over Red Square during the general rehearsal of the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 7, 2022.
Russian Sukhoi Su-25 jets release smoke in the colours of the Russian flag while flying over Red Square during the general rehearsal of the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 7, 2022. YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images

The following text is fictional. It is a rendition of what the first television address of a new Russian president after a regime change should, and might, one day sound like.

My fellow Russians,

Today we write together the first page of a new chapter of the history of our country.

The following text is fictional. It is a rendition of what the first television address of a new Russian president after a regime change should, and might, one day sound like.

My fellow Russians,

Today we write together the first page of a new chapter of the history of our country.

Two days ago, the men who had been leading Russia fast to its ruin finally left their positions of power. The movement started in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Thousands and thousands of you peacefully surrounded the official buildings in your cities and regions. Violent repression suddenly became powerless when faced with the overwhelming tide. I pay tribute to our security forces and their leaders for understanding quickly that this movement has come from the very heart of our people, and that it cannot, and should not, be opposed. We are now one people. The old guard that has damaged our country so much for so long is gone. Our fate is now in our hands.

Nonviolence defeated violence. No one has died in this transition, a first in our country, and that should make us all proud and confident. Let us all commit to avoiding violence. I understand and share your anger, fed by so many years of outrage and frustration. But I urge you all to be different from those we have replaced. Do not take violent revenge! Those responsible for crimes will be held accountable. This will happen in courtrooms, not in the streets or in secret basements.

We are at the beginning of new times. Our Russia will be a good home for all Russians. As your president, and with the people around me, this is the solemn commitment that I take. Our promise is to make you, every citizen of this country, the objective of our efforts and the measure of our achievements.

We do not promise that all will be perfect immediately. You have been promised paradise on earth before, and you know better than to believe blindly in these promises. But together, we will get there eventually. We were always proud of our country, and rightly so, proud of its beauty and diversity, of its education and technological achievements, of its writers and musicians, of what we have contributed to the world, and of the role we have played in history. We have many reasons to be proud. We know it.

Russia is the world’s largest country and is immensely rich—rich in its people and in its resources. Yet, in everyday life, most of you struggle. And things have become even more difficult recently, with, until today, no hope of things getting better. The riches of our country need to be put to work for the benefit of all, not a few. We need universities more than barracks.

Your new government will immediately set to change that course. We need to restore our capacity to generate wealth and then use it to improve your lives and prospects. We need those who have sent so much of our wealth abroad to bring it back and invest it here. We need to turn Russia into a place where Russians want to live, where quality of life makes it an attractive place to care for a family, where everyone has a stake in society and builds their future. Why is it that such words have been so rarely used by the leaders of our country? Why is it that in Russia the interests of the citizens always come far behind those of the authorities, usually illegitimate?

Even in the darkest hours, you have never stopped dreaming. But then, your dreams were shattered by the reality around you: poverty for most of you, repression of your basic freedoms, blatant corruption, an education system getting weaker year after year, squalid and underequipped hospitals. You deserve better. You will get better.

In order to preserve its power, the previous leadership was relentless in trying to convince you that you were victims, that the world is after you, that what is good for them is bad for us and vice versa, that we needed to kill them before they kill us.

Look at what we gained from these lies: We are at war. Our children are killed for no reason. Every week brings news of crimes committed by the previous leadership. Our young people are leaving the country to save their lives and their future. Our natural friends hate us, and we have only the friends we can buy. We cannot trade, we cannot resupply. The money we still get is used to feed the war effort abroad and to consolidate the repression apparatus at home. It’s a sad country where authorities need to resort to violence to stay in power.

This has to stop. And it will. This morning, I reached out to my Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, and we have decided to declare a total cease-fire at midnight this evening. That nightmare is over. President Zelensky and I have agreed to immediately enter into negotiations to reach a settlement between our nations. We will eventually withdraw from all Ukrainian territories that we have occupied since 2014, on the condition that our people are guaranteed safety There will be no retribution. President Zelensky agreed to this principle, and we will now discuss its implementation. The nightmare of so many of our families is over.

Putting an end to the war and bringing our troops back is our first priority. Once this is done, we will have to rebuild our relationships with our neighbors. The previous regime turned all our neighbors into enemies. We will turn them into friends. We will do what needs to be done, not only because it is the right thing to do but because it is in our interest. It will make Russia stronger. I appeal to the peoples and leaders of our neighboring nations: Be patient, we have come to our senses. We will deal with you in good faith. Progress will come soon, to the benefit of all.

It is also in our interest, in the short and long term, to be in best cooperative terms with our main partners. We will restore and intensify our partnership with the European Union. We have to ask ourselves the question: How come our only friends in Europe are the ideological heirs of those whom our grandfathers fought and defeated in World War II, the continent’s far-right nationalists? This will change. We have so much in common with Europe, our history, our culture, our aspirations. Soon, we will share a vision of the world based on peaceful interactions, and we will share a vision of society based on the centrality of the individual. There can be no stronger basis for an open and fruitful relationship.

In Asia, to which we also belong, we will build a relationship with China that is based on a long-term vision, not just on short-term expediency. That was the mistake of the previous leadership, which tried to use China to protect themselves from the consequences of their crimes and mistakes.

And of course, we will rebuild our relationship with the United States. We will do so not because we seek an artificial parity to boost a delusional grandeur but because we cannot afford to waste resources in useless fights. We need the fruits of cooperation, including treaties on arms control.

Internal policies, social progress in Russia, and foreign policy are linked. In the past, wars abroad were started to mask weaknesses at home, with the hope that notional external enemies would rally citizens around a failing dictatorship. This is over, and we will be stronger as a result.

Respect cannot be decreed. Respect is earned, not imposed by force. Our country will earn the respect of its partners by respecting them and by defending our interest with resolve and decency. Russia was run by thieves and bullies. This is over. Our government hopes to earn the respect of each of you by working for the benefit of each of you, to make Russia a country where every citizen feels at home, free and safe. Our Russia will be a good home for all Russians.

My fellow Russians, each of us will have a role to play in this historic task. We count on you, just as you can count on us. The people of your new government will remember this every day, and every day we will endeavor to give you reasons to trust us. This is a day to remember. This is the day when Russia is finally yours.

Caroline de Gruyter is a columnist at Foreign Policy and a Europe correspondent and columnist for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. She currently lives in Brussels.

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