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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Speech Should Focus on Public

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When President Vladimir Putin delivered his first state-of-the-nation address last July, he emphasized the need to strengthen the federal government. "Power should rely on the law and on a single vertical line of executive power," he said.

On Tuesday Putin will come before the nation once again. No doubt he will use the opportunity to pat himself on the back for his achievements in strengthening the state — including reforming the Federation Council, bolstering the institution of the seven presidential envoys, acquiring the power to dismiss regional governors and making progress toward reconciling local and federal laws.

However, we hope that he will also address the question of why he is strengthening the state and that he will be more convincing this year than last in persuading us that it is, after all, a genuine participatory democracy that we are building. Whereas last year he stressed control, power and an "effective" state, this year Putin's by-words should be transparency, government accountability and broad participation.

It would be impressive, for instance, if the president took a moment to applaud the efforts of citizens who collected more than 2.5 million signatures in an effort to force a referendum on the Nuclear Power Ministry's initiative to import spent nuclear fuel.

Imagine the symbolic effect of Putin's urging the activists not to be disheartened because the Central Election Commission squelched their effort by disqualifying about 600,000 signatures. Imagine Putin not only declaring that the people mustn't let their right to speak out on such issues be restricted, but also affirming his willingness to be the first signatory on a new referendum petition.

We would also be impressed if the president discussed the CEC's effort to regulate political parties. Putin should publicly instruct the CEC to be guided in this effort by a desire to maximize active grassroots participation and declare his intention to veto any plan designed to just mechanically reduce the number of parties.

We would also like to see the president offer concrete proposals to ensure the accountability of his strong "single vertical line of executive power." He should admit that it must be balanced by a strong Audit Chamber with the authority to access information and compel investigation of its charges. Unfortunately, it is probably too much to hope that Putin will move beyond platitudes in affirming the role of independent media in protecting citizens from the state.

We don't need just a strong state, but one that is strong, open, accountable and responsive. On Tuesday, Putin should unveil his plan for getting us there.