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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberals Slam Putin's 'Empty Words'

APPress photographers cover Putin's address on a television relay screen outside the Kremlin's Marble Hall on Monday.
Liberals offered a withering assessment of President Vladimir Putin's expressions of commitment to democracy Monday, calling them "empty words," and said his scrapping of direct gubernatorial elections was to blame for the "bureaucracy's excessive powers."

But the economic proposals in Putin's state of the nation address, such as the proposed amnesty for undeclared income, won approval from a gamut of politicians and businessmen.

Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said he distrusted the sincerity of Putin's intentions to develop democracy. "To me, all these statements about democracy and freedom of speech are empty words. I don't believe a single word," Ryzhkov said, Interfax reported. "Putin is building an authoritarian regime, and anything else is just a nice combination of words."

"It's the president who is consistently destroying democracy in our country" by proposing or supporting reforms such as the scrapping of popular gubernatorial elections, he said.

By stressing his commitment to democracy, Putin wanted to portray himself in a good light ahead of the arrival of world leaders in Moscow next month for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, said Sergei Mitrokhin, Yabloko's deputy head.

"As in his previous addresses, Putin is again calling on his bureaucracy to be civilized, uncorrupt and serve citizens, not itself," Mitrokhin said in a statement. "In fact, it is his policy to destroy democratic institutions that is the main cause of the bureaucracy's excessive powers."

Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, was skeptical about Putin's proposal to use the Public Chamber -- an institution that has yet to be created but is thought likely to comprise mostly Putin loyalists -- as a tool to ensure freedom of speech on state television.

"It would be like creating a dummy [version of free speech], just like the Public Chamber would be a dummy of civil society," Yakovenko said, Interfax reported. "Instead of creating public television that would really be objective and independent, we are moving in the opposite direction."

Mikhail Seslavinsky, head of the Federal Press and Mass Media Agency, said the chamber could be "really effective" if it were made a media watchdog.

Dmitry Rogozin, leader of the nationalist Rodina party, said Putin was promoting the right values but had failed to implement them.

"I realized today that there are two Vladimir Vladimirovich Putins," Rogozin said. "One proclaims certain values, which everyone no doubt agrees with, and urges they be followed. ... The other one heads the government and for all these years has done nothing to implement his appeals."

But Rogozin said he was in favor of Putin's proposals that parties with factions in the Duma have equal access to the media and that the Duma be allowed to launch investigations. He said Putin had borrowed these ideas from Rodina.

Communist Pary leader Gennady Zyuganov said that Putin had been leaning leftward in his promises to tackle social issues. "The report shows that the president has become decidedly leftist," Zyuganov said, Interfax reported. But he tempered his support, saying that Putin had not gone far enough and slammed ongoing privatizations and a lack of support for science.

Ministers and business groups welcomed Putin's call for a financial amnesty, saying that it could reverse capital flight.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said an "important message has been sent to businesses, which has to have an impact on Russia's investment climate as a whole."

The call for a flat 13 percent tax on undeclared earnings was described by Aton Capital as a radical move that could help bring an estimated 35 percent of the economy out of the shadows.

Igor Yurgens, vice president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or RSPP, also hailed the initiative, saying that the RSPP had previously proposed capital repatriation measures to the government. The proposals would require changes to the Tax Code, he added.

"There was very serious criticism of bureaucrats, of corruption," Kudrin said, Bloomberg reported. "It would have been hard for this to have been said in a stronger way. These are serious lessons for the authorities; the situation must be improved."

Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said Putin had offered a civilized way out of tax conflicts by reiterating his proposal to reduce the statute of limitations on privatization deals from 10 years to three years. Doing so would improve the investment climate, he said.

Despite criticizing Putin on democracy, Ryzhkov praised the economic ideas in his speech and said they were aimed at remedying the failures of the past year, apparently referring to the Yukos case. But Ryzhkov said he doubted they would be implemented.

Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin-connected spin-doctor who heads the Foundation for Effective Policy, said Putin had sent a message that the Yukos case was closed politically. "In the future, big business will not come out as a political sponsor for projects ... to develop Russian democracy," he said.

Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, said Putin's most important message was "reassurance to the business community that private property will be respected."

Although Putin had been "criticized in the past year over certain issues," he had come out in favor of liberal economic reform and integration of Russia into the world economy, Somers said. "I think that is consistent overall with his record," he said.

Igor Artemyev, head of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, complimented Putin on "the most interesting address I've ever listened to."

"Democracy, freedom and fairness were the most important ideas to me," he said, Bloomberg reported. "If we implemented all these three ideas in Russia ... an economical and political miracle awaits us."

Putin's predecessor, former President Boris Yeltsin, said of the address, "I liked most that it was all about care for the people," Interfax reported.