MOSCOW, December 30. /TASS/. For Russia, 2016 will be remembered as a controversial year rich in events and full of hopes, joys and disappointment. Russia's President Vladimir Putin had to make tough decisions in an environment of sanctions, low energy prices, while taking on the challenging tasks of import substitution and budget regulation. However, his approval rating by the end of the year only soared.
Russian citizens voiced their opinion on the president’s performance this year. A poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center in late December showed that confidence among Russians in President Vladimir Putin continued to surge, as the public’s approval rating of his performance soared to a record-high of 86.8% this year.
One of the key events in domestic policy were the elections to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. The victory of the United Russia party came as no surprise for the president, but even he was astonished by the scale of voter loyalty.
"There were no surprises [about the ruling party’s victory] - we predicted everything correctly," the president said at the annual VTB Capital Investment Forum Russia Calling!
He added, however: "Maybe, frankly speaking, United Russia did not expect such an overwhelming success, but in general the trend is clear."
Putin linked the triumph of the United Russia party to several factors. "No doubt, citizens’ confidence in the policies carried out domestically and on the international arena is the factor that consolidated Russian society," Putin noted.
"The fact that citizens trusted the authorities in the broad sense of the word - and the outcome of the elections needs to be understood this way - charges us with great moral responsibility," Putin said.
Another political issue concerns Putin’s plans for participating in the 2018 presidential elections. Putin decided to leave intrigue in the air.
"When time is ripe, I will look at what is happening in the country, in the world and judging on what we did, what we can do and how we should do, a decision will be taken on my participation or non-participation in the future elections for President of Russia," Putin said during his annual news conference on December 23.
Speaking on holding early presidential elections in the country, Putin said "it is possible, but it is not necessary."
In late October, Putin announced at the Valdai International Discussion Forum in Sochi that he believed the time had not yet come for him to retire. "The moderator wished me a pleasant retirement, I have the same wish for myself, only when the time comes. This is the right thing that needs to be done but I haven’t retired yet, I am an acting head of a large state so I should be reserved, and refrain from expressing unnecessary aggressiveness," Putin said.
The outgoing year proved that the fight against corruption in Russia is not a one-time campaign but a daily ongoing meticulous effort. The detention and arrest of Alexei Ulyukayev, who was Russia’s Economic Development Minister at that time, was not a surprise for the Russian leader. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the president had known about the investigation concerning the minister. After Ulyukayev was caught red-handed, the president’s reaction was not long in coming: the minister was sacked due to "loss of trust."
"Everyone must know that regardless of anyone’s position, the law will be applied equally to all," the president stressed.
One of the most tragic incidents in 2016 was the crash of the Defense Ministry’s Tu-154 plane bound for Syria, which took off from Sochi. All 92 people onboard the flight died, including musicians from the world-renowned Alexandrov Ensemble, Human rights activist Elizaveta Glinka, known to the Russian public as Dr. Liza, journalists and servicemen.
The president assured that the causes of the crash would be thoroughly investigated and the relatives would receive assistance. He ordered the cabinet of ministers to set up a special commission to investigate the crash led by Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov.
Unfortunately, the outgoing year also saw another calamity - the massive alcohol poisoning in Siberia’s Irkutsk region after some individuals drank bath lotion that contained methanol, a toxic substance. The president requested to tighten specifications on the manufacture and sale of alcohol-containing products, as well as toughen the penalties for violating them and to change alcohol excise duties to reduce the demand for substitutes to alcoholic beverages.
Russia’s economy in 2016 was influenced by low oil prices and sanctions and the import substitution program was the logical response. Putin has stressed many times that decreasing the budget’s dependence on oil revenues and bolstering domestic production will always remain the priority of the country’s economic policy. The president said these measures are generating results.
"Import substitution is bringing results, in the industrial sector our imports reduced by 10 percentage points: if it was previously about 49%, now it is 39%," the president said at the annual news conference.
The president said Russia’s industry should seek technological independence from imported goods rather than total import substitution.
Russian farmers were remarkably successful and for them the country’s ban on imported goods was one of the major drivers for growth. Grain harvest in 2016 will exceed 119 mln tonnes, which is a record high in Russia’s modern history, Putin stressed.
Western sanctions did not affect any major privatization deals. In December, the successful sale of a package of shares in Russia’s oil giant Rosneft to foreign investors was announced. The Russian president said that the 1.1 trillion rubles ($18.3 bln) earned thanks to the deal had already been poured into the budget. Moreover, foreign investors in the company’s leadership will increase the quality of its management.
Summing up the outcome of the year at a traditional New Year’s reception this week, Putin said that all of Russia’s citizens "worked hard and successfully."
The outgoing year was even more complex to some extent in tackling social and economic problems than last year, he said. The president also pointed out that the oil price was an important indicator for the country’s economy.
"No one can create such problems for us, which we would be unable to overcome and, importantly, we are working successfully," the Russian president said.
Putin proposed a toast to Russia, to the Russian people and wished all those present a successful new year.