Every Russian, Putin ordered, will have access to new housing every 15 years. By 2018 the level of satisfaction with government service will be at least 90 percent, he decreed. By that year, wages will have increased 40 to 50 percent. By this September, waiting lists for nursery schools will be reduced, on the way to elimination. Five Russian universities will join the top 100 worldwide.
Russia will also seek a predictable relationship with the United States. Russia will adhere to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on nuclear arms, and it will push for guarantees that the U.S. missile shield in Europe will not be directed against Russia. Russia will solve the Iran problem.
Some of Putin’s decrees are doable: By June, World War II veterans and concentration-camp survivors are to receive a one-time payment of 5,000 rubles, or about $170.
Others would be dramatic — if they could be taken at face value. Putin ordered the government to prepare legislation by October that would make the court system independent. In a country where the courts are used by the government and by those who can buy access to them as weapons against political foes and business rivals, that would be a reform bordering on the revolutionary.
But even if Putin were sincere in wanting an independent judiciary — it is, after all, mandated by the Russian Constitution — the chances of that happening would still be remote. Russia’s is a peculiar government, where what Putin calls the “vertical of power” leads right to his desk, and few are prepared to challenge him. But the vast bureaucracy exists in a profound state of inertia that is generally beyond presidential control.
Putin’s attempt to defuse public anger came as roving groups of protesters formed and re-formed, mostly along the city’s inner Boulevard Ring. Police chased them one way and then another. Additional groups of pro-Putin young people, many holding placards that read “Putin loves everyone,” staked out their own ground.
Police at one point raided the Jean Jacques restaurant, a favorite gathering place for opposition organizers, and after upsetting tables and breaking dishes they led away a handful of customers. A sign soon went up on the restaurant door: “Closed for technical reasons.”
Dozens of people from both sides were detained throughout the day, although the police were generally less aggressive than they had been at a larger protest on Sunday, when a reported 450 people were taken into custody. Among them were opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov and Alexei Navalny, who were both fined the equivalent of $33 and released Monday afternoon, after Putin had taken office.