President Vladimir Putin met on Monday with activists who served in his successful presidential campaign earlier this year and discussed corruption, patriotism and the revival of a Soviet-era title.
Putin stressed that the anti-corruption crackdown will continue at all levels, including among top level officials, even though no senior officials have been jailed yet.
"This is not a campaign. It is a policy to fight corruption aimed at eradicating corruption," Putin said while speaking about a recent series of high-profile cases on corruption-related charges within the government. He added that the policy will be "long-term.”
The investigators have launched a range of probes recently in connection with corruption and fraud in the Defense Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry.
Neither former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov nor former Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik has been formally charged over the probes.
"We need to fight corruption not only among the top echelons of power and talk about the Defense Ministry, but we should not forget about what bothers people on the streets of towns and villages where officials extort money,” Putin said during the meeting with a group of some 550 people, who served as campaigners during the run-up to March presidential elections.
According to the Investigative Committee, the state budget lost 7.9 billion rubles ($256 million) to graft between January and October this year. Russia was ranked 133rd of 176 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International last week.
Putin also said that Russia needs to do more to promote patriotism. He noted that after the Soviet Union collapse Russians were not offered a replacement ideology and called on the state to consider the roots of Communism.
"Even Communist ideology was based on the key postulates of the major religions,” Putin said, noting that the Lenin Mausoleum resembles Orthodox monasteries that preserve the relics of saints.
In another turn reminiscent of the Soviet past, Putin welcomed an initiative, proposed by legendary test pilot Magomed Tolboyev, to revive the "Hero of Labor" title.
In Soviet times, the award was widely used to praise civilian workers for their labor achievements and boost output. The president said that the title could be restored after being scrapped almost two decades ago.
But Putin denied that Russia’s integration with post-Soviet states is part of a "re-Sovietization” program.
"It is strange for me to hear some of our colleagues abroad say that we are moving down the path of integration and that this is the revival of Russia’s ambitions as the former Soviet Union,” Putin said referring to the Eurasian Union and Customs Union joined by ex-Soviet states.
"What utter nonsense,” he added.
In an article published in The Financial Times last Thursday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russia is trying to recreate a new version of the Soviet Union under the guise of economic integration, calling it "a move to re-Sovietize the region.”
It was the first meeting of Putin with his official campaign representatives since his reelection.
The campaign representatives include movie director Nikita Mikhalkov, figure skating star Evgeny Plushchenko, astronaut Sergei Krikalyov, prominent conductor Yury Bashmet and a biker nicknamed Khirurg, or Surgeon, among others.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier that the team of campaign activists would be preserved as a presidential aide group even after the elections.
"They can transmit the president’s ideas: what has been done and what is under way,” Peskov told RIA Novosti on Sunday.