Putin delivers eighth annual address to parliament

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nearing the end of his second term as President of Russia, Vladimir Putin delivered his eighth annual state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly of Russia today.

Putin said foreign cash is being used to meddle with domestic affairs, criticised the United States plans to install an anti-missile shield in Eastern Europe, while arguing to declare a moratorium on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. He also discussed economic issues and internal affairs, and made it clear that next year's address would be given by another President.

Putin began his 72-minute long state-of-nation address by requesting one minute of silence for Boris Yeltsin, who died at age 76 last Monday of a heart condition. He suggested that a national library be established in the name of the deceased president. Putin's speech had originally been scheduled for Wednesday, but it was postponed one day because of the funeral for Putin's predecessor. Putin followed Yeltsin as Acting President when the latter unexpectedly resigned on December 31, 1999. Putin was then elected May 7, 2000.

Foreign policy

Vladimir Putin.

Putin attacked unnamed foreign political influences in Russia's politics: "There is a growing influx of foreign cash into the country used for the sole purpose of meddling in our internal affairs," Putin declared in the Kremlin, before both the upper and lower houses of Russia's parliament. "Some people are not averse to using the dirtiest methods, trying to foment interethnic and religious hatred in our multi-ethnic country. That is why I call on you to speed up the adoption of amendments to legislation toughening punishment for extremist actions," the president said.

This month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia complained about U.S. funding to organisations promoting democracy. Putin continued: "There are those who, skilfully using pseudo-democratic rhetoric, would like to return to the recent past — some to loot the country's national riches, to rob the people and the state; others to strip us of economic and political independence."

The head of state urged the lawmakers he addressed to give up the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. He explained how NATO countries that signed the treaty did not respect its clauses, which limit conventional military forces in Europe.

Putin: "NATO countries are planning to station elements of anti-missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, and new member countries like Slovakia and Baltic states, despite the agreements with the Alliance, have not yet joined the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. This poses a real danger for us with unpredictable outcomes. Therefore I think it is necessary to declare a moratorium on Russia's implementation of this treaty." He thinks the moratorium should be upheld "until all countries of the world have ratified and started to strictly implement it".

Kremlin aides stressed however that freezing Russia's efforts to comply with the treaty were not directly linked to the U.S. plans for a weapons shield in Eastern Europe. Prior to the NATO-Russia council meeting in Oslo, Norway today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed the idea that the shield would pose a strategic threat to Russia, calling the Russian concerns "purely ludicrous".

Domestic issues

Putin acknowledged that political analysts were expecting him to endorse a candidate as his successor, but instead he said: "It is premature for me to declare a political will." He made it clear, however, that he would not pursue a third presidency in the elections of next March, by stating that "The next state-of-the-nation address will be given by another head of state." The Russian constitution only permits two terms as president, but last month the head of the Federation Council of Russia, the upper house of parliament, proposed making a third term possible.

On the other hand, Putin didn't seem eager to give up his political life completely after the end of his second term. "It is premature for me to come out with political last wills and testaments," the president commented.

On the upcoming parliamentary elections next December and ongoing reforms of the voting system, Putin said that a system of proportional representation would "help the opposition widen its representation," and ensure a fair result. The Associated Press, however, reports that a new system based on party-lists is perceived by critics as a way of hindering smaller opposition parties.

On foreign influences on Russian culture, Putin said that "Society can only meet big national challenges when ... it preserves respect for its native language (and) its distinctive cultural values."

The president praised Russia's economy as one of the top 10 economies in the world. Russia's oil income has soared due to high oil prices on the world market. Putin suggested using some of the money from the auction of bankrupt oil company Yukos to finance housebuilding and transport infrastructure projects. "It is inadmissible for a country with such reserves accumulated from its oil and gas revenues to be at peace with the fact that millions of its citizens live in Khrushchev-era housing," Putin said, referring to the living conditions under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who reigned between Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev.

Another idea involved a ship canal between the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. He also thinks it would be a good idea to encourage private pension saving by adding top-up payments to the amount of rubles Russians save for their retirement. For Putin, state pensions should rise by 65% by 2009.

On the matter of energy, Putin called for an increase in power generation by two-thirds by 2020. 26 new nuclear power plants could help achieve this goal, the President thinks.


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