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8 Feb, 2008 18:55

Putin delivers final address to State Council as President

Vladimir Putin has delivered possibly his final address to the country's political elite ahead of next month's presidential election. The President outlined his view of Russia's long-term development to Russia’s top officials at the State Council.

Some 750 people – governors, politicians and businessmen – were there to hear Putin's thoughts on his years in power, and what should happen next.

The President, who steps down in three months, wasn’t here to say good bye, instead he offered a new strategy for Russia – innovative development.

“In ten to twelve years' time Russia should be the best place in terms of career growth, a sizeable increase in people's social and material status throughout their lifetime, as well as stimulating talents and success,” he said.
Putin started his speech with the 90, drawing on some of the most painful memories for Russians, like the financial collapse of 1998.

“Wealthy Russia had turned into a country of impoverished people. In these conditions, we started to implement our programme to take the country out of crisis. We have been able to rid ourselves of the practice of taking state decisions under pressure from financial groups and media magnates,” the President said.

Despite these developments, criticism from the western countries has grown, particularly at election time, the main criticism being Russia’s backsliding on democracy.  Half way into the speech, Putin reiterated that he sees democracy as the cornerstone of the country’s development. Nevertheless he gave greater prominence to social issues.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, President of Politika Foundation, commented, “The country is solving the issues of survival after a decade of economic collapse”.

“Democracy is not on top of the agenda of Russian society,” he said.

What people are really worried about, Nikonov believes, are jobs, inflation, social security and education.  

Foreign policy didn’t get as much airtime as social concerns, but for many was more attention grabbing.

“We can smell oil and gas in many conflicts, foreign policy actions and diplomatic disputes. We see more and more often how the policy of deterrence is making a comeback. Behind all that, however, there is often a desire to enforce on us a dishonest competition and get access to our resources. We must stick to what we judge as being in our own best interest,” Vladimir Putin said.

The President complained Russia was at times the only state complying with international treaties and accused some countries of initiating a new arms race.  

“NATO itself is expanding. It's approaching our borders. We closed down our bases in Cuba and in Vietnam. What did we get? New American bases in Romania and Bulgaria and a new third missile defence region being built in Poland. It's already clear that a new arms race is being unleashed in the world. We must not allow ourselves to be drawn into this,” Putin said.

The Kremlin considers U.S. plans to deploy its missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic as a threat to national security, which has become a source of tensions between Moscow and Washington. 

Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, said “Russia is a country which is open for a dialogue with all our partners in the world, but we will definitely continue to protect our national interests”.

“We will not let any country or any other political force rule the current development in Russia,” he added.
In addition to other issues, Putin mentioned fighting corruption and bureaucracy among state officials. The highest ranking officials in the country applauded in response. Some analysts joked that there won't be such an ovation when Putin starts to crack down.

With just weeks to go until the presidential election, some saw Putin’s speech as instructions for the candidate he backs – First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
“This is a political testament, a blueprint for his successor, a short report and a kind of an apology for those things he hasn’t accomplished,” said Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.

Many others are not in a hurry to erase Vladimir Putin from the political scene.

Aleksey Pushkov, a political analyst and TV presenter, says, ''Putin is still acting as a president who keeps his influence, who keeps his power and his authority".

“It seems that he wants to be at the helm of the country, maybe in a different form,” Pushkov concluded.

Many agree that Putin might have drawn the line under the two terms of his presidency, but it definitely didn’t sound like a farewell.

To watch the full President Putin’s address, please, follow link.