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Russia: Putin Pledges To Boost Economy, Cut Poverty In State Of Union Address

Prague, 26 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to build a modern, prosperous country in his annual address to the Federal Assembly. Today's address to a joint session of parliament was Putin's first since he won a second term in March.

Putin set out the main goals of his second presidential term. "Our goals are absolutely clear -- high living standards in the country; lives that are safe, free and comfortable; a mature democracy and a developed civil society; a strengthening of Russia's position in the world; and most importantly, I'll repeat, a substantial increase in society's well-being."

Putin touched on a wide range of subjects in the 47-minute nationally televised speech. But much of it was devoted to the economy, which is growing strongly amid high oil prices. Putin pledged to reduce poverty in Russia, where he said about one-third of Russians live below the poverty line. He called on the government to lower inflation, and said the ruble should be fully convertible within two years. And he pledged to double the size of the economy by the end of the decade.

"We are fully capable of doubling our economic potential, as we said last year. We [will be able to do it] if we keep annual economic growth at least as it was in the first quarter of this year. Even more -- if we keep this growth, we could double per capita GDP not in 10 years but by 2010," Putin said.

Putin made only brief references to foreign policy and to the war in Chechnya. He said he wants better ties with other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and with the United States and China. On Chechnya, he said Russia's policy on "the fight against terrorism" will not be affected by the assassination this month of Chechnya's pro-Moscow leader, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov.

"Despite provocations like the recent political assassination of the leader of the Chechen republic and the attempt to disorganize the work of the legitimately elected leadership of the republic, our policy in the fight against terrorism will remain unchanged and consistent. Nobody, nothing will stop Russia on its road to strengthening democracy, ensuring human rights and freedoms," Putin said.

Putin also defended himself against Western accusations of authoritarianism. "Not everyone in the world wants to deal with an independent, strong, and confident Russia," he said. "Right now, in the global competitive struggle, various means of political, economic and informational pressure are actively being used. The strengthening of our state, sometimes deliberately, is interpreted as a conscious authoritarianism. In this connection, I would like to say: There will be no review of the fundamental principles of our policy."

In other points, Putin also urged the government to guarantee affordable housing, education, and medical care for more Russians. Putin also pledged to push ahead with modernizing the military.

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