"We should always be ready to repulse potential foreign aggression and acts of international terrorism," the Russian president said in his annual state-of-the-nation address to parliament. "We should be able to respond to anybody's attempts to put pressure on Russia in matters of foreign policy in order to strengthen their own positions at our expense," he continued, concluding that "it must be said openly: the stronger our armed forces will be, the less tempting it will be to put such pressure on us."
Putin said Russia's army should "fully capable of responding adequately to contemporary threats." However, he said his government would not repeat the mistakes of the Soviet Union by overspending on the military at the expense of other sectors of the economy.
The Russian president noted that, while Russian military spending is comparable with that of a number of other nuclear powers, the United States' defense budget was, in absolute terms, "nearly 25 times that of Russia."
In the first part of his speech, made before both chambers of parliament, Putin focused on economic issues. Alluding to comments by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the time of the Great Depression, Putin promised to "step on the toes" of all those who sought to make illegal profits at the expense of ordinary Russians.
He also said that one of his government's main priorities should be to reverse the current decline in the country's population, which he said is shrinking by around 700,000 people a year.
Putin also highlighted Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), telling Russians that the country will join the WTO only on terms that are in its own economic interests.
He also said that WTO negotiations should not be used as a vehicle to make demands on Russia that are not related to entry into the trade body.
Moscow has in the past accused the United States of seeking to stall its bid for membership of the organization.
Vladimir Pribylovsky (RFE/RL)
'LITTLE CONNECTION WITH REAL LIFE': On May 10, VLADIMIR PRIBYLOVSKY, director of the Panorama think tank in Moscow, spoke to RFE/RL's Russian Service about President Vladimir Putin's state-of-the-nation address.
Vladimir Pribylovsky: Such speeches are typically dominated by rhetoric, and, essentially, President Putin's addresses usually seem to have little connection to real life. His state-of-the-nation addresses have never made any mention of his main activities during his six years in office. He ransacked NTV, but he didn't say anything about it in his speeches in 2000 and 2001. He destroyed Yukos, but didn't say anything about that in his speech. He changed how [regional] governors were elected at the same time he was saying in his address that such a thing would never happen. And so on.
Of the things he said today, I noticed only one concrete promise -- practically a decree -- and that was to increase benefits for children, for first and second children. Everything else was more like wishful thinking. He said some people's toes are going to get stepped on. Some people took that to mean he was talking about business; others thought he was talking about the U.S. vice president. But again, we've already come across these thoughts and assumptions -- some people had thought he would chew over national projects, and other people thought he was going to talk about foreign policy.
MORE: To read a transcript of the complete interview in Russian, click here.
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