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Putin Calls For Constitutional Changes, More Social Spending In Annual Address

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Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow on January 15.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has used his annual state-of-the-nation speech to call for broad changes to the constitution that would strengthen parliament's powers ahead of the end of his term in 2024.

In a January 15 address to Russia’s two-chamber parliament -- the Federal Assembly -- Putin said the country’s 1993 constitution should be amended, including giving the State Duma -- the lower house of parliament -- the right to name cabinet ministers and the prime minister, a power that currently belongs to the president.

At the same time, Putin said Russia must remain a “strong presidential republic,” with the president retaining powers such as the right to dismiss the prime minister and cabinet ministers, as well as naming top defense and security officials.

"This will increase the role and significance of the country's parliament," Putin said.

"Given that the proposed reforms concern significant changes to the political system, the work of legislative, executive, and judicial authorities, I believe it is necessary to hold a plebiscite on the entire package of the proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution," Putin added without specifying any date for a vote.

Russia last conducted a referendum in 1993 when it adopted the constitution under Putin's predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

Putin also suggested tightening the requirements for becoming president, saying any future Russian president should have lived in the country for at least 25 years and have no foreign citizenship or residency.

In addition, he also talked about a constitutional change that would enshrine the priority of domestic legislation over international law.

The speech came with the country still under Western sanctions for its actions in Ukraine, Syria, as well as its election meddling in the United States.

The sanctions have hampered the country's economic growth, leading to rising poverty rates and growing discontent highlighted by protests last summer in Moscow.

Putin, 67, has dominated politics in Russia for two decades, serving as president or prime minister since 1999. In 2018, Putin was reelected to another six-year term. He will have to step down after his term ends under the current law, which limits the president to two consecutive terms.

The address at Moscow’s Manezh exhibition hall is one of three regularly scheduled national appearances that Putin makes each year -- the others being a lavish question-and-answer session with the public and a stage-managed annual press conference.

It is the 16th time Putin has delivered the address before an audience that also includes government ministers, judges from the constitutional and supreme courts, leading regional officials, and other members of the political elite.

In response to public discord, Putin spelled out social-spending measures to counter Russia’s declining population, which he characterized as a “direct threat” to the country’s future, including a nationwide school hot-meal program.

Putin said low incomes remain an obstacle to increasing the population, now at about 147 million, as the country faces the consequences of the post-Soviet economic collapse that led to a steep drop in the birthrate.

"We need to expedite achievement to meet the large-scale social, economic, and technological challenges our country faces," he said.

"Our society is clearly demonstrating a demand for change. People want development and are trying to make progress in the fields of vocation, knowledge, and well-being," Putin said.

In his speech, Putin also boasted about Russian weaponry. He claimed that Russia is leading in the global arms race and no longer forced to “catch up” to other world powers.

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