Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has presented his annual state-of-the-nation address to parliament, emphasizing the need to modernize, combat corruption, and maintain Ukraine's neutral status.
"I say frankly that the changes demanded by society require focus, confidence, and patience," Yanukovych said. "But I stress that our choice -- the modernization of Ukraine -- is irreversible."
Yanukovych, who was elected president in February 2010, said that in order to modernize, Ukraine must "build a democratic political system" based on the rule of law, a developed legal culture, representative democracy, strong government, and effective state management.
He urged lawmakers to adopt tough anticorruption legislation.
"Today, corruption has become a direct threat to the constitutional rights and freedoms of our citizens," he said. "Therefore, I categorically call for the elimination of corruption schemes and the expeditious approval of anticorruption legislation."
He also urged Ukrainians to stop "complaining and groveling" and to "show the Ukrainian character."
'More Must Be Done'
In his sober, 40-minute address, the president conceded that he was not satisfied with the performance of his government so far, admitting that many in the bureaucracy had resisted his reform efforts. More must be done, Yanukovych said, to "break the practice of procrastination and inertia."
In regard to foreign affairs, Yanukovych stressed that a strict policy of neutrality is important for Ukraine's national security, but said more should be done to improve economic cooperation with the European Union. He said the government plans to sign an EU association agreement this year.
Yanukovych also said that Ukraine does not want to join a Russia-led customs union, suggesting a free-trade deal with it instead.
Yanukovych, in his annual address to parliament, said Ukraine was proposing cooperation under a "3+1 scheme" with the customs union, which aside from Russia includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who leads an opposition bloc in parliament, compared the speech to an address by former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in a message posted to her Twitter account.
Later, she continued to criticize the address. "What he announced looks more like a computer compilation of worn-out, banal phrases that have migrated from one program to another over the last 20 years," she said. "There is no strategy. If there is no strategy, there are other plans. The plan is to continue the redistribution of [the country's] resources."
Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk also criticized the speech as being too vague and lacking a government action program.
"It was about everything and nothing in particular," he said. "Because the main issues -- unemployment, the budget deficit, the war against corruption, European integration -- were left without the genuine attention of the president."