Putin Stresses National Unity, Domestic Programs In Low-Key Parliament Address
Robert Coalson December 01, 2016
In his annual state-of-the-nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the country is unified like never before and is fully capable of achieving its strategic economic and geopolitical goals.
Putin was generally upbeat in the December 1 address to a joint session of parliament, emphasizing what he said were improvements in Russian governance, the economy, demography, and social programs.
Although the speech was predominantly about domestic priorities, Putin several times spoke of pressure from outside forces, including the economic sanctions introduced by the United States, European Union, and other countries over Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and Moscow's military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Putin said the sanctions imposed by the West were an "attempt to make us dance their dance, as people say, and to neglect our national interests."
"All instruments have been used, from myths about Russian aggression and propaganda to the persecution of our Olympic athletes," Putin said, referring to a major scandal this year that saw many Russian athletes barred from competing in the Summer Olympics in Brazil after a World Anti-Doping Agency report accused Russia of implementing an extensive state-sponsored doping program.
"There have been targeted disinformation campaigns, propaganda, and attempts to mentor us -- we are tired of it all," Putin said. "But we are ready to take part in the solution of global problems. We do not seek confrontation with anyone. We are not looking for enemies. We need friends."
Putin mentioned what he indicated was an opportunity for improved relations with the United States presented by the election of Donald Trump as president. He said Moscow is ready to cooperate with the United States to combat international terrorism, which he described as a "real, not fictional" threat.
He also said that Russia's relations with China were a "stabilizing factor" in global and regional politics, and are based on "harmony" rather than the idea of "domination" of the world stage by any particular country -- an apparent reference to the United States.
He did not mention Ukraine or any other former Soviet countries and only obliquely referred to the civil war in Syria.
The 69-minute speech was Putin's 13th state-of-the-nation address, delivered in the Kremlin's lavish St. George Hall before an audience including lawmakers, cabinet ministers, the judges of the Supreme and Constitutional courts, regional and religious leaders, and other dignitaries.
According to state-run news agency TASS, the speech was interrupted by applause 10 times.
Putin also noted that 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the communist Bolshevik Revolution and called on Russia to study the lessons of that divisive period "to achieve reconciliation and reinforce the social, political, and civic concord that we have achieved today."
"We are a united people, one people, and we have one Russia," Putin said.
He promised a stern response to any attempt to sow discord or "abuse other people's feelings and national [ethnic] traditions."
Most of Putin's speech focused on upbeat assessments of the state of the country's economy, health-care institutions, the agriculture sector, schools, and the demographic situation. He called on Russian regional leaders not "to hide in their offices" but to consult with the public on policy issues.
The president spoke briefly about corruption, saying efforts to combat the problem must not "be a show," but must be conducted professionally.
He reproached the West for what he claimed were efforts to "introduce censorship in the global information space."
"They reproached us for allegedly introducing censorship in our country," Putin said, "and now they are practically doing this themselves."
He ordered the government of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to develop a strategic plan for bolstering Russia's place in the global economy through 2025.
Before the speech, Russian media had speculated that Putin might announce moving the 2018 presidential election to 2017, or a major constitutional reform. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the speech would be "very different in content" from previous addresses.
However, the address contained no major revelations or initiatives.
Moscow-based political analyst Aleksandr Kynev said on Facebook that Putin's speech was the "quietest, tamest, calmest, most peaceable" of his state-of-the-nation addresses.
"The absence of aggression is already good news," he concluded.
On Twitter, social activist Alyona Popova wryly suggested that the Russia that Putin described in the address was largely imaginary.
"Putin lives in a good country. Everything goes according to the law. Industry is growing. Health care and education are great," she wrote. "It would be great if Russians could live there."
Opposition politician and anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny was more unequivocal. He said Putin's speech "was completely empty and consisted either of flat-out lies about 'successes' or the same promises we have had for the last 17 years."
With reporting by TASS
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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