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Putin Says New Arms Race is Under Way, But Not for Russia

  • Peter Fedynsky

Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling for fundamental and ambitious changes in virtually every sector of Russian society, from healthcare and civil society to the tax code and defense. VOA correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from Moscow.

In a nationally-televised address to leading members of the government, parliament, military and clergy, Mr. Putin said Russia during the eight years of his presidency has enjoyed higher salaries and pensions, lower corruption, increased stability, and greater international prestige. Nonetheless, Mr. Putin said modernization of the country's economy has been fragmented and the economy remains overly reliant on energy revenues.

As a result, says Mr. Putin, Russia will not achieve the progress needed to improve quality of life. He also warns that security and development, even the very existence of Russia, are linked to modernization.

Mr. Putin is proposing the replacement of virtually all machines and equipment with more efficient and environmentally-friendly technology. He also is calling for development of the country's information, transportation, financial, and management infrastructure so Russia can compete and become a global leader.

Another problem, which he called a disgrace, is Russia's low life expectancy. He noted that half the country's males have no chance of living to 60. He set a goal of increasing life expectancy to 75 by the year 2020, adding that investments in medicine and education should be tax-free.

Mr. Putin also condemned excessive centralization and bureaucracy, which he says inhibits development.

Critics, however, note that Mr. Putin himself has centralized power. Russian political analyst Andrei Kortunov says the country will need to grant its people more political freedom if Mr. Putin's plan is to be realized.

Kortunov says if Russia wants to develop a knowledge-based, post-industrial economy, its political system becomes important. Political pluralism, free media and civil society, he says, are not random factors, but rather the basis for development of a new economy.

Turning to foreign affairs, President Putin condemned NATO's expansion and U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system against Iran on Polish and Czech territory. The Kremlin has said it feels threatened by the plan.

Russia, says Mr. Putin, will be ready for such challenges and will develop new weapons in the coming years that are as good as or better than those of other countries.

But independent military analyst Alexander Khramchekhin does not see NATO and the United States as threats to Russia.

Khramchekhin says China, which is developing rapidly, is the more likely threat.

President Putin's address comes less than a month before Russians go to the polls to vote for his successor, widely expected to be First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. Medvedev has indicated that, as president, he would name Mr. Putin as prime minister.

Mr. Putin noted that his address is not part of the presidential campaign.

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