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Putin Cites Economic Progress in 2001, Challenges in 2002 - 2002-01-01

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the country made economic progress during 2001, but that much remains to be done to improve the economic situation for most Russians. The Russian leader spoke during a televised address outside the Kremlin to mark the start of the New Year.

President Putin said the economic growth that Russia achieved in 2001 contributed to a new climate of stability in the world's largest country.

But the president added that living standards remain poor for most Russians, and he called on the country to work together to correct this.

Mr. Putin has made the economy a top priority of his presidency, saying on many occasions that his government has an obligation to help all Russians experience the benefits of the new economic growth.

He said that steps to improve the economy include new laws approved by parliament to foster a better business climate.

The Kremlin leader spoke to the nation from outside the Kremlin in an address that was broadcast to each of Russia's 11 time zones as the new year dawned in each one.

Earlier on New Year's eve, the Russian leader signed into law a new budget whose figures indicate the Russian economy will have a surplus this year, the first time this has happened since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Russian leader also touched on international affairs in his midnight address. He said Russia joined the international coalition to fight terrorism to help bring peace and stability to the world. He said the international community now views Russia with more respect as a result of its contribution to the war against terrorism.

However, not all Russians see things that way. The Russian leader has been criticized by some of his top military officers for his strong stand in helping the United States in Afghanistan.

The president's New Year address has a long-standing tradition in Russia, dating back well into Soviet days, and New Year's Day is one of the biggest holidays of the year.