Accessibility links

Putin Vows to Defend Democracy in Russia - 2004-05-26

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reaffirmed Russia's commitment to democratic values, while building what he called a state strong and free. He rejected Western criticism that his government is running an authoritarian regime. The president outlined his domestic and international priorities Wednesday in his annual state of the nation address.

In a nationally-televised address before a joint session of Russia's parliament, President Putin laid out his vision of a Russia politically and economically stable and free.

He said the main goal for his government during his second four-year-term will be to build what he called, an open society of free people.

He also rejected frequent Western criticisms that he oversees a government increasingly moving in an authoritarian direction. Mr. Putin said the criticism stems from those who do not want to see Russia, in his words, independent, confident and strong.

Mr. Putin says steps taken by his government to strengthen the state have been wrongly interpreted and, because of that, he said he wanted to reaffirm Russia's commitment to democratic principles.

He also restated two main goals from his address last year - to double Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) within a decade and to reduce overall poverty among Russians.

Much of the president's fifth annual state of the nation address was devoted to the economy. He said Russia was at long last economically stable. But he said more remains to be done to raise the people's overall standard of living and expand future job prospects.

President Putin made only brief mention of Russia's ongoing war with Chechen separatists. His government's policy on Chechnya is widely viewed as being in disarray following the recent assassination of pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov.

The killing was captured on national television and came during celebrations earlier this month meant to highlight the nation's military defeat over Nazi Germany. President Putin called the killing a provocation, but said Russia would not be stopped from fighting terrorists at home.

Mr. Putin also addressed the need to strengthen the international anti-terrorism coalition, based on the mechanisms of the United Nations and international law.

Veteran political analyst Masha Lippmann with Moscow's Carnegie Center says the speech yielded few real surprises but was notable in one sense.

"He [Putin] didn't sound anti-Western, not at all, but he sounded slightly isolationist, sending the signal that Russia should rely only on itself, and that Russia's problems - even smaller Russian problems - are much more important than big world problems," she said.

On the domestic front Mr. Putin also outlined in broad terms his goals to improve Russia's health care, education, housing and transport systems.