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Putin's State-of-the-Nation Speech Draws Mixed Reviews

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual state-of-the-nation address before parliament has drawn mixed reviews. Supporters say the speech highlights the president's commitment to democratic and economic reforms. But critics say the speech lacked specifics and amounts to nothing more than empty words.

In his speech, President Putin laid out a vision of a Russia where neither democracy, nor economic gain, is supreme. Both, he said, are equally important in moving the country toward his promise of a better future for all.

He said Russia's place in the world will be defined by strengthening freedom, rule of law, and a basic respect for human rights in all spheres -- from government, to the private sector, and even big business.

Few, if anyone, would choose to take issue with those goals. But many people do question just exactly how President Putin plans to get there. One of them is independent political analyst Masha Lipman of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"He's now talking about improving certain flaws of the system, but these flaws are of his own making,” she noted. “And this raises really serious doubts of whether he can be trusted. He's got a very serious credibility problem in this speech. And I'm sure this is not just my problem. Many of the observers who were listening to the speech today, both inside and outside of Russia, will have very serious doubts [about] whether this liberal rhetoric will actually be implemented and will lead to a change of policy."

Ms. Lipman also took note of three former policy goals that she says were noticeably absent from Monday's speech. She says the president made no mention this year about plans to curb poverty, modernize the military, or double Russia's GDP.

Dmitry Rogozin is the leader of the nationalist Rodina party. In remarks broadcast on Russian television following the speech, Mr. Rogozin said President Putin is promoting the right values, but has so far failed to implement them.

Mr. Rogozin said if President Putin could actually compel his cabinet to carry out the reforms suggested in his speech, then he says political, social and economic change would have a chance to flourish in Russia.

The Director of Moscow's Institute for Globalization Studies, Mikhail Delyagin, agrees. He told VOA the basic principles of the speech are undermined by the very man who delivered it.

Mr. Delyagin says the address contained a large number of ideals, which he says are right. But he says attempts to realize these principles will require a full-scale change in President Putin's government.

Additionally, he says, putting the principles into practice would, in his view, dismantle many of the controls on power that President Putin has put into place. In so doing, he adds, it would spell the end for many of President Putin's inner circle.

Another analyst, Yuri Korgunyuk, took an equally harsh view. He is quoted as saying that in Russia, people react to the actions of the prosecutor general's office and the tax police adding, "that is what is real."

The influential business daily, Kommersant, summarized the address with an ironic front-page headline. It read, "Head of State Attacks Putin Regime."

But Mr. Putin's speech does have its supporters.

In a note to investors, Michael Heath, a political strategist at Moscow's Aton capital, said the "investor-friendly" tone of President's Putin's speech could spell the end of the Kremlin campaign against big business.

Valentina Matviyenko is the Governor of St. Petersburg, President Putin's hometown. She praised the speech for what she called the president's personal touch.

Ms. Matviyenko says the speech gives her the impression that the president not only hears about people's basic problems, but understands them as well.

President Putin's predecessor, former President Boris Yeltsin, was also complementary. He said his favorite thing about the speech was, that in his view, it was all about improving the average Russian's life.

Supporters and critics alike agree more reform is needed, but as the old adage goes, "the devil is in the details."