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Putin Delivers Russia's State-of-the-Nation Address - 2002-04-18

President Vladimir Putin said Russia must become more self-reliant, prosperous, and competitive. In his annual State-of-the-Nation address, Mr. Putin also re-stated his strong stance against terrorism.

Lawmakers, ministers and invited dignitaries gathered in the Kremlin's ornate Marble Hall for Vladimir Putin's State-of-the-Nation address.

President Putin called for greater economic growth and above all, better living standards for the average Russian.

Mr. Putin said there has been progress; unemployment has gone down, pensions have gone up, and that, he said, has allowed people to plan for the future. He praised the budget surplus, the increase in exports.

But he said economic growth must be used for the benefit of the common people. He added that there can be no real satisfaction as long as 40 million Russians live in poverty.

The President also called on Russia to become more self reliant and competitive in today's world market.

He said after the end of the Cold War there was an illusion that the way would open automatically for Russia to enter the world market. But, he said Russia must be competitive. Nobody is going to help us, he said, we have to fight for our place in the market.

Mr. Putin criticized a cumbersome and often corrupt bureaucracy for holding the country back and discouraging foreign and domestic investment.

Mr. Putin said investment is being blocked by a huge, slow, and clumsy administrative apparatus. He said the bureaucracy should be flexible and efficient. He also noted that old habits die hard, in that bribes are still often the way to overcome administrative barriers. This must change, he said.

The President called for sweeping reforms to help businesses and to overhaul the country's judicial system to make it more respected. He promised tougher laws to crack down on fascist and neo-Nazi groups and called for reform of the military.

Mr. Putin said Russia must move toward a more professional army and should decrease the number of years of required military service. He said the Defense Ministry is looking into the issue, with the goal of moving to an all-volunteer military.

While most of the speech was devoted to domestic issues, President Putin touched on some foreign policy issues. He said Russia's foreign policy is based on pragmatism and he repeated his strong stand against terrorism.

He said that Russia has long faced the threat of terrorism and there can be no question about supporting the campaign against terror. He said mutual efforts had helped destroy the main world center of terrorism in Afghanistan.

Mr. Putin said September 11 clearly showed that the Cold War is over, but he warned there are new threats.

The Russian leader also called for stronger links to countries that once were part of the Soviet Union, he urged cooperation with NATO, and he vowed to work for greater Russian integration into Europe.