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Russia Must Increase Economic Growth, Says Putin - 2003-05-16

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia must increase economic growth and undertake other reforms, to firmly establish Russia among the world's leading nations. The president outlined his domestic and international priorities Friday, in his annual state-of-the-nation address.

President Putin, who will seek a second four-year term in elections next year, said, despite enormous odds and challenges, Russia has substantially freed itself from what he called "a logjam of problems."

But he said serious challenges remain, such as widespread poverty, and the country must work to increase economic growth.

He said Russia's economic foundation, although noticeably stronger, is still, "shaky and very weak." He said Russia's political system is not developed enough and that government structures are inefficient. He expressed concern that the size of Russia's population continues to diminish and he said poverty is receding all too slowly.

To that end, he said the country's Gross Domestic Product must be doubled over the next 10 years, and the ruble should become fully convertible. He also called for radical cuts in Russia's bureaucracy and discussed efforts to reform the military.

President Putin said he counts international terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and territorial conflicts as the greatest threats Russia faces.

In his wide-ranging speech, Mr. Putin also vowed to crush rebel resistance in Chechnya, where more than 70 people died this week in two suicide bomb attacks. He said Russian troops would "finish the task" of ending the conflict in Chechnya.

President Putin had less to say on international issues. But he reiterated the theme that international law must be respected and that the United Nations must be given a central role in the resolution of any international problems.

Russia opposed the United States' decision to lead a military offensive against Iraq, without U.N. backing.

In an apparent reference to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Mr. Putin said the events of the past year demonstrate that the most important mechanism for securing stability, in his view, is the United Nations and its Security Council.

Despite their differences over Iraq, Russia remains firmly allied with the United States in the war against terrorism. Following his speech, the Kremlin said, Mr. Putin spoke by telephone with President Bush about joint anti-terrorism efforts.