MOSCOW, Russia – Just two weeks before the Russian presidential elections, Vladimir Putin delivered his annual state of the nation address to the Federal Assembly, a speech given by the president to outline the state and condition in which Russia is in.
Traditionally held in December, this year’s address looked a bit different: for the first time since Mr. Putin came to power, the speech was delayed until March 1, just a day after other presidential candidates participated in a television debate.
Another change President Putin made ahead of the address was the location of the venue: it was moved from the Kremlin to a large exhibition space in the Moscow’s Manege building.
“I think Putin decided to change the location not because of its size, but mostly to give the idea of something new and less sumptuous as it always looked in the Kremlin’ room,” Alessandro Salacone, an expert in international relations, told The Globe Post.
Experts and the general public alike were expecting that Mr. Putin would use the address to shed some light on his fourth term (which is considered a done deal), and this is exactly how it unfolded.
“Today’s address is a very special landmark event, just as the times we are living in, when the choices we make and every step we take are set to shape the future of our country for decades to come,” Mr. Putin said breaking the ice.
He spoke in front of the highest Russian authorities and government representatives, including General Valery Gerasimov, who currently serves as Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
— Russians at NATO (@natomission_ru) March 1, 2018
Mr. Putin discussed numerous issues during his two-hour address, accompanying his statements with videos and computer images shown on giant screens.
“Russian technology has greatly improved in the last years, and its growth is a crosstalk touching economy, army, and social issues,” Mr. Salacone said.
Mr. Putin took his time to cover issues deemed most important by the Russian citizens ahead of the election, such as support for the elderly, infrastructure, health and education, poverty, democracy, technology, international relations and the defense system.
Mr. Putin used the state of the nation address to announce that Russia has developed missiles that no other country has, including a new supersonic weapon that cannot be tracked by anti-missile systems.
“The number of long-range high-precision weapon carriers has increased 12 times, while the number of guided cruise missiles increased more than 30 times. The Army, the Aerospace Forces and the Navy have grown significantly stronger as well,” Mr. Putin said.
Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow and the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Mr. Putin was “trolling” his Western partners during the address.
“He [Putin] will remain within the borders [of Russia], he will just continue with sabre-rattling,” the expert said in an interview with Current Time TV. “Putin wants to be a man who frightens the whole world, but with this movie-slides type of presentation Putin forces [partners toward] peace, forces a discussion, so that [others] count with him.”
Reinstating the point he already made during the annual news conference in December, Mr. Putin told to the audience of hundreds of senior officials and lawmakers that more than 90 percent of all the promises made in 2012 have been accomplished by the government.
The president singled out the topic of poverty in his speech. “We must address one of the key goals for the coming decade — ensuring long-term growth in the real incomes of citizens and halving the level of poverty in six years,” he said.
According to Mr. Putin, 42 million people lived below the poverty line in 2000, and the indicator fell to 10 percent in 2012. He explained that “poverty has increased slightly against the backdrop of the economic crisis. Today, 20 million Russian nationals live in poverty. Of course, this is much fewer than the 42 million people in 2000, but it is still way too many.”
The head of Russia’s Audit Chamber, Tatiana Golikova, said in June that the number of Russian citizens living below the poverty line had grown to 22 million, or 15 percent of the entire population.
#Putin in his Address to the Federal Assembly: "Nobody really wanted to talk to us about the core of the problem, and nobody wanted to listen to us. So listen now"
— MFA Russia ???????? (@mfa_russia) March 1, 2018
Mr. Salacone said that social issues were one of the key problems that stood out during Mr. Putin’s address, “mostly because the country in the past years has stabilized in terms of foreign affairs with big investments, and now it is time to deal with internal questions.”
A new term means new challenges, and Mr. Putin attempted to show that the country is ready for the next six years of shifts.
“We have gone through major challenging transformations, and were able to overcome new and extremely complex economic and social challenges, preserved the unity of our country, built a democratic society and set it on the path to freedom and independence,” he said.