Vladimir Putin's cabinet is committed to further economic reformPutin warns of 'senile nation'
Saturday, 8 July, 2000
Russian President Vladimir Putin has used his first state-of-the-nation address to highlight the many problems besetting the Russia - and to stress the need for a strong centralised state.
He pledged to attack corruption and the shadow economy, protect private enterprise and strengthen law and order.
But his greatest concern, he said, was Russia's fast shrinking population.
Mr Putin told parliamentary deputies at the annual Kremlin ceremony that the population - currently 146 million - had been falling by 750,000 annually for the past few years.
If the trend did not stop, it would plummet by 22 million people in 15 years.
"If this trend continues, the very survival of the nation will be under threat," he said.
Mr Putin said many people had decided against having children because of the atmosphere of uncertainty and unending crises.
"We face the threat of becoming a senile nation," he said.
Despite several months of solid economic growth, the former KGB officer warned of the need for further painful reforms.
He said that only a strong centralised state could deliver a booming economy, social justice and guarantee individual freedoms.
That meant more power for the Kremlin and less for regional leaders, many of whom Mr Putin accused of grabbing too much power for themselves.
The Russian president made little reference to the nine-month war in Chechnya, which has dragged on far longer than either he or his generals had promised.
"Only our counter-terrorist operation was able to keep the state from falling apart," said Putin, making no mention of recent suicide bombings in Chechnya that killed dozens of Russian troops.
The Russian president also stressed the need for economic reform.
He called for lower taxes, greater competition and a level playing-field for all businessmen.
Mr Putin denied that he had any plans for a dictatorship; he said he was committed to democracy and freedom of speech.
But he criticised parts of the Russian media which he believed had been hijacked by rich businessmen and turned into tools of disinformation.
Mr Putin's 50-minute televised address was applauded by hundreds of parliamentarians listening to the speech in the Kremlin's Marble Hall.
Correspondents say Mr Putin may be hoping that his frank and blunt account of the country's problems will steel Russians to make new efforts to overcome them.
But his criticism of the Russian media risks exacerbating liberal fears of a threat to freedom of speech in the wake of legal action against the country's largest independent media group, Media-Most.