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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President: Russia Not Out of the Woods Yet

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday applauded the relative political and economic stability achieved over the past year, but warned that it was too early for the government to rest on its laurels and much work was still needed to transform stability into growth and improved living conditions.

"The disintegration of the country has been stopped," Putin said in his second state of the nation address since being elected a year ago.

"Our current economic stability is relative. It's solely up to us to either secure the favorable conditions for our development and the greater well-being of the people or to let this unique chance slip away."

The hour-long speech was largely perceived as a victory for liberal forces within the government, especially in its references to the economy and judicial reform. However, Putin stuck to the Kremlin's general hawkish line on the bloody war in Chechnya, without addressing mounting international concern about human rights violations in the republic.

The majority of the political elite gathered in the Kremlin's sumptuous Marble Hall endorsed the plans outlined in Putin's address, although liberal lawmakers and independent observers criticized the president for failing to identify concrete steps to implement them.

Speaking in a dry, business-like tone throughout, Putin attributed the stability to his much-touted efforts to strengthen the so-called vertical line of executive power and praised his seven envoys in the federal administrative districts for "carrying the bulk of the work on their shoulders." One of the achievements he singled out was the near completion of bringing regional legislation in line with federal laws.

Putin spoke quite extensively on judicial reform, calling for many of the changes foreseen by a liberal program developed by his old-time ally in the presidential administration, adviser Dmitry Kozak.

He came crashing down on what he called an "outdated" legal system full of unclear and often contradictory legislation, which allowed for arbitrariness and led to the creation of a "gray justice system."

"We are at the dangerous point when judges can choose whichever legal norm suits them best," he said in a markedly animated tone.

"Citizens who have lost hope of finding justice in the courtroom are looking for other, less legal ways out. Sometimes they realize that illegal means often give them a better chance of getting a fair decision. And that undermines their trust in the state."

Putin lashed out at the country's bloated bureaucratic apparatus, which he accused of undercutting public trust in the government and "suppressing business initiative and activity."

The huge administrative machine, now numbering over a million people, should be slashed, Putin said, without elaborating on figures for a possible downsizing.

On several occasions, the president expressed displeasure with the persistently low standard of living.

Other social issues mentioned were the outdated Labor Code, which Putin criticized as not "answering to the needs of a market economy" and often getting ignored altogether. He also called for the coexistence of paid and free services in education and health care.

The speech also included some glaring omissions.

Putin made no mention of relations with Washington, which have been growing more and more tense since the election of President George W. Bush. The few comments that were devoted to foreign policy focused on relations with Europe and former Soviet states, and reiterated Russia's customary criticism of NATO's attempts to dictate its terms on the international scene and to usurp the authority of the UN Security Council.

Putin likewise failed to comment on allegations that the Kremlin is curtailing press freedom, on promised military reform and on rampant crime.

Several observers commented on the differences between this speech and the one Putin made last year, four months after being elected in March.

"While his address last year might be viewed as a declaration, this time it could be described as a business plan," Igor Bunin, director of the Center for Political Technologies, told Reuters.

Deputy Duma Speaker Irina Khakamada of the liberal Union of Right Forces party, or SPS, agreed. She compared Putin's speech to "a crisis manager's instruction to the board of directors of a corporation called Russia."

Khakamada's fellow liberals denounced the address as too short on detail. The speech "lacked a clear and understandable program," said SPS faction leader Boris Nemtsov, who also criticized the lack of a "clear peace plan for Chechnya."

But everyone seemed to agree that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

"It remains to be seen whether concrete actions will follow," said another deputy Duma speaker, Vladimir Lukin. "There needs to be a mechanism for implementing the outlined measures. … This message is good, but last year's wasn't bad either. … Until now, this has been just a ritual, now we must see."

Andrei Zolotov contributed to this report.