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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Touts Russia's Brand of Democracy

Top 10 Nouns in Putin's Address
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- The Moscow Times

President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Russia must develop as a free, democratic nation, but in a subtle warning against popular uprisings, he vowed to crack down on any "illegal" unrest.

Putin, speaking in his annual state of the nation address, also issued a rebuke to Western leaders who have accused the Kremlin of stalling or backtracking on democratic reforms, saying the country itself would decide how quickly to usher in democracy and what form that democracy would take.

"I consider the development of Russia as a free, democratic state to be the main political and ideological task," Putin told both houses of parliament in the Kremlin's Marble Hall.

The president told the lawmakers, who were joined by key government ministers and other policymakers, that they also should put their efforts into developing democracy as well as the state, civil society and the rule of law.

While calling for Russia to "become a free society of free people," Putin insisted that it would go about democratic reforms its own way. "As a sovereign country, Russia is capable and will itself define the terms and conditions for progress along this way," he said.

Putin sent a signal to the opposition to refrain from organizing large street protests in the wake of peaceful revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. He said the state would respond in a "legal but tough" way to "illegal methods of fighting for national, religious or other interests."

Putin also made it clear that Moscow would continue to try to influence affairs in other former Soviet republics, despite the emergence of pro-Western regimes in Georgia and Ukraine and the reorientation of Moldova toward the European Union.

"The Russian nation should continue its mission of civilizing the Eurasian continent," Putin said, describing Russia as "chiefly a large, European nation."

While eloquent and specific in outlining economic policy in Monday's speech, Putin offered few new ideas on how he would tackle national problems. He called this year's address a continuation of last year's and said the two should be considered as a program of action for the next decade.

As in his previous addresses, Putin on Monday meticulously listed the problems facing the country, including terrorism, poverty, alcoholism, depopulation and corruption. He tried to put the problems into a historical prospective, often striking a philosophical note. He even cited two relatively little-known Russian intellectuals from the early 20th century to show that the country has faced the same problems before and to fault moral deficiencies for causing the problems.

Putin sought to defend his record by blaming events that took place before his presidency. Among other things, Putin referred to the Soviet collapse in 1991 as the "largest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" which led to an "epidemic of disintegrations."

He lambasted a peace accord signed by then-Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov and Security Council chief Alexander Lebed during the rule of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, in 1996. In perhaps his harshest criticism of Yeltsin yet, Putin described the peace deal as an "unconditional surrender" in the wake of "terrorist intervention."

In addition, Putin pointed out that "widespread poverty became the norm" under Yeltsin, while "the economy was in a dire recess and the social sphere was paralyzed."

Putin said he has spent the past five years of his presidency "reacting" to those and other problems that he inherited. But he vowed that the time had come for a "future-oriented policy."

Putin offered only a general vision of how the country would go forward in addressing the problems. For instance, he proposed that authorities continue to battle terrorism by boosting living standards in the North Caucasus and promoting democracy there.

Putin made no mention of the clear need for an overhaul in the law enforcement community, which failed to prevent terrorist attacks such as the huge hostage-takings in Moscow in 2002 and Beslan last year. The president also failed to offer any solutions to fight poverty and depopulation apart from calls to raise the salaries of public servants and to encourage legal migration.

He did, however, offer several unorthodox methods of protecting some freedoms. He proposed empowering the largely toothless Public Chamber to oversee whether television channels were observing freedom of speech. He also offered to ensure that parliamentary factions get equal access to the media.