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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Predictions for Putin's Speech

In a shift from years past, President Vladimir Putin is expected to emphasize foreign relations when he delivers his seventh annual state-of-the-nation address next Wednesday.

Business leaders said, though, that they hoped Putin would also address the state's growing presence in the economy, and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov complained that some of Putin's promises last year had yet to be fulfilled.

A Kremlin spokeswoman said she had no official information about the contents of the address, which usually sums up the previous year and outlines goals for the year to come.

But at least three news organizations reported this week that Putin's main theme would be foreign policy: Vedomosti cited a Kremlin source, while reports by RIA-Novosti and Nezavisimaya Gazeta were not sourced.

It would make sense for Putin to stress Russia's position on issues such as energy security, the World Trade Organization and Iran at a time when it is chairing the Group of Eight industrial nations, analysts and business leaders agreed.

"It's Putin's international apotheosis," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

Russia as a global energy supplier is growing more insistent about being made part of the decision-making process in international affairs, and Putin could use the address as an opportunity to send out this message, Lukyanov said.

Eugene Lawson, president of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, a Washington-based trade association that represents the interests of 300 companies, said he hoped Putin would describe U.S.-Russian relations as important despite the stressful negotiations about Russia's WTO entry, which he said the United States was conducting in good faith.

Lawson said he would also like Putin to spell out where Russia stands on the Iran issue because "we are coming down to a moment of truth here," he said by telephone from Washington.

Gryzlov said he expected Putin to develop the themes for this year's speech from his previous addresses, including calls to strengthen the state and economy and the need to fight poverty, corruption and excessive bureaucracy, Interfax reported.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, said he expected Putin to speak about how to spend growing budget revenues, which have gone up with world oil prices, Interfax reported.

Putin could suggest pumping more money into the existing national projects or creating new national projects, such as bringing natural gas to more households or building better roads, Zhirinovsky said.

Foreign businesses working in Russia would like Putin to announce a "diet" for officials who have had a growing appetite for state expansion in the economy, said Andreas Romanos, head of the Association of European Businesses. He and other members of the association would like to hear that "the government is going to be slim ... and its role in business is not going to grow any more," Romanos said.

Romanos and Eric Kraus, managing director of the Nikitsky Russia Fund, an equity fund, predicted that Putin would castigate corrupt and swollen bureaucracy.

Business leaders have complained that Putin's state-of-the-nation addresses lack specifics about how to achieve the goals they set. The goals have thus often failed to become reality, they said.

Apparently responding to this criticism, Putin, in a decree issued two weeks after last year's address, set deadlines for the government to draft bills that would fulfill the promises he had made in that address.

The measure proved only partially effective. Some ideas from the previous address were put into practice, such as a law abolishing the inheritance tax and a law regulating parliamentary investigations, which was much-criticized for actually limiting the parliament's powers. A bill on capital amnesty -- also promised in the 2005 address -- was introduced to the Duma on Tuesday.

However, some of Putin's other suggestions did not materialize, including a proposal to make state agencies more open, Gryzlov said. "Unfortunately, the government has delayed the submission of an appropriate bill to the State Duma," he said Wednesday.

Kraus said it was still important to listen to the speech. "As we saw last year, pretty much all of what he said was going to be done was done," he said. "If you had traded on it -- in particular if you had bought Gazprom on Putin's speech last year -- then you would have gotten a lot of money."

Lawson also defended Putin's addresses, saying that no president could fulfill all the promises made in a speech. "I find his speeches really careful works of art," he said. "We in Washington give him full credit for being very specific. He is a master of detail, and he understands a larger picture, too."

Romanos said he had not noticed any buzz about the upcoming speech among members of the Association of European Businesses, possibly because Putin was unlikely to announce any significant changes for the business climate. "I guess we've been used to the slowing-down of the reform process of the past couple of years," he said. "We feel that there's a bit of sclerosis which may continue now through the forthcoming elections." Duma elections will be next year, while the presidential vote is set for 2008.