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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Delivers a Hawkish Final Address

MTPresident Putin addressing both houses of parliament and other politicians in the Kremlin's Marble Hall on Thursday.
President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday that Russia would suspend its participation in a key Soviet-era arms treaty and accused foreign sponsors of financing discord in the country.

Putin's tough comments in his last state-of-the-nation address to both houses of the parliament left little doubt about the hawkish foreign policy he wants his successor to follow.

Putin asked legislators to back a moratorium on Russia's participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and consider withdrawing altogether if NATO members refused to ratify an updated version of the 1990 agreement. The treaty regulates the deployment of non-nuclear weapons such as aircraft and tanks around Europe. NATO members insist that Russia first make good on a pledge to withdraw troops from Georgia and Moldova.

"I believe it is expedient to declare a moratorium on the fulfillment of this treaty by Russia, at least until all NATO countries without any exceptions ratify it," Putin said, drawing thundering applause from lawmakers, Cabinet ministers and other dignitaries in the Kremlin's Marble Hall.

In Oslo, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he would ask Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to explain Putin's remarks. Lavrov was to join NATO foreign ministers for two days of talks in the Norwegian capital, starting Thursday.

Putin said Thursday's address would be his last, rejecting speculation that he might seek a constitutional amendment to run again when his second and final term ends next spring.

Putin's one hour and 14 minute speech offered a comprehensive review of the country's security, political and economic challenges. While his economic comments were rather liberal and market-oriented, his observations on defense and security were as hawkish as his February speech in Munich, when he accused the United States of unilateralism and listed all his grievances with the White House's foreign policy.

As in Munich, U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe drew the fiercest fire from Putin. "For the first time, elements of U.S. strategic weaponry could appear in Europe. It is evident that such U.S. plans ... are not a problem in U.S-Russian relations only," Putin said." I would say this question deserves to be or even needs to be debated at the OSCE."

While the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe would be the place to discuss the missile shield, Putin said, the NATO-Russia Council would be the appropriate venue to hold negotiation over the CFE Treaty. "And should no progress be made at these negotiations, I suggest that we consider the possibility of ending our CFE commitments," Putin said.

While combative toward NATO, Putin struck a more accommodating tone in describing Russia's relations with the European Union. "Our partnership with European Union is becoming more and more constructive," he said.

He expressed hope that a new partnership agreement would be signed. The accord is being held up by a meat dispute between Russia and Poland.

Among the challenges posed to Russia, Putin singled out the foreign financing of nongovernmental organizations in what he called meddling in the country's internal affairs.

"There is a growth in the flow of money from abroad to interfere directly in our internal affairs, he said. "Skillfully using pseudo-democratic rhetoric, there are those who would like to return to the recent past -- some to loot the country's national riches and to rob the people and the state, others to strip us of economic and political independence."

He did not identify any foreign sponsors.

He also accused unidentified forces of trying to "instigate interethnic and interreligious discord in our multiethnic democratic country."

He called on the State Duma to consider quickly an amendment to toughen penalties for extremism. The president sent a bill to the Duma on Thursday that would give the Federal Registration Service the power to warn and potentially close organizations that it deemed guilty of engaging in extremist activities.

Putin and other officials have repeatedly accused the West of funding NGOs and even opposition parties in a possible effort to stage a velvet revolution. The accusations have intensified as the country nears parliamentary elections in December and the presidential vote in March.

The president said Thursday that Kremlin-sponsored legislation assailed by the opposition as attempts to keep the current regime in power was helping "to form a viable civil society."

He claimed the cancellation of single-mandate races was "a serious democratization of the electoral system."

As the clock ticks down on the presidential election, Putin cautioned the ruling elite about dismissing him as a lame duck. "It is too early for me to announce my political will," he said.

Putin has repeatedly said he would back a candidate in the election, but he has so far avoided naming names. First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev are believed to be the top contenders.

Putin spent roughly the same amount of time praising both Ivanov's and Medvedev's accomplishments and outlining what they still needed to do.

Ivanov oversees industrial policy, focusing on the defense industry and the high-tech sector, while Medvedev has the four national projects: health care, education, agriculture and housing.

While the foreign policy vision outlined by Putin was closer to that of the hawkish Ivanov than the more liberal Medvedev, the biggest single budgetary outlay mentioned in the speech was 250 billion rubles for housing.