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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Analysis: Can Putin deliver?
By Stephen Dalziel
BBC Russian affairs analyst

Russian President Vladimir Putin's state-of-the-nation speech was very much in keeping with his populist image.

He recognised that life for many of his fellow citizens remains tough.

Russian woman
Putin knows conditions are hard for many Russians
One-third of Russians still live below the poverty line. Healthcare, he said, is ineffective and unsatisfactory.

By 2010, he wants the conditions to be in place so that one-third of the population can buy their own homes. That would be up from the current 10%.

And by the same year, he wants to double the size of the national economy and incomes.

These are sentiments with which most Russians can sympathise. And one reason why Mr Putin has massive support throughout Russia is that ordinary people genuinely believe that their president cares about their well-being.

But in the state of the nation address, they did not hear Mr Putin say how these targets are going to be achieved.

Better life

It was less a case of him promising, "This is what I'm going to do", than a public declaration of, "This is what I'm expecting my government to do".

He has something in common with the tsars of pre-revolutionary days
And that is where many Russians believe there is a gap between theory and practice.

In Soviet times, people became used to hearing grand words from their leaders, yet seeing a much harsher reality.

After the chaos of the Yeltsin years, there is a genuine feeling that Russia now has a leader who does want a better life for his citizens - not just those with the business sense to make lots of money.

But opinion polls consistently reflect the attitude of Russian people that, even though Mr Putin wants to improve life, it may be even beyond his talents to achieve it. In this, he has something in common with the tsars of pre-revolutionary days.

The tsar was regarded by many as being beyond criticism, even if their life was harsh.

Many observers in the West regard Mr Putin as an authoritarian leader. He has a parliament which does his bidding. The media - especially television - is under the control of the Kremlin. Big businessmen who step out of line are arrested.
Vladimir Putin
Many observers in the West regard Putin as an authoritarian leader

There was some surprise that there was no reference in the speech to the so-called "oligarchs"; more specifically, to the case against the former head of the Yukos oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

His trial on fraud and tax evasion charges is due to begin on Friday.

But Mr Khodorkovsky and the other oligarchs have little sympathy among the mass of the population. Many Russians consider that during the haphazard privatisations of the 1990s, they lined their pockets at the expense of the people.

Mr Putin's hardest task may yet be to convince the people that he can help them, whilst harnessing the talents of those who know how to make money to improve the overall standard of living.

But if he thinks he knows the answer, the Russian president did not give any clues to it in his annual address.

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