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Last Updated: Monday, 25 April, 2005, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Putin address to nation: Excerpts
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Critics say Mr Putin wants to restore central control

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a "catastrophe" in his annual state of the nation address to parliament on Monday.

In a wide-ranging speech he also told the tax authorities not to "terrorise" business and insisted that Russia would pursue its own form of democracy.

The following are excerpts from his speech, as broadcast live by Russia TV.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. And for the Russian people, it became a real drama. Tens of millions of our citizens and compatriots found themselves outside the Russian Federation...

Fiscal agencies should on no account ignore violations of the law. At the same time, ways of repaying tax debts for past years should be found that will ensure the state's interests without destroying the economy and driving business into a dead end. Fiscal agencies have no right to terrorise business by returning to the same old problems...

Russia is a country that, at the will of its own people, chose democracy for itself. It set out on this course itself and, observing all generally accepted political norms, will decide for itself how it will ensure that the principles of freedom and democracy are implemented, taking into account its historical, geopolitical and other characteristics...

In past years we have taken several major steps in the fight against terror. But there can be no illusions here. The threat is still very strong. We are still taking very painful blows. Criminals are still committing dreadful acts with the aim of intimidating society.

We need to gather our courage to continue this work to eradicate terror. The moment we display weakness or spinelessness, our losses will be immeasurably greater. They could become a national catastrophe...

Russia, connected as it is with the former republics of the USSR, connected as it is today with these independent states, by a single historical destiny, the Russian language and a great culture, cannot stand aside from the general aspiration for freedom...

We want the development of the economy and the strengthening of the international authority of the states that are our closest neighbours. We want to synchronise the pace and parameters of reform processes in Russia and the CIS states...

International support in guaranteeing the rights of Russian compatriots abroad remains highly important to us. This is not a subject for political or diplomatic bargaining.

We count on the new Nato and EU members in the post-Soviet area to show real respect for human rights, including the rights of ethnic minorities. People do not have the right to demand observance of human rights by others if they themselves do not respect and observe human rights...

We should enable citizens to have access to objective information. This is a crucial political issue, directly linked to action within our state policy on the principles of freedom and justice... We should establish guarantees that state television and radio are as objective as possible, free from the influence of any individual groups, and reflect the entire spectrum of social and political forces.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

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