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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Putin warns on population decline
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation
Mr Putin said Russia was shrinking by 700,000 people a year
Russia's declining population is the biggest problem the state faces today, President Vladimir Putin has said.

In an annual address to the nation, Mr Putin said falling birth rates and the rise in mortality made Russia's demographic situation "critical".

He outlined a national programme to encourage women to have more children, pledging more state help.

Mr Putin also said Russia should follow America's suit and spend more on its army to be able to defend itself.

He described the US as a "fortress", saying its defence budget was "almost 25 times that of Russia's".

We must, at least, stimulate the birth of a second child
Vladimir Putin

"Their [America's] home is their castle - well done! It means we should build our own house strongly and reliably," Mr Putin said.

He also warned that it was "premature to speak of the end of the arms race" in the world, saying that in fact it was "going faster" and was rising to "a new technological level".

Mr Putin also touched on several other key issues, including:

  • Corruption - described by the president as one of the "most serious obstacles" to Russia's growth

  • Foreign policy - relations with the former Soviet republics remained a priority, he said

  • Economy - growth remained robust, but further reforms were needed to achieve a goal set in 2003 of doubling the nation's GDP in 10 years.

Mr Putin's address contained few surprises, the BBC's Russian affairs analyst Steven Eke says.

Half-way through his second term in office, the president concentrated on the results of the big strategic reforms he announced after his re-election in 2004, our analyst says.

However, high growth rates propped up by a booming energy sector aside, there were few concrete achievements to list, he adds.

Ten-year plan

Mr Putin said Russia's population had witnessed an annual decline of 700,000 people, because of low birth rates, high mortality and migration.

He outlined the 10-year national programme to try to reverse the situation.

One of the key elements of the programme, he said, was an increase in childcare benefits to support young mothers, especially those who had a second child.

Russia's population is estimated to be just under 143m people.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See clips from Mr Putin's speech



SEE ALSO:
Russia looks to its fathers
31 Mar 06 |  Europe
Russia 'needs more immigration'
24 Feb 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
26 Apr 06 |  Country profiles


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