[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Putin looks ahead in final address
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

President Vladimir Putin took a final, farewell, glance backwards. Then he told Russia what it had to look forward to.

Vladimir Putin delivers the state of the nation address in Moscow
Mr Putin confirmed that the address was his last before stepping down

His annual address began with a minute's silence for Russia's first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin.

It seemed to pass quickly.

An impressive array of economic figures followed.

Mr Putin seems to delight in announcing detailed statistics.

He was obviously proud as he declared: "Russia has now not only completely overcome its long period of declining production, but has become one of the 10 biggest world economies."

Economic strength is the major factor which makes Putin's Russia a different country from Yeltsin's Russia.

As he prepares for his last year in office, Mr Putin enjoys something which Mr Yeltsin had lost when he stepped down - Russia's trust.

Pledges

Oil revenues have brought billions into the Kremlin's coffers.

As they have re-examined the Yeltsin era this week, analysts have wondered if his fate might have been different if the oil price had been too.

I'm convinced that the new electoral procedure will... strengthen and improve the quality of the Russian political system
Vladimir Putin

Mr Putin has used the money to pay off debts which had been piling up since the Soviet era.

He is also making pledges to the people who feel they have yet to enjoy the benefits of the boom.

His speech was a catalogue of the challenges still facing Russia - low birth rate, short life expectancy, poor housing.

It was not just a list of problems, though. There were solutions too - oil revenues would be used to repair the housing stock and to improve the lot of the poorest.

Revenues from the sale of the bankrupt oil giant Yukos' assets would be used to build new homes.

This is likely to go down especially well with voters who believe that all the ills of the 1990s were caused by tycoons who got rich while the majority got poorer.

Yukos' former owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is in jail for fraud and tax evasion. His supporters have always said the case against him was political.

Last address

Mr Putin stressed that this would be his last annual address. It focused minds on the election season ahead.

He said that the proportional representation system to be used for December's parliamentary election would ensure a fair result.

Garry Kasparov raises his hands in front of riot police during a protest against Vladimir Putin on 14 April 2007
Most recent demonstrations have been broken up by riot police

"Life shows that a proportional system enables the opposition to gain more legislative mandates. I can easily prove that with examples and statistics," he said.

In Russia, it depends what you mean by opposition.

Russia's parliamentary opposition, A Fair Russia, begs to differ with the United Russia party. But like their nominal rivals, they have no complaints about the president.

Those who style themselves as the real opposition have no prospect of electoral success. Their opinion poll ratings suggest that they would not pass the threshold to get into parliament.

Their most recent demonstrations have been broken up by riot police.

The Other Russia, as they call themselves, is led by the former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. It is a hugely disparate alliance of different groups.

In any case, none of the groups is registered as a party. The new laws make it illegal for them to stand for election.

Overseas warning

Mr Putin also warned off people he accused of sponsoring their campaigns from overseas.

Russia is adopting the language of ultimatums
Alexander Gabuyev
Kommersant daily

"At the same time, there is a growing flow of money - coming from abroad - which is being used to influence our internal affairs."

There was a hawkish dismissal of Washington's plans for a missile defence system to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Mr Putin said that Russia would suspend its commitment to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, at least until all its signatories had ratified it.

"The right thing to do for us now would be to impose a moratorium on this treaty until all Nato countries ratify it and start complying with it, as Russia does at the moment," he said.

There was loud applause.

Looking ahead

Whenever Mr Putin makes a major speech, the same questions always come up.

Vladimir Putin delivers the state of the nation address in Moscow
President Putin has not yet anointed anyone as successor

Will he really leave office next year? Who will come next?

Today's answers were, once again, "yes" and, effectively, "no comment".

The two men most often touted as his successor are Russia's two first deputy prime ministers, Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev.

They sat next to each other in the audience.

Mr Putin said that the next annual address would be made by the next president.

Perhaps he was secretly looking even further ahead. One well-informed observer with close ties to the Kremlin suggested he might be.

"He'll be one of the most important players on the Russian political scene," political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov told the Vesti-24 TV channel.

"I don't rule out that, in full accordance with the constitution, in the not too distant future, he could return to the post."


SEE ALSO
Russia in defence warning to US
26 Apr 07 |  Europe
Excerpts: Putin's address
26 Apr 07 |  Europe
Russia's economy 'picks up pace'
19 Apr 07 |  Business
Country profile: Russia
23 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific