Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that his country faced serious threats that required a major increase in economic growth, further military reforms and the development of new strategic weapons.
In an hour-long address in the Kremlin, Putin also spent some time addressing the war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya although he offered no new initiatives. He called for radical cuts in Russia's bloated bureaucracy and urged political unity to meet the challenges ahead.
"We face serious threats," Putin told lawmakers gathered in the marble room in the Kremlin, which was once used for high-level meetings of the Soviet Communist Party, for the president's annual address to the nation.
He listed the country's demographic slide, poverty, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism as among the problems that Russia must confront.
Putin said that although Russia had achieved some positive results during his presidency, much remained to be done. He called for a doubling of the country's GDP over the next 10 years and said the ruble should become fully convertible.
The Russian leader said that Russia's strategy should be to ensure that Russia can become a "truly strong, economically progressive and influential" country.
Turning to military reform, Putin noted that Russia was developing a new generation of strategic weapons.
He provided no detail, but the announcement was met with applause.
Putin, who is seeking to reform Russia's military by gradually introducing an all-volunteer army, also proposed reducing military service to one year from two by 2008.
Russia has tremendous problems meeting its draft quotas because of often horrific conditions in the military, including brutal hazing, poor pay and promotion policies and the real possibility that draftees may have to serve in Chechnya, where Russia is mired in its second war against rebels who have refused to put down their arms.
Turning to Chechnya, where more than 75 people died this week in two separate suicide bomb attacks, Putin spoke in measured terms of the progress he believes has been achieved in reaching a political settlement in the republic.
He noted that Chechens approved a referendum on a new constitution this spring and said that must now be complemented by presidential and parliamentary elections. On Thursday, Putin offered a partial amnesty to rebels who agreed to put down their weapons.
Putin did not elaborate on the amnesty proposal, nor did he address the bombings or offer condolences to any of the victims.