Putin in unity call
Leader lauds Russia's gains as he prepares for a return to top job...
President-elect Vladimir Putin called on all political forces to join together to help Russia develop peacefully after elections that triggered “political battles” that divided the country.
In his last annual address to parliament as prime minister, Putin hailed the achievements of his four years in government, saying it had brought stability, increased living standards, reduced inflation and staunched a demographic crisis.
The 59-year-old leader, who will be inaugurated for a six-year presidential term on May 7, also reached out to his opponents after allegations of electoral fraud and frustration with his political domination of Russia sparked the biggest demonstrations since he rose to power 12 years ago.
“The country has gone through a tense period of parliamentary and presidential elections. And today the echoes of the heightened emotions and political battles can still be heard,” Putin said, reading his speech from a podium.
Calling for unity, he added: “We have one Russia, and its modern, advanced development must be the goal that unites all the country’s political forces that want to work to build it.”
The speech will be scoured for clues on the make up of his next government and offers the future Kremlin chief a platform to set out an agenda for economic growth when he returns as president. Outside parliament, police detained leftist opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov, one of the leaders of the protests that began after an election in December, as he tried to join about 30 anti-Putin demonstrators before the address.
Putin, who has said he would name outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister in a job swap, also called NATO a “relic of the Cold War era”, but said Russia should nonetheless continue supporting its mission in Afghanistan.
Putin was defending a plan to offer NATO a new logistics facility on Russian territory to facilitate transit of military cargo to and from Afghanistan.
Relations between Russia and NATO have soured over a US-led NATO missile defence plan aimed at deflecting a potential Iranian threat. Moscow fears it will eventually become powerful enough to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent.