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Russia's Putin vows to halve poverty in pre-election speech

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he intends to halve poverty in the country within the next six years, in his annual state of the nation address in Moscow.

The speech is the last before an election he is expected to win in 17 days’ time.

Mr Putin is laying out his key policies for his fourth presidential term.

“Every person matters to us,” he said, adding that he wanted to increase employment and longevity.

Mr Putin faces seven challengers on 18 March although none is expected to attract widespread support. The president played no part in a raucous televised debate broadcast on Wednesday that featured the other candidates.

Absent from the campaign is prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been barred from running and has called on voters to boycott the poll.

President Putin has so far done little campaigning and until now said little about his plans for the next six years.

Fighting poverty

In his speech to a joint sitting of both houses of parliament on Thursday, he said he wanted Russia to emulate life-expectancy rates in Japan and France.

In 2000 there were 42 million people in Russia living below the poverty line, he said; today there were 20 million, but this still needed to come down.

He also said Russia could not take its power for granted.

“We have no right to allow the stability we have achieved to lead to complacency. Especially since we are far from resolving many problems,” he said.

“Russia is now a leading country with a powerful foreign economic and defence potential. But from the point of view of the extremely important task of ensuring people’s quality of life and welfare we, of course, have not achieved the level we require. But we have to do this and will do this,” he added to applause.

Defence and territory

Russia’s operations in Syria – supporting the Assad government’s fight against rebels – showed the country’s increased defence capabilities, said the president.

He also said a bridge to the Crimean peninsula would be open within the next couple of months. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, during Mr Putin’s current term in office.

Russia was safeguarding its interest in the Arctic region by strengthening its military infrastructure in the region, he said.

Technological growth

Digital growth was also essential, Mr Putin said. He said he wanted Russia to become one of the world’s main hubs for storing and processing big data.

He called for more progress in making robots and artificial intelligence. New talent in technology should be nurtured and foreigners should be encouraged to study in Russia, he said.

All government business would be digitalised “to make it more transparent to fight corruption”, he said.

“Most government officials are good, result-orientated people,” he added, “but these plans will help everyone.”

Ordinary concerns

The first part of the speech was tailored towards working Russians and their concerns.

Mr Putin pledged to spend more on roads and reduce accidents. He said teachers deserved good salaries and wages and there should be better access to medical services for people in remote areas.

He also said internet access would be provided to rural populations across the country, “from the far east to the Siberian north”.

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