MOSCOW – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insisted Wednesday that Russia must be strong to fend off foreign threats and lauded a long list of his own achievements, a show of muscle seen as a signal that the powerful leader intends to reclaim the country's presidency next year.
Putin laid out an ambitious program of weapons modernization in an annual address to parliament that sounded much like a campaign speech, promising to spend the equivalent of $700 billion by 2020. The speech's broad scope — ranging from long-term economic goals to national security and defense — underlined Putin's role as the nation's No. 1 leader, though his successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, technically has far broader powers.
"The nation needs decades of stable and calm development without any sharp movements and ill-conceived experiments" based on liberal policy, the 58-year-old leader said during an appearance that lasted more than four hours.
Putin, who was Russia's president from 2000 to 2008, groomed his longtime aide and protege, Medvedev, to succeed him. Both men have said they would decide later who would run for president in March 2012, but Putin is widely expected to take the top job back.
His speech to the State Duma included a litany of self-praise and ambitious goals for the future. He claimed credit for quickly taking Russia out of the global financial crisis and promised that it would become one of the world's top five economies by 2020.
Russia is currently ranked as the world's sixth biggest economy.
Putin said that a key lesson from the financial crisis was that the nation must be "self-reliant independent and strong" to resist outside pressure.
"The weakness of economy and the state, a lack of immunity to outside shocks inevitably become a threat for national sovereignty," Putin said. "In the modern world, those who are weak will get unambiguous advice from foreign visitors which way to go and what policy course to pursue."(AP)