Soviet collapse ‘biggest catastrophe’ of century
* Russian president calls democracy country’s top priority
MOSCOW: The 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union was the “biggest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday in his annual state of the nation address.
“The collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” Putin told a joint session of parliament in a nationally-televised addressed.
Vladimir Putin said that deeper development of democracy, rule of law and human rights was the country’s top priority for the years ahead but should be pursued while simultaneously protecting Russia’s own national identity.
“The main political-ideological task is the development of Russia as a free, democratic country,” Putin said.
Strengthening of democratic institutions, protection of human rights and freedoms and encouragement of civil society were needed in Russia as bedrock principles both of social organization and economic development and anyone who believed otherwise was mistaken, Putin said.
At the same time however, the 52-year-old Russian leader described the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union as “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century and said the same trends that produced that disintegration were today tugging at Russia itself and needed to be countered.
Russia must pursue democratic development and simultaneously “protect its own values, hold on to its heritage, find its own road to democracy,” Putin said in the 45-minute speech. Putin, making his second state of the nation address since his landslide reelection in March 2004, sought to counter concerns abroad that Russia was becoming increasingly authoritarian under his leadership, saying media needed to be free and the judiciary independent for Russia to prosper.
“We must ensure access to the media for all parliamentary factions,” Putin said, adding that new measures to encourage the principle of free speech in media were needed and “will improve the quality and objectivity of the information our society is receiving.”
Putin also called for a range of new measures on the economic front aimed at building confidence both among foreign investors and with Russians who hide money in the country or take it abroad.
He criticized the government for failing to deliver more quickly on promises to shorten the statute of limitations for review of controversial 1990s privatizations of state enterprises from the current 10 years to three years. “The relevant proposals on amending laws have already been submitted to the government. Unfortunately, we’ve heard nothing, yet just one word in one article needs adjustment,” Putin said.
He also suggested introducing a new flat 13 percent tax on declared capital, a proposal aimed at stemming the tide of capital flight and encouraging residents to legalize their money in a simple and affordable way without fear of reprisal from the state.
“This money must work for the good of our economy, of our country, and not lie in offshore accounts,” he said. afp