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Socioeconomics, healthcare and INF aftermath: Putin's State of the Nation Address for 2019

The Russian leader paid much attention to the demographic issue, fighting poverty and defence perspectives

MOSCOW, February 20. /TASS/ Russian President Vladimir Putin conveyed his annual message to the Federal Assembly.

The President’s State of the Nation is the annual public address by the head of state to both houses of parliament, which covers the state of affairs nationwide and defines the main paths of domestic and foreign policy. In total, the presidential address took 1 hour and 27 minutes, with the first part mostly devoted to the country’s socio-economic development, demographics, education and healthcare.  The second half covered defense and international security issues.

On demography and social protection

At the very beginning of his speech, the president stressed that the government should prioritize social issues. “Russia must move forward gaining momentum,” Putin said. "We are pressed for time, I have said that on numerous occasions, and you are perfectly aware of that," the head of state stressed. "We cannot waste it on more coordination."

  • Putin is convinced Russia will be able to restore the natural growth in its population by 2023-2024.
  •  The president proposes increasing payments for first and second children starting from January 1, 2020. About 70% of families with their first and second children will be able to use it. “More children means less taxes,” said the president.
  • Some 90,000 places should appear in Russian nurseries in 2019, in just three years their number should exceed 270,000. “So that parents could work, study, be happy, enjoy parenting and motherhood, we have already ensured practically the universal availability of kindergartens,” Putin said.
  •  The president moves on to mortgage lending, sets out the objective of reducing mortgage rates first to 9% and then to 8% and below. Special support measures are needed for families with children. Large families pay a rate of 6%. It is essential to extend the benefit for the entire duration of the mortgage.

On education and culture

  • By the end of 2021, all schools in Russia will have to have high-speed Internet, the president said.
  • Putin generally noted the success and progress in the sphere of education, but he says that there is no heating, or repairs in a number of schools. Over the next two years, pertinent problems such as these must be ironed out.
  • The president rolls out his Zemsky Teacher program to be launched in 2020, to incentivize teachers – offering each one a million rubles ($15,000) - to move to work in villages and small towns all across the country.
  • The national project provides for 17 billion rubles ($258.7 mln). More than 6 billion rubles ($91.3 mln) would be allocated for the building and reconstruction of rural community centers and local cultural centers with an aim of boosting cultural development in far-off regions of the country.
  • Putin proposed exempting regional museums, theaters and libraries from income taxes, making this benefit indefinite. This will allow them to save some 4 billion rubles annually and spend the money on their development and boosting the income of their employees.

On socio-economic measures and fighting poverty 

  • Putin puts forward anti-poverty programs.
  • To protect the public, additional legislative guarantees are needed: the president proposed mortgage “holidays” (or deferments) for citizens with the possibility of repaying the loan later.
  •  Poverty can be defeated only through high rates of economic growth, over 3% in 2021, Putin says.
  • The president calls for greater protection for the public against fraud and extortion by microfinancing organizations. According to him, a meticulous and focused approach to the issue is needed.
  • When talking about adjusting pensions for inflation, Putin calls for “eliminating injustice”.

Putin touched upon additional pension payments from the beginning of 2019 to compensate for inflation. Putin recalled that pensions have already been adjusted for inflation within the framework of pension reform, "but if a pensioner's income surpasses the minimum subsistence level, then the senior would no longer be paid the pension supplement in the same amount." "As a result, there is no increase in the pension or it turned out to be much less than the person expected, and many people … feel cheated," he said.

  • Adjustments to offset inflation should be carried out above the minimum subsistence level of the pensioner. The pension should be brought to the subsistence minimum, and then be adjusted.
  • First results of implementing the national projects are to be summed up in early 2020.

On healthcare and the ecology

  • At least 1 trillion rubles will be earmarked for combating cancer in the next six years, Putin promises. He emphasizes the importance of early detection. The president laid down the objective of accelerating the development of palliative care, as 800,000- 1 million people in Russia need it.
  •  By the end of 2020, medical care should be available in all locations across Russia, the president vowed.
  • The electronic system in the healthcare sector should be fine-tuned within three years. "Digital technology in the healthcare system should enable greater accessibility of medical assistance. There is a need to streamline electronic communication between medical institutions, pharmacies, doctors and patients within three years," Putin noted.
  •  In 2019-2020, more than 1,900 medical and primary healthcare facilities should be constructed and modernized. Putin instructs the government  to introduce the "lean clinics" project, which will reduce the time of waiting in line by 66-75%.
  • Putin orders to create a protected brand of environmentally friendly products. Its manufacturing should only involve technologies that are safe for human health.
  • By 2024, all troublesome garbage dumps in the country will be cleaned up. The share of recycling will be increased from 8-9% to 60% within this period.
  • With regard to specially protected areas, the president calls for a detailed audit of reserves, legally fix exclusively ecological tourism there, while also taking into account the interests of the people living there.

On economic development

“We have a strong financial safety cushion. I can tell you - and this is a great piece of news - our reserves completely cover the foreign debt of the state, which is very small, and the commercial sector for the first time in our history," Putin noted.

  • Putin has instructed the government to create the most comfortable conditions for investment in high-tech start-ups. "Now is the time for bold initiatives, for creating businesses and industries, promoting new products and services, and the wave of technological development allows us to grow and conquer markets very quickly," he said.

"We already have examples of successful companies, innovative companies, so that there would be much more, in particular in such areas as artificial intelligence and big data processing, the Internet of things, and robotics," he added.

  • Putin urges Central Bank, law enforcement agencies to clean up the micro-lending sector.
  • Putin called for easing visa restrictions for tourists and expanding the issuance of e-visas.

"There is a huge interest in Russia, our culture, the country’s nature and historical landmarks. Given the experience we gained during the FIFA World Cup, I suggest expanding the issuance of e-visas. We need to think about easing visa restrictions for tourists coming to our country," he said.

  • The government and the Central Bank need to readjust the inflation targets. Revenues should not grow below inflation.
  • Putin urges to give up everything that hinders economic initiatives and free enterprise.
  • The President suggested that when investigating economic crimes, the reasons for detention should be reviewed.
  • High rates of economic growth must be one of the primary goals , for which systemic problems are due to be addressed: ensuring faster growth of labor productivity, improving the business climate, removing infrastructural constraints for the development of the economy, as well as creating a quality workforce.

On foreign policy and diplomacy

  • Putin acknowledged that the INF Treaty was outdated, but the United States should not have used “frivolous pretexts,” accusing Russia of getting out of it.
  • The United States blatantly ignored the provisions of the INF by deploying missile launchers in Romania and Poland, Putin noted

"First, it began with developing and using intermediate range missiles it deceitfully called targets for missile defenses. Then it started to deploy the Mk-41 launchers in Europe, capable of using Tomahawk intermediate range cruise missiles for combat purposes," he said.

  • The Russian president expressed hope that the European Union would take real steps to restore normal political and economic relations with Moscow.
  • The head of state also said that Russia pays great attention to boosting relations with India and China.
  • "Russia cannot be a state if it is not sovereign. Some countries can be, Russia is not able to do that ," Putin said.  According to him, building relations with Moscow means "finding joint solutions to the most difficult issues, and not trying to dictate terms."

On science and technology

  • Putin ordered the government of Moscow and Roscosmos to form a national space center in the Russian capital.
  • The president said that by 2025 Russia should become one of the world leaders in the field of genetics and information technology.
  • Scientific and technological progress has become one of Russia’s key national priorities, he said. "I’m confident that we can make it by uniting efforts of the state, businesses, scientific and educational society, and widening freedom for initiative and creativity of our people," the president stressed.

  • Putin also instructed the government to guarantee access to high-speed Internet everywhere and to begin operation of fifth-generation communication systems (5G). The objective should be finished within the next few years.

On defense and military capacity

  • Russia will consider tit-for-tat and asymmetric measures if the United States deploys intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles to Europe, Putin said.
  • All laser systems Peresvet, currently in the experimental operation phase in the armed forces, will enter combat duty in December
  • The work on the advanced Tsirkon hypersonic missile capable of developing a speed of up to Mach 9 is proceeding successfully and will be completed on time, according to the President 
  • Moscow won’t continue knocking on Washington’s closed door for disarmament discussions. "We are ready for talks on disarmament [with the United States] but we won’t knock on a closed door anymore," Putin said. "We will wait until our partners are ripe and acknowledge the need for dialogue on this issue on an equal basis."
  • The Russian leader noted that Moscow would continue building up its Armed Forces, along with the intensity and quality of combat training, while taking into account the experience of the anti-terrorist operation in Syria.
  • Putin said on Wednesday that the United States should calculate the flight range and velocity of Russia’s cutting-edge weapons before making decisions, which may pose any threats to Russia.

"There are a lot of those in the ruling elite of the United States, who are excessively fascinated with the idea of their exclusiveness and superiority over the rest of the world."

"This is certainly their right to think this way. But can they make the calculations? Undoubtedly they can," Putin said. "So let them calculate the range and speed of our advanced weapon systems."