Putin to freeze Nato arms treaty

President says "pseudo-democratic" rhetoric being used to undermine Russia.

    Opposition forces charge Putin of strangling democracy through many means [AFP]

    Russia says the missile shield plan, which Washington says is intended to protect it from attacks by so-called "rogue states", is a threat to its national security.
    In what was effectively his last state of the nation speech, Putin said foreign money was being used to meddle in Russia's internal affairs and called for tougher laws to fight "extremism".

    "There are those who, skilfully using pseudo-democratic rhetoric, would like to return to the recent past - some to loot the country's national riches, to rob the people and the state; others to strip us of economic and political independence."

    Putin did not cite specific countries as sources of foreign funding, but the comments echoed recent Russian official complaints against US funding of democracy-promoting organisations in Russia.

    Officials have repeatedly alleged that such funding aims to provoke mass opposition protests such as those that helped propel pro-Western leaders into power in neighbouring Georgia and Ukraine in recent years.

    Police cracked down on a series of opposition protest marches this year, beating some demonstrators and detaining hundreds.

    Opposition forces say Putin is strangling democracy through an array of measures to centralise power and increase the influence of large political parties such as his allied United Russia party, which dominates the Russian parliament.

    But Putin, in his speech, said it was part of "a revolutionary step modernising the elections system ... [it will] help the opposition widen its representation".

    Housing offensive

    Putin also promised the "second, large-scale electrification of the country". The first was launched by Vladimir Lenin in 1920.

    "By 2020 we must boost power-generation in Russia by two-thirds.

    "To achieve that the state and private-sector firms will invest 12 trillion roubles ($467bn)."

    Russia will build 26 nuclear power plants over the next 12 years. Hydro-power, roads, rail, ports and airports will all get money, as will a new system of canals to link the Volga and Don rivers, thus facilitating exports from Caspian Sea states.

    Canal building was a particular obsession of Josef Stalin and claimed the lives of thousands of forced labourers, but this time around Putin said he wanted business to do the work, with state cash serving as a "catalyst".

    And, in a nod to Nikita Khrushchev's 1950s drive to build the apartment blocks that still dot Russian cities, Putin vowed to speed housing construction to 100-130 million square metres per year from the 80 million now planned.

    Putin said: "It would be great to build no less than one square metre of housing for each citizen of Russia." The population of Russia, the world's largest country by area, is 142 million.

    Tim Ash, emerging markets economist at Bear Stearns, said: "A lot of emphasis was placed on progress in rebuilding Russia as a great power."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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