Putin, facing nation, pledges to tackle ‘painful’ social problems

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the nation that the pace of economic growth is brisk enough to begin solving “painful” social problems such as wages, housing and AIDS on a “large scale.”

Putin made the remarks as he answered more than 70 questions from around the country during a three-hour call-in show broadcast live on television and radio on Tuesday. About a million people submitted questions via television, telephone, e-mail and fax for the show, Putin's fourth since taking power in 2000.

Russia's economy has been growing an average of about 7 percent a year over the past few years, which is “significantly faster” than many developed and developing countries, Putin said. The economy is forecast to expand 5.9 percent this year.

“It's a good figure that results in an increase in the living standards of citizens,” the leader said. “All this has created the conditions to move to solving on a large scale the most painful social problems.”

Oil and natural gas have been the backbone of the boom, accounting for a quarter of the economy and about two-thirds of export revenue. Fears that those energy resources may be depleted anytime soon are unfounded, the president said.

“I think our reserves of oil and gas are underestimated,” Putin said. “They are more than we think. They are enough for us and future generations,” reports Bloomberg.

According to RIA Novosti, the messages were about everyday problems relating to basic needs: the growing prices for communal housing services and gasoline, inflation, mortgage, service in the army, and reform of education, healthcare and housing.

A turner from Izhevsk asked, "Why is the state placing so few orders with defense enterprises?" The president answered that the state was buying more and more of the latest weapons systems. Soon Russia will add new strategic missile systems to its arsenal that are practically invulnerable to ballistic missile defense systems. Nobody else in the world has such systems, or indeed is likely to have them any time soon.

The Russian-speaking citizens of Latvia turned to Putin with the "Russian schools" problem: they want their children to have the opportunity to be educated in their native language. Putin asked them not to demonize the Latvian government, and referred to his recent meeting with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Putin also promised that he would make insistent efforts in the European Union and other international organizations to put an end to all discriminatory practices in the Baltic countries toward Russian residents.


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