Russia is at a turning point in its history but faces many challenges, including the need to improve the quality of life of all Russians, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.
Delivering his annual State of the Union address in Moscow, Putin said: "We still have many problems in Russia," warning of the risk of Russia "falling behind."
"Our top priority is to preserve the people of Russia and improve their welfare," he said to applause. He added that it was "unacceptable" that 20 million people in Russia are living below the poverty line.
"We need to renew our employment system … (and) we need to create modern, high-paying jobs and sustainable long-term growth of incomes."
New challenges were on the horizon, he added, including technological changes and the need to strengthen local government and the judiciary. "We need to be open to new ideas and initiatives," he said.
The State of the Union address is the last one that Putin will make before a president election on March 18.
Against a backdrop of weak opposition in Russia and allegations of ongoing harassment of his political opponents, Putin is expected to win the election comfortably and enter a fourth term of leadership.
With topics covering maternity pay, hospital improvement and childcare as well as urban development and education, affordable housing and reducing mortgage rates, on top of job creation, the wide-ranging speech seemed to be designed to appeal to voters ahead of the election.
He pledged that the state would spend 3.4 trillion rubles ($60.07 billion) to support families and demographic growth in the next six years. He also promised to spend 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on health care and said the country must spend 11 trillion rubles ($194.32 billion) on road infrastructure.
Russia should aim to be in the world's top five economies and to increase its GDP per capita by 1.5 percent in the next ten years, he added, again to applause from lawmakers.