Putin Hits Back, Criticizing U.S. In Yearly Address

By Judith Ingram
Associated Press
Thursday, May 11, 2006

MOSCOW, May 10 -- President Vladimir Putin took a swipe at the United States in his state of the nation address Wednesday, bristling at being lectured by Vice President Cheney and comparing Washington to a wolf who "eats without listening."

During an emotional moment in the nationally televised speech, Putin used a fairy-tale motif on building a fortress-like house to illustrate Russia's need to bolster its defenses. He also suggested that the United States puts its political interests above the democratic ideals it claims to cherish.

"Where is all this pathos about protecting human rights and democracy when it comes to the need to pursue their own interests? Here, it seems, everything is allowed, there are no restrictions whatsoever," Putin said, smiling sarcastically in the address to both houses of parliament.

"We are aware what is going on in the world," he said. "Comrade wolf knows whom to eat, he eats without listening, and he's clearly not going to listen to anyone."

Putin's speech came nearly a week after Cheney took a verbal slap at the Russian leader, saying on May 4 that the Russian government was trying "to reverse the gains of the last decade."

Putin pointed out that Russia's military budget is 25 times lower than that of the United States. Like the United States, he said, "we also must make our house strong and reliable."

"We must always be ready to counter any attempts to pressure Russia in order to strengthen positions at our expense," he said. "The stronger our military is, the less temptation there will be to exert such pressure on us."

Putin said the government would work to strengthen the nation's nuclear deterrent as well as conventional military forces without repeating the mistakes of the Cold War era, when a costly arms race drained Soviet resources.

He said Russia would soon commission two nuclear submarines equipped with the new Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles -- the nation's first since Soviet times -- while the land-based strategic missile forces would get their first unit of mobile Topol-M missiles.

The new missiles and warheads, which can foil defenses by changing direction in flight, would allow Russia to preserve a strategic balance without denting the nation's economic development goals, he said, adding that Russia needed a military capable of answering all modern challenges.

Turning to health-care issues, Putin called the demographic slide that has shrunk Russia's population by millions since the 1991 Soviet collapse "the most acute problem of contemporary Russia," and he encouraged legislators to budget for more-generous birth bonuses, child-care support subsidies and educational benefits for mothers to encourage women to have children.

"I am convinced that with such an approach, you will earn words of gratitude from millions of mothers, young families, all the citizens of our country," Putin said.

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