Vladimir Putin pledged to improve the lives of Russians Thursday as he made his annual address to parliament just 17 days ahead of an election.
The Russian president, who is seeking a fourth term in power, promised to reduce the number of Russians living in poverty by half, boost pensions and create more daycare places. He also called for spending on urban infrastructure to be doubled over the next six years.
However, there was no detail on how his spending pledges would be funded.
Russia must be “open to the world, open to new ideas,” he said.
Polls suggest Putin, who has dominated Russian politics as president or prime minister for 18 years, is on track to comfortably secure another six-year term.
Using infographics on a giant screen, Putin told lawmakers and members of the political elite that Russia had “huge potential” but needed to improve its living standards.
“We have not reached the necessary level in terms of people’s well-being,” he said.
Some 20 million Russians — or almost one-in-seven people — are still living below the poverty line, Putin added, calling it “unacceptable.”
Putin also promised to accelerate the construction of new housing and to reduce mortgage rates.
Almost 70 percent of Russians are ready to support Putin in the March 18 election, according to a poll published Thursday by state news agency, TASS.
There has been little in the way of campaigning, and opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been barred from running. He was arrested Jan. 28 moments before a protest march in Moscow. Navalny wants voters to boycott the election, hoping low turnout will take the shine off Putin’s likely win.
Thursday’s speech, which was delayed from the end of last year, is usually held in the Kremlin but was switched to Moscow’s Manege building — an exhibition space in the city center — to accommodate the huge screen.