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Putin calls to boost Russia’s defences

Moscow, (AFP): President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called for a boost of Russia’s defences to keep the nation “strong” as he opened the new parliament session amid a fresh upsurge in tensions with the United States.

Putin addressed the State Duma after a crushing victory for ruling party United Russia at elections last month that could help smooth the way for him to claim a fourth term as president in a vote set for 2018.

“We need to strengthen the security and defence capability of our country to assert its position on the international stage,” Putin told deputies.

Russia is currently facing the longest economic crisis of Putin’s 16-year rule as the Ukraine conflict and a year-old bombing campaign in Syria have pushed tensions with the West to their highest levels since the Cold War.

As the authorities tussle over a belt-tightening new budget, Putin said “spheres that directly influence people’s well-being” like health and education remain a priority.

But the Kremlin chief’s speech was mostly focused on the need to keep Russia “strong”.

“We must all unite, coordinate our efforts, obligations and rights to maintain Russia’s historical supreme right — to be strong,” Putin said.

Acrimony between Russia and the United States has surged in recent days after Washington suspended talks on a ceasefire in Syria over Moscow’s continuing bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

As a sign of the worsening relations the Duma is looking quickly to ratify two recent decisions by Putin: halting a deal with the US to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium and giving further legal backing to Russia’s deployment in Syria.

For the first time the new parliament — with United Russia controlling over 75 percent of the seats — includes lawmakers from the Crimea peninsula that Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

There are no genuine opposition legislators in the lower chamber, which is viewed as a rubber-stamp body.

After delivering his speech, Putin headed to the country’s foreign intelligence agency to introduce its newly-appointed boss, former Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin.

Putin called on the body to resort to “non-standard, unconventional decisions” to cope with threats to the country, Russian news agencies reported.