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Putin to make first annual address of new term

world Updated: Dec 12, 2012 12:43 IST

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday will make the first annual address to the nation of his new Kremlin term where he is expected to stake out Russia's strategic priorities at a time of unprecedented challenge to his rule.

Putin's state-of-the-nation speech to the Federal Assembly of both houses of parliament comes one year after disputed parliamentary elections sparked the first mass street protests against his domination of Russia.

The Russian strongman in May returned to the Kremlin for a third term as president following his four-year stint as prime minister, with activists complaining he swiftly struck back with a tough crackdown on civil society.

The text of Putin's speech has been kept secret but aides have indicated he will set out the priorities for Russia's development for his entire mandate, which is due to last to 2018.

"The address contains a range of new initiatives in the sphere of the economic and political development of the country and a number of tasks for the government to carry out," said Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov.

It will contain a "vision for the development of Russia in the next years," he added, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Ivanov said the speech would also extend to promoting questions of national unity and "great attention will be given to moral and spiritual values."

The speech in the Kremlin will begin at 0800 GMT and is expected to last around one hour.

Putin will also look at ways of stemming Russia's capital flight, which has seen $61 billion net capital outflows from the country so far this year, the Vedomosti daily said, quoting Kremlin sources.

Since Putin returned to the Kremlin in May, parliament has rushed through a range of laws damned as repressive measures by activists, including forcing foreign-funded NGOs to register as foreign agents and tightening treason legislation.

The West has also condemned the jailing of the anti-Putin feminist punk band Pussy Riot for performing a song against him in a Moscow cathedral, as well as the prolonged detention of a dozen opposition demonstrators accused of violent behaviour in a rally ahead of his inauguration.

Russia has also angered the European Union and United States with its refusal to turn against President Bashar al-Assad in the Syria crisis.

In a sign of the tense atmosphere in Russia on the eve of the address, Russian investigators on Tuesday raided the home of three activists alleged to have attended seminars abroad on how to spark a revolution aimed at toppling Putin.

The former KGB agent first rose to high office when he was named prime minister by late president Boris Yeltsin in 1999. He took over at the Kremlin when the ailing head of state resigned in a shock New Year's Eve address.

Putin consolidated power during over a decade of unchallenged authority that gave Russia high economic growth and a reassertion of federal authority, but also an erosion of civil society.

However analysts say Putin faces a huge challenge in his current six-year term to retain his dominance at a time of dynamic social change in Russia marked by an explosion in the use of the Internet.

The Russian opposition is planning a new anti-Putin mass rally on Saturday, which will be a crucial test of whether there is still life in the protest movement one year on.