President Vladimir Putin has urged Russians to have at least three children as he said a resurgent nation should be a confident and “influential” power on the world stage.
In a bullish state-of-the-nation address in Moscow on Wednesday, Mr Putin promised to smite corruption, create millions of new jobs and boost Russia’s military might while warning that foreign meddling in the country’s internal affairs was unacceptable.
He claimed the country shared universal democratic values, adding: “Russian democracy is the power of the Russian people with their own traditions of national self-government, and not the realisation of standards foisted on us from outside.”
In characteristic rhetoric, Mr Putin also addressed internal as well as external enemies while suggesting a link between the two, saying that “chinovniki” (state officials)—often seen as corrupt caste bent on self-enrichment—should be prevented from keeping their money abroad.
“What trust can there be in a ‘chinovnik’ or a politician who says big things about the welfare of Russia while trying to take his means, his money abroad?” he asked MPs and senior officials. “I ask you to support legislation to limit the rights of state officials and politicians to foreign bank accounts and shares.”
He added: “Direct or indirect external interference in our internal political processes is unacceptable. Any person who receives money from abroad for his or her political activity and by doing so serves alien national interests, cannot be a politician in Russia.”
The president’s remarks came after a controversial law was recently introduced obliging non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in “political activity” to call themselves “foreign agents” if they receive funding from abroad. NGOs have said the rule makes them look like spies.
Also in his speech, Mr Putin lauded recent measures to give cash payments and other benefits to mothers having a second child. Current birth rates show an average of 1.7 children are born to each Russian woman, but the president urged a huge leap in family-building.
New payments for those having a third child would begin next year, he said. “Demographers affirm that choosing to have a second child is already a potential choice in favour of a third,” he added. “It’s important that families make that step . . . I am convinced that the norm in Russia should become a family with three children.”
To achieve that goal, he said, women needed to be provided with the opportunity to continue work, so that they “did not fear that having a second and third child would close the path to a career”.
Mr Putin has long equated Russia’s demographic decline over recent decades with a potential threat to security. On Wednesday, he added: “In order for Russia to be a strong and sovereign country, there must be more of us and we must be better in morality, in our competences, our work and our creativity.”
To applause, the president said there were already signs that Russia’s long term demographic decline was reversing, and the population had grown by 200,000 in the first nine months of this year. “The birth rate is at last above the mortality rate,” he said.
A 2010 census put the total population of Russia at 143,000,000.
Announcing a raft of other social and economic measures, Mr Putin said he hoped to create 25m jobs by 2020.
He made sweeping promises to develop industry, including aircraft and shipbuilding, and said the country’s military and space sectors must be modernised. “Our military might is the guarantor of Russia’s security and independence,” he said.