Upbeat Putin promises to modernize Russia if re-elected

An upbeat Vladimir Putin pledged Thursday to create a “forward-looking, modern country” if re-elected as Russia’s president next year.

The 65-year-old told reporters at his annual televised news conference that he wanted to improving living standards if, as seems likely, he wins another six-year term on March 18.

With his approval ratings topping 80 percent, he is on course to extend his lock on power to 24 years and become the country’s longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The news conference comes days after Putin made a triumphant trip to Syria to hail a victory for Russian forces in Syria and to Egypt and Turkey where he announced deeper ties and trade deals.

Image: Vladimir Putin said he wants a balanced political system in Russia.

Putin wants a balanced political system in Russia. Alexander Nemenov / AFP – Getty Images

He told reporters Russia’s economy had largely overcome major shocks caused by a drop in oil prices and Western sanctions.

Asked if it was “boring” not to have a significant political rival in the forthcoming poll, Putin said it was not his duty to create opposition but said Russia’s political system “should be competitive.”

He suggested the lack of opposition was down to economic improvements in recent decades and the failure of other parties to address the concerns of ordinary Russians.

Alexei Navalny, the 41-year-old anti-corruption crusader, said last week that he would also run for president, even though an embezzlement conviction he calls politically motivated officially bars his candidacy. He has been repeatedly jailed for organizing protest rallies.

Putin said he would run as a self-nominated candidate, keeping a distance from the main Kremlin-controlled party, United Russia.

In previous years, Putin has also faced questions about his personal life at the news conference, including one about the identity of his daughters, who were born in the 1980s in Germany when he was working for the KGB spy agency.

Putin could also be asked about North Korea, where a delegation from Russia’s defense ministry arrived on Wednesday.

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