Putin vows to focus on improving living standards

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President Vladimir Putin set a slew of ambitious economic goals, vowing to boost living standards, improve health care and education and build modern infrastructure in a state-of-the-nation address Thursday.

The televised speech was timed to closely precede the March 18 election, in which Putin is set to easily win a fourth term. The Russian leader’s approval ratings top 80 percent despite an economic slowdown caused by continuing tensions with the West and a drop in global oil prices.

Speaking before an audience of top officials and lawmakers, Putin said that Russia needs to make a technological breakthrough to set the foundation for future successful development.

He emphasized the need to focus on overcoming poverty, saying that 20 million Russians currently live below the official poverty line equivalent to some $180 a month.

Putin also said that Russia must take steps to improve the health care system and aim to increase the average life expectancy, currently at 73, to more than 80 in the next decade.

He noted the need to encourage the development of Russia’s vast territories, promising to double spending on new roads and invest in new transportation facilities and modern communications.