MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday wished Russians positive changes in the New Year and welcomed their solidarity and strength in the face of difficult challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic.
In a televised address broadcast shortly before midnight in each of Russia’s eleven time zones, Putin said the nation of nearly 146 million people had “faced colossal challenges but, thanks to our solidarity, learned to live in these harsh conditions and to perform difficult tasks solve”.
“We continued to fight the dangerous pandemic that has hit all continents and is not yet retreating,” said Putin. “The insidious disease has claimed tens of thousands of lives. I would like to offer words of sincere support to all who have lost loved ones. “
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has recorded a total of about 10.5 million confirmed infections and 308,860 deaths, but the state statistics agency, which uses broader criteria in its counting system, has reported nearly 626,000 virus-related deaths in Russia since the pandemic began.
Russia has seen a decline in contagion in recent weeks, with new daily infections currently just above 20,000, after peaking at more than 40,000 in early November. So far, the government has only reported around 100 infections with the new Omicron variant, but is preparing for a new wave of infection after the holidays.
Only 51% of Russians have been fully vaccinated, and the government has tried to speed up uptake by claiming that Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine and other domestically developed vaccines provide good protection against the omicron variant.
Authorities across Russia have restricted access to museums, theaters and concerts and only allowed people who have been vaccinated or tested negative, but restaurants, clubs and cinemas have remained open to all in most regions. Moscow and other major cities wanted to celebrate the New Year with fireworks, and the shopping malls were full of customers shopping for the holidays.
“We all share the hope of positive changes in the future,” said Putin, adding that raising the standard of living was the main goal that would help “make Russia even stronger”.
Putin’s address to the nation aired hours after his phone conversation with US President Joe Biden, which focused on the next month’s talks, to discuss Moscow’s demand for Western security guarantees amid a Russian build-up near Ukraine.
Biden reiterated the US threat of new sanctions against Russia in the event of escalation or invasion, to which Putin responded with his own warning that such a move by the US could lead to a complete break in ties between the nations.
“We have firmly and consistently defended our national interests, the security of the country and its citizens,” said Putin.
The Russian authorities tightened their control over the domestic political scene this year, with Putin’s most important political enemy Alexei Navalny sentenced to two and a half years in prison, his organizations ostracized as “extremist” and numerous media outlets, civil society groups and activists branded ” foreign agents, ”a derogatory label that implies additional government control.
Earlier this week, the Russian court ended a year of raid with the shutdown of the country’s oldest and best-known human rights group, causing international outrage.
Putin, 69, who has been in power for more than two decades – longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin – has the right to seek two more six-year terms and stay in power until 2036, whether or not they are in the year To run again in 2024.
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