Putin calls for unity in New Year speech

Putin calls for unity in New Year speech

Reuters file photo

President Vladimir Putin called on Russians to unite for the sake of the country's future in a New Year's address Tuesday that marked two decades since his ascent to power.

Appearing per longtime tradition outside the Kremlin for a message to be broadcast just before midnight, the 67-year-old leader spoke to Russians for the 16th time since Boris Yeltsin's shock New Year's resignation in 1999.

"We live in an eventful, dynamic and controversial time, but we must do everything to make sure Russia develops successfully," Putin, dressed in a black coat, said in the message posted by state channel Rossiya 1 ahead of time.

"Only together can we solve the problems ahead for the country, for our society. Our unity is the foundation for accomplishing the highest of goals," he said.

Putin said he looked forward to celebrating the 75th anniversary of Russia's World War II victory in 2020 and thanked veterans.

Moscow is planning to host world leaders during festivities on May 9th, one of Russia's biggest official holidays.

An address to the nation from leaders in Moscow has been a tradition since the 1970s.

In Moscow, Russians celebrating on New Year's Eve watch the speech just before a live broadcast of the Kremlin clock striking midnight and a spectacular fireworks display.

Yeltsin's address on December 31, 1999 shocked his compatriots as he announced it would be the "last time" he would be delivering the message and handed power over to Putin, an ex-KGB agent and his then-prime minister.

Yeltsin, who had suffered several heart attacks and battled with alcohol, struggled visibly as he said Russia needed to "enter the new millenium with new politicians".

Putin then appeared seated in front of a decorated tree, vowing there would be no "vacuum" in power in Russia.

Putin has since held a firm grip on the country, staying on as prime minister when his ally Dmitry Medvedev took the presidency in 2008 for four years.

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