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'Keep Russia strong,' Putin tells newly elected Duma

Speaking at the first Duma plenary meeting since September's elections, Putin has called on Russia to assert its position on the international stage. All 450 seats in the Lower House are filled by Putin allies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the Duma's newly elected deputies on Wednesday to "unite their efforts" in boosting Russia's defences and realizing the country's right to be a "strong" nation.

"We need to strengthen the security and defense capability of our country to assert its position on the international stage," Putin told deputies. "We must all unite, coordinate our efforts, obligations and rights to maintain Russia's historical supreme right - to be strong."

Putin spoke at the first plenary meeting in the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, since September's legislative elections where his United Russia party claimed a clear victory.

Putin's comments come as relations between Russia and the West have become increasingly fraught, not least over the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

In a sign of worsening relations between the two countries, Putin said that the parliament should approve two key Kremlin policies: exiting the nuclear security pact with the United States, considered one of the key framework disarmament deals, and ratifying an agreement with the Assad regime to build a permanent airbase in Syria's Latakia region, a token of continuing support to the ruling regime.

However, Putin was quick to say that he did not equate national strength with empirical ambitions. "When we say that we want to be strong, we do not mean that we want to build an empire, nor do we want to impose anything on anyone," he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said on Wednesday that it regretted that Russia and Putin had become a "practically inseperable part of America's election campaign," and that it was fed up with Russia generally being presented in a negative light.

Domestic concerns

Putin also emphasized the socio-economic issues facing Russia.

He called on legislators to "spur growth by removing legislative barriers to investment" and provide "legislative support to meet the country's priorities in funding the state budget funding state projects."

The Duma will need to draft a new budget agreement as the country looks to lift itself out of the longest economic recession of Putin's rule following the collapse in the oil price.

Russland Sitzung der Duma - Rede Putin (Getty Images/AFP/N. Kolesnikova)

Putin will find allies in each of the Duma's 450 seats

The new-look Duma

Legislative support should not be scarce for Putin. Following September's legislative elections, three-quarters of the Duma's 450 deputies are from Putin's United Russia party. The remaining seats are split across three other parties: The communist party, the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the nationalist Russian Justice party, all of which are allies of Putin's United Russia.

Russland Sitzung der Duma - Natalja Wladimirowna Poklonskaja, Generalstaatsanwältin Republik Krim (picture-alliance/dpa/N. Kolesnikova)

Natalia Poklonskaya, a prosecutor from Crimea and new deputy in Russia's Duma

Notable figures in the new lower house include new Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, considered the chief architect for the Kremlin's recent conservative and anti-Western measures. He is also on the United States' sanctions list in the aftermath of Russia's annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

Other controversial new entrants include the former municipal deputy of St. Petersburg, Vitali Milonov. He is known for drafting laws sanctioning what he describes as "homosexual propaganda," as well as organizing raids on gay clubs and banning abortions.

Natalia Poklonskaya, a prosecutor from the annexed Crimean peninsula is another notable entrant. She has been denied entry into the European Union and was involved in the repression of Crimea's Tartar community, which she has classified as an extremist organization.

dm/msh (AFP, Reuters, EFE)