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Published: Wednesday, 6/7/2006

Putin calls for Russian women to deliver

Women in Russia should have more babies and the government should pay them for it. The call for more Russians, made by President Vladimir Putin in an annual state of the nation address last month - and then taken out of context - makes sense for once.

Russia loses 700,000 people a year to high death and emigration rates and low birth rates, Mr. Putin noted in the address. May it be that the president is finally preoccupied with the well-being of the nation? Hardly. You've got to read the fine print.

The first thing that jumps out at you is Mr. Putin's envy and admiration of the United States, and for a very specific reason.

"... Our defense budget ... bears no comparison at all with the defense budget of the United States," he said. "Their defense budget in absolute figures is almost 25 times bigger than Russia's. This is what in defense is referred to as 'their home - their fortress.' And good for them, I say. Well done!"

Second: Those feelings were inspired by Washington's pursuit of what it views as U.S. national interest in places such as the Persian Gulf, without much regard to international critics.

"We see, after all, what is going on in the world. Comrade Wolf knows who to eat, as the [Russian] saying goes. It knows who to eat and is not about to listen to anyone, it seems.." Mr. Putin said.

"How quickly all the pathos of the need to fight for human rights and democracy is laid aside the moment the need to realize one's own interests comes to the fore. In the name of one's own interests everything is possible, it turns out, and there are no limits," he said.

Third is the conclusion Mr. Putin derives - military might is the best grounds for doing as you please in dealing with other nations: "What is most important for our country? The Defense Ministry knows what is most important. Indeed, what I want to talk about is love, women, children. I want to talk about the family, about the most acute problem facing our country today - the demographic problem."

So, dear Russian women, pitch in with some new babies, will you, please? Motherland is calling on you!

But Russian women are not that naive. Recent public opinion shows that they are split on whether to heed Mr. Putin's words, most taking a wait-and-see attitude.

They are in no hurry to give birth to future laborers at weapons factories or cannon fodder to be used in places such as Chechnya, which the Kremlin uses to keep Russians paranoid.

Moreover, Mr. Putin has become a target of jokes mocking his call to pay Russian women to have more children.

Some of those jokes are really getting to him - a sign that they are to the point. Russian prosecutors are investigating an online newspaper editor from Ivanovo - Russia's textile industry center and a city with a predominantly female population - for publishing an article poking fun at Mr. Putin for making that call. The article suggested that animals at a local zoo were mating at an increased rate, heeding Mr. Putin's call.

So why not try to sell them on the good old, Soviet-style, pseudo-patriotic propaganda?

Once the military-industrial complex is restored, Mr. Putin is not going to repeat the mistakes of the Cold War and let it run the economy into the ground. No, no, no. He'll make it profitable by serving the needs of all the rogue regimes on the planet, which can't get Western weaponry.

"But though we realize the full seriousness of this problem, we must not repeat the mistakes of the Soviet Union, the mistakes of the Cold War era, neither in politics nor in defense strategy," Mr. Putin said.

"We must not resolve our defense issues at the expense of economic and social development," he added.

Now we know where "love, women, and children" come in - as a means to rebuild and sustain the military-industrial complex.



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