* Putin's first state of nation speech of new term
* Likely to touch on economy, corruption
* Pressure on Putin to improve services
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW, Dec 12 Russian President Vladimir Putin
will need to mix fresh ideas with his trademark patriotism and
tough-guy image on Wednesday when he lays out his plans to a
cynical population weary of corruption and poor state services.
Thirteen years after he rose to power, and more than two
decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin still
seems to be searching for an overarching idea to unite Russians.
There is no imminent threat to his rule - opposition groups
who accuse the authorities of stifling dissent have failed to
build enough momentum to pose a serious challenge to the state.
But public confidence is low. While some figures in
government have fallen foul of corruption scandals, high-profile
probes have not convinced Russians that Putin will uproot
Pressure is growing on the government to translate sky-high
oil and gas income into improvements in roads, schools, police,
pensions, housing and healthcare that millions find wanting.
Abroad, Putin has sought to revive Russia's 20th century
status as a counter-balance to U.S. hegemony, but political
experts say Putin's ideological messages are wearing thin.
"There is a gap between the people's pragmatic demands and
government attempts to feed them abstract ideologies such as
patriotism, anti-Westernism, neo-industrialisation," said
analyst Pavel Salin. Citizens "want concrete action, concrete
success from government institutions they deal with every day."
Putin is likely to cut a confident figure in Wednesday's
annual Kremlin address, nine months after weathering the biggest
opposition protests of his rule and winning a third term as
president after four years as prime minister.
The speech to lawmakers and a nationwide TV audience comes
three days before opponents stage what they hope will be the
first big protest in Moscow since September.
He is likely to repeat warnings that demonstrators must
abide by the law - appealing to provincial Russians that are his
power base - but also needs to win over middle class urbanites
who want a stronger voice in politics and fear Russia will
stagnate during a new term that may not be his last.
"People want to see promises that salaries will be
increased, inflation curbed, a solution to problems with
housing, medical care and education and answers to the question
of corruption raised by the recent scandals," said Lev Gudkov,
director of independent polling agency Levada.
Putin has not ruled out seeking another six-year
presidential term in 2018 and seems determined to put his stamp
on Russia for decades to come.
He has used annual appearances to shape an image of a
strong, sharp-minded leader in command of economic facts and
figures and with a finger on the pulse of the people.
Putin has called patriotism the answer to the threat of
foreign influence and harnessed the revival of the Russian
Orthodox Church. He has balanced those messages with calls for
tolerance in a nation that has a large Muslim minority and is
seeking to suppress an Islamist insurgency in Chechnya.
But he is less popular than during much of his 2000-2008
presidency, when he oversaw spectacular economic growth fuelled
by energy exports.
"Putin still presents himself as a decisive politician, the
leader of the nation, a macho man, which is no longer adequate,"
said Gudkov. "These public events are less effective than they
used to be."