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Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in December 2017. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

Putin has delayed his yearly address to the Federal Assembly (Russia's equivalent of the State of the Union) until later in February — ostensibly to boost intrigue surrounding the election. Reports suggest he will use the speech to lay out the agenda for his presumptive next term, one that will feature potentially painful reforms such as tax increases or a higher retirement age, alongside popular spending increases on education and healthcare.

Why it matters: Due to years of economic contraction and stagnation, Russians are increasingly demanding measures to improve their living standards. Over Putin's last term, Russia's foreign policy was trumpeted at home largely in place of a real domestic agenda, with "making Russia great again" sufficient to garner votes.

That approach, however, has lost the political appeal it once had. Moreover, with the potential for this next term to be Putin’s last, the importance of shoring up the stability and legitimacy of his political system has only grown.

The bottom line: Barring crisis, expect more inward policy and rhetoric from Russia's leadership in the year ahead, if not longer. Whether meaningful reforms are actually delivered is different question altogether.

Aaron Schwartzbaum is founder and editor in chief of the FPRI Bear Market Brief and a Russia and Ukraine analyst at Geoquant.

Go deeper

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

10 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

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