MOSCOW (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin called on Russians to unite for the sake of the country's future in a New Year's address on Tuesday (Dec 31) marking 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, wearing a black coat, said in the message posted in advance by state channel Rossiya 1.
"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.
"Our personal plans and dreams are indivisible from Russia's. Its present and future depend on the efforts and contributions of each of us."
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.
Asked for the Kremlin's view on the parting year's key accomplishments and failures, spokesman Dmitry Peskov conceded that Russians are struggling economically, but praised the economy's "stability".
An address to the nation from leaders in Moscow has been a tradition since the 1970s and is shown around midnight in Russia's 11 time zones.
In Moscow, Russians celebrating on New Year's Eve watch the speech as they wait for a live broadcast of the Kremlin clock striking midnight and a spectacular fireworks display.
YELTSIN'S SHOCK 1999 EXIT
On Dec 31, 1999, Yeltsin 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 millennium with new politicians" and apologised emotionally for mistakes made in the transition from the Soviet Union.
Putin then appeared seated in front of a decorated tree, vowing there would be no power vacuum 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.
Though he has stopped short of personal attacks on his predecessor, Putin has lambasted the 1990s as unruly, while the Yeltsin Centre, a museum about the first president's legacy, is a constant target of Russian conservatives.
The Kremlin on Tuesday launched a special website to mark the 20-year anniversary called "Putin. 20 years." The website showcases photos of the Russian strongman meeting with various dignitaries and describes what each year meant for him personally, though for the moment only the first four have been uploaded.
The "multimedia album" is meant to feature both happy and tragic moments, and some photos have never been published before, the website says.