Vladimir Putin will give a long-delayed state of the nation speech on Thursday, just over two weeks ahead of Russia's presidential election.
The Russian president -- who is expected to be comfortably elected for a fourth term – is set to use the address to set out a platform that includes higher social and infrastructure spending.
Putin has so far engaged in a minimal campaign strategy ahead of the March 18 poll. "He hasn't taken part in any debates, he hasn't explained his political program, he hasn't used any of his allotted time on television," political scientist Yekaterina Schulmann told The Moscow Times.
The speech – postponed from December – is an opportunity for Putin to set out his vision for a fourth term as president.
Economic growth returned to Russia in 2017 after two years of decline, boosted by higher consumer spending and an uptick in the price of oil.
Putin is expected to press forward with measures to build on last year's 1.5-percent rise in GDP by increasing government spending and policies to make doing business easier.
The ID of Russian President Vladimir Putin after he was registered as a presidential candidate by the Russian Central Election Commission. /VCG Photo
The president said in February: "We will continue to improve the business climate in Russia, create comfortable conditions for investment in new industries, create high-quality jobs, get rid of barriers in regulations and develop infrastructure."
Bloomberg reports that Putin is being advised to raise Russia's debt-to-GDP ratio from 12.5 percent to 16 percent, borrowing to invest around 265 billion US dollars in infrastructure upgrades.
Such an investment could also boost real incomes, with stagnant living standards a talking point among other candidates on the campaign trail.
Estimates from state-owned Sherbank, published by Politico, indicate that wages grew by two percent in 2017 while inflation rose by three percent.
Briefings from inside the Kremlin suggest an increase in spending on health, education and infrastructure will be announced, Reuters reported on Thursday.
Extra funding for schools and hospitals is expected to come from policy changes elsewhere rather than borrowing. Sources told Bloomberg that an income tax increase, or switch from the current 13-percent flat rate, as well as a rise in the retirement age and cuts in benefits, could be on the agenda for Russia – but were unlikely to be mentioned in Putin's speech.
Russian newspaper Vedomosti cited two federal officials as saying Putin could set a target to reduce poverty by 50 percent.
Putin could also address extremism in Russia – on Wednesday he ordered law enforcement officers to suppress extremist activities, after a five-percent rise in related crimes last year.
The speech is expected to be dominated by domestic issues, but Russia has been active overseas in recent years, notably playing a central role in Syria – both as a broker for peace via the Astana talks, and on the battlefield in support of the Assad government.
Putin is likely to frame the Russian strategy in the Middle East as a sign of the country's return as a global powerbroker.
Pew Research published in mid-2017 suggested strong support for Putin's handling of relations with major powers, such as China, the US and the EU.
With polling suggesting Putin will stroll to victory on March 18 with around 70-percent support, turnout is likely to be an important barometer of enthusiasm for the president's agenda.
The campaigns have not sparked significant interest in Russia so far, according to polling reported by TASS. More than half respondents to the latest Russian Public Opinion Research Center poll said they had not discussed the election at all. Another survey published by the same organization indicated more than 81 percent intended to vote, however.
Turnout was 65.25 percent in 2012, and Russian media have reported that Putin is targeting a 70/70 strategy: winning 70 percent of the vote on a 70-percent turnout.
The annual speech, typically given in December but put back to February and again to March 1, is expected to be given in Moscow's Manege building, rather than the Kremlin, to facilitate digital displays.