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    MOSCOW, February 12, RIA Novosti correspondent - According to President Vladimir Putin, Russia's key achievement in the 20th century is the way it turned to democracy and market economy.

    Meeting his proxies Thursday, presidential candidate Vladimir Putin said he wanted to discuss the work done and future plans with them.

    "Russian citizens energetically supported democracy and market reforms. They made their final and irrevocable choice of freedom," he added.

    "That was a great achievement made by the Russian people. One of the greatest ones in the 20th century, in fact," he believes.

    According to him, we had to pay a high price for that.

    "The destructive processes entailed by the collapse of the USSR spread to Russian statehood, which could have been foreseen," he said.

    Putin also noted that in the late 1990s, Russia began to lose the main features of an integral state.

    "Russia has always been a complicated entity, which required a careful and professional treatment. But unfortunately, by the end of the nineties, it started to lose the main features of a single state, affected by a host of adverse factors," Putin explained.

    According to him, the political speculations on people's natural desire to live in a democracy, along with serious blunders in the economic and social reforms, had led to grave consequences then.

    "Almost one-third of this country's population found themselves beyond the poverty line. It was accompanied by wage and pensions arrears," Putin went on to say.

    According to him, the people were terrified by the default which deprived them in a flash of all their monetary savings and deposits. They no longer trusted the government to fulfil even the smallest social commitments. "The country was severely shaken by the strikes of miners, teachers and other employees of the government-financed sector. Tax rates were growing continuously, and the fiscal policy was geared to survival at best," he added.

    Putin reminded his audience that the majority of large banks went bankrupt, and the 1998 crisis nearly paralysed the crediting system.

    "Moreover, this country ended up in a humiliating dependence upon international financial organisations, and all sorts of international financial profiteers. If we just think about it," Putin continued, "Russia's national debt amounted to almost 90 percent of the GDP by the end of 1999." According to him, "the circumstances of the time, along the default which hit Russia, suggested a realistic possibility of new economic shocks."

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