President-elect Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called on Russians to have more children as he seeks to battle the country's acute demographic crisis during his third term in the Kremlin.
Speaking to the State Duma lower house of parliament in one of his last major speeches as prime minister before his return to the Kremlin on May 7, he also said rampant smoking, drug and alcohol abuse claimed 500,000 lives a year.
"For Russia every person counts today," Putin said.
"A strong, happy family with several kids is what the state, society; religious, educational and cultural organisations should unite their efforts around.
"We should realise that we will come face to face with a serious challenge—the demographic echo of the 1990s when Russia experienced its severest drop in birth rates. We need new decisive steps when it comes to saving and caring for people."
During his presidential campaign earlier this year, Putin vowed to reverse Russia's demographic crisis exacerbated by unhealthy lifestyles, blatant disregard for safety protocols and traffic accidents and boost its population to 154 million.
The country's latest census showed that the country's population had shrunk by 2.2 million people since 2002 and now stands at 142.9 million.
Putin claimed he had already made progress as prime minister, saying that the number of second-time mothers has grown by 45 percent over the past five years, and the number of women choosing to have three or more children increased by 62 percent over the same period.
"It was quite unexpected for me," he said. "More and more Russian families decide to have two or even three children," Putin added.
Over the past four years life expectancy has gone up in the country and now tops 70 years, he said, stressing that Russia should put an end to wide-spread smoking and alcohol abuse.
"Smoking, alcohol and drug abuse without any wars or calamities claim 500,000 lives of our countrymen every year," Putin told the Duma. "This is simply a horrific figure."