Douglas Busvine Moscow
russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, seeking to renew his hold on power after unprecedented street protests, set out an economic agenda yesterday that puts state capitalism at the heart of a bid to boost the country’s global competitiveness.
In a 5 000-word newspaper article, the third in a series he has written ahead of a March 4 presidential election, Putin defended his record while acknowledging Russia needed to adapt in a period of “cardinal change” in the global economy.
“We are seeing how countries, whose position seemed invulnerable only yesterday, are yielding to those that not long ago were regarded with haughty disdain,” he wrote in the Vedomosti financial daily.
“In such conditions it is important to secure the stable and gradual development of our economy, and as far as possible to protect our citizens from blows delivered by crises, while resolutely and quickly renewing all aspects of economic life.”
Readers of Vedomosti’s online edition were critical of Putin, who has run Russia for the past 12 years as two-term president and then premier.
Putin said his government had been right to reassert control over the energy sector, an indirect reference to the break-up of Russia’s largest oil firm, Yukos, whose assets were largely bought up by state-controlled Rosneft and whose owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was jailed for tax evasion and fraud.
The article, Putin’s broadest discourse on how he would run the economy if elected for a six-year term, identifies continuing dependency on natural resources and de-industrialisation as Russia’s main economic weaknesses.
But the steps he proposes to modernise the economy lack detail, are in part contradictory and make only a vague commitment to deliver on past privatisation pledges.
Putin is the clear front-runner to win the presidential election, but the popular mood has shifted in Russia after tens of thousands of protesters turned out to protest alleged ballot fraud in a parliamentary vote last month.
Critics, who have branded Putin’s ruling party a band of “crooks and thieves”, plan to turn out again in force to demand wide-ranging electoral reforms aimed at breaking the 59-year-old premier’s monopoly on power.
In the 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had become “an organic part of the world economy”, but was still exposed to commodity price swings, reliant on imports of consumer goods and plagued by capital flight, Putin wrote.
The article says little about restructuring state-run gas export monopoly Gazprom beyond saying it should divest non-core assets such as its media holdings.
Economists say Putin will need to deliver on his promises to spur economic growth, which has slowed to a range of 4 percent to 5 percent since the 2008/09 global crisis from prior rates of 6 percent to 7 percent. – Reuters