Putin reassures Russia on economy

November 21, 2008

, MOSCOW, November 21 – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday moved to reassure Russians over the growing financial crisis, vowing the government would do everything to prevent a repeat of the economic shocks of the 1990s.

In a speech loaded with statistics and economic promises, Putin was conspicuously silent on his own political future despite intense speculation he is plotting a return to the Kremlin to succeed President Dmitry Medvedev.

"We will do everything that depends on us so that the problems of past years, the collapses of past years, will not be repeated in our country," Putin told the congress of his ruling United Russia party in a keynote speech.

The economic shock of 1991 that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the crisis of 1998, when Russia defaulted on its debt, sent the country\’s economy spiralling into near meltdown.

The current financial crisis has ravaged Moscow\’s stock markets and plunging oil prices have slowed growth, threatening the economic stability seen as one of the main accomplishments of Putin\’s eight-year presidency.

Putin indicated that the grip on power of the United Russia party, which dominates parliament, would depend on its ability to deal with the financial crisis.

"The political prospects of United Russia will directly depend on how we cope today with the problems that are shaking the country and its citizens," he told hundreds of party members packed into a Moscow conference centre.

"In the current situation we should not hide from tough questions … As the majority party in parliament, United Russia will take full responsibility for what is happening."

In a display of Russian confidence, Putin announced that Moscow is giving one billion dollars (785 million euros) to the International Monetary Fund to help countries overcome the global financial crisis.

He also said Russia was offering credits to China and India to purchase Russian goods and confirmed that it would lend neighbouring Belarus two billion dollars (1.6 billion euros) to cope with the crisis.

Putin boasted that Russia had built up sufficient financial reserves to avoid drastic changes in the external value of the ruble and spikes in inflation.

"For this we will use all means at our disposal," he said. The Russian central bank announced its reserves fell last week by almost 22 billion dollars amid the action to prop up the ruble.

Putin also announced a series of tax cuts aimed at stimulating economic activity and urged parliament to pass the measures by the end of the year.

In another sign the crisis was hitting the economy, the statistics office said Russian industrial production grew by only 0.6 percent in October compared with the year earlier, revising down its initial estimation of 1.6 percent.

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin warned on the sidelines of the congress that 2009 would be Russia\’s "most crisis-affected year in 10 years" but the economy would recover in 2010.

Before Putin\’s address, Medvedev gave a shorter speech in which he promised the government would ensure the crisis did not threaten Russia\’s progress.

"The most important task at this point is overcoming the negative effects of the global financial crisis," he said.

"We will not abandon what we have achieved."

The congress came one day after the lower house of Russia\’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the latest reading of a bill proposed by Medvedev extending the presidential term from four years to six.

The move fed speculation that Putin was planning to take over from Medvedev, who only succeeded him as president in May.

Putin backed Medvedev\’s proposals by praising what he called "the perfection of our political system".

But while Putin gave no details over his political future, the fact his speech was solely devoted to Russia\’s current most pressing problem showed in itself he is still playing an active leadership role.

Curiously, Putin is still not a member of the United Russia party that he heads, a position some believe keeps him above the fray of day-to-day politics.

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