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Russian govt upbeat as 2002 budget passed
By Darya Korsunskaya

MOSCOW, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Russia's government said on Friday it was optimistic about the economic outlook for next year after the lower house of parliament passed the landmark 2002 budget in a fourth and final reading.

The State Duma passed the bill with an easy majority for the government, paving the way for the budget to be approved by the upper house and then to be signed by President Vladimir Putin.

A sharp fall in oil prices since early September, due to fears of a slowing global economy and after the attacks on the United States, had overshadowed previous debates on the 2002 budget, the first to be drawn up with a planned surplus.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said he was confident Russia's economy this year would surpass the expected growth rate even though lower oil prices are estimated to lead to a fall in government revenues of around $1.0 billion.

"In 2001, GDP growth will be more than 5.5 percent. This is one of the highest growth rates compared with other countries," said Kudrin.

"This is the level we have always dreamt of. We have managed to maintain growth even in conditions of declining oil prices."

"We shall fulfill all our obligations, both domestic and foreign," Kudrin said. " We are optimistic about 2002."

He also told reporters that the goverment maintained its forecast for consumer price inflation at 18 percent.

The government has said it will be able to meet its spending and revenue plans next year even if oil prices fall as low as $15 a barrel, well below the minimum expected of $18.5 a barrel.

The 2002 budget surplus is expected at 1.63 percent of gross domestic product if oil prices meet government targets. GDP growth is seen at 4.3 percent and inflation at 10-13 percent.

Russia posted its highest GDP growth in 2000, when the economy expanded 8.3 percent boosted by high prices for oil. Inflation was 20.2 percent. The inflation target for this year of 18 percent is above original government forecasts of 12-14 percent.

Kudrin said a mission of the International Monetary Fund, which completed its work in Moscow at the start of this week, had also maintained its positive outlook on Russia's economy despite the lower oil prices.

He said the IMF expected Russia to keep a positive balance of payments and maintain its growth in GDP and gold and hard currency reserves.

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