#3 - JRL 7016
Financial Times (UK)
January 14, 2003
Russians pledge to continue pursuing reform
By Andrew Jack
Russian ministers went on a presentation offensive yesterday. They promised to stick to wide-ranging, liberal-oriented reforms, amid concerns that the pace of restructuring and economic growth could falter ahead of parliamentary elections at the end of the year.
Igor Ivanov, foreign minister, Alexei Kudrin, finance minister, Alexei Gordeyev, agricultural minister, and Alexander Rumyanstev, minister for atomic energy, were part of the public relations drive to counter criticism that the government had lost its appetite for reform. Opinion polls highlight worries over a slowdown in growth and investment, deferral of reform initiatives and pessimism about standards of living.
Mr Kudrin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, pledged to cut tax rates for small businesses to stimulate further growth. He also stressed budgetary vigour and timely payment of the country's foreign debts.
Mr Putin himself lambasted his government last year for failing to sustain the high levels of economic growth that he sought during his 2000 election campaign to increase Russia's relative weight among leading countries.
German Gref, the economic development and trade minister, has already made it clear that Russia has the capacity to grow by 6-10 per cent a year if the government's plans are implemented, although it would take until 2007 for reforms already launched to take effect.
On foreign policy, Mr Ivanov said his principal objective was "creating favourable conditions for the internal development" of Russia.
He would be working "intensively" to boost the country's integration into the world economy and to implement investment projects.
On the agricultural front, Mr Gordeyev stressed new efforts would be made this year to encourage private investment, competition and new forms of ownership. However there would be state-backed credit and insurance, and "reasonable trade protectionism" against dumping by foreign importers.
Mr Rumyanstev, atomic energy minister, said Russia would place emphasis on tightened security given the renewed risk from terrorism, but would also continue to export nuclear fuel and technologies, and to decommission atomic submarines.
His comments came after Mikhail Kasyanov, the prime minister, announced this weekend a breakthrough in long-delayed talks with western countries about a framework that would allow them to offer technical assistance for the clean-up of nuclear materials on the Kola peninsula in north-west Russia.