#1 - JRL 7188
May 20, 2003
Industrial Growth Hits 3-Year High
By Alla Startseva
Russia's economic guru returned to work after a seven-week absence Monday to tell President Vladimir Putin that industry has been humming along just fine without him.
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, who was on sick leave for three weeks followed by a month's vacation, told Putin that industrial production in January through April grew 6.3 percent, its highest level in three years.
"Average growth amounted to 6.3 percent in four months, January to April, including 7.1 percent in April," Interfax quoted Gref as telling a regular meeting of ministers in the Kremlin.
"This is a very high index. A higher result was achieved only in July 2002, when industrial growth reached 7.8 percent," he said, adding that growth figures in the four-month period "are the top indices of the past three years."
Gref said his main task now would be to implement the fundamentals of Putin's state of the nation address, which was delivered Friday.
"We are working on a government plan to implement key provisions of the address, as we regularly do," he said.
Putin called for key ministers to develop "fresh ideas" and not just rely on what had already been implemented. He asked all ministers to come up with "proposals on jointly implementing the main propositions of the presidential address."
The meeting also touched on agriculture and energy projects, including Sakhalin-2 and the development of the government's energy strategy through 2020, which will be presented to the Cabinet on Thursday.
Gref went on sick leave March 21, a week after being castigated by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, fueling rumors that one of the two would soon be replaced.
After returning to work briefly April 14, he left on vacation and was expected to return May 12, but he extended that date by a week.
His continued absence led to growing speculation that he was unlikely to return.
The Economic Development and Trade Ministry's press office said the minister "is looking good" and his health is now fine.