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Kremlin favourite urges reduced state role in the economy

February 15, 2008 | afp.google.com

KRASNOYARSK, Russia (AFP) — The overwhelming favourite to win Russia's presidential election on March 2, Dmitry Medvedev, on Friday called for a lowering of state interference in the Russian economy.

Outlining his economic programme in a speech at a forum in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Medvedev also stressed the importance of modernising Russia's economy and ensuring an independent judiciary.

"Most of the bureaucrats on boards of directors should not be there," Medvedev said in comments reported by Russian news agencies and broadcast on the Vesti-24 news channel.

"They should be replaced by genuinely independent directors hired by the state to work in its interests," Medvedev said, referring to the massive state industrial corporations set up under President Vladimir Putin.

"A significant share of the functions carried out by state organs should be given over to the private sector," Medvedev said in comments that appeared to show some differences with Putin's economic outlook.

Medvedev is Russia's first deputy prime minister and the chairman of state-controlled gas giant Gazprom. A former law professor, he is seen as more economically liberal than other key players in the Kremlin elite.

He was put forward as a candidate by Putin and the ruling United Russia party following parliamentary elections in December. Putin has since hinted he could retain a major role in power as prime minister if Medvedev is elected.

Russia has seen a strengthening of the state's role in the economy in recent years, particularly in the lucrative energy sector and in industries such as aerospace, shipbuilding and new technologies.

But Medvedev also echoed many of the broad economic aims outlined by Putin earlier this month, including the need to move Russia away from a dependence on raw materials towards innovation and to create a larger middle class.

"I think these targets are ambitious but, in my view, they are completely realistic," Medvedev said. He said his programme as president would be "institutions, infrastructure, innovation and investment."

Russia's GPD has grown at a yearly rate of around seven percent since 2002, thanks largely to lucrative oil and gas exports, and there has been broad economic stability compared to the presidency of Boris Yeltsin.

Large parts of the economy, however, are still languishing after the post-Soviet industrial collapse and the rapidly widening income gap in Russia means the benefits of economic growth have been uneven.

In Friday's speech, Medvedev said that corruption was "the most serious illness affecting our society" and promised to strengthen a judicial system that is still notoriuosly prone to political influence.

He also said that as president he would turn Russia into "one of the biggest financial centres in the world, whose attractiveness will be based among other things on the stability of the national currency."

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