Putin Gives Good News To Council
Published: October 19, 2011 (Issue # 1679)
MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin impressed a gathering of heavyweight foreign investors with charm and statistics Monday, at a set-piece annual discussion between government officials and foreign chief executives.
Opening the 25th meeting of the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, or FIAC, with a welcoming smile directed at all sides of the rectangular table, Putin told investors that unemployment in Russia had fallen, foreign direct investment was growing and that Russia would not have a budget deficit in 2011.
Despite recent political upheaval, including the firing of internationally respected Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin on Sept. 26, Putin stressed that there would be no changes to government economic policy.
“On the threshold of any big political event, especially parliamentary and presidential elections, investors are interested in how the economy will develop,” Putin said, according to a transcript on the prime minister’s web site. “We do not intend to change the economy’s orientation.”
Putin told his guests that he welcomed criticism as well as praise. “That was all very pleasant for me to hear,” Putin told Paul Bulcke, head of Nestle, who had just made a speech, “including the critical observations.”
Putin said unemployment had dropped by 1 million people since January, Russia’s trade surplus was $147.7 billion in the first three quarters of 2011, and agriculture will grow by a minimum of 14 percent this year.
Investors present at the meeting were quick to compliment Putin. “I had skepticism about investment in Russia, but I walked away with quite another impression,” said George Buckley, chief executive of 3M, in remarks released by his press service after the gathering.
“I was very pleased with this meeting,” Buckley said. “Mr. Putin was very impressive, strong and intelligent. He is extraordinarily well informed.”
Making a keynote speech at the meeting, James Turley, chairman of Ernst Young, criticized the time required for construction in Russia and the effectiveness of its legislation in today’s global business environment. But he told Putin that FIAC was in favor of his decision to run for a third term as president in 2012.
“We support your candidacy for the post of president, but we will miss your leadership here in your capacity as prime minister,” Turley said.
“Topics ranged from customs to taxes, to easing visa regulations, to welcoming the creations of a new ombudsman to help foreign investors navigate the Russian system more efficiently,” he said.
Pledging to commit an additional $20 billion to health care and education over the next three years, Putin also looked to reassure investors during the televised gathering that Russia was able to keep a lid on any social protests linked to economic problems. Russians should be able to count on the fact that their country was changing for the better, Putin said. Otherwise, “things may reach the state that we now observe in some countries with an advanced economy where … hundreds of thousands demand what the governments of those countries are actually unable to do.”