Putin Sets Plans for Tenure as Premier
Friday, May 9, 2008
MOSCOW, May 8 -- Russia's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved Vladimir Putin as prime minister Thursday, completing a choreographed two-step in which his political partner and protege, Dmitry Medvedev, assumed the presidency a day earlier.
"I think no one doubts that our tandem will grow strong," Medvedev said in a short speech presenting his nominee to the lower house, or State Duma. "Today, the most important task is to maintain our present course."
Lawmakers voted 392 to 56 to confirm Putin, with only Communist Party legislators opposing his candidacy. Medvedev later signed a decree formalizing the appointment. The United Russia party, which Putin heads, has 315 seats in the 450-member Duma.
Putin was barred by the constitution from seeking a third term as president. His assumption of the ostensibly subordinate position of prime minister has fueled speculation about how this novel power-sharing arrangement with Medvedev will work and whether it is, in fact, a mechanism to propel Putin back into the Kremlin.
In a 45-minute speech to the Duma on Thursday, Putin stuck to economic and social themes, the prime minister's traditional areas of responsibility, saying "massive, grandiose tasks" lay before the country.
"Russia has become much stronger in recent years," he told legislators. "Our resources are sufficient to achieve even more complex, even more ambitious tasks and goals. I'm for using our accumulated potential effectively and judiciously."
Because of soaring revenue from oil and gas sales, Russia now has the world's third largest combined foreign currency and gold reserves.
The new prime minister outlined ambitious plans to increase spending on transportation, health and education, among other areas, while vowing to reduce inflation -- dual goals that some economists regard as incompatible.
Rising food prices have begun to hit ordinary Russians. "To avoid growing prices, we need to develop the agricultural sector," Putin said. "Up to 70 percent of foodstuffs in large Russian cities are imported. This is certainly unacceptably high."
Putin also promised changes in tax policy, including ways to stimulate oil production. There has been concern that the Russian energy industry, much of it state-controlled, is not investing sufficiently in developing new oil and gas fields.
"We're taking 75 percent to 80 percent of oil companies' profits for the budget by various means," which helps explain the "slowness to explore and put new fields on stream," Putin said.