Putin assures Russians economic expansion to resume next year

epa05258487 Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an annual Q&A (Question and Answer) live-broadcast nationwide television and radio session 'Direct Line with Vladimir Putin' in Moscow, Russia, 14 April 2016. President Putin spoke directly with people from around the country and answered their questions.  EPA/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL MANDATORY CREDIT


President Vladimir Putin told Russians that the economy will resume growth next year in his annual call-in show on Thursday, aiming to shore up his support as the country’s longest economic downturn in two decades pushes more people into poverty.
“The situation hasn’t been resolved yet but the trend is positive,” Putin said, pointing to forecasts that the economy will contract by 0.3 percent this year and expand by 1.4 percent in 2017. “We have ground for optimism.”
Despite the almost 50 percent plunge in oil prices, Russia is rebuilding its international reserves, which now total $387 billion, he said. Unemployment remains low at about 5.6 percent, the Russian leader added.
The president’s using the Kremlin-controlled exercise to show he’s in touch with the public ahead of parliamentary elections in September, according to Igor Bunin, director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. The vote is Putin’s biggest electoral test since he returned to the Kremlin in 2012 after unprecedented protests against his rule. He’s seeking to reassure Russians as the world’s largest energy exporter endures its second year of recession, the longest economic downturn of Putin’s 16-year rule, after the ruble tumbled following the collapse in oil prices.”In a fortress situation and at a time of crisis, this allows him to communicate with the people,” Bunin said by phone Wednesday. “This is a populist format with almost everything stage-managed and that’s why Putin likes it.”

Economy, Poverty
Social issues and the economy dominated the more than 2.3 million questions submitted for Putin’s 14th call-in show, according to state television. While Russians enjoyed rising prosperity during Putin’s first two presidential terms from 2000, when the economy grew at an annual average of 7 percent, the number who fell into poverty in 2015 rose by 3.1 million to 19.2 million, the most since 2006, as wages fell and the ruble tumbled following the collapse in oil prices.
People chosen for the studio audience that’s also part of the live show were given instructions and training after being gathered at a hotel outside of Moscow since Tuesday, the RBC daily reported on Thursday, citing people close to the organizers. Questions were screened and dozens of people selected to pose them to the president from among hundreds of participants, it said.
While Putin’s personal ratings remain above 80 percent, the government and regional authorities are becoming targets of popular discontent.

Elections, Sanctions
Parliamentary elections in September begin a new electoral cycle that will culminate in the 2018 presidential contest, when Putin can seek a fourth and final term under the constitution.
The Bank of Russia sees the economy contracting by as much as 1.5 percent in 2016 and it won’t grow faster than 2 percent a year after that without economic reforms even if oil prices recover to $100 a barrel from around $45 currently, central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina said.
As tensions continue with the U.S. and the European Union, which imposed sanctions against Russia over its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, Putin defended the rise in food prices provoked by Russian counter-sanctions introduced on some foreign food imports in 2014.
After a Muscovite, Lyudmila Safronova, complained that her family food basket had doubled to 10,000 rubles ($150) this year, Putin said the import ban was partly responsible for rising prices though it would help Russia’s food security by creating “conditions for the development of our agriculture.”
In response to a question about wage arrears, Putin said that many companies aren’t paying salaries on time as they try to preserve jobs. Police detained a worker from the Vostochny cosmodrome on the eve of the show, the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported on Thursday, citing the employee. He’d been planning to take part in a protest with others building the space-launch facility to mark the anniversary of their appeal to Putin during last year’s event over unpaid salaries, it said. Although Putin promised to deal with the issue, the back wages still haven’t been paid, the newspaper said.

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