Medvedev woos investors with vision of new Russia

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President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday outlined his vision to modernise Russia and de-centralise power from Moscow amid intrigue over if he will still be in the Kremlin to implement the plan.

Speaking at a key economic forum in Russia's former imperial capital Saint Petersburg with guests ranging from Chinese President Hu Jintao to top foreign investors, Medvedev said Russia needed decisive reforms instead of steady development, championed by his mentor and predecessor Vladimir Putin.

"We should not delay bidding farewell to many harmful habits, it would be wrong for us to aim for only calm and steady growth, it is a mistake," Medvedev said.

"It is in our power to dramatically change the situation over the next few years. Another stagnation may be hiding behind stability."

The Kremlin chief also called for decentralising decision-making in Russia, which could mark a possible erosion of the carefully-constructed "vertical of power" implemented during Putin's decade in power.

"One cannot govern a country today from one spot," he said.

"If everything begins to work or moves according to a signal from the Kremlin -- and we've seen that before -- then this system is not viable. This is bad, this means the system should be changed," he said.

He noted that in the nearest future he would establish a high-level commission which will prepare proposals on how the government could decentralise responsibilities and empower municipalities.

The Russian leader's assurances during the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum came ahead of presidential elections next March and amid uncertainty over who will be the main candidate to occupy the Kremlin for the next six years.

Medvedev and Putin are both considered as possible candidates for the presidency but neither has put forth an official bid as Russian society and investors are increasingly looking for cues.

Medvedev never mentioned his mentor Putin by name but expressed hope that reforms to modernise the economy and fight corruption would happen regardless of who is in power.

Proposed reforms "must be realised regardless who is holding what posts in the country in the coming several years," Medvedev said.

He criticised increasing state participation in the economy and said the government must step up efforts to privatise state-owned companies.

"I want to announce very clearly: we are not building state capitalism," he said in another possible jab at Putin who has encouraged a bigger state role in the country's economy over the past years.

"This is not my choice," Medvedev said.

"My choice is different. Private entrepreneurship and private investors should reign in the Russian economy," he said.

The state should abandon controlling and blocking stakes in a whole range of companies, he added, adding that existing privatisation plans are "too modest."

Putin has not focused as much on technological and economic innovation in his remarks and Medvedev has noted several times that the government is not pursuing his reforms fast enough.

After making innovation and weaning the country away from reliance on fossil fuels one of the key goals of his presidency, Medvedev has launched a number of initiatives to modernise Russia's economy, one of key goals of his presidency.

Later on Friday Russia was to unveil a $10-billion (7.0-billion-euro) sovereign fund in partnership with private equity firms.

© 2011 AFP

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