'Worst of economic crisis over'

Threat from terrorists high, says Russian PM

'Worst of economic crisis over'

Vladimir Putin makes a thumbs-up gesture while answering a question during his televised phone-in show in Moscow on Thursday. AFP

Opening an annual question-and-answer session with the Russian people looking relaxed and confident, Putin said the worst of the crisis was over and he expected the economy to shrink 8.5-8.7 per cent this year, less than some had expected.

“The economy has grown by an average of 0.5 per cent per month over the last five months,” Putin said in the session, broadcast live nationwide by state television and radio.

“I’m counting on these positive trends in economic development becoming more significant in the middle of next year."

Putin’s eighth annual phone-in showed the premier, Russia’s most powerful leader, back on form after an uncharacteristically subdued performance last year amid the economic crisis.

An increase in oil prices has helped pull the Russian economy from the brink of collapse this year but despite billions of dollars of government aid, Russia still lags far behind emerging market peers such as Brazil, India and China.

Islamic rebels

Meanwhile, Islamic rebels have claimed responsibility for detonating a bomb under a luxury express train as it travelled from Moscow to St Petersburg last week, derailing and wrecking carriages and killing 26 people, including some senior officials.

Putin said Russia was determined to “break the spine” of terrorism and called for tough and decisive action against “criminals” who attacked their own people.
“The threat of terrorism remains very high,” Putin said.

Many questioners asked Putin about their jobs and their pensions, including workers in the town of Pikalyovo, which the premier visited in the summer to help a cement factory threatened with closure and scold its oligarch owner.

 "The situation in one-industry towns, including Pikalyovo, is under control,” Putin said.
Asked why nobody was in jail for allowing the crisis to hit Pikalyovo, the prime minister shot back: “If we put everyone in jail, who would work ?”

The televised question session “A Conversation with Vladimir Putin. The Sequel” was conducted in a specially built Moscow studio with invited guests.

All questions were screened in advance and access to the Moscow studio and the video link-up locations was by invitation only. Journalists were not given access to the questioners.

Putin reassured a grieving widow from the dam about her children’s education, calmed factory workers worried about their jobs, joked over his sometimes awkward relationship with the leader of neighbouring Belarus and praised a grandmother who had helped victims of the train bomb.

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