Putin Urges Cabinet to Work Hard

Itar-TassPutin making his address to members of the Cabinet at its final session of the year at the White House on Thursday.
President Vladimir Putin instructed Cabinet members Thursday to work so intensely in the run-up to the presidential election that they could breathe a sigh of relief should he become the next prime minister.

Addressing the Cabinet at its final session of the year, Putin indicated that he would be a highly demanding boss should he replace Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov after his second presidential term ends in May.

"The task for Viktor Alexeyevich Zubkov is to ensure work of such intensity that even my possible arrival at the White House would seem like a holiday to everyone," Putin told the ministers.

The government must work efficiently and be above domestic political events, including the March 2 presidential election, Putin said.

Politics aside, the holiday season was in full swing Thursday at the White House. Officials could be seen hauling in presents through a security checkpoint and into waiting elevators.

The presents appeared to be from lower government branches to their superiors.

Two men rolled a trolley carrying a sizeable, green velvet sack embossed with golden letters reading "Food for Squirrels." The sack, embossed also with the name of an Interior Ministry branch, rested atop boxes wrapped in black plastic.

Two other men carried what looked like boxes of chocolates and 12-year-old brandy in paper bags marked "Federal Communications Agency."

Before wishing the ministers health and prosperity, Putin ordered the government to focus next year on reducing inflation, which has spun out of control in recent months. Spurred by growth in global prices, inflation is expected to reach 12 percent by the end of the year, up by a whopping 4 percent from the initial target.

Central Bank first deputy head Alexei Ulyukayev said in comments broadcast on Vesti-24 that the bank would raise its official inflation forecast for 2008 by 1 to 2 percentage points from its current target of 6 to 7 percent. The government has already said inflation could reach 8.5 percent next year.

Putin otherwise lauded the country's economic record in the outgoing year. Gross domestic product grew 7.6 percent, while the budget surplus amounted to 3.6 percent, even after the budget was amended to transfer 640 billion rubles ($26 billion) to development institutions.

Foreign direct investment -- which totaled $45 billion -- swelled to 3.3 percent of GDP, as opposed to 2.7 percent last year, Putin said.

Earlier in the day, the Cabinet summed up the past two years as successful for Russia with the exception of this year's inflation surge, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov said. The ministers laid out plans for the next three years, with a focus on narrowing the gap between the country's richest and poorest citizens, Zhukov said.