Putin Backs Monopoly Crackdown

The government must improve its application of anti-monopoly laws and protect businesses from being sidelined by well-connected competitors to improve competition, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

Speaking at a meeting of the Council on Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship, which includes executives and owners of many of Russia's largest companies, Putin said the federal bodies and regional governments must be held more accountable for violating competition law, which he called a growing problem.

"We haven't been using the crisis to strengthen or seriously develop the Russian economy," he said. "Just the opposite -- we've been 'preserving' ineffective, uncompetitive production through state support."

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service has boosted its activity considerably in recent months after Putin told the body in July that it needed to "wake up" and "destroy the fuel monopoly at airports."

Several of the country's largest oil firms were subsequently fined for manipulating prices, including for jet fuel. The anti-monopoly service also told Mechel to cut prices for coking coal after Putin attacked the company's pricing policies in July, sending its stock price plummeting.

Putin said Wednesday that "individual, targeted decisions" would still be needed for dealing with violations in certain sectors, including for jet fuel, coking coal, petroleum fuel and connection to electricity grids.