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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev Sets Out His Agenda

Making his first public speech, Dmitry Medvedev on Friday promised to work "around the clock" to improve living standards for ordinary Russians -- and denied that his appointment as first deputy prime minister had anything to do with "political games."

Medvedev, whose promotion has fueled speculation that he is being groomed as a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin in 2008, was chairing the first meeting of the presidium of the council for national projects -- a body set up by Putin to supervise the spending of an extra $4.6 billion on health care, education, housing and agriculture.

Opening the meeting, which was held in the Cabinet room, Medvedev said the government had "a unique opportunity to make our citizens' lives better -- considerably better." Given favorable economic conditions and a "stable political situation," it would be "simply immoral" not to do so, he said.

In the absence of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, who is not a member of the council, Medvedev presided over the meeting from his immediate superior's chair.

Medvedev's comments were aired at length on state television. His comments on Friday were in striking contrast to his appearance a day earlier at his first Cabinet meeting, where he did not say a word.

Previously, Fradkov had been the point person in the Cabinet for the spending projects, but with the arrival of Medvedev, Fradkov seems to have been pushed aside.

Medvedev, who until last Monday was Putin's chief of staff, and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was named a deputy prime minister in last Monday's shake-up, have been tipped as possible candidates to succeed Putin when his second and constitutionally last term ends in early 2008.

On Friday, however, Medvedev denied that his appointment was connected with electioneering.

"Serious work lies ahead. It has nothing to do with political games and election strategies," Medvedev told the meeting.

In an interview aired on NTV television's weekly news show Sunday evening, Medvedev put off discussion about his political ambitions and sympathies. "Let us first deal with national projects, and only than move on to PR and public affairs," he said. In answer to a question about his political preferences, Medvedev was equally coy. "Of course, I sympathize with certain political forces, but I won't talk about it now."

Putin first announced plans in September to spend an extra 115 billion rubles ($4 billion) next year on so-called "national projects" to be implemented by a council under his chairmanship. He named Medvedev as the council's first deputy chairman.

Since September, the funding available to the council has grown to 134.5 billion rubles ($4.6 billion). Together with funds expected to be attracted through state guarantees for mortgages, investments for next year would total 161 billion rubles ($5.8 billion), the government's official web site reported Friday.

Opposition politicians have criticized the initiative as designed to curry favor with the public and create a feel-good factor ahead of the election in 2008.

Under the initiative, salaries for a range of state-employed professionals, including some doctors, nurses and teachers, will rise significantly. The council will also fund the creation of new business schools and offer subsidies for mortgages to agricultural specialists working in rural areas.

Salaries for some of the doctors at state-run district clinics will rise by 10,000 rubles to between 14,000 and 15,000 rubles per month, and salaries for nurses will rise by 5,000 rubles to between 8,000 and 9,000 rubles per month.

On Friday, Medvedev said the state employees getting salary hikes would see the extra money in their pay packets from early February, and said the first effects of the new investment would be felt within six months.

The next meeting of the council is to be chaired by Putin on Nov. 29. From next year, Putin will chair its strategy meetings once every three or four months.