Moscow, 29 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov met with reporters today in the Russian capital and shared his views on a number of the government's reform efforts.
Kasyanov says 2002 will be the year in which the Russian government will seriously put into effect the reforms begun last year. Kasyanov says Russia still has economic problems to solve but that the overall situation in the country is improving.
The prime minister said 2002 began with no government debts toward civil servants and pensioners. Pensions, he says, were increased substantially. The minimum pension is now 1,133 rubles ($43) per month, compared to 823 rubles ($28) last year.
Kasyanov says the money needed for the payment of wages in full was included in the 2002 budget. The federal budget allocated 165 billion rubles (approximately $5 billion) for that purpose, one and a half times more than the 2001 figure.
Kasyanov also spoke of Moscow's efforts to join the World Trade Organization. He says the government is now working on adjusting the country's customs code to be in agreement with that of European countries.
"[We are working on] the customs code. We can say that Russia and the [European Union] will have a common customs space. The customs code, which is now being worked out in the State Duma, is in full agreement with the international customs organization. [Moreover,] it is in accordance with the duty laws of the EU countries."
Kasyanov also spoke of tax reform. He says tax relief to help the growth of small businesses in Russia will be a key goal in 2002.
"We'll give ourselves an aim: Small business will be in the near future an important part of our economy. Today we have small businesses and small enterprises [in Russia], but after the [economic] crisis in 1998, [small businesses] became so small that we can say that they don't exist. For that reason, tax relief for small businesses will be a key aspect [of our tax code]."
Other reforms that will be continued, Kasyanov says, are in the banking sector, where he says state participation will be reduced.
Kasyanov also says 2002 will be remembered as the year the Russian government was able to find a solution to the recurring problem of fuel shortages in winter.
"I'd like to point out that from the beginning of the [winter season] until now, we haven't had any problems with the fuel supply. The situation regarding the fuel supply this year is much better than last year."
Another area that needs to be reformed, according to Kasyanov, is management of state property. He says Russia now has more state-owned enterprises than it needs. He adds that monitoring the performance of these enterprises will soon be organized.