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Russian Leaders Urge United Front During Crisis

Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin led calls for unity.

Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin led calls for unity.

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have called for unity during a time of crisis, following signs of disagreement among officials on emergency measures.

The global financial crisis has put Russia on the brink of its first recession in a decade, slashing gold and foreign-exchange reserves by a quarter since the summer, pushing up unemployment, and reducing real disposable income.

Russia allowed the ninth small devaluation of the ruble this month on December 29, bringing the currency's losses to more than 18 percent since August as the oil-funded economy faces growing risks of recession.

"We can have different points of view on various problems. But at a time of global challenges, it is important to maintain the unity of the government," Medvedev told a cabinet meeting.

"In my opinion, today we are succeeding in this."

Earlier in the same meeting, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said a team spirit in the government was vital for the implementation of anticrisis measures.

Russia has felt the first signs of public unrest, with protests in some areas this month against higher export duties on imported used foreign cars.

A deputy interior minister said last week that Russia faces the risk of an increasing number of protests because of the global financial crisis.

There have also been outbursts from lawmakers about how the $200 billion-plus that Russia earmarked to cushion the economy is being used, with deputies from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party criticizing the Finance Ministry.

A rift has also developed over oil-export duties. First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said this month that a 0 percent levy on duties was under discussion, but Finance Minster Aleksei Kudrin said on December 27 it was too early to discuss it.

A poll by the Levada Center in mid-December put disapproval ratings for Putin and Medvedev at reached four-month highs of 15 and 21 percent, respectively.