MOSCOW (RFE/RL) -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has trumpeted Russia's economic recovery and pledged reforms in a marathon speech at the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.
Putin, who was reviewing his cabinet's achievements over the past year, said Russia had pulled out of the recession sparked by the global economic crisis, which has hit the country's energy-dependent economy particularly hard.
He praised his government for avoiding a financial collapse such as the 1998 meltdown and said Russian economic growth may exceed the official forecast of 3.1 percent in 2010.
But he warned that the crisis was not yet over, and called on his cabinet to spend state money more wisely to ensure that Russia does not have to ask for a loan from the International Monetary Fund.
"It is important that all of us, the government and all those present in this room today, carry out a responsible financial and economic policy so that we don't have to turn to anyone with outstretched hands, losing our economic and then our political sovereignty," Putin said.
He said the government planned to halve the 6-percent budget deficit by 2012.
Freeing Up Business
Putin, who was visibly ill and coughed throughout his speech, admitted that Russia's economic recovery was bogged down by "kilos of paperwork" imposed on Russian companies. He pledged to lift restrictions for all businesses, particularly start-ups.
"It is still too early to talk about genuine freedom for entrepreneurs in Russia," Putin said. "What freedom can we talk about when up until recently we had 500 types of business activities that required licenses, 78 percent of the goods sold in the country were subjected to compulsory certification. You needed a separate authorization or certificate literally for every sneeze."
Putin said Russia will proceed with the planned social-security-tax hike by two percentage points from next year.
Despite calling for budget deficit cuts, he said money would be spent to reform the country's crumbling health-care system.
"More than 30 percent of all medical facilities in the country are run-down or in need of capital reconstruction," Putin said, "all this despite what has already been done in the framework of the national project. Many polyclinics and hospitals don't have the necessary equipment to provide medical care according to modern standards."
He said the country would spend more than $10 billion over the next two years to upgrade hospitals across Russia.
He said Russia was also actively preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games due to be held in the southern Russian city of Sochi, saying as many as 27,000 people were currently working on Olympic building sites.