Putin’s ‘national projects’: billions to boost the economy

Moscow, Jan 22 (AFP/APP): Russian President Vladimir Putin is promising to invest tens of trillions of rubles in the country’s dilapidated infrastructure and other sectors over the next five years in a bid to kickstart anaemic economic growth.

Russia’s new Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who was appointed by Putin last week, vowed to shift into a higher gear with these “national projects”.

Unveiled at the start of 2018, the projects have more or less stalled.

The Kremlin’s aim is to achieve annual gross domestic product growth of four percent, an ambitious goal alongside the World Bank’s forecasts of 1.6-1.8 percent for 2020-2021.

Putin has earmarked 25.7 trillion rubles (375 billion euros or $414 billion) for investment in virtually all sectors — digitalisation, demographics, ecology, education, roads, culture and health — from now until the end of his current mandate in 2024.

The bulk of the money will come from public coffers — including from a VAT increase last year — and about a third from private investment.

Mishustin told ministers of his new government, approved by Putin on Tuesday, to submit proposals on implementing the national projects by February 20.

– Infrastructure –

Russia is the world’s biggest country by surface area, but is plagued by ageing infrastructure unable to cope with the demands of globalised trade.

Around a quarter of the total investment budget is therefore being set aside for improvement of rail, air, road, shipping and inland waterway links.

Modern motorways are being built, one of the first of which will be a 300-kilometre (185-mile) route linking Moscow and Kazan to the east of the capital.

A detailed blueprint for developing Russia’s rail networks has been approved, including an expansion of the foreign activities of national rail company RZD and the construction of high-speed lines.

Russia is also planning to complete or build a number of gas and oil pipelines, and develop shipping routes towards the Arctic, made more accessible and navigable by climate change.

– Ecology –

Around 16 percent of the total investment is being earmarked for ecology, as the world’s number four most-polluting country starts to wakes up to the challenges and problems of the destruction of the environment.

The authorities want to cut by 20 percent emissions in cities with the highest air pollution by 2024.

A number of national parks are also being created and efforts made to reduce discharges of waste water into Russia’s mighty Volga river and its Baikal freshwater lake.

With vast regions within the Arctic circle, where infrastructure has been tailored to the permafrost, Russia is one of the most vulnerable countries to global warming and has seen serious flooding and ferocious forest fires recently.

– Demographics and health –

Putin also wants to tackle two issues that are seen as Russia’s Achilles heel: its shrinking population and health.

“Russia’s fate and its historic prospects depend on how many of us there are,” Putin said in an annual address to lawmakers last week.

Russia is seeing falling birth rates because the generation becoming parents now were born in the 1990s, when the birthrate fell drastically due to economic uncertainties.

Russia’s population has shrunk by almost five million since 1991, but Putin said he wanted to boost the number of births from the current average per woman of 1.5 to 1.7 by 2024.

To achieve this, he announced new financial incentives for parents who have more than one child.

Putin also wants to extend Russians’ life expectancy by promoting physical exercise and taking better care of the aged.

Russia is also looking to cut the number of road deaths each year by a third.

– Digitalisation –

Mishustin was head of Russia’s Federal Tax Service before being appointed head of the new government and he oversaw a radical shake-up and digitalisation of the sprawling bureaucracy.

Strengthened by his success there, Mishustin has already said that the digital aspect of the new government’s reforms will be a priority.

“The state should be a digital platform serving the citizens,” he said.

Among the planned measures are the roll-out of 5G mobile phone networks in 10 cities by 2024.

The government also plans to encourage the production of Russian telecommunications equipment, and oblige phone manufacturers to pre-instal Russian software.


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