Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting on national projects via a video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, July 13 2020. Picture: SPUTNIK/ALEXEI DRUZHININ/KREMLIN/REUTERS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting on national projects via a video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, July 13 2020. Picture: SPUTNIK/ALEXEI DRUZHININ/KREMLIN/REUTERS

Moscow — Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed back completion of an ambitious $360bn investment and development programme on Monday, blaming the economic havoc wreaked by the coronavirus epidemic.

“I ask the government with the participation of the State Council to adjust the national projects within three months,” Putin said at a televised meeting on Monday with ministers and officials. “We must proceed from their realities.”

The projects that were meant to be completed by 2024 require adjustment because “we will have to work in conditions of stricter budget restrictions” due to the coronavirus, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin told Putin. “It is possible to extend the time frame for achieving the national goals that you mentioned today to 2030.”

Putin made the national projects the centrepiece of his election programme for his fourth term when he won a landslide in 2018. He overhauled the government at the start of 2020, installing Mishustin in place of long-serving ally Dmitry Medvedev, partly out of disappointment at the pace of progress in implementing the spending programme designed to boost Russia’s sluggish growth and raise living standards.

The Covid-19 crisis and the slump in oil prices within weeks after the new government’s appointment, however, has blown his plans off course as Russia battles to overcome the worst recession in a decade after a national lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

Russia’s budget has swung from a surplus in 2019 to a deep deficit in 2020, while the government envisages spending 8.7-trillion roubles ($123bn) on an economic recovery plan over the next two years.

While it’s unclear for now how much of the programme may be delayed beyond the original deadline, Putin risks seeking re-election in 2024 without having fulfilled his promises to voters, after the July 1 referendum endorsing constitutional changes that may allow him to rule for two more terms until 2036.

Bloomberg

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