MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the "stabilization" of the Russian economy Wednesday but said more can be done to promote growth.
Russia's economy contracted by 3.7 percent last year on the back of Western sanctions and a slump in the price of its oil exports. It has stabilized somewhat since then thanks to a rebound in energy markets, but remains weak — the IMF predicts a contraction of 0.8 percent this year before growth of 1.1 percent in 2017.
Speaking to Russian and foreign business leaders in Moscow, Putin praised drops in inflation and capital outflows but said "the stabilization that has been achieved has not yet transformed into steady growth."
Putin added that Russia still needs to increase labor productivity and limit government spending.
Earlier Wednesday, two leading ministers disagreed publicly on possible privatizations. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov saying only "modest plans" were in place for the period through 2019, while Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukaev said selling parts of government stakes in the VTB bank and the Russian Helicopters company was possible and would be attractive for investors.
The dispute comes days after the planned privatization of a majority government stake in oil producer Bashneft led to the government approving the sale to larger oil firm Rosneft, which is itself majority state-owned. The deal, worth over $5 billion, was defended Wednesday by Putin, who said that because Rosneft has minority foreign investors, it was not simply a transfer of assets from one part of the state to another.