MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir, already in campaign mode for a third term as president, said fraudsters who siphon off state money should have their faces smashed.
Putin plans to run in the March 2012 election and needs to improve his anti-corruption credentials tarnished by international ratings and statistics showing corruption has worsened under his rule.
"The practitioners of kickbacks and graft should not only get a rap on the knuckles, they should have their faces smashed," Putin told an audience of Russian financial policemen.
Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International rates Russia as the world's most corrupt major economy, ranking it 154th out of 178 nations in its corruption perceptions index last year, on a par with Cambodia, Kenya and Laos.
President Dmitry Medvedev made fighting corruption the main theme of his four-year presidency term which nears its end but has often been criticized for showing few tangible results.
Analysts say that, if elected, Putin is unlikely to make much progress in fighting a bureaucracy that has been deeply corrupt since Soviet times.
Putin, who grew up in a working class neighborhood in St Petersburg, is known for harsh remarks and jokes which raise eyebrows in the West but are popular with ordinary Russians.
(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Louise Ireland)