MOSCOW Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin defended plans to bolster social spending on Monday, telling global corporate chiefs that it would help stave off the type of protests that occurred in the United States and Europe over the weekend.
Speaking after demonstrators rallied against injustice and economic crisis around the world at the weekend, Putin said the double-digit increases in social spending that he has approved would prevent similar unrest in Russia.
"Hundreds of thousands of people -- not just a bunch of outcasts but hundreds of thousands -- are coming out onto the streets to demand what their governments are unable to fulfill," Putin told about 20 global CEOs including BP's Robert Dudley and PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi.
"If this (social spending) does not take place, then we could get to a situation which we see in countries with developed economies," Putin said in his first public comments on the "Occupy Wall Street" movement which has quickly spread around the globe from the United States.
Putin has long been a critic of Wall Street excess and has called the United States a parasite for printing too many dollars. He is keen to garner domestic support before the March 2012 election in which he will run for president.
At the same time Putin, Russia's president in 2000-2008, is trying to counter investor concerns that his return to the Kremlin will usher in a period of stagnation that puts the fiscal stability of the world's biggest energy producer at risk.
Putin repeated forecasts made to an investor conference this month, saying he expected economic growth of more than 4 percent this year in Russia and that fiscal stability was guaranteed no matter how bad the debt crisis in the euro zone.
Social spending -- which accounts for about one third of Russian federal budget expenditure -- will rise 20.4 percent in 2012 to 3.8 trillion roubles ($123 billion) in 2012, according to Finance Ministry projections.
"We will by all means fulfill all our social obligations before the Russian people," said Putin, who opinion polls show is Russia's most popular politician and is almost certain to win the 2012 election.
"We will act in the similar way further down the road."
The comments indicate that the Kremlin will seek to spend its oil money to soothe tension in a society which boasts the world's third-largest group of billionaires, after the United States and China.
During the last economic crisis, which saw Russia's economy contract by 7.8 percent in 2009, Putin took charge of efforts to spend tens of billions of dollars of state money to defend domestic manufacturers and bail out indebted tycoons.
Most Russians, however, believe the biggest robbers are the tycoons who amassed vast fortunes after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union or politicians themselves, rather than the bankers of London or New York.
While violence flared in Rome and thousands protested in Times Square this weekend, Russia saw no major protests.
(Writing by Alexei Anishchuk and Guy Faulconbridge Editing by Maria Golovnina)