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Putin to pitch Russia's economic vision

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will present to world business leaders in Davos on Wednesday Russia’s vision of a new economic order and try to lure investors back to Russia’s crisis-gripped economy.

Putin, a former KGB spy, will become the first Russian official to open the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, a flagship event for the elite of free-market capitalism.

The ranks of top Wall Street bankers and chief executives have been thinned by the global financial turmoil this year, and the West’s former economic pupils, China and Russia, are the star attractions.

“This is Davos under the Russian flag. Putin’s speech will set a tone for the discussion,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in Moscow.

“One of the goals of this trip is to continue talks with investors, both with those already present in the Russian market and those who are likely to enter it,” Peskov said.

Putin is scheduled to deliver the opening speech at 1845 GMT (1:45 p.m. EST) on Wednesday, several hours after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will discuss steps his country is taking to tackle its economic downturn.

Putin, who as Kremlin chief presided over eight years of economic growth from 2000 to 2008, is now heading Russia’s efforts to counter a deepening economic crisis within Russia.

The credit crisis, which began in the United States two years ago, has engulfed major banks and triggered a severe global recession.

Russia, which has spent about a third of its gold and foreign exchange reserves since August to allow the gradual devaluation of the rouble, is facing tumbling prices for its main exports -- oil, gas and metals.

Many investors now expect the $1.6 trillion economy to contract in 2009, after 10 years of growth, a development that could undermine Kremlin ambitions to claw back some of the geopolitical might lost after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

Putin’s speech at Davos comes a week after the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration will be represented only by a senior advisor.

Putin has previously blamed the United States for “infecting” other countries with economic crisis.

“In his speech Putin will analyze the crisis and its origin and express his opinion about what to do next,” Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s deputy chief of staff, told reporters in Moscow. “He will also describe plans to modernize our economy.”

The speech is likely to be closely watched for clues about Russian policy ahead of a meeting of the leaders of G20 countries in April.


Putin will meet the Chinese premier Wen in Davos. Aides declined to disclose a detailed agenda of the meeting.

Russian media have reported that Chinese state oil companies may lend Russian state-controlled oil companies Rosneft and Transneftas much as $25 billion in exchange for oil deliveries.

One of the discussions at the Forum is “The World According to Russia,” a title likely to flatter Moscow’s leaders.

But Russia’s economy is also under the spotlight after its stock, bond and currency markets were hammered last year as the global crisis and domestic scares rattled investors.

Since Dmitry Medvedev was elected president in March 2008, Russia’s image has been tarnished by a shareholder row over BP’s Russian venture TNK-BP, the war in Georgia and a gas transit dispute with Ukraine that disrupted European supplies.

“The policy aimed at attracting foreign investment will be continued,” spokesman Peskov said. Putin will hold a meeting with top businessmen on Thursday.

“We can suppose that energy security will be one way or another raised in Putin’s speech. It will also be high on the agenda during the meeting with the businessmen,” Peskov said.

Putin heads a delegation of officials, including First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov and First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank Alexei Ulyukayev, and top businessmen, including aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska.

Aides said Putin, a passionate downhill skier, will have no time to ski in Davos, one of the top ski resorts in the Alps.

Writing by Gleb Bryanski in Moscow and Guy Falcounbridge in Davos; Editing by Katie Nguyen