June 19, 2008 / 7:48 AM / 11 years ago

Putin will punish "irresponsible" power players

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks during an interview with the newspaper Le Monde in Paris May 30, 2008. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Pool

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called on investors in the liberalizing power sector not to stuff their “stomachs” with quick profits and pledged harsh treatment for those not respecting national and social interests.

“As far as irresponsible business behavior is concerned, I’ll tell you directly and maybe a bit rudely: I will take (profits) from your stomach and give them to the poor,” Putin told a meeting of Energy Ministry officials.

“We will deal harshly with those who are driven by short-term interests and forget about the interests of the country,” Putin said in comments distributed by the Kremlin late on Wednesday.

“It may seem sad to many who invest and want to achieve maximum short-term effect, but we cannot and won’t forget about the social importance of the actions we undertake,” he said.

Russia’s former power monopoly, RAO UES, has sold almost all of its generating and distribution assets, some of which were bought for billions of dollars by large foreign firms such as E.ON, Enel or Fortum.

The power grid will remain under state control, while private investors have pledged to invest billions of dollars in upgrading the sector, which should be fully liberalized by 2011 and offer good returns from freely traded power.

“I call on everyone to be responsible,” Putin said. “Those who are irresponsible, undermine people’s trust in what we are doing and cause problems driven by short-term commercial interests will face an adequate reaction,” he said.

“We cannot shift the burden of power sector modernization to citizens’ shoulders,” said Putin, who nevertheless pledged to stick to a steep price-rise program in the sector.

Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov; editing by Sue Thomas

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