Reformist Putin ally gets audit job, but not Kremlin role

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who has called for sweeping political and economic reform, said on Monday he had accepted an offer to head up Russia’s Audit Chamber, which scrutinizes the budget but has few real powers.

Russian and Western media had tipped Kudrin, a liberal-minded economist respected by Western investors for his 2000-2011 stewardship of the economy as finance minister, for a job in the Kremlin which they had speculated he would use to mend fences with the West.

But after President Vladimir Putin was sworn into office for a new term last week, lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party offered Kudrin the role of head of the Audit Chamber instead.

The fact that Kudrin was not brought into the Kremlin or the government itself is likely to be seen by Western investors as a sign that many of the radical reforms he has advocated are unlikely to happen, though some of his ideas have already been adopted.

Kudrin said he intended to try to widen his new role to ensure that a slew of decrees issued by Putin last week outlining the new government’s objectives were properly implemented from a financial point of view.

“(Budget) control must not just be about quantity but about quality too,” he said in a statement.

“The question is not just about whether money has been spent in accordance with procedures, but about whether the expenditure brings us closer to our national goals and leads to significant changes in the lives of the country’s citizens.”

Kudrin, who worked with Putin in the St Petersburg Mayor’s Office in the 1990s, left government in 2011 after a dispute with then President Dmitry Medvedev.

Two years ago, Putin asked Kudrin to head up a think tank, the Centre for Strategic Research, to devise a reform strategy for his 2018-2024 term.

Putin has already picked up on some of Kudrin’s proposals, such as increasing financing for healthcare, education and infrastructure.

Until recently, Western and Russian media had linked Kudrin to a possible role as deputy head of the presidential administration with broad economic powers.

But Kudrin said he was not given a choice of roles and that the job he had decided to accept was equivalent in status to that of a first deputy prime minister.

Editing by Andrew Osborn