Putin says liberal ex-finmin Kudrin to have bigger advisory role

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he wanted a prominent liberal, ex-finance minister Alexei Kudrin, to play a bigger role on a panel of economic experts that advises the Kremlin, in what might signal a change of tack in policy.

Russia's former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin attends a session of the Moscow Exchange Forum in Moscow, Russia, April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

With the Russian economy expected to shrink again in 2016 after slumping 3.7 percent in 2015, promoting Kudrin could be seen as an attempt to accelerate market reforms many economists say are needed to avert long-term stagnation.

Kudrin, who served as finance minister between 2000 and 2011, is admired by investors because of his conservative fiscal policies which helped to build up the large reserves that are now enabling Russia to weather its economic downturn.

“He (Kudrin) is one of our strongest and most useful experts,” Putin said during his annual televised phone-in with ordinary Russian citizens.

“We agreed that he will work more actively in the presidential expert council and maybe will be one of the council’s deputy heads.”

Kudrin resigned in 2011 in protest over high government spending, particularly on defense - an implicit attack on policies that Putin has strongly backed.

Since his resignation there has been persistent speculation that he might return to a more influential policy-making position.

The fact that this has not happened highlights continuing policy differences in Russia’s policy-making echelons. The expert council, which Putin himself heads, includes economists with statist views diametrically opposed to Kudrin’s liberalism.

The council has no deputy head at present.

Despite his amicable personal relations with Putin, Kudrin has criticized many aspects of government policy and called for more far-reaching reforms.

For example, he has called for Russia to reform its bloated state pension system by raising the retirement age - an unpopular step that Putin has so far shunned.

Reporting by Alexander Winning and Andrew Osborn; Writing by Jason Bush; Editing by Gareth Jones