The absolutely deficit-free budget under any changes in external factors is the main guarantee of the country's economic stability, Prime Minister of Russia Mikhail Kasyanov has said today when speaking before the deputies of the State Duma (the lower house of the parliament). Kasyanov further said that back in 1999 the entire budget of Russia was estimated at $20 billion and now, during the discussion of the budget for 2002, we already speak about the sum of over $60 billion. In this connection, the Prime Minister said, the scope of the tasks facing the state also changes. One of the most important of them is the conduct of a flexible fiscal and monetary policy. Mikhail Kasyanov said that thanks to the large budget surplus the government manages to solve the problem of debts. Today Russia's state debt has dropped from the recent 100 per cent of the gross domestic product to 55 per cent. Mikhail Kasyanov also said that today the country has actually reached the pre-crisis level of international confidence and international organisations have upgraded Russia's international credit rating. The Prime Minister pointed out to the need to conduct a tighter policy in relation to the country's industrial production. In the Prime Minister's opinion, it is necessary within the shortest time possible to bring the Russian industry up to the world level of competitiveness.
Presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak, who was accredited for the press conference by Vladimir Putin from Dozhd (Rain) television channel, asked Putin about competition at the coming election
On December 14, President Putin holds his annual Q&A session with Russian and foreign journalists. This conference is considered to be the beginning of his presidential campaign