* Russia addresses investment forum
* Promises reforms, warns against civil unrest
By Timothy Heritage
ST PETERSBURG, Russia, June 21 President
Vladimir Putin sought to reassure foreign investors on Thursday
that Russia was committed to liberal reforms and privatisation
and signalled to opponents that he would not allow protests to
develop into civil unrest.
Addressing concerns that his return to the presidency after
four years will stymie liberal reforms, Putin told an investment
forum in St Petersburg that he would tackle corruption and try
to reduce Russia's reliance on energy exports.
"We have worked out an entire programme of large-scale
reform. It has received broad public support. I see its
fulfillment as my primary task as president," Putin said in an
opening address the forum.
Privatisation, he said, must be fair and honest - a
reference to deals in the past that allowed a few businessmen to
amass wealth and power.
Putin described Russia as a strong country capable of
withstanding another global economic crisis, and made clear
Moscow would carry out reforms on its own terms.
He laced his speech with comparisons to other countries
which he portrayed as economically unstable and in crisis.
The former KGB spy was elected president with almost
two-thirds of the votes in March, despite the biggest protests
against him since he first rose to power in 2000.
His support has remained strong outside the big cities,
where protests have faded but not died since his election win,
and parliament has drastically increased the size of fines that
can be imposed on protesters who violate public order.
Making clear he would not allow the protests to go too far,
Putin said: "Thirst for change is doubtless the engine of
progress but it is becomes counter-productive and dangerous if
it leads to the destruction of civil peace."
The 59-year-old leader reasserted his commitment to a sound
fiscal policy, a floating currency and free capital flows in his
first speech to investors since returning to the Kremlin.
"Russia not only needs a deficit-free budget but a budget
with a reserve of resilience," Putin said.
He also said Russia would not impose restrictions on capital
flows. Some $80 billion left the country last year.
Putin said that Russia was prepared to deal with any fallout
from the euro zone's sovereign debt crisis, and stood ready to
reactivate a range of measures deployed to mitigate the
financial crash of 2008-09.