Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the government should consider investing money held in the larger of its two sovereign wealth funds in regional development and strategic projects.
Putin’s comments, in an annual address to parliament, appeared to undermine efforts by Finance Minister Anton Siluanov to save Russia’s windfall oil revenues as insurance against a possible oil-price collapse.
Putin said Russia “can think about” investing some of the funds in the $89.5 billion National Welfare Fund in developing Eastern Siberia and the Far East, and part in strategic projects. He called for a government decision this year.
Putin’s comments come amid disagreements within Russia’s government over how to manage the country’s oil revenues. Energy levies account for half of federal revenues, making the budget highly sensitive to the oil price.
Russia is planning to introduce new budget rules within the next two months that will define how much of these revenues to save in the two sovereign wealth funds, the National Welfare Fund and the Reserve Fund, presently worth $62.3 billion.
While only the Reserve Fund is officially designated to protect the budget against lower oil prices, the fund was heavily depleted, having fallen to 3 per cent of gross domestic product from 10 per cent in 2008, when global markets crashed.
The National Welfare Fund is officially designated to secure Russia’s pension system, and plug a growing deficit in Russia’s state pension fund. It is mostly invested abroad in low-risk government securities.