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Kudrin Offers Rare Rebuke to Luzhkov

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin warned Mayor Yury Luzhkov on Thursday to keep a better eye on his city’s expenses and to focus on building the metro rather than increasing officials’ salaries.

The comments hit a sore point for Luzhkov — the overcrowded subway system — and were a rare rebuke from Kudrin, who typically does not respond to criticism from lower-ranking or regional officials.

Luzhkov, 73, had to fend off speculation in the run-up to the Moscow City Duma elections this month that the federal government is getting ready to replace him. Several prominent city officials have been investigated on suspicion of corruption in recent months.

Kudrin, also a deputy prime minister, has faced constant opposition to his fiscal conservatism since he took over the Finance Ministry in 2000, including from the ruling United Russia party. But his instance on saving windfall oil revenues won him high marks from economists, who said the stash has helped Russia avoid a worse economic downturn.

On Thursday, Kudrin told a State Duma working group that expenses for Moscow officials have risen 24 percent this year, or by 6 billion rubles ($206 million).

The figures, from a Moscow finance department report submitted to Kudrin on Sept. 14, showed a 19 percent rise in salaries, accounting for an additional 2.76 billion rubles in spending, he said.

“I think Yury Mikhailovich should study the results and statistics for Moscow more closely and keep his press service more honestly informed,” Kudrin said. “I could continue with what’s going on with the Moscow budget, there are so many interesting situations.”

City Hall spokesman Sergei Tsoi denounced the comments as false and said they were intended to “incite negative feelings among the capital’s residents regarding the Moscow government.” Management expenses have risen just 3 percent this year, he said.

Luzhkov has long made Kudrin-bashing a staple of his populist politics, most recently over the funding cuts to the metro. “Kudrin will achieve in 2010 what not even the Germans managed to do in 1941 — to halt the works at the metro,” he told a trade union earlier this month.

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