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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday hit back at public criticism from ex-finance minister Alexei Kudrin over failures in economic reforms and revealed the respected liberal had turned down an offer to return to office.
A member of the invited studio audience in Putin's annual question-and-answer session with the nation, Kudrin directly addressed the Russian strongman with rare face-to-face criticism of his rule.
"A system of half measures and half reforms will not work today," said Kudrin, slamming the government for failing to end Russia's dependence on oil and gas exports.
"I am not saying my opinion is the most important or true but there has to be a programme. Today we don't have a programme to turn the country away from oil dependency," said Kudrin.
Rumours has swirled earlier in the week that Putin would invite Kudrin back to work as an advisor to improve its investment climate, after he stepped down as finance minister in 2011 in a row over spending.
Without revealing what post he offered Kudrin, Putin revealed that the former minister turned the offer down.
"A proposal was made. He turned it down," said Putin, as Kudrin chuckled in the audience. "He does not want. A proposal was made. He turned it down,"
Putin also took issue with the more austere budgetary measures backed by liberal economists like Kudrin to cut spending and keep the deficit down.
"Harsh measures in the economy that do not look at the consequences in the social sphere are not always justified. Especially in our country, where the incomes of our citizens are still very modest," said Putin.