Ex-Russia Fin Min: We need 'painful' structural reforms

Russia cannot blame the commodity slump alone for its recent economic woes, according to the country's former finance minister.

Speaking exclusively to CNBC at the Moscow Exchange London Forum on Tuesday, Alexei Kudrin acknowledged the ongoing impact of the weakness in commodities

"The drop in GDP (gross domestic product) this year mainly has to do with the drop in oil prices - it will be like this this year and next year," he said.

However, the former Russian finance head - who attended in his capacity as the chairman of the Moscow Exchange - highlighted other factors as being at least as important.

"We need structural reforms in various areas. That will lead to diversification. But these reforms are often painful and that is why the government postpones them to after parliamentary and presidential elections in early 2018," he said.

Kudrin suggested the reforms most needed are "primarily, the reform of the pension system, decentralization of the budget and allocation of more funds for infrastructure."

Mikhail Shamolin, CEO of Russian conglomerate Sistema, was more positive about the government's efforts. Also speaking to CNBC on Tuesday, he affirmed that the Russian government "is doing a lot in many different areas (to help) local businesses to develop."

Conceding that government policies will be critical in determining the trajectory of Russia's recovery, Shamolin added that he saw the biggest issue ahead as being whether or not privatization and de-monopolization of certain industries will take place.

With oil prices slumping this week to lows not seen since 2009, on the back of OPEC's decision to keep supply levels unchanged, it seems unlikely that Russia's economy would not be acutely impacted.

Indeed, this is a country which in 2013 depended on natural resources for an estimated 18 percent of total GDP, according to the World Bank.

Shamolin placed more emphasis on the hit Russia has taken from the commodities sell-off, conceding that its economy has long been structurally dependent on oil. He noted: "This doesn't change overnight."

"That cannot be overcome in one year or even two or three years", he added.

Economic sanctions following Russia's annexation of Ukraine are another challenge the country has had to deal with in the past two years. Yet, Shamolin pointed out the bright side of this hurdle.

"I think the whole situation creates opportunities in certain sectors such as agriculture where the growth rates have come up and demand has come up and loads of opportunities for local production have been generated," he said.

Nonetheless he agreed that their eventual removal would be helpful to government efforts to drive an economic turnaround, acknowledging that going forward it would be "better to be without sanctions than with sanctions."

Alexi Kudrin, former Russian finance minister.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Alexi Kudrin, former Russian finance minister.

What happens next with the sanctions is sharply in focus as Russia's relationship with the West morphs in the face of shifting geopolitical alliances surrounding the rise of the so-called Islamic State.

Kudrin echoed the Sistema CEO's point about improved diversification and its welcome effect on the economy, saying "we have an opportunity to diversify and are optimistic about improvements in productivity - something lacking in previous years."

Alexey Moiseev, Russia's deputy finance minister, also sounded an upbeat tone in London, telling CNBC that "in terms of the economy, most things we say, are priced in."

"Now we are looking into recovery mode definitely," he said.