Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Creates Anti-Crisis Body

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced plans Wednesday to set up a new anti-crisis body and put one of his top deputies in charge, as Russia battles with its worst financial crisis in 10 years, Russian news agencies reported.

First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov will head the new agency, which will be tasked with developing a coordinated approach to economic and social problems as Russia's economy heads into a severe downturn on the back of plunging oil prices and falling investor confidence.

"I believe it's critical to pool our efforts, so that we have a single center from which we can jointly target problems in the social sphere and those that arise in the economy in connection with the global financial crisis," Putin was quoted as saying by state-run news agency RIA-Novosti. "We mustn't separate these problems," he added.

Falling demand for metals and construction materials has led to widespread production cuts and mass job losses, and the state has swooped in to shore up Russia's banking system and bail out indebted companies. It has also spent tens of billions of dollars defending the national currency.

During a live phone-in with Putin last week, viewers' questions centered on issues such as wage arrears, unemployment and social benefits — a markedly different tone from previous years.

The new appointment will likely put Shuvalov, a former Kremlin chief economic aide, on the front line of Russia's response to growing economic concerns and social discontent.