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    MOSCOW, APRIL 1, 2004, (RIA Novosti). - President Vladimir Putin promised to continue the practice of awarding grants to outstanding artists as he met with Culture & Media Minister Alexander Sokolov at the Kremlin Thursday.

    Mr. Putin suggested supplementing the list of eligible candidates with dramatic companies and folklore groups. In January 2003, he signed a decree establishing seven presidential grants to support orchestras and music & ballet theaters. Last year's awardees included Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, St. Petersburg's Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater, the National Symphony Orchestra of Russia, the Tchaikovsky Orchestra, and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. According to then-Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, this measure was aimed at curbing talent drain, with one in five U.S.-based string instrumentalists being an immigrant from Russia and the Former Soviet Union.

    At today's meeting with Sokolov, President Putin also spoke of ways to preserve the nation's architectural heritage. There are a lot of outstanding issues to address in this area, he noted. The Culture & Media Minister agreed that architectural heritage conservation should be a priority with the government.

    Dozens of architectural monuments have been demolished in recent years in Moscow alone. Those structures have fallen victim to money-thirsty construction companies, corrupt civil servants, and arrogant nouveau-riches, who want their new homes and offices to be located in the city's historical center.

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