Q&A with Prime Minister Putin, Part III

Maria Sittel: Good afternoon, I am Maria Sittel and this is the annual special programme, “A Conversation with Vladimir Putin Continued”, broadcast live.

Ernest Mackevicius: When will Khodorkovsky be released?

Vladimir Putin: I’ve just returned from France, where I was asked the same question. This notorious personage is in prison because of a court decision. It is not important when he will be released, it is important to avoid repeating such crimes in this country.

This is a matter of economic crimes. By the way, the Yukos bankruptcy proceedings were initiated by Western creditors and banks. And all these proceedings were carried out in accordance with Russian law.

I have said this on several occasions, and I will make the point again today: The funds derived from auctioning Yukos assets went to the government budget, but not only to the government budget. When we received the funds – and the majority of assets were received in 2006 – I convinced my colleagues that we must not simply add these funds to the budget and dissolve them there, or channel them into reserve funds – although reserves have turned out very helpful these days – but use them to address the most pressing challenges.

The money that was once stolen from the people must be returned to them. And not to a vague group, but to the actual people who have found themselves in trouble as a result of the difficult, I’d even say tragic, economic developments of the early and mid-1990s. These funds should help the least well-off citizens of the Russian Federation. And so the 240 billion roubles earned from auctioning Yukos assets were used to create the Housing and Utilities Reform Fund.

Ten million people have taken advantage of the fund to repair their houses and flats, and 150,000 people will be relocated from slums into new blocks of flats. The fund will continue to work. Its reserves were also spent on landscaping in Russian towns and villages.

As for the other side, the criminal one, we will also operate within the framework of Russian law.

Unfortunately, no one recalls that one of the Yukos security chiefs is in jail too. Do you think he acted on his initiative and at his own risk? He had no actual interest. He was not the company’s main shareholder. It’s obvious that he acted in the interests and under the directives of his bosses. How he acted is a separate matter. At least five murders have been proven.

They wanted to include a tea shop building into their office in Moscow. The owner of this small business enterprise, a woman, was requested to give them her business. She refused to do that, and they hired a hitman who shot her just near her apartment, before her husband’s eyes.

The Mayor of Nefteyugansk demanded that Yukos pay taxes, and what happened to him? He was killed.

The people, a married couple, who were hired by Yukos’ security service to organise contract killings, tried to blackmail the company to get a share in the business, and they were also killed.

All of these crimes are proven, we should not forget about that.

But, of course, the life of Russian prisoners should be governed by the current Russian legislation. And the Government will act in accordance with this legislation.

Ernest Mackevicius: What is your relationship with George W. Bush?

Vladimir Putin: We haven’t met since we both left office. But I have to say that we have developed a very warm personal relationship. As I have said before, it helped us to solve some very difficult problems.

George is a very decent man and a good friend. I will be happy to continue working with him if such opportunity arises.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Putin, now let give our studio audience, the people who arrived here from various parts of the country? a chance to ask their questions.

In Tatiana Remezova’s sector, I see some people who want to ask a question.

Tatiana Remezova: Mr Putin, let us give the floor to a representative of the Tver Railway Carriage Plant, another problem facility which you visited about six months ago. You have recently mentioned orders for railway cars, and for these people it is a matter of survival. Let’s listen to him.

Go ahead, please.

Artur Demenyuk: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I am an electrician at the plant’s assembly shop.

On November 12, in a conversation with Vladimir Yakunin, you mentioned that there was an order for the Tver Railway Carriage Plant. We have a preliminary agreement to supply 511 railway cars. As you may remember, for a plant that produces 1,200 cars a year, it is a very small order. If the order does not include more products, every fourth worker may be laid off. The plant needs to make at least 700 cars to survive.

Vladimir Putin: Artur Fyodorovich, we talked about it during my visit to Tver. It was a pleasure to talk to your colleagues because you are real professionals with profound understanding of politics and economics, and our discussion was at a very high level.

All of us understand that the order can be only made by a company that needs your production, and this is, primarily, Russian Railways. But apart from your plant, there are probably even bigger enterprises manufacturing this production, for example, Uralvagonzavod. I have visited your plant and I am planning to visit Uralvagonzavod, too. But regardless of my visits, we need to take care of the transport machine-building industry in general, and the plants that work directly with Russian Railways. We need to improve efficiency and boost economic recovery, which demands an increase in shipments. Improving this will lead to economic growth, and Russian Railways’ profits will grow as well.

We cannot support all our infrastructure monopolies from the budget, because we also need funds to fulfil our social obligations, including raising pensions. But we will do that to some extent, like we did last year. We have promised to give 25 billion roubles to Russian Railways but we will manage, ultimately, to increase the sum, as a minimum, to 50 billion in 2010, as it was this year.

I am aware of the situation at your plant, and I keep in touch with your shareholders. We have met in the Moscow Region recently. We discussed some other issues, but I talked to Mr Bokarev about your enterprise, too. Also, I had a conversation with the head of Russian Railways and we agreed that the order for the Tver Railway Carriage Plant for 2010 will be the same as in 2009.

Artur Demenyuk: Well, all right. I think the country needs the railway cars we produce.

Vladimir Putin: The order will probably be for fewer cars but for more locomotives. In general, I was assured that the total will be nosmaller than in 2009, and can even be larger because of an increase in Russian Railways’ profits due to an increased volume of transportation.

Ernest Mackevicius: The rows on the right have been silent for a long time.

Alexander Khristenko, please.

Alexander Khristenko: Mr Putin, please, let young people speak. This sector is very active. We have students here with different majors who come from different cities. I think they have plenty of questions to ask. Who would like to start?

M. Panina: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I graduated from the Siberian State University of Communication Routes this year. Now I am doing postgraduate studies, like many of my friends, and working as a teacher. We are active and ambitious young people, and we understand that what we do now will influence Russia’s future. Sometimes we think about the objectives of Russia’s young people.

Mr Putin, could you tell us please what kind of a country are we supposed to build? What will be Russia’s future?

Vladimir Putin: You know, when we talk about this country, about Russia, we start with its economy, efficiency and competitiveness, and all that is very important. But our ultimate goal is people. Russia is its people, and we must make them happy, improve their lives, as well as Russia’s healthcare services, security, defence potential and infrastructure. We have a great deal of work ahead of us.

You successfully graduated from university and are doing your postgraduate studies now.. Each person has her or his own goals. I hope that we can achieve all the goals we set.

Alexander Khristenko: Let’s take one more question.

N. Rostovsky: I am a student at St Petersburg State University.

We have not touched on the subject of sport yet, which I am very interested in. I would like to ask you a question.

The Russian national football team has failed to get to the UEFA Cup finals. But we are planning to try promoting our bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Football Championship. Is it the only way for our national football team to participate in the World Championship, or do we have a more ambitious goal?

Vladimir Putin: Do you play football?

N. Rostovsky: Yes, I do.

Vladimir Putin: Do you want Russia to be the host country for the 2018 UEFA Cup?

N. Rostovsky: Sure, but I understand that this is going to be very difficult, because we don’t have the infrastructure for that.

Vladimir Putin: I absolutely agree with you.

First, you just said two very important things: “I want it”, and “we don’t have the infrastructure.” We did not have the infrastructure to host the 2014 Olympics. We don’t have the infrastructure to host the 2012 Universiade in Kazan. Actually, our infrastructure is obsolete, but we need to develop it. We don’t have enough infrastructure to hold an APEC summit in the Far East.

Speaking of the 2014 Olympics, we are finishing the construction of the road around Sochi. There was no normal water supply, no sewage; all waste is dumped into the sea. And this is Russia’s largest resort. But we have been working on that.

We have recently launched a new power plant and are going to launch another one. Every winter, Sochi has problems with electricity supply because power lines ice up. Gazprom has been constructing a gas pipe to solve this problem.

Frankly, if we did not have such a goal, we would never turn Sochi into a popular resort. And that is what we intend to do.

This also applies to the UEFA World Cup. We do not have the infrastructure, but if we win the right to host the championships, it will be easier to concentrate administrative and financial resources on the development of infrastructure. We will need to do a lot more than build ten stadiums. The rules stipulate that the Olympic Games take place in one city, while FIFA, as Mr Blatter [Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA President] told me, tries to include as many cities as possible to develop their sports infrastructure. And a lot more than just sports infrastructure.

We will need to build new hotels, renovate roads, provide communications, energy, sewage and water supplies, and renovate or construct airports. And all of this will be for people, regardless of our performance at the 2018 Cup. I hope we will play better than this year, when our team lost the chance to take part in the championship finals in South Africa.

Alexander Khristenko: Mr Putin, let’s give the far rows a chance to speak. I think they have given up hope already.

Go ahead, please.

A. Ovdina: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I am a student at the Siberian Federal University. I would like to ask you this question.

You have recently visited the Battle for Respect hip-hop contest. Did you do it to improve your approval rating?

And one more question. At the present moment, the main function of the television is entertainment; it lacks popular scientific and educational programmes. We have started making such programmes at our university’s television.

Do you think Russia needs a national TV channel for students, especially now, when new federal universities are being established?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s start with the national TV channel for students. Each national channel has programmes for young people. And there are many entertainment channels for teenagers. But it is pretty difficult to combine entertainment and education, and I agree with you on this issue. The heads of TV channels, including state ones, should work on that.

As regards my participation in the programme Battle for Respect. The truth is that the programme itself was initiated by the Healthcare Ministry and financed from the federal budget as a campaign aimed at combating smoking, drugs and alcohol abuse. We are speaking about young people, of course. It has nothing to do with approval ratings, because, fortunately, we are not having elections now.

But we cannot pretend that there are no young people who are interested in breakdancing and other contemporary movements. We have to work with them, too.

You know, when I was there, I really liked these young people, not only those who gave excellent performances, but also the people who attended the show. They are young and very trusting, so it is very important what it is said and done by their idols. And we should make sure these idols do positive things.

Until recently, the people who were promoting these arts, were promoting drugs, too. Now our rappers are combating drugs, and we must thank them for that.

I believe that the government should work with all age groups, and, in particular, with young people. 17% of Russians die of smoking-related diseases. The number of deaths from drug abuse is slightly lower. And we are all know about deaths caused by alcohol.

That’s why we have launched several campaigns promoting healthy lifestyle. I want them to be implemented at both federal and regional levels. And I am counting on the initiatives of youth organisations, because working with teenagers is our top priority.

Farida Kurbangaleyeva: Mr Putin, young people from my sector also want to ask you a question. Would you let them speak, please?

Please, introduce yourself.

Andrei Kurikov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I’m Andrei Kurikov, a student at the St Petersburg Mining Institute.

Apart from other issues, you mentioned employment today. And I would like to ask a question about that. Do you plan to take part in the 2012 presidential election campaign?

Vladimir Putin: Do you?

Andrei Kurikov: No, I don’t.

Vladimir Putin: I will think about it. I have enough time for this. In my view, everyone should do what he or she must, and work effectively. We will make decisions on the 2012 election based on the situation in the economy and in the social sphere. But this is 2009. The biggest mistake would be to adjust our current work based on the interests of future election campaigns at the regional, municipal or federal levels. When you start thinking about your ratings or about what you should do in the interests of future election campaigns, you will immediately feel tied to that and unable to make decisions some of which may be unpleasant but important for the economy and ultimately for the people.

This freedom allows me to talk, say, with the workers of the Tver rail car plant not about their potential support for my future election campaign, but about the best ways to resolve current problems at the plant, and to openly discuss their problems and difficulties.

As for your higher educational establishment, I can only envy you. I know that the Mining Institute in St Petersburg is one of the best in the world in terms of equipment and tuition. It is a pity that few people in this country know this. On the other hand, you receive considerable support from the companies that hire your graduates. The energy companies do not scrimp with money, thank God, and have turned the Mining Institute into a superior school. I wish you further success.

Ernest Mackevicius: We have one more live stand-up, with Novokuznetsk. We give the floor to Kuzbass and our special correspondent Andrei Baranov.

Andrei Baranov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin, colleagues. This is the Kemerovo Region speaking.

We are broadcasting from the main, or as they say here the administration building of the Polosukhinskaya mine near Novokuznetsk, a city of steel workers and miners. They describe it as the “iron heart” of Kuzbass and Siberia, and also the capital of South Kuzbass. In the last century it was praised as a garden city, but the romanticism has worn thin since then. Even the most successful companies in the region have been affected by the global economic downturn.

Miners and other workers of the Polosukhinskaya and other local mines have gathered in this hall. We decided against gathering in the mine itself, because people are working there and a mine is not the right place for broadcasting. Most of them had a chance to talk with you, Mr Putin, last March, when you were in the city. Today we will continue the conversation you started then.

Those who have questions should raise their hands.

Nikolai Syrov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I would like to say that our meetings have become a tradition and to thank you for your attention to our region.

Now I’d like to go back to our previous meeting. I think we met at a very difficult time, when we were in limbo, our future unclear. The situation has clarified since then. We have been working a full workweek since August, coal prices have their resumed growth, although slowly, and the demand for coal has increased. Unfortunately, this happened because of the accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant.

However, we have not yet regained the pre-crisis level in terms of wages or coal prices. So, I’d like to know what to expect because we live in a coal region and depend on coal one way or another. We are not confident of the future.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Nikolay Anatolyevich, first I also remember our meeting and would like to thank all the miners who attended it. I want to thank them for their mood at that difficult time. You were right when you said there was much uncertainty with a decline in production and slumping markets. Under those circumstances, I was impressed by your inner confidence, composure and your sense of responsibility and discipline. Miners have always been special people, but your mood during that meeting encouraged and supported me. It is for this moral support that I want to thank you.

Indeed, the market is gradually recovering. It has recovered 90% for energy coal and approximately 85% for coking coal. I am confident that it will recover 100% along with the growth of the global economy and the general Russian economy.

But the point at issue is not the global economic recovery; the point at issue is that we should shift the focus to the domestic market. I have already spoken today about the power industry. We have challenging plans to increase the generating capacity. We commissioned 13,000 megawatts in the previous ten years and should commission 10,000 megawatts over the next two years. This means that the domestic demand for your output will grow.

In addition, coal-fuelled power plants are modernising their equipment, which is becoming more environmentally friendly and efficient. And this offers new vistas for the coal industry.

And lastly, I would like to draw your attention to a highly important point. Gas prices are now lower relative to other primary energy resources, but we think that there should be a balance among the primary energy sources, including coal. Prices and pricing formulas should be gradually balanced out in the economy. In terms of industries, such as the coal industry, this means that the future will be more stable and the stability horizon will be pushed back farther. .

Also, I am confident that machine engineering and the auto industry will develop requiring more capacity from the steel and mining sectors.

Some companies, mines and villages have problems with efficiency, and we are aware of it. Working jointly with shareholders and regional authorities, we will gradually, without undue haste, create conditions that will ensure jobs and establish modern, efficient businesses. There is a list of problems, but we can resolve them promptly and effectively.

Ernest Mackevicius: Andrei, do you have any more questions for Mr Putin?

Andrei Baranov: Mr Putin, this is not a question. There is one of your Kuzbass friends in the audience, miner Yevgeny Denk, to whom you gave a lift in your service car. He asked for an opportunity to speak.

Go ahead, ask your question please, Evgeny Alexandrovich.

Yevgeny Denk: Good afternoon, Mr Putin

I would like to thank you for visiting Novokuznetsk to deal with the issue of unfit housing, and want to let you know that those 9 barracks in Verkhny district have been torn down, even the basement has been demolished. Three hundred individuals have been rehoused and have settled into their new apartments. On behalf of everyone here, I would like to express our sincere gratitude for your assistance.

I have swapped apartments with my mother-in-law. Her four-bedroom apartment was slightly larger than mine. I have a son and a daughter, and now they each have a room of their own. They also asked me to send you their greetings. I don’t really have a question, I just wanted to say thank you on behalf of all residents and also personally, from me.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, Yevgeny Alexandrovich.

I am very glad that I now have some more friends in Kuzbas. I am glad that we were able to help you resolve your housing problems. Hopefully, together with the regional authorities and the Governor, we will be able to continue these programmes, as there is still a lot of unfit housing that needs to be demolished and many people who need to be rehoused.

The housing and communal services fund, as I have already mentioned, will continue throughout next year, and for the years to come until the problem is resolved.

I hope your mother in law doesn’t feel that she lost out in your apartment swap.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you, Mr Putin. Thank you, Novokuznetsk. Let us continue to work. We have already been on air for three hours.

And now for a question submitted online:

“Recently, we have often seen you on TV and photographs, there has been a lot of coverage of you with tigers, leopards, and whales. It seems like you feel more comfortable with those animals, than with your ministers. Is this indeed the case or does it just seem like that? “

By the way, you were recently elected chair of the Russian Geographic Society’s council of trustees. What does that title mean to you? I am asking, because people are also interested in that aspect of your work.

Vladimir Putin: I believe it was Frederick II, the Prussian king, who said “The more I get to know people, the more I like dogs.”

Of course, that has nothing to do with how I get on with the ministers, my friends or my colleagues. It is just that I am fond of animals, so I take advantage of my current job to try to resolve the most acute problems in that area. Are you aware that our Red list includes many animals that are on the brink of extinction and extermination?

Among them – the Amur tigers in the Far East of which there are only 500 left. That is a critical number. The Far Eastern leopards are in an even worse situation. Scientists estimate that there are approximately 50 to 60 species of leopards left.

They are being exterminated for no reason, just for the fun of it. They do not cause any significant harm to local residents. And I do not think they have any value as a hunting trophy either.

The tigers are being exterminated because our neighbors in China use every bit of them from their tails to their whiskers. There a tiger is an iconic animal. We have also been taking measures relating to white whales because they, too, are facing problems. Next year, I believe we will extend this programme to include the white bear, as it is also endangered. In general, I would urge everyone to pay more attention to problems in the animal world and the environment.

I have already mentioned the Sochi 2014 Olympics. In conjunction with environmental organizations, we are doing everything possible to make sure that the government resources are used not only to avoid any damage to the environment, but also to improve it. I have already mentioned the construction of treatment facilities, for example. This is certainly a step in the right direction. In addition, you might have noticed that the official emblem of almost every North Caucasus republic has a Caucasian leopard depicted on it. But, there are no leopards currently left in the Caucasus, they were all wiped out in the 1950’s.

As part of our Olympics preparations, in conjunction with one of the organizers, Mr Killy from the International Olympic Committee, we are implementing a programme to revive the population of these animals across the Caucasus. We have received several species from Turkmenistan with the kind assistance of the country’s president. Unfortunately, I believe due to a technicality, for the moment they have stopped sending us animals. We may need to ask for President’s assistance again, and I really hope that he will help, as he has been very supportive on this issue in the past.

There are similar animals in Iran, but it turns out that not all leopards are the same. We used to believe that snow leopards were completely extinct in Tuva, but now the snow leopard population there is being revived.

Once again I would like to urge everyone to engage in this rewarding work actively and voluntarily.

Ernest Mackevicius: There are many people left in the studio who want to ask the Prime Minister a question. Tatiana Remezova, choose someone from your section.

Tatiana Remezova: Yes, here on the upper level we have residents of Tula, representatives of a defence industry, the Shcheglovsky Val company, where they make weapons and air defence systems.

Who wants to ask a question?

Here’s someone of the fairer sex. I think that it will be interesting to hear her question. Please introduce yourself, and what is your question?

Yelena Bozhenkova: I install communications equipment and devices. Mr Putin, you recently visited our company and said that the defence industry had good prospects despite the crisis. Our colleagues from Komsomolsk-on-Amur confirm that state orders have really become more regular.

With all of this going on, why is the Defence Ministry announcing that it plans to buy a French helicopter carrier and other Western equipment? It’s like the fable about the Swan, the Pike and the Crab [Ed. One of Krylov’s fables – Once a Swan, a Pike, and a Crab tried to pull a loaded cab. They pulled hard and did not flinch, but they gained no ground as the Swan pulled hard toward the sky, the Crab tried to crawl backwards, and the Pike made for the river nearby. In short, they could not agree on a unified approach.]

Vladimir Putin: No, it’s not turning out that way. The defence industry does indeed have some decent figures. I already said that while industry is declining on the whole, and considerably, the defence industry is doing the opposite – it’s growing. This year, in any case, it grew by 3.7%. On the whole, this a good figure.

But the defence industry has very many problems and now, if you noticed, we are conducting a sector-by-sector analysis of it – including conventional weapons, rocket and space technology, the navy, anti-aircraft defence and so on. And there are lots of problems associated with the need to modernise our leading companies, because we cannot use 1950s-era equipment to produce modern weapons for our defence capacity.

All of these issues are resolvable. We’re resolving them and will continue to resolve them.

As for weapons purchases and sales, we are No. 2 in the world in terms of volume of sales to foreign markets, and of course, we don’t need to buy weapons from abroad to provide for our defence capacity.

In order to work efficiently on foreign markets, we are already manufacturing many of our items according to NATO standards. This makes these items easier to sell, and therefore, naturally, our defence department is looking at various items on the foreign markets, which in this case means the Mistral. The decision to buy has not been made yet, and before we make such a decision, we, of course, will consider it thoroughly and look at the capabilities of today’s defence industry, including military shipbuilding.

But when our defence contractors determine the final prices for products, they also have to understand that they have competition. But we will certainly rely on the domestic defence industry when resolving issues of the defensive sufficiency and defence capacity of the Russian state.

Ernest Mackevicius: There’s an important question from the Internet which has to do with everything we talked about today.

It’s a question from Andrei Shatov from Krasnokamensk in the Zabaikalye Territory.

“You often visit places where people work, and often meet with workers and field questions from ordinary people. You always react to strong signals and decide many issues right on the spot. Can it be that officials in our country are unable to solve problems without the Prime Minister?

Vladimir Putin: Officials can and do solve many problems – particularly my colleagues in the Russian government. They work a lot. It needs to be said that these are very competent people, very professional. They have really become experts in their fields – and that is no exaggeration. They work a lot.

I would now like to take the opportunity – at government meetings, it’s different; I’m more critical there – to publicly thank them for the work we do together, because they do a lot and have done much in order for the country to get through this difficult period, which is the most difficult period in the past 10 years, with minimal losses.

In my view, everyone should do what he or she must, and work effectively. We will make decisions on the 2012 election based on the situation in the economy and in the social sphere. But this is 2009. The biggest mistake would be to adjust our current work based on the interests of future election campaigns at the regional, municipal or federal levels. When you start thinking about your ratings or about what you should do in the interests of future election campaigns, you will immediately feel tied to that and unable to make decisions some of which may be unpleasant but important for the economy and ultimately for the people.

This freedom allows me to talk, say, with the workers of the Tver rail car plant not about their potential support for my future election campaign, but about the best ways to resolve current problems at the plant, and to openly discuss their problems and difficulties.

As for your higher educational establishment, I can only envy you. I know that the Mining Institute in St Petersburg is one of the best in the world in terms of equipment and tuition. It is a pity that few people in this country know this. On the other hand, you receive considerable support from the companies that hire your graduates. The energy companies do not scrimp with money, thank God, and have turned the Mining Institute into a superior school. I wish you further success.

Ernest Mackevicius: Although we broke the traditions of our live phone-ins several times today, I would like to keep one tradition intact. You usually make your own selection for a series of quick questions and answers. What did you pick this time?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, indeed, I have just mentioned text messages that come over the Internet. I have picked out some. But I have seen a forest of raised hands and not everyone has had a chance to ask a question. Let us do it now. Air time is limited, so please be brief.

N. Salomei: Good afternoon. Moscow Physical-Technical Institute. I would like to ask how the Government is going to go about solving the problem of the shortage of qualified teachers in rural schools.

Vladimir Putin: Of course you should give people an incentive to go to these villages, there is no other way. Labour, especially skilled labour, moves and concentrates in places where they can best use their skills. It has to do with housing, above all for young teachers, and with higher pay. These are the main attractions.

We have a Federal Programme of Rural Social Development and many regions have programmes to help young families acquire housing. They target young professionals, including teachers. We are going to expand these programmes.

G. Zhukova: I would like to thank you on behalf of the large staff of the Russian State Social University. Thank you for the attention you pay to the development of the social services. You are familiar with our university and we suggest that you take a closer look at it. We would like to invite you to visit our University.

But I would like to draw your attention to yet another problem that emerged this year. This is 2009, Youth Year, and we have been unlawfully deprived of our youth convalescence and preventative care centre Ruza. The Federal Tax Service is very actively involved in this issue. We would appreciate it if you could help to sort this matter out. This a request on behalf of the many thousands of our workers.

Vladimir Putin: I cannot comment on that, of course, because I do not know the situation on the ground, but we will look into it.

Let’s have a question from a man in a uniform.

A.Nosov: Civil Defense Academy under the Ministry for Emergencies.

The law on the mortgage accumulation system for servicemen does not take into account the size of the serviceman’s family, and the prices of real estate in different regions. Formerly, a serviceman’s academic degree was taken into account, but not any longer.

Can a serviceman choose whether to stick to the old housing provision system and remain on the waiting list or switch to the new system?

Vladimir Putin: You are right, the size of the family is not taken into account. A flat is allocated for a family. I think these flats have a total area of 56 square metres. The people who wrote the law assumed that it would be the minimum size a person could get from the government. If one wants a higher-class and larger flat, he should think about it in advance.

On the whole, some corrections can be made. This is connected with the huge federal budget outlays.

When I was in St Petersburg recently we discussed the housing problems of servicemen. I had invited to join me in St Petersburg the governors of the regions where we are planning to build housing for servicemen in 2010 for those who are entitled to it now, in 2010. By the way, those who are due to retire in 2011 and 2012 will stay within that system and get housing under that scheme. Everyone who joins the mortgage scheme will get a flat under that military scheme.

I would like you and everyone in the audience here and people throughout the country to note that the mortgage accumulations for servicemen are financed entirely out of the federal budget. While I was in St Petersburg an idea occurred to me how to stimulate the birth rate in the military: Families that have two children or more could be offered a housing bonus, even within the mortgage system. It is not about metres of floorspace, but additional subsidies; we should calculate all this and I think we will go ahead with this idea.

Let’s have one last question from the middle of the hall and then…

Ernest Mackevicius: Yes, Mr Putin will answer the questions from those who are not in the studio, but who had sent in their questions earlier.

Last question, please.

Question: Good afternoon. My name is Alexander and I am from the Bauman Technical University Innovation and Young Entrepreneurs Centre.

This is my question: Will innovative solutions be introduced in education and will the state support such initiatives?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we have such plans and the government is already supporting them. I mentioned the contest in September and the results have been reviewed to choose the top 14 innovative higher education institutions in the country. They will get government funding on account of their innovative programmes in the amount of 1.8 billion roubles for five years to buy additional equipment and develop the innovative educational programmes you have referred to.

Thank you.

Let us now move on to these questions, otherwise we will be off the air.

Ernest Mackevicius: It’s all right, we are on the air for more than three and a half hours.

Vladimir Putin: Good.

A question from Alexandra Maslennikova from Kostroma. I chose this question because I think it is important. Let me read it out.

“Pensions for all the categories of pensioners are being raised. There will be valorization of pensions as of January 1, 2010.” Mrs Maslennikova knows what valorization is. “I would like to ask what will happen to us pensioners (sergeants, warrant officers) of the Defense Ministry. My pension is 3,610 roubles. Will we have our pensions raised?”

Let me say from the start for the benefit of Mrs Maslennikova and anyone else it may concern that in 2010 there should be no people in the Russian Federation whose pensions are below the pensioner’s subsistence minimum in the region where they live. If the pension is less than the pensioner’s cost of living in the region, these people will have additional benefits from the regional or federal budgets. The schemes may differ but a supplement to the pension must be paid.

Now about the military pensioners. It is not such a simple matter. But it is being addressed. There are some servicemen who have served in the Armed Forces for some time and then retired and have earned some seniority in civilian life. If that seniority is no less than 5 years then that person can choose whether to use the rules of the so-called valorisation, i.e. recomputation of his pension earned during the Soviet period, if he feels that is better for him. It is up to him. If he decides against it he may draw his pension as a military pensioner, and that pension of course is higher than the average labour pension across the country.

Here is a question about government ministers: “We would like to see other government ministers act like you, the transport minister take a drive along the roads in the Moscow Region, and Mrs Golikova visit a polyclinic.”

They are no strangers to roads, pharmacies and polyclinics. If you think that is not enough we will intensify their movements around the country. The main thing is that it should be useful.

A very important question about social services: “You have promised in front of the whole nation not to send disabled people who have lost the use of their legs for a repeat examination by VTEK (the commission that certifies the disabled). I went to have prostheses fitted and they sent me to a medical commission. I sent both the prosthesis and the Commission to hell. Yuri Gustar, Category 1 disability for life. The Nosvosibirsk Region.”

Mr Gustar, the decision was made in April 2007 under a Government Decree. The disabled who have lost a limb or function of a limb do not have to go through a VTEK examination again. If they referred you to VTEK, this was unlawful. I want to remind all the officials concerned that the decisions of the government of the Russian Federation must be complied with.

There is one nuance though: if they sent you not to VTEK, but for a medical check-up to determine what prosthetic work you need, that is another matter. But nobody has the right to send you to VTEK anymore.

“Why doesn’t the government introduce a monopoly on the sale of alcohol? Zinaida Vinogradova, Ivanovo”

Mrs Vinogradova, the experts in this field believe that a monopoly on the sale of alcoholic drinks will not solve the problems of the government and its citizens. Decisions are being developed which would tax alcohol itself, the alcohol plants. We assume that in this way the state will collect all the money due to the state at the initial stage in alcohol production and thus avoid, among other things, the production of fake products that harm people’s health.

“Mr Putin, (this is a text message) why is it that they cut bureaucracies every year and yet there are more and more bureaucrats? They multiply faster than they are made redundant.”

In general our demographic process is picking up. Apparently it is a trend that applies to bureaucrats as well.

Joking apart, it is a major problem. The bureaucratic apparatus is ballooning in spite of our efforts to cut various positions and overlapping structures at the regional and federal levels. Even so, we will continue the downsising effort.

“Above all please take drastic measures to improve physical education in schools. Arnold Stolyarov.”

Mr Stolyarov, let me repeat that the school system is the responsibility primarily of the regional and municipal authorities, although I agree with you that it is not getting its due share of attention. We can issue recommendations and step up the pressure at the federal level. I think that in spite of the objections of our financial agencies, which argue that we should not “earmark” federal subsidies to the regions, it should be done in some areas, including healthcare and education. We shall certainly think about it.

“Do you consider Stalin’s role on the whole to be positive or negative?” I have left that question in because I am aware how sensitive it is. There is much debate in society, and I see ”an ambush” here: If I say “positive” some people will get angry, and if I say “negative” other people will be angry. But because the subject of Stalin and Stalinism is still mooted, I left that question in deliberately.

I don’t think it would be right to give a blanket assessment. Obviously, between 1924 and 1953, when Stalin led the country, it changed dramatically: It turned from an agrarian country into an industrialized one. True, there were no peasants left and we all remember well the problems, especially in the final period, with agriculture, the food queues, etc. All that happened in the rural areas had no positive impact. But industrialisation was accomplished.

We won the Great Patriotic War. Whoever and whatever might say, victory had been won. Even if we go back to the question of casualties, you know, nobody can today throw stones at those who organised and led us to victory because if we had lost that war, the consequences to our country would have been far more catastrophic. They are hard to imagine.

All the undeniable positive things, however, had been accomplished at an unacceptable price. Repressions did take place. It is a fact. Millions of our fellow citizens suffered from them. Such a method of running the state, of achieving results is unacceptable. It is impossible. Undoubtedly, during that period we were confronted not only with a personality cult, but with massive crimes against our own people. That is a fact too. We must not forget about it either.

Any historical event should be analysed in its entirety. That is what I would like to say.

“What in your opinion impedes Russia’s development most of all?” One can philosophise on that score endlessly. I would permit myself just two remarks.

In the sphere of mentality, of course, it is the socialised consciousness, the expectation that the state should solve all the problems. That of course restricts individual initiative.

We were just speaking about the Soviet period. You know, at the first stage there was a lot of what was positive, the revolutionary elan. You remember the revolutionary song that went like this: “No one will bestow salvation on us, neither God, nor Tsar nor Hero, we will achieve it… (there were some more words there) with our own hands.” That slogan unfortunately was lost. In the Soviet times people were bereft of initiative. This attitude is still embedded in our mentality, I think everyone expects decisions to come from the government. That is important and necessary, but we should also seek to give every person an opportunity to fulfil his or her potential as an individual.

In the economy the main problem is the structure of the economy that had taken shape, the planned economy. Such economic system is like an Egyptian pyramid: It is powerful but clumsy and very inert when it comes to change. It is sometimes easier to build a new enterprise in a new place, in a green field and it will be competitive, effective and modern, than to overhaul what we have inherited from the past. That said, we should do the latter as well.

“Can you recall the happiest day of your life? Dasha, 16.”

Dear Dasha, I think the fact that we are alive is happiness bestowed on us by our Lord. We tend to forget that life is finite. But if we remember it, then we will know that every day we have lived is a happy day.

“Do your subordinates tell you jokes about you?”

No, they don’t. Some of my subordinates are also my friends, and they do sometimes try it, but those who are just subordinates do not.

“It’s great that casinos and gambling machines have been shut down. But in Kemerovo they have been replaced with Internet cafes with the same gambling machines where people lose all their money. I would ask you on behalf of thousands of people to get rid of this evil once and for all.”

These people are trying to use loopholes in the legislation but these loopholes are ephemeral. In reality, by law, all places where gambling takes place must be shut down. I think that what cases like this really indicate, is corruption in the local government, administration and law enforcement agencies. We will tackle this separately.

“What do you think about the situation in the North Caucasus? Events in Ingushetia and Dagestan may spark a new war in the Caucasus.”

No, there is no risk that they will spark a new war in the Caucasus. The situation is complicated, and has several causes. Illegal armed units and groups of extremists still operate there, sometimes even with a feeling of impunity. This is a fact and we know about it. We will continue to fight them, until they are completely destroyed.

At the same time, we must pay more attention to social and economic issues. We need to: create new jobs that pay well, resolve social problems and counter corruption and the clan system. Sadly, corruption is not less of a problem in the Caucasus than elsewhere in the country, and in some cases it is an even greater problem than it is, on average, elsewhere. Unfortunately, the problem is rooted in tradition, and history is in part to blame. But this should not prevent us from resolving the problem.

So, I think that we will achieve positive results if we work towards it.

“Why is there continuing enmity between Ukraine and Russia? Why does Ukraine hate us?”

That’s not true. You cannot say that Ukraine hates us. I, for one, love Ukraine, and I’m sure that millions of Russian citizens feel similarly.

What does Ukraine mean? What does Russia mean? That’s not true. You cannot say that Ukraine hates us. I, for one, love Ukraine, and I’m sure that millions of Russian citizens feel similarly.

What does Ukraine mean? What does Russia mean? Those words primarily refer to people. A country is made up of its people. A country consists of people rather than merely territories or natural riches. There is so much that has linked us with Ukraine in the past, there is so much today that links us, and so much that will continue to link our two countries in the future.

However, certain individuals who have made their way into the Ukrainian leadership are exploiting our current problems, our past and present difficulties. I would like to emphasise that they are doing this out of their selfish political interests. But they will not succeed in destroying these centuries-long ties between Ukraine and Russia.

“We have three computers in our school. Could you allocate some money for us? Student of the ninth grade Tanya Kapnitskaya.”

Tanya, just like old man Khottabych in the folk tale, I will provide a computer for every student in your school. It is not difficult. Almost every school has been supplied with computers. Maybe, there are a few educational institutions where the computerisation programme has not been completed. Where they only have computer classes, and not every student has a computer.

Since you have managed to get through to me, I consider it my duty to respond to your request.

“Why is it that great people suffer from depression? Mr Putin, how do you fight depression?”

I don’t consider myself as being in the category of “great people”, and therefore do not suffer from depression.

“You said ‘it will all work out’ but did not specify how.”

You didn’t listen. I spoke for a whole hour at the party congress about ways and means of resolving those problems currently facing the country. We have a programme for Russia’s development until 2020. Its focuses on modernising the economy, pursuing innovation, developing individual industries and agriculture, and provides for the wholesale restructuring of the economy. It also looks at social development, healthcare, education, and the reform of the pension system. The programme contains has all that. Needless to say, we need to make additional adjustments in response to the changing reality, but we are not abandoning those goals.”

The next message is in the spirit of what I have just said. “It will all work out for you and the rest of our citizens.”

“Mr Putin, I’m speaking to you on behalf of all people in Dagestan…” They are inviting me to lead the election campaign in Dagestan.

I will think about it. Thank you very much for the honour. It is really an honour, the people of Dagestan are really unique. I will never forget their actions in the face of international terrorism. They not only defended the interests of their republic, they defended the interests of Russia as a whole.

“Will Russia help the United States after its collapse?”

If this happens, there will be a lot to pay because the United States is the world’s biggest power, economic power, and we have extensive links with it. It is one of our most important partners, and the global economy is very closely intertwined with the US economy. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to wish problems on any country. We would all be better off living in a prosperous world, rather than in a world of disasters.

“On December 3 I’m turning 55. Could you please congratulate me on camera? Respectfully, Tatyana Romanenko, Rostov Region.”

Dear Tatyana! Please accept my most heartfelt congratulations on your 55th birthday! I wish you every success. (Applause)

All those present in the studio join my congratulations.

“Mr Putin, I worked at a factory… She continues to send her wishes that I will omit. Thank you for your positive response to what we are doing.”

One more question is linked with medical examinations carried out by the Medical Expert Commission (VTEK) on disabled people who have suffered permanent loss of some of their abilities.

I have already said this and will not repeat myself, a Government resolution to this effect has been valid since 2007 and all officials must comply with it. No such people should be referred for examination to the Medical Expert Commission.

“Why don’t all able-bodied people work in this country? It is necessary to make sure that salaries and wages for all professions should not differ from one another by more than five times.”

I am in complete agreement with this. There is an enormous gap between those people who earn high incomes, and those on the minimum wage. It is one of the key economic and social problems. We must bridge that gap. We have a special programme on combating poverty. The crisis has shaken it a little, but we will definitely implement it fully in the future. That is something we’ll work on.

Furthermore: “Pensions should be no less than 50% of the salary.” (Apparently, going by the average salary).

In European countries, this ratio is 40%. Experts call it the “pension replacement ratio,” that is the relationship between the pension and the average salary. After pensions are increased here by 46% next year, our replacement ratio will be 39.9% nearly 40%. We are approaching that figure.

“What do these annual question-and-answer sessions with Russian citizens mean to you?”

I have already mentioned this. While preparing for this event, my colleagues and I study a host of incoming requests, demands, and information. Incidentally, this shows that for a lot of people in this country life is still difficult. There is a great deal we need to do in order to reduce the number of problems people face.

Here’s a different question: “Are you leaving out the stupid questions?”

That was a text message. We have gathered here to discuss serious problems. Therefore, I would like to ask the person who sent that question in, what category he thinks it falls into?

This message is similar: “Mr Putin, would you like to live as long as you desire? If you want to enter eternity as a citizen of Planet Earth, please call me on my mobile phone. Sergei Dolgov.”

Mr Dolgov, I’m happy to be a citizen of the Russian Federation. This is quite enough. Thank you very much for your suggestion.

Ernest Mackevicius: This was the final answer to the final question.

You have been watching the programme “A Conversation with Vladimir Putin Continued” by the Russia channel. We have been on air for more than four hours. I hope, that in the future, we’ll meet again in this studio, or somewhere similar, and that will be able to continue our conversation.

Allow me to thank everyone who has watched and listened to our programme, those who have sent in their questions and those who have gathered here today.

Thank you, Mr Putin.

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