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- News conference by President of Russia May 18, 2011 Moscow
The news conference was broadcast live from the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management by television channels Channel One, Rossiya, Rossiya-24, Russia Today, and Eurovision, as well as by Radio Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Komsomolskaya Pravda. Live video stream of the news conference was available online on the following websites: www.1tv.ru, www.vesti.ru, RIA Novosti website and Komsomolskaya Pravda television channel. Broadcast in English was available on www.RT.com.
Over 800 journalists were accredited to cover the news conference. Of these, 300 represented television channels, 45 represented radio stations, and 240 journalists were from print and online media outlets; more than 40 photographers were present. About 300 accredited journalists will represent foreign media outlets, nearly 500 were from the Russian media, including 208 journalists from regional organisations.
More than 200 professionals and six mobile satellite TV stations provided technical support.
Simultaneous translation was available in four languages: English, German, French and Japanese.
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PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Colleagues,
First of all, I want to welcome you all. We have a lot of journalists today, more than 800 people, so I’ve been told. I am happy to see such interest in this press conference.
Of course, I cannot complain that I don’t get enough chance to meet with the press. I talk with journalists regularly, during my everyday work, and during my visits to the regions too, and these visits were frequent both during my time in the Government, and now, as President.
Actually, there are only two regions in Russia that I have not visited yet, but I will visit them too very soon. I have already met with many journalists from the regions, and I see a few familiar faces here today, which is very nice. But for all this contact with the media, I have never yet held such a big press conference. The whole point of this big event, as I see it, is to exchange views on our country’s development and on international life and events.
Once more then, I thank you all for your interest in this event. I am sure that interesting questions await, and I hope my answers will prove of interest too.
I am ready to start work now, so let’s begin with the questions.
I’ll just say a couple more words about the way things are organised today. I think this is the first ever press conference of this kind that the President is holding on his own, without the Presidential Executive Office’s help, and so I ask you not to be offended, but I will simply point my finger and say, “that man or woman in such and such a row”, and if I point at you, you just stand up and put your question.
But to get things started, I think it would be proper first to give the floor to our television colleagues. I noticed Sergei Brilyov here. Sergei, I visited you just recently, and we had an interesting conversation…
ANCHOR OF VESTI V SUBBOTU [NEWS ON SATURDAY] CURRENT AFFAIRS PROGRAMME SERGEI BRILEV: You flatter us.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Anyway, let me reply by giving you the floor first today. Go ahead.
SERGEI BRILEV: Thank you, Mr President.
I wanted to ask you about just how irreversible the modernisation policy is. This press conference is taking place at Skolkovo. We all know now that Skolkovo is the modernisation and innovation centre. It’s a good thing, and probably rather symbolic too, that Skolkovo is located beyond the Moscow Ring Road, beyond the ‘magic circle’, as it were. But Skolkovo also has its boundaries. What I want to know then is how you view the depth of the modernisation process, and its irreversible nature for the country as a whole over the period since your Go, Russia! article came out?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I don’t think we should look at modernisation within some firmly fixed timeframe. I remember the time when we all counted how one year had passed since perestroika began, and then two years, three years, and we all know what happened in the end.
Modernisation is a process, a very important process, and I think its main goal is to give our country’s development a new quality. Modernisation is not just a gradual development process that consolidates the achievements we have already made over this last decade, but is about bringing about quality improvement in the situation.
I know for a fact that we have not achieved this goal yet, but this does not mean that we should now raise some new flag instead and launch a new wave of modernisation or whatever other new campaign. Modernisation continues, and I am confident that the five priorities I outlined will continue to develop as technology-focused but nonetheless very important areas of work.
We have state and government programmes underway in all of these areas, programmes that are being financed and implemented. True, we have not achieved any extraordinary results yet, but this is all the more reason for me and my colleagues in the Government to work even harder, day and night, in order to change our country’s life for the better.
I therefore stress the point that modernisation has a huge part to play in our country’s development, and its goal is to bring about real change in the situation, rather than providing us with particular dates we can mark. But I am very happy to have the chance to discuss this here at Skolkovo, since this place holds special significance for me, because it is here that we are developing our new technology, here that we have established the Skolkovo university and the school [of management], and here that our innovation centre will be located.
Of course I hope the whole world comes to know this brand, not as the only place where investors should put their money, but because any big development undertaking needs to have its main engines that drive the whole process, and in this sense Skolkovo, though not the only component in the modernisation project, certainly has a very important part to play.
I take this opportunity to thank everyone working here, including for hosting us today. We could have held this press conference at the Kremlin, but I think this is a more interesting venue.
It’s hard to choose. Let’s take a question from Ksenia Kaminskaya from ITAR-TASS. I will name a few names to start with from among the familiar faces, but don’t worry, I won’t be giving the floor to people from the Kremlin press pool only.
KSENIA KAMINSKAYA, ITAR-TASS: Thank you all the same for the opportunity.
Mr President, you have replaced a couple of dozen regional governors, but not a single minister. What is the reason for this? Is this a sign that things are worse in the regions than in the federal centre, and that you are really happier with the federal officials’ work than with that of the regional officials? Could the Government’s or Prime Minister’s resignation be on the cards closer to the elections? This has happened in the past after all.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Ksenia, I have replaced not just a couple of dozen governors; almost half the corps of regional governors has changed over my time in office so far. New people have come in. Some people stepped down of their own accord, in some cases the decision was mine, and in other cases governors simply came to the end of their mandates and were not appointed for a new term. All of this represents serious changes in the group of people responsible for running our country.
I think this is important because no one can stay in power forever. People who harbour such illusions usually come to a rather bad end, and the world has given us quite a few examples of late. This applies to the regional governors too. You cannot have one and the same person in power for 20 years, even if they are competent, well qualified, and know their region.
Such people are good of course, but we need to open the road to young people too, broaden and develop the human resource pool, and try to nurture a new generation of worthy successors. This policy of appointing new people will continue therefore, and I hope that it will ultimately bring to the fore in the regions modern-thinking people with a real desire to work. Of course, there is never guarantee against mistakes too.
As for the federal government, the absence of new appointments there is not a sign that things are better at the federal level than in the regions, it’s just that every decision has its own basis. When we talk about the Government’s work, we are taking about the work of a whole team, and not just individual ministers, because the Government is a team and functions as such. You know that I criticise the Government quite often, tell them what I think, what I want, but at the same time, I think the Government operates as a coordinated team, a single body, and so it would not be wise to simply yank out individual links in this overall chain.
Finally, the President has specific powers, including with regard to forming and dismissing the Government. I have neither changed nor renounced these powers.
I want to say one more thing. So as to make things fair, if you don’t object, I will do as I usually do when talking with student audiences – excuse me for comparing you to students – and take questions sector by sector. I’ll go from one sector to another, say, left to right, then to the upper rows.
I’ll stay for now with the left sector. Let’s hear from the young man holding up the letter ‘P’.
SERGEI STRAKHOV: Mr President, I am Sergei Strakhov from Avtoradio, and I have a question about parking cars. This is really a big issue and a problem for all drivers in Moscow. The thing is, Moscow city officials recently decided that parking space on Moscow’s streets would cost 500 rubles an hour. What do you think of this initiative? And what can be done in general to sort out the parking problem in Moscow?
Oh, and one small question in addition: I know that your wife owns garage space for two cars, and you see, I have nowhere to park my car. (Laughter in the audience). Maybe you could rent me out space in your garage?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: We all know about the parking problems in Moscow. The situation is bad indeed. This is partly the result of the way work was conducted over previous years. I understand the complaints of everyone in Moscow who can't find space to park their cars and spend hours queuing for a place, or stuck in traffic jams. As for what we need to do, we need to expand the possibilities, build new roads, and make rational decisions on traffic regulation. I hope the new mayor will tackle these issues.
500 rubles an hour for parking space is a mockery even for Moscow, where people are generally better off than in some of the other regions. I can see the logic behind this decision: it’s about intimidation – pay 500 rubles if you want to park your car and 1,000 if it’s some particularly important spot – and all with the hope that this will dissuade people from parking there. But I do not think this is an ideal solution. I hope the city will sort this problem out, and as far as I know, Mayor Sobyanin has already given the instruction to look into this matter, and said much the same thing as me about the rates that were set.
Now, as for your car... (Laughter). Let me think about how to make it a mutually beneficial deal. Yes, we do indeed have garage space for two cars, not currently in use, and so there is a chance, but as you rightly noted, this garage space belongs not to me, but to my wife, and I cannot make a decision without talking to her first. If she agrees, and the conditions you propose suit her, let’s look at the matter then.
Let’s move onwards now. How about the young woman sitting there.
ROZA TSVETKOVA: I am Roza Tsvetkova from Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
Mr President, I have to ask the question that I am sure is on everyone’s minds here. When will you put an end to the guessing games over the election? You have probably already made up your own mind after all.
And let me add one further question. Our country is known worldwide as an oil power, but why then are our petrol prices rising? The Government has promised to deal with the situation, but so far, no one has been blamed for the situation? Why is this?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Ah, I was waiting for that question. (Laughter). I thought it would be the first question, but it came only fourth.
My friends, I read the various publications in the media in the run-up to this press conference, and I know that all of you, you here today, and many others too, are waiting to hear some interesting announcements. But you have to realise that political life is not just a show. In fact, it is not a show at all, but is a complex job that, as I and many others involved in political life see it, has to follow certain rules and technical considerations.
The whole point of the work we do is to achieve the goals we set. The big goals are about changing and improving our country’s life, so that people are happier, better off, and social programmes are in place. These are all technical, organisational aspects of our work, and all very important.
We are involved in political work not for the sake of keeping warm and cosy, but in order to achieve results. Decisions of the kind you are talking about therefore must be made at the right moment, at the moment when all the right conditions are in place, otherwise they risk backfiring politically.
I think too in this respect that no matter how appealing and tempting a moment it might seem, a press conference of this kind is not the right occasion for such an announcement. I think decisions of this kind need to be taken and announced in a somewhat different format.
I think too that every politician should make this kind of announcement when he or she thinks necessary. The world has seen a huge number of politicians who declare, no sooner one political campaign over, that they will run for president in the next campaign, and more often than not, these promises and declarations come to nought. The only rational tactic is a tactic that will produce success.
No matter what people say that in such and such a country the announcements have already been made, while we here are silent for now, let me say again that all of this has to follow a rational scenario. Of course this silence cannot last forever. The whole election process sets its own rules of the game, and I will follow them too. If I make such a decision, I will certainly announce it. As I said not so long ago in an interview with the Chinese media, there is not long to wait now. You can expect an announcement soon.
Now, on the question of petrol prices, there is probably a link here between the decision to run for office and the petrol prices. You all realise that the petrol price increase is linked to the overall jump up in oil prices. The Government is indeed taking steps to keep things under control, but even its efforts are not enough to produce results. In some cases there are perhaps cartel deals going on, and I think this is very likely, but overall, the situation is more a reflection of the objective trends on the oil market. You need to understand that our efforts to regulate the situation are not always successful, but the Government nevertheless does have full power to act, and I have instructed them to deal with this issue and take action to bring down prices for petrol and oil products.
How? The answer is clear. Unfortunately, I cannot propose anything better than restrictive measures, and the Government has the power to impose such measures. By restrictive measures I mean the introduction of high export duties. This might be a temporary solution, but it does not solve the problem in the long term. Oil prices are always a very important indicator for us, and I think that it is in Russia’s interests to have high prices, but not too high. Prices are climbing at the moment, but such high prices can actually lead to problems in the end. Remember how in 2008, prices reached $147 a barrel, and how did it all end? It ended in the global financial crisis. Of course this is no good, no good for us either. We will continue to address this issue, but it is a very complex problem. Any cartel deals on the market must be prevented, and such action is already being taken.
Let’s hear from our television channels again. I see Anton Vernitsky from Channel One over there. Go ahead, Anton. I saw your interview in the internet with someone who was telling you interesting stories about Bin Laden. Is that all true or not?
ANTON VERNITSKY: Well, he says it is.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: The Americans will have something to tremble about then.
ANTON VERNITSKY: My question is not about this, but about Russia. I’ve been taking advantage of the speedy internet connection here in Skolkovo to keep an eye on what's going on in St Petersburg’s Legislative Assembly.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Yes, I’ve got my eye on that too.
ANTON VERNITSKY: The Legislative Assembly’s members are currently discussing the question of recalling Sergei Mironov as senator. Could you comment on this?
What is your view in general on the way the Federation Council is formed? Do you think it is in keeping with the principles of democracy and federalism?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: There is nothing so unusual in the departure of any official. As I said just before, sooner or later, everyone sees their time in office come to an end, presidents too. This is something you need to start preparing for right from the moment you first decide to enter political life. If you prepare in advance, you will have less cause later to rue or regret actions you did or did not take.
The situation with Mr Mironov is no different in this sense to that of any other politician. Sergei Mironov is the speaker of the Federation Council, our parliament’s upper house. He has been in this job for some time now and I think has worked decently on the whole, but he represents a particular political party, A Just Russia, and there is nothing so terrible about the fact that another party, United Russia, has questions regarding his work. On the contrary, this is a sign of political competition.
We all support political competition after all. None of us wants to have just one party deciding everything. What we are seeing now reflects the differences that exist in political life at the moment. I think that if the recall decision goes through today, Sergei Mironov should accept it calmly. In the end, both parties, United Russia, and A Just Russia, will gain. Why?
United Russia will gain by showing that it is not just criticising, but that it does have influence and that its opinions count, that it can not only put forward a candidate, but can also decide to revoke that person’s powers. Such is the way of party life. As for A Just Russia, it shows that it is a real opposition party and not just a group of people helping the country’s political development. Everyone stands to gain. Let them all get on with real politics. We have important elections coming up after all.
Regarding the Federation Council, it has been formed in different ways over the years, all in accordance with the basic provisions on the matter enshrined in our Constitution of course. Initially, its members were elected directly, and then were appointed. It was initially formed by the regional governors and representatives of the regional parliaments, and then we moved over to a different system.
This year, a third system began to function, or rather, a modernised version of the second system, under which people holding elected office in the regions can enter the Federation Council. I think this is entirely democratic in spirit and is more in keeping with the Federation Council’s ultimate purpose, which is to be the chamber representing the regions.
But in every situation I always take the view that our democracy is still young and I do not rule out that as time passes by new ideas might emerge on how best to form the Federation Council. Let’s get the current system working first, but at the same time, “never say never”. Perhaps electing the Federation Council’s members would be more in keeping with the principles underlying the parliament’s functioning, but for this to happen we first need to travel the road we have mapped out for ourselves, which I think is a normal process, and ultimately reach decisions on the best model to choose. Many countries spent decades adjusting their parliamentary models after all, and we are going through this process too.
There’s a big sector here, so I will start with a couple of those I know. Alexander Kolesnichenko from Argumenty i Fakty, you have the floor if you want to ask a question.
ALEXANDER KOLESNICHENKO: Yes, I certainly do want to ask a question, and in this sense am going to seize the opportunity for my personal interest, though I am sure that it coincides with the interest of millions of our newspaper’s readers, and millions of our people in general.
You said at the end of April that the motor vehicle inspection procedure should be either abolished altogether, or made less cumbersome. I would say it should be made more rational too. I can say in all honesty that this is not the only senseless formality our country imposes, but let’s start by at least sorting this one out. Has your instruction been carried out? Is there an idea now of what the inspection procedure will look like?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Yes, there is.
I heard a report on this subject from the First Deputy Prime Minister just yesterday, and I can tell you now what conclusions have been reached, and can say too that it all looks very rational. You are right in saying that if we have this formality it should make sense, and should not be a cumbersome or simply stupid procedure that only complicates everyone’s lives.
What do we need to do? First of all, we need to know what vehicles people are driving. A very sensible proposal has been made to end the practice of technical inspections carried out by the police, and combine these inspection procedures with the conclusion of the compulsory civil liability motor-vehicle insurance contract, with the vehicle inspection thus taking place at car service centres.
All drivers go to a car service centre after all, even if they do a lot of the maintenance themselves, there are still always some things they have to go to the professionals for. When you conclude the insurance contract, you will get the warrant of fitness sticker too, and this will be a straightforward procedure for keeping track of the car’s technical condition.
New cars will not have to go through the procedure. I think that the first three years could be exempted too. Vehicles aged between three and seven years, and in use, could be inspected once every two years, say, and vehicles older than seven years, should be inspected once a year.
The main thing is to make this no longer the police’s responsibility, and make it as straightforward as possible a procedure of doing the motor vehicle inspection together with the civil liability vehicle insurance contract, which is compulsory for all car owners anyway. I think this is a sensible solution that will make this procedure a much simpler formality.
ALEXANDER KOLESNICHENKO: When will the decision take effect?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: The sooner the better. Do you mean when will the law be passed? I think it will be today or tomorrow that the Government, acting on my instruction, will submit the draft law to the State Duma, and I hope that everything will go into effect as from next year.
(Addressing Andrei Tumanov, editor in chief of Vashi 6 Sotok [Your 600 Square Meters] gardening publication): Let’s not break tradition, although we used to begin with you. Please go ahead, I have an idea of what you will ask about.
EDITOR IN CHIEF OF THE VASHI 6 SOTOK GARDENING PUBLICATION ANDREI TUMANOV: No, it’s not exactly that.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Ah, about the second term then?
ANDREI TUMANOV: I would like to begin by thanking you for inviting me. You can’t imagine the bets that were placed on whether I would get another chance to ask you a question, but here I am.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Even though we visited gardeners together, it wasn't an arrangement.
ANDREI TUMANOV: That is what I wanted to talk about. At the beginning of your speech, you said that you have travelled the nation, bringing journalists with you. I want to confirm to my colleagues that I travelled with Mr President, to Orenburg Region, Saratov Region, to our agricultural regions. And we visited the Gvozdika horticultural cooperative together.
I had a unique opportunity to see the world through the eyes of the President. You know, I really liked that world, it was almost ideal. It took me two weeks afterwards to recover from the experience; I was even fined two times for running a red light.
So everything was ideal at Gvozdika, everything was wonderful, but that’s not reality. If we go to any horticultural society now, there are a million issues, thousands of issues. People are actually defeated as regards their rights – in other words, they are kind of sub-citizens, under-citizens in our nation, they do not live by the laws or even the Constitution. So I have always been interested to know: if it took me some time to recover, then how objectively do you feel you can see the situation in the world?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I understand. Well, these are philosophical generalisations. Your perception of life has clearly become more philosophical in this period, while asking questions at major press conferences.
You know, unlike you, I did not have the sense that everything was ideal at Gvozdika cooperative. In fact, my feeling was different. It is always clear that when the leaders come for a visit, local authorities try to varnish everything. That is obvious. At the same time, given the number of problems we saw even there, it was an overall quite normal cooperative, those very six hundred square meters, lacking gas supply at the time.
One thing I really see as my own achievement is that I am certain: after my visit to Gvozdika, they now have gas. That is certain. We can check, but I hope that it is so, because they asked for it. Still, it was not an absolutely ideal, sterile picture that we saw there. I am certain that elsewhere, it might be even worse. And naturally, we absolutely need to keep these horticultural cooperatives because that is the way of life for an enormous number of our people, even with the fact that now, you can receive land, and you can buy or rent even more land.
People get used to it, and they don’t want to leave; they like being on their six hundred square meters. Thus, the goal for civil servants and authorities is to create decent conditions there. And that needs to be done everywhere, not just in Moscow or Orenburg Region, and not just through Presidential executive orders, when it’s the local authorities that should make these decisions, not the President.
Now, with regard to perceiving the world. Naturally, I would very much like for my perception of the world not to change after I finish this job. Ultimately, I hope that in this regard, I remain a clearheaded person who does not see life through rose-coloured glasses, but knows its full, earthly reality.
It’s true that I travel a lot. I am probably the first head of the Russian state who will visit every territory, every federal constituent entity in our nation. This helps deal with problems. This serves, if you will, as a kind of immunization. Because however many fences are put up in front of you, it is still clear that sometimes, these fences are hiding hovels, dilapidating, decaying houses, people who are unhappy with the work of local authorities, and maybe federal authorities too. What’s most important here is to maintain a fresh perspective.
How can the President do that? It is important to travel a lot, talk extensively with people and receive truthful information. What is truthful information? That is what you are all working on: high-quality journalism, which is also supplemented today by the Internet.
I can tell you absolutely clearly in this regard: as President, I am lucky, because I receive information not only from briefs that are carefully assembled by the Presidential Executive Office, for which I am grateful, but also directly from people, through the Internet, through blogs, through Twitter, and through many other resources. And as you know, they cut right to the truth.
Nobody before me looked online, so I am certain that I remain grounded, and in this regard, I do not risk losing touch with what’s really going on. And I feel that any other leader who succeeds me should do the same, because those are the laws of life in today’s world, in the information age.
SVOBODA RADIO CORRESPONDENT DANILA GALPEROVICH: Mr President, you and I met at the economic forum, when you responded to questions from Svoboda radio before you had become a presidential candidate.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: All the better.
DANILA GALPEROVICH: You have been asked questions here as a specialist on horticultural cooperatives and parking lots. I would like to ask you a question as a head of state and a competent lawyer. First, how do you currently assess your relations and your views on Russia’s relations with the United States and the West, in particular with NATO? What problems are there, and how have you moved forward?
And my second question is also international, but in the legal sphere – on domestic Russian issues. Recently, there has been a major discussion within Russian leadership on whether Russia is bound to implement rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. There are many resolutions that concern not just material elements, but also the very spirit of implementing these rulings. You as a lawyer know very well what that means. What do you think about Russia’s implementation of ECHR rulings?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: The subject of relations between Russia and NATO is very broad, and is an issue I deal with daily – I deal with it literally every day, when I get reports from ministers and when I read various reports from special services, as well as when I simply prepare for various events, meeting with foreign leaders that often represent NATO.
In my view, current relations with NATO are not that bad. And I feel that this is good for both sides. We had a tense, dramatic period when we essentially ceased those relations. We were not the initiators – NATO was – but what I said then was, “Whatever they want. If they don’t want to cooperate, we won’t insist.” I am referring to August 2008. Since then, a great deal has happened. I think that everything is developing normally now.
I am pleased with the interactions I had in Lisbon during the NATO-Russia summit. We asked some important questions, we agreed that we will cooperate in the most important strategic current affairs areas, including Afghanistan, counterterrorism and the fight against drug trafficking. There are some new issues where, I feel, we have to reach an agreement; otherwise, things will develop badly. I am referring to ABM defence. This is a separate situation, and I will say just a couple words, although I have already given my assessments many times.
We would like the European anti-missile defence to develop according to clear rules. It must be clear to everyone that anti-missile defence is a way to form blocs or reduce strategic opportunities for many nations. When they tell us, “This is not aimed against you,” I take note of it, but I understand that other nations that are referred to in this case do not currently have the opportunities that Russia has, and it is unlikely that they will have them in the upcoming years.
They usually tell us, “It’s Iran, or someone else.” They don’t have those possibilities. So that means it’s against us? And if it’s against us, then they should invite us to cooperate or tell us about it openly. I hope that I will get answers to the questions I have posed, in particular to my colleague and friend President Obama, and we will be able to develop a model for cooperation in anti-missile defence.
If we do not develop one, then we will have to take counter measures, something I really do not want to do, and then we will start talking about forcing the development of our nuclear strike potential. This would be a very bad scenario; it would be the kind of scenario that would throw us back into the Cold War era. And I told President Obama: “In 2020, when we will have passed through all four phases of preparing the so-called adapted four-step approach, it is quite likely that these decisions will no longer be made by you or me. But somebody will be making them.”
Most likely, the leaders of Russia will be guided by these considerations. So we must think now about how we will pass this problem on to future generations of politicians. This is an exceedingly important issue. It may ruin everything that we have done in the last several years, including, in my view, the very important START treaty. Because the treaty contains a clear stipulation that if anti-missile defence is developed and causes a break in strategic parity, then the treaty may be suspended, or even terminated. I would like to draw the attention of all my NATO partners to this and say that we are ready to cooperate, and at the same time, we hope that we will receive assurances that these strike potentials will not be directed at us.
As a conscientious person, I will also answer the question about the ECHR.
Russia is a member of the court; it has signed all documents and is bound by them. We will continue doing so in the future. For us, membership in European institutions is extremely important. At the same time, we cannot fail to see certain difficulties that we come across, because we are, shall we say, a forming democracy, and we have quite a number of problems.
In many cases, this court has ruled against the Russian Federation. Basically, these rulings are implemented, including payments that the Russian treasury makes to the plaintiffs. But in some cases (which is probably what you are referring to), we get the sense that the court’s decision is not made impartially, and may even sometimes have political motives.
We do not talk about this out loud, but these opinions exist. That is precisely why these decisions are subject to discussion in legal circles and some of our political leaders discuss them. But this does not mean that we have ended our membership and intend to withdraw from the ECHR.
And I would like to draw special attention to this, because any court must make all the parties involved feel that the court itself is unbiased, impartial and just, regardless of whether it is a domestic court or an international one.
I promised to give the word to someone from St Petersburg. Who has a question? Go ahead, please.
EDITOR IN CHIEF OF VOLNY OSTROV INDEPENDENT MEDIA AGENCY NATALIA KIRILOVA: Thank you.
Mr President, I would like to steer our discussion back to St Petersburg and to Russia in general and away from the international affairs you commented on just now. I would like to ask you this: do you want to be a wizard?
We celebrated another anniversary of the Victory recently, and before the celebrations and afterwards, it was hard to read in the news about how our veterans send their orders and medals to the Kremlin and ask Obama to grant them permanent residence. Maybe our country should not disgrace itself any longer in the eyes of our allies and allocate decent housing and a vehicle to each of our soldiers who served at the frontline.
It should be done in such a way that nobody will be able to take the housing away from the veterans, to exchange it for something worse or to use it as collateral for a loan. There are lots of people who are adept at such tricks. The veterans end up in the street. Therefore, I would like to ask you: perhaps there is a way to give each war veteran decent housing? It is in your power since you’re a wizard, Mr President.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I'm certainly not a wizard, but I try to make the kind of decisions that people expect from me. That is the duty of any leader.
Just over three years ago, on May 7, 2008, I signed an executive order on allocating housing to all Great Patriotic War veterans. And now you ask me if it is time to take such decisions and not insult or humiliate our veterans any longer.
First, I have already made this decision and second, although there is not much point talking about it now but it is very disturbing that there was plenty of time to make this decision since the end of World War II, including the time when there were significantly more war veterans – I remember the Victory Day celebrations in the mid-1970s, when they were still young, slightly older than I am now, and they had the same problems – and the state just did not care about them. That is a great shame. Therefore, I believe that today all of us should do everything we can for them. It was in my power to make the decision about allocating housing to each war veteran, and I made that decision. Incidentally, this was a very complicated decision because even though there are not that many veterans alive today, the funding involved amounts to billions of rubles. My colleagues tried to talk me out of it, saying: “Why are you making this decision? There are not that many veterans left, and the housing will not go to them anyway because unfortunately they will not live very long and the housing will be left to their children and heirs.” I think this argument is wrong and totally immoral. First, the state must recognise what the veterans did for us all. Second, let me tell you, I believe that even if they leave this life knowing that they were able to give something to their children and grandchildren – that is great happiness. That is why this decision will be implemented to the end and major funding is being spent on this initiative. The fact that in some cases there have been problems and violations means just that we have to investigate and pay greater attention to such cases. I looked into the case you are referring to and it was enough to draw attention to it, so thanks to the journalists the money was found immediately and the problem was solved. Unfortunately, this is a common situation, all of us come across such problems but that does not mean that the state need not respond to it. The decision as embodied in the executive order of May 7, 2008 will be executed to the end, no matter what the cost to the state.
RESPONSE: Rural areas, rural areas!
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I’ll give the word to rural areas but I would like our major media outlets to have a chance too. I give the floor to NTV, Vladimir Kondratyev, because it would be wrong not to give the word to Russian and foreign TV channels.
NTV CORRESPONDENT VLADIMIR KONDRATYEV: Thank you for not forgetting us, Mr President.
I wanted to ask a question about the election but my colleagues from the Nezavisimaya Gazeta beat me to it.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Well, you can ask it again. (Laughter.)
VLADIMIR KONDRATYEV: No, I’ll ask a slightly different question.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I was thinking about it on the way here and I was sure that every other question would be about the second term and the relationship with Mr Putin. But no, everything has been quite normal.
VLADIMIR KONDRATYEV: All right, about the relationship with Mr Putin. (Laughter). Is it possible in principle that two people take part in the presidential election, let's say you and Prime Minister Putin? Or is that situation unacceptable and each of you will run separately?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Run separately but take part together, right? (Laughter).
VLADIMIR KONDRATYEV: Clearly one political party cannot nominate two candidates, and in that case you will probably have to become the leader of another party.
Incidentally, you remarked recently that in the future the president will have to and will represent a political party. Maybe this issue should be moved forward somehow? You could become the leader of one of the existing parties or establish a new one.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Let us return to our discussion about the political situation. When answering the question from our colleague at the Nezavisimaya Gazeta, I said that in my view any political decision must be very clearly calculated. This is no child’s play. We really hold in our hands the fates of a huge number of people. We are not dealing with gimmicks or some things we play around with just to satisfy our own ambitions. And the decision to run or not to run must be based on that.
My relationship with my colleague and political partner Vladimir Putin is not just what is usually called a tandem; this relationship is over 20 years old. We know each other very well. We are truly like-minded people. Whatever is said from time to time, we have very similar approaches to key issues of Russia’s development. That does not mean that our views coincide in every way, and it shouldn’t be like that – it would be very boring and just plain wrong. Everyone has the right to his or her own opinions and approaches. But we are very close where it comes to the strategy; otherwise we just could not work together. And if we could not work together, then our political partnership would have dissolved and Russia would have a different political landscape today. We must bear this in mind when we make the decision on what to do in the future. I believe that there is productive competition and there is competition that leads to a deadlock. I hope that as we make the decision on who will run for the presidency and what to do in the future we will be guided by our duty, above all to the country and the nation.
Now about party representation. If I run for the presidency, I will seek the support of certain political forces; it could not be otherwise. Political parties – which ones? As you know, we do not have that many political parties, which I think is a good thing because it shows that we have overcome the era of numerous marginalised political groups. We have major political parties, and that is good. Whose support will I seek? Well, if I do run, I hope that I will have the support of those who nominated me in the past. This is the first point.
Second. Can a President create his own political party? Yes, I think he can. There is nothing wrong with that.
Can a President in our country become a member of a political party? I spoke about that recently. I think this is probably our future because most democracies follow this scenario. In Russia it was believed in the past that if the President became the leader of one of the parties, we would lose the consensus that was vitally important for our country at a certain point. Now the political forces are fully established, they have different ideas about how to build our country, how it should develop and improve, so the President can lead one of the political forces. That is not bad.
I promised to give the word to rural areas. Go ahead, please.
CORRESPONDENT OF THE TERRITORIYA NARODNOI VLASTI [TERRITORY OF PEOPLE’S POWER] NEWSPAPER VASILY MELNICHENKO: Thank you.
I paid 25,000 rubles for a ticket to come here. The whole village chipped in.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Take the microphone so you don’t go back without asking your question. I understand that you have a strong voice.
VASILY MELNICHENKO: I am chairman of an agricultural enterprise and correspondent of the Territoriya Narodnoi Vlasti newspaper.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: So are you a chairman or a journalist?
VASILY MELNICHENKO: I am both a journalist and a chairman.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I see.
VASILY MELNICHENKO: Naturally, my question will be about the development of rural areas.
Mr President, Russia’s Food Security Doctrine has finally been adopted, and it is a coherent and reasonable document. We understand our mission: to produce as much as possible of the best food for 140 million people. This is a priority task but there are some serious threats.
The first threat is the bankruptcy of agribusinesses. Literally thousands of square miles are being destroyed “in the name of the Russian Federation,” because everything is being taken away, the cattle is being culled, and this is being done by arbitral managers.
Second, there is a strong criminal element, including various vague tax cases against agribusinesses.
And third, there is virtually a total lack of local self-government, which means that there is a lack of authorities at the local level.
We have a question and a suggestion for you. In order to ensure food security we propose that the President signs an executive order introducing a moratorium on the bankruptcy of agricultural producers for the entire period of the Food Security Doctrine’s implementation.
Second, abolish all taxes for agricultural producers. Believe me, this will not be very difficult for the state. Look at China: all agribusinesses are exempt from taxes. This will reduce the criminal burden, no one will bother us and we will be able to produce something worthwhile.
Third, take a close look at local self-government. It is impossible to function in the midst of anarchy, it generates crime and all other evils. That is very important and we are ready to help in any way we can. Thank you.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Thank you very much.
VASILY MELNICHENKO: Sign the executive order today, and everything will be fine. (Laughter, applause.)
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I’ve even made some notes. (Laughter.) Thank you for your question and for your very emotional concern.
Let me share my feelings with you. When I started working in the Government, it so happened that I was in charge of several areas that were later called national projects, including the development of rural areas. You know, in the beginning I had some doubts about my ability to do it, because after all I am a city person, and it is essential to understand the specifics of rural life. And I am very pleased that I had the opportunity to work on this in the Government and of course I continue monitoring this area as President because I managed to get a real feel for the essence of life in rural Russia.
We are not only talking about those who produce our food for us; rural areas cover one third of our country. Over 30% of the Russian population live in rural areas. In many industrialised countries, this figure is 3% to 5%, but in Russia it is one third, and we must take care of those people and create good working conditions for them.
I think we have made good progress in the past few years, developing this national priority and adopting a programme for rural development and agro-industrial development. I have heard people say all over the country that the money that was allocated at that very difficult time was of great help. On the other hand, the global economic crisis hit the rural areas badly, and last year they were affected by the droughts, which destroyed much of the crop.
So we had to take swift action to ensure the survival of our farms. There was no legal ban on bankruptcies but in fact, instructions had been issued to establish a moratorium. After all, last year there were almost no serious bankruptcies among agribusinesses. You can count them on the fingers of one hand, whereas all viable farms had their loans restructured and payments deferred. We did it intentionally, although there are people who believe that it was wrong, that we should have abandoned everyone and let them sink or swim. This approach may work in competitive sectors, but our agriculture is not one of them. It needs help, and we must create such conditions for our farmers, those who are involved in agriculture, livestock farming and processing, that they become capable of competing with foreign producers.
Therefore, I believe that we must be very careful about the introduction of bankruptcy procedures in rural areas but it would also be wrong to ban them outright. I will think about ways to achieve the right balance, perhaps through amendments to the legislation related to the bankruptcy procedure for agribusinesses and tenders. The legislation must reflect the sector’s needs, which are vastly different from trading or even industrial companies, for example. That is certainly true. The same goes for taxes and local self-government.
And I want to wish you to remain as passionate about the issue as you are today.
VASILY MELNICHENKO: Mr President, I would like to add something.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Go ahead.
VASILY MELNICHENKO: On June 3, farmers from across Russia will come here, to Moscow for a meeting with you. I want to ask you to hold the meeting with them at the place for execution in Red Square.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: No, I won’t meet with them there, it will be better if they come to my office.
VASILY MELNICHENKO: The execution place would be more appropriate.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: More appropriate? All right, thank you.
I want to give the word to the young man from Grozny. Go ahead.
EDITOR IN CHIEF OF THE DEMOKRATIYA [DEMOCRACY] NEWSPAPER ZELIMKHAN YAKHIKHANOV: Mr President, first of all I would like to thank you for your attention to our republic, and for your support for and confidence in the head of the republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.
This year we will celebrate the 60th birthday of the first Chechen Republic President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was tragically killed in a terrorist attack. Could you please share your memories of the first President of the Chechen Republic.
And the second question, very briefly. Two years ago, the Chechen Parliament made a request that you award to Grozny the honorary title of the City of Military Glory.
Mr President, history tells us of Grozny’s contribution to the victory in the Great Patriotic War. Like Baku, it was one of the main oil suppliers. Tens of thousands of Grozny residents fought at the frontlines.
Mr President, I would like to ask you as the head of state to show your appreciation for the contribution made by Grozny and to award to it the well-earned title of the City of Military Glory.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I remember the last time I met with Akhmad Kadyrov. It was during an extramural session, I think it was the State Council Presidium [meeting], shortly before his tragic death. Incidentally, I met Ramzan that same day, Akhmad introduced him to me. The terrorist attack took place just a week or ten days later. It was a terrible event. At the time I was Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office. Mr Putin telephoned me and told me about it.
You know, he always made the impression of a man who truly loved his nation and sincerely wished it well. He was a passionate and a very courageous man. And thanks to his courageous and sometimes even foolhardy stance on some issues, the republic has returned to normal life.
Therefore, the times when I talked with him, and we met on a regular basis, will remain in my memory forever, as will the memory of him as a man who made very difficult and very important decisions, and thereby saved a huge number of people.
As for awarding the honorary title to Grozny, to be honest, I haven’t seen the petition on this issue. I am ready to check what was done and when, whether the Parliament of the Chechen Republic submitted this petition, and am willing to consider it in accordance with the established procedure.
I must give you the word. Go ahead.
GENERAL DIRECTOR OF O2TV CHANNEL VLADIMIR PANTSERNY: Mr President, we may not be as widely known as broadcast channels but we have been broadcasting for more than seven years and have an audience of 13 million young people, mostly in Russia, including our online viewers. Our programmes are mainly aimed at teaching patriotism and values to young people.
We initiated a nationwide photography competition called My Country. The main idea of the competition is that any Russian can take part in it, thereby demonstrating and deepening interest in their country, its traditions, culture and rich natural heritage.
Mr President, considering that you are an avid photographer yourself and given the nationwide scale of the competition, what would you say about supporting this competition and becoming the head of its board of trustees? The competition deadline is set for November 4, to coincide with the National Unity Day.
One more small question which has to do with millions of television viewers. You have repeatedly talked about state support for the media, including youth media. Last week you signed an executive order on the formation of the first DTT multiplex, broadcasting to the entire country, and now work is in progress on the second and third multiplexes. Our channel has been named among those that will be in the second multiplex.
I would like to ask you whether in the establishment of DTT multiplexes you will be guided by principles of providing state support primarily for the state television channels, the channels owned by oligarchic structures, or whether a channel such as O2TV can also be included, thus expanding its young audience and promoting the state youth policy among young people?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Your second question is more like a declaration: who do you support, the oligarchs or young people?
As for the photography competition, our country is truly wonderful, very beautiful and very little known by most of us. All kinds of photography competitions with the participation of people living in our country – and not just Russian citizens but other people, too – seem very useful to me, because I hugely enjoy looking through the albums published on the results of such competitions, for example, and they have a lot of really good photographs. I do not know whether there is a need for me to head its board of trustees, but I am absolutely ready to help.
The Presidential Press Service has just let me know St Petersburg deputies have recalled Sergei Mironov from the Federation Council [iPad message]. This is for those of you who haven’t heard.
Now, about the second and third DTT multiplexes. I would like our television to be diverse. You can trust me on this because as I have already said, I always try to obtain information from a variety of sources.
The first multiplex, the first slot of channels includes free state television channels. We have approved the set of channels, the presidential executive order has been signed, and it gives certain guarantees of unity and indivisibility of our space.
The next two multiplexes, and in fact the process will continue, and there will be two more later, and so on, should include simply interesting channels. Some of them could be free, others will be on subscription, depending on what viewers want. They must certainly include regional channels and youth channels. So my answer is this: it should just be interesting viewing. That's all.
I don’t know how to indicate the next speaker. The person who is waving, you have the word. I don’t know which row it is. The sixth row, I think.
MK [Moskovsky Komsomolets] TV CORRESPONDENT ALEXANDER NAZAROV: I have several brief questions, but all on one subject.
First, what is your assessment of economic development in the North Caucasus republics at the moment?
Second, when do the federal authorities plan to stop having these republics existing essentially on federal subsidies alone?
Third, what policy developments will the federal authorities take with regard to the North Caucasus?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: You said you have several questions, but I think they are essentially all part of one and the same question.
Developing the North Caucasus republics is without a doubt one of our priorities because the situation is a lot more complicated there than in other regions, and there are a number of reasons for this.
One of the problems is the high unemployment level, especially among young people. Unemployment is as high as 30 to 40 percent in some republics. This causes major negative hardships, and helps to feed extremism too, contributes to young people joining the armed underground movements, and fuels radicalism of their views and so on. And so in my view it is entirely logical that we should be investing in this region. I think it is short-sighted to say that we would be better off spending this money elsewhere.
That fact that we exist within common borders is our country’s strength. If we start looking at the different regions as being somehow outside these common borders this could end up destroying everything that we have created. We will therefore maintain our priority of developing the North Caucasus in order to turn it into a modern and flourishing region, in which the young people and all residents see a future for themselves.
Subsidies are a temporary measure but will remain in place until a competitive private sector or state-owned industrial sector develops and a normal service sector is in place. In this respect I believe the North Caucasus republics would be a good choice for developing tourism, because they already have good and diverse hospitality industry traditions and have already made some headway in getting projects underway. We will continue to provide federal support until the economic situation there improves, and I am certain this is the right policy. And we will do the same too in other regions, but the North Caucasus really does have a great many problems that require our attention.
Please, you there in the first row.
CHINA INFORMATION AGENCY XINHUA CORRESPONDENT LIU KAI: Mr President, this summer we will mark ten years since the Russian-Chinese Treaty of Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation was signed, and also ten years since the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was founded. What is your overall assessment of development in our bilateral relations over this last decade, and could you say a few words about how Russia plans to advance further these relations and the strategic partnership and cooperation between our countries?
I would like to ask a question about the economy too. How do you view the current state of trade and economic relations between Russia and China? In which areas could Russia and China expand their bilateral cooperation?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I think we have excellent relations, and, as my partners in the Chinese leadership have said, our relations have perhaps never been better and so developed. I hope very much that we will continue to have such good relations over the coming years and decades.
Developing our relations with China is not an opportunistic policy but is a long-term priority. We are political partners, as is clear from our work together in the SCO and BRICS. We are also economic partners and our trade with China is around $60 billion now. President Hu Jintao and I agreed that we will take this figure up to $100 billion. I think too that developing big energy sector projects and other bilateral projects is simply vital for our countries.
I am sure we have excellent opportunities ahead for continuing to develop our relations, we just need to keep up the pace and focus on launching interesting new joint projects, including in the humanitarian sector. We held the Year of China in Russia and the Year of Russia in China, and then we organised reciprocal language years too, and these are all important events. This year we will mark the first decade since we signed the treaty on strategic partnership and cooperation, and this indeed is a good moment for taking a look at the future.
You have the floor.
GARANT NEWS AGENCY EDITOR TATYANA DROZDOVA: The state authorities have launched a policy of carrying out its dealings with the public via electronic form. This encompasses state services websites, and also public discussions of draft laws. You could say these are innovations in the legal sphere of life. I would like to know what other innovative developments concerning laws and their application are planned for the upcoming future?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: The more possibilities our laws offer in practice for collecting evidence and documents, the more modern working tools our state agencies, courts, and prosecutors have, the better it will be for our citizens. We all know how complicated a process it is to lodge appeals or complaints with the courts or prosecutors, and do the rounds of state officials’ offices, and in this respect modern technology can help to make people’s lives a lot easier.
I won’t ever forget how, when I visited Singapore, I was offered the opportunity to register a company. I said, ‘Ok, let’s give it a go’. So, I sat down at the computer, entered the necessary information – this took about five to seven minutes and required the company founder’s name, address, etc. And seven minutes later they said that was it, the company was registered, and I’d soon receive official notification. I thought how very lucky our friends in Singapore are that they can organise this whole process so quickly. I learned a little while ago, to my surprise, that this company was indeed actually registered, and can operate now. So, if anyone is looking to do business in Singapore, I’m willing to hand over the opportunity.
What makes me mention this now? This is what we are to aim for. This is how we should put new technology to work in our daily lives, to make it easier to obtain property rights documents, carry out registration formalities, register contracts and so on. We must make it possible for dealings with our various state agencies to take place via the computer, iPad and so on, so that people do not have to spend their time standing in queues.
I believe we have made progress in this direction and it would be wrong not to see the progress that we have done over these last years, but at the same time I think that many resources are for now still working in what I would say is very much a formal sense only, whereas what we really want is for them to work in practice, so that people can take care of all these most important matters without leaving their homes, or at the office. This is our strategic policy and it is very much a part of the overall modernisation concept.
CALL FROM THE AUDIENCE: Look our way please!
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I’m looking. “Kiev”, I see you’ve got written there. Tell us what “Kiev” is about. You have the floor.
UKRAINIAN NEWS AGENCY UKRINFORM CORRESPONDENT IGOR SOLOVEI: Mr President, thank you for giving the Ukrainian media the chance to ask a question.
I have two questions. What is Russia’s position regarding Ukraine’s integration into Europe, in particular the creation of a free trade zone with the EU? Will this step have any negative consequences for future relations with Russia?
The second question concerns the Kharkov agreements. They are coming in for increasing criticism in Ukraine, mostly because the drafting and signing took place in the corridors rather than in the public view. Could you give us a bit of detail on the way these agreements were drawn up? Who was the initiator, and how did everything take place?
I cannot but bring up the gas issue too. The Ukrainian side says it has presented to you its arguments for changing the price formula that was set, and the Russian Federation has taken heed of these arguments. Is this the case? What were these arguments, and did you indeed take note of them? Was this question discussed at the presidential level, between you and your Ukrainian counterpart?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Thank you for these three questions in one.
Ukraine is a very close neighbour that matters a lot for us, and so I will answer your questions of course. I see no problem at all with the idea of Ukraine’s integration into Europe. After all, Ukraine is a sovereign country and makes its own choices about who to integrate with. Integrate with the European Union if you wish – if they are ready to take you, or with other groups – it’s up to you. The one thing I can say for sure is that if Ukraine chooses European integration, it will have a harder time finding openings within the Common Economic Space and the Customs Union that Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus have formed, since it is a separate integration grouping. You cannot be everywhere at once after all, but have to choose between one place and the other. Everyone, including my Ukrainian friends and colleagues, must understand that you cannot sit on two chairs at once but need to make a choice.
European integration is a perfectly normal choice. Ukraine is a European country after all, as is Russia. We are friends with Europe, and we promote our projects on the European market too. Let me remind you that Russia’s trade with the European Union comes to $250 billion. The European Union is Russia’s most important trade partner. But at the same time, we all still have to make our choices: either one place or the other. It’s unlikely the two together could work out.
On the Kharkov agreements, I don’t know if you were present at their signing or not. I do not think they were a deal done in the corridors, out of the public eye. On the contrary, the signing was a public event with a lot of journalists and officials present.
The actual process of reaching the agreements is another matter of course, because here we have the various approval stages, the whole drafting and polishing process. An idea is born, and then instructions go out to the aides, the foreign ministers, and it was the same in this case. President Yanukovych and I came up with this idea. If you want to know where, I can tell you that it was while we were sitting together at my countryside residence. But this does not mean that the agreements were a behind-the-scenes deal.
A bit later, we gave the ministers their instructions, and they went to work. Then a delegation representing the Ukrainian leadership arrived, headed by the Prime Minister, and we held talks. Then we came to the point of signing the document. I think that both sides benefit from the agreement, and no matter what view you take, it has enabled Ukraine to resolve a number of complicated economic problems. But it is not a universal solution of course, and cannot sort out every single problem. It will not resolve the budget problems, or other problems, and so we are to think too about where to go from here.
On the subject of natural gas supplies, this is one of the issues that comes up most often in my political dealings with Ukraine and my contacts with President Yanukovych. We discuss this matter. It is an economic issue, but it has wide-ranging consequences for Ukraine and for Russia too, consequences that go beyond purely economic limits. Above all though, this is an issue of mutually advantageous cooperation.
Gas prices are determined according to the economic laws we all know, using adapted and universally recognised formulas, and the resulting prices are the ones that should be applied. But this does not mean that we cannot make plans for the future and study the opportunities for developing various economic projects of interest that if implemented would soften the situation. In other words, we are not stubborn in our position, we are not saying that the price is set and that’s it. You propose what you think right, and we are ready to consider all the different options. But until any major new cooperation framework is approved, the agreement signed a few years ago remains in force and must be honoured. This is clear.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: If you would like to say something then please go ahead.
EDITOR IN CHIEF OF THE ZHIVAYA KUBAN WEBSITE NINA SHILONOSOVA: The Zhivaya Kuban website is a general interest media outlet. It so happened that we were the first to report on the tragedy in Kushchevskaya on November 5, 2010, and several days later, our website crashed because of an influx of visitors. Since the end of November we were attacked by hackers, facing incessant DDoS attacks for three months. The Kushchevskaya topic remains the focus of attention of our readers until now, but attacks have stopped. We do not have preliminary moderation on our website and have our blogs and forums fully open, so people post absolutely anything they think fit, just as you said.
Now, information from official sources is available suggesting that some senior policemen who were fired appeal to courts and get judgements allowing them to resume their service in previous positions. You know the situation was dreadful with maleficence and criminals melding with the police. You made the decision and fired Kucheruk, the chief of the Krasnodar Territory police, live on the air. Our power structure has re-established itself and it appears that it is rusted through with corruption.
How can we accomplish modernisation with this kind of ‘rust’? Will the processes currently underway, the changes in the police force, help to fully reform this agency? Thank you.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Let me start with the reforms within the Interior Ministry, since this topic has not been raised at this news conference yet. When I made the decision to reform the Interior Ministry and shape a new police force, I did not have any illusions that this would be simple or that merely organisational decisions could result in an effectively operating agency, certainly not. This reform is about people, resources, money, and ultimately the legal culture.
We live in a common country, and you see, I am unable to replace entire law enforcement personnel within a few days or a few months. Instead, they should evolve, but they must do so gradually. This does not mean that senior law enforcement officers, the heads of local offices or the Interior Ministry officials, should keep their posts forever.
Those who discredited themselves, engaged in wrongdoing or simply failed to command the situation should be replaced and I do that. As you may be aware, in the last several months, I replaced more senior policemen than I think we’ve ever seen replaced in the history of the country. But this is not just a question of replacing people, although that is important too. Rather, it is about people joining the reformed police force who should value their jobs, honour their duties, be truly seen by the society as guardians of order and hence as people to be respected, and not well-masked corrupt officials or public servants selling their useless time.
I know that in Krasnodar Territory you have had many problems with law enforcement and the situation in Kushchevskaya is certainly typical. Let me say this: what happened there was a great tragedy. Still, it is very important to learn lessons from it, and in this sense, the attention that was and continues to be given to this matter nevertheless serves as a symbol of change, because many people were held responsible for what occured, which had never happened before – at least not in the last 30 or 40 years. Even though the situation has not improved to become ideal, I still believe that it was a lesson that the Interior Ministry and other agencies learned, and the local authorities are starting to really take notice of what is happening.
After the Kushchevskaya events, the governors, including your governor, addressed me, saying, ‘You criticise us and fire various officials, but we lack an instrument to influence this situation’. I asked, what kind of instrument they need, and they said, ‘Let us have at least a coordination mechanism, so that we could enquire the local law enforcement officials about the current situation and they would not claim, in case of whatever occurrence, that they reported about the problems while we failed to act’. I said, ‘Okay, let there be detailed recordings of every meeting, of coordination council sittings. This way, you can tell them directly whether there are any threats, and if they say that there are no threats, it means they will be responsible afterwards if something happens. If you tell them to pay attention, for example, to the situation in a given village or town where the state of affairs is unfavourable and they ignore it, then you can refer to your demands and I will make a decision concerning those officials, those law enforcement agency chiefs’. I hope that this law enforcement mechanism will work.
And finally, one last point. Much depends on your involvement since the majority of the signals concerning wrongdoings always comes from the people and it is very rare for officials to reveal facts of abuses, for obvious reasons: first of all, because they do not want to air their dirty laundry, and second, because they may simply be lacking the information. Therefore an incessant information inflow is extremely essential and has recently resulted in instigation of multiple criminal investigations. We did not have such information channel before.
I have initiated opening of Presidential mobile reception centres where people can come to meet senior officials of the Presidential Executive Office and straightforwardly discuss certain problems. I find it exceptionally important for the representatives of the national leadership and federal authorities to travel to all regions to collect such first-hand information. Along with that, the Internet and other media shall not be ignored.
TELESET MORDOVII TELEVISION COMPANY COMMENTATOR YEVGENY SIMKIN: We are a sports-oriented region, hence my question is about sports. Do you believe the Russian Olympic team will be victorious next year?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Next year?
YEVGENY SIMKIN: In 2012, in London.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Oh, in London, I see.
You know, I think we must all believe in victory as there just is no other option since any lack of confidence would be felt by our athletes. One must believe in them and root for them to the very end, even when the chances seem slim. We all follow sporting events and we all get caught up in them, and you know, that is also our duty to morally support our athletes.
As far as training is concerned, it appears that they are trying very hard and doing quite well, therefore we have a good chance of performing strongly in 2012, and of course in 2014 as well. To accomplish that, adequate resources have been allocated and many important decisions made. So we will root for our national team which I hope will be successful.
Khabarovsk, the Far East, please go ahead.
SVETLANA LITVINOVA: Mr President, like many residents of the Far East I'm currently worried about the migration problem. The latest census eloquently confirms that the region's population is dwindling quite dramatically. Young people are leaving for other places, for studying in Moscow universities (which is the direct result of the National Final School Exam (EGE) implementation) even before they have their high school proms. Promising athletes, entrepreneurs, businesspeople are also leaving. These are all young, high-potential people who could contribute to the local economy.
What measures are required today to ensure the comprehensive development of the Far East? Alas, there are no romantics or enthusiasts any more and people look to go where it's best.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: You are right to say that there are no longer many romantics, although some still remain and I'm certainly not the very last romantic in our country. Being a romantic is in my view an important element of one’s personality.
In principle, the measures to be taken should be similar to what we're already doing now, though maybe the intensity should be ramped up, and the scope of support should be higher.
Unfortunately, there is a population outflow from the Far East. Incidentally, we were able to stall this in certain places, but it continues in others.
How could we stimulate people to stay? By creating new jobs, new points of growth, encouraging businesses, and paying reasonable salaries. Only in this case will young people stay, no one will leave, and everyone will be pleased to live there.
You truly have a beautiful city. I recently recalled my visit there, and overseeing the city when flying in a helicopter above it. The city is very nice, and I'm saying this because it is certainly possible to develop a modern, good-looking urban environment in the Far East. It is part of our lives, and an incentive to stay, rather than leave for some other beautiful places or big cities to look for work.
We need responsible policies at both the federal and regional levels. Therefore, in the first place, I believe that many important decisions have already been taken. Programmes that have been launched and are operating will continue to be financed, including the programme for the development of the Far East. Secondly, we need unorthodox measures to better unite our country, including the affordability of traveling from the Far East to the European part. The travel arrangements and communications should not be any problem. In this regard we should also not spare any money.
We are to develop communications, information communications, so that there is no divide. People who live in the Far East sometimes say and I sometimes hear: ‘Here in the Far East it's like this, and in Russia it's like that’. This is very bad, as we are all in Russia. And of course, perhaps it is our unity that is worth the most.
Reuters would like to ask a question: ok. It's a large agency.
REUTERS CORRESPONDENT ALEXEY ANISHCHUK: You are applying a great deal of effort to improve the investment climate in Russia. In recent years, much has been said and done. Nevertheless, certain instances, such as the recent failure of the equity swap between Rosneft and BP, are perceived very negatively by investors, extremely negatively.
In this connection I have a question: what errors do you think were made by the Putin Government in preparing this deal, what were the mistakes that led to its breakdown? Which conclusions could the Government perhaps draw?
And, if you'll allow me, a question that has already been asked, but since the opportunity to return to it has come up: you said that you and Prime Minister Putin may differ on details, but never diverge in your strategies. Nevertheless, frankly speaking, in a number of statements on some of the most topical recent issues you and your Prime Minister were saying diametrically opposing things, be it about the situation in Libya or the Khodorkovsky case which, incidentally, foreign investors follow very closely, or the general question of the power centralisation or, the other way around, its democratisation. Could you elaborate on this?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: The investment climate is an important component of our success. I addressed this subject in Magnitogorsk, and I am not going to make any dramatic statements today, but I do promise that we will definitely come back to this issue in the near future, including at the forum to be held in St Petersburg, the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, to which I would like to invite you all.
Major projects contribute to the investment climate. I do not know what the ultimate fate of the deal between Rosneft and BP is, although the deal per se seems interesting, leaving the circumstances surrounding it and the various difficulties that have arisen aside. From my perspective, I can say that those who were involved in structuring this deal should have paid more attention to the nuances of shareholder agreements and legal issues that always occur during the drafting of such documents of significance. There should have been a better due diligence accomplished by the Government, if we put it this way and employ business language. It seems to me that this was not done, which ultimately led to complications and collisions with other shareholders. Such collisions should be avoided and any points should be sorted out pre-emptively in order to see less problems afterwards. But if this deal somehow ultimately gets through, I'll be pleased, as it is good for our country.
Now with regards to strategies. You know, when I said that Prime Minister Putin and I have similar or identical positions I meant the following. We both had education in law and share very similar values. We both want to ensure that our country is modern, that it is effective, that it looks attractive, that our people live as they should, that decisions taken are reasonable and executable, that personal rights are protected, and that the economy is diversified, advanced and modernised.
Still, this does not mean that we have absolutely identical approaches to tactics which I think is good, because the truth must always arise in the juxtaposition of certain elements, certain positions, sometimes even in a collision between approaches, and this is also a guarantee of progress.
Now, regarding the question of modernisation. In this sense I may have a somewhat different approach from the Prime Minister's because, as I understand from what he says, he believes that modernisation is a quiet, gradual process while I think we have the chance and resources to complete it more quickly, without damaging what has already been done, and achieve good results making a major step forward. But this requires a lot of effort. With regards to the rest, I think it's just minor differences.
We have been talking for an hour and forty minutes already. I was not intending to break records of time spent on this podium, but if you are still interested we can continue for some while. Besides, as usual, I selected several questions from those I had received in writing and which I thought were quite revealing or curious. I will probably answer them at the end, they are no more than five, especially since similar issues have already been broached.
CENTRE PREMIER TV CHANNEL CORRESPONDENT EKATERINA APANOVA: I am from Kaliningrad, and here is my question. The visa issue and freedom of travel represents a very serious problem for our region. In connection with the recent developments in countries that participate in the Schengen Agreement, will the fact that some countries are closing their borders affect us?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Well, I can not answer for Schengen countries because Russia is not a member to the Schengen Agreement and we apply to Schengen countries to obtain a visa. I can only say that the things that have happened turned out to be absolutely unexpected for a number of countries. The events in the Middle East and North Africa caused a flood of migrants, and this triggered the reaction of leading European countries. If I understand correctly, the core of their policy has not been altered and, despite the fact that some countries have introduced certain restrictive measures, no one is intending to overturn or abandon Schengen Agreement.
Our goal is different though. Since we are indeed very actively engaged with our European partners, and we already have what is in fact a common economic space, it would be quite logical that we create a common visa-free zone. I will pursue this because I think it is the key to the successful development of economic relations with the European Union and other European countries.
Fine, it's your turn. Please go ahead.
NORWEGIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION CORRESPONDENT HANS-WILHELM STEINFELD: Mr President, you recently said that confidence in Russia's investment climate is low, very low indeed. You talked about the political responsibility ministers should accept for the crimes and errors committed within the structures they oversee. Would Russia not be more modern if you were to fire the Interior Minister and the Prosecutor General after certain high-profile cases instigated against Moscow Region high-ranking prosecutors and the Interior Ministry officers?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I have always said that I consider it very important that each person in a position of authority is aware of his or her responsibility. I assume that all officials, including those you mentioned, are trying to do their work well, which nevertheless does not mean that they will endlessly sit in their current chairs. It is obvious that mistakes must have a price. In my opinion, over the past few years we have seen many examples of this price being paid. When making certain decisions in the future, of course I will proceed from the same mindset.
At the same time, I do not think it is right if a single problem immediately results in a punishment for top federal officials, because often the agencies that they oversee were, at the end of the day, designed before their appointments, they were not initiators of building these agencies, neither were they the authors of this or that decision. They inherited their agencies in their current shape, with all sorts of flaws and problems.
And so to immediately sack them does not seem quite right. But this does not mean that I will never do it. It is obvious that sooner or later senior officials will change in all ministries. I have said that the Government is a single organism with all its advantages and disadvantages, and I assume that the new government which some day takes hold in our country must be considerably upgraded, even without regards to who will form it. It's simply a demand of the present time.
Russia Today, please.
RUSSIA TODAY TV CHANNEL CORRESPONDENT EKATERINA GRACHEVA: Mr President, Russia supported the [UN Security Council] resolution 1973 on Libya. It is obvious what we are currently witnessing: countries in the coalition, in NATO are operating in that country beyond what is provided for in the resolution. If the question of a similar resolution against Syria is raised, what will Russia's position be?
And a second question, because this tradition has been established ...
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Who established this?
EKATERINA GRACHEVA: The tradition of asking several questions.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Okay, your colleagues.
EKATERINA GRACHEVA: We will also be a little bit bold.
During the three years and eleven days that you have held your position, does it seem to you that people in the West have got to know Russia at least a little bit better? Not long ago Hillary Clinton said or rather admitted that they are losing the information war ...
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: She is being modest.
EKATERINA GRACHEVA:... however, US is losing information war to a number of countries, including Russia.
If we do call it an information war, do you think that Russian media broadcasting to foreign audiences have made any contribution to the victory at all, and what is still needed?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I understand the second part of your question. I guess it is an allusion to Russia Today and its international successes, its broadcasting via cable and so on. If this is what you mean, then I am very pleased with this so-called loss, because foreign states really should know more about our country.
My answer to your second question is as follows. It seems to me that [our partners] have begun to better understand Russia, which I think is to some degree due to Russia's current foreign policy. I believe that foreign policy must be predictable and transparent. It is not always easy to ensure this, but it is very important to have good relations between all countries.
The resolution on Syria. I will not support such a resolution, even if my friends and acquaintances were to ask me about it. Why not? Because the resolutions 1970 and 1973 were essentially, to put it harshly, trampled by actions committed by certain countries. Indeed, Russia had originally supported one resolution and consented to the other, that is did not veto it, but subsequent developments demonstrated how such resolutions can be manipulated.
This is sad because in doing so we undermine the credibility of the United Nations. Nevertheless, I still believe that these resolutions were important in the overall picture, because they were an expression of common concerns, but it would be wrong to follow the current rout as we must grant countries the right to choose their own development paths and allow Syria's leadership to resolve any internal problems that they have.
President Assad announced reforms, and [the international community] should help make them effective, rather than trying to put pressure on Syria via resolutions since as a rule, this goes nowhere. And the arbitrary interpretation of resolutions ultimately creates a fundamentally different situation, one that is not associated with measures of state influence.
It’s been an hour and fifty minutes since we started, so I suggest we spend another ten minutes on questions, maybe each of you can ask one question, and then I will read out the questions I selected earlier and answer them. That will conclude our conference today.
You are holding up an exclamation mark. What does that mean?
YAKUTIA INFORMATION AGENCY DIRECTOR GENERAL TATYANA TARASOVA: A question.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: A question? A question is usually marked with a different symbol.
TATYANA TARASOVA: Maybe.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: So you are not sure?
TATYANA TARASOVA: Mr President, you said that 50% of governors have been replaced during your term in office. Now people have understood what kind of governors you want to see. Do you think perhaps the time has come to return the quick-witted nation its right to elect governors?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Right. I'll tell you what I think about it. This does not mean that it is a rigid opinion, but I'll answer what I think right now.
The fact is that at the time when the decision to change the procedure for appointing governors was made the situation was clearly dominated by a certain laxity among the authorities and populism which, unfortunately, played an active role in the governors election process. The decision was made in order to reinforce the authorities in the context of a very complex federal state. I will not hide from you that I was one of the instigators of this policy change, although it was adopted by my predecessor.
I believe that the present procedure is more consistent with our national interests due to the fact that our state is very complex, we have numerous internal contradictions and hidden latent conflicts. The rejection of this procedure may again cause the tensions that were prevalent in the 1990s.
Some time ago I was of the opinion that this procedure should not be changed at all but now I'm not so sure. I believe that it would be right to preserve it in its existing format in the short term, for the foreseeable future, because it ensures a more efficient management of the state: not to give power to the people who are convenient but to manage the state efficiently.
However, I allow that this procedure can be changed after a number of years, not by me or those who immediately follow me in the next 10 to 15 years, but I must tell you openly: the conditions must be right for such a change. This is the first point.
Second, this process has very different formats in various countries yet that doesn’t affect the efficiency of regional authorities. What is more, we had many cases when completely random people became governors: the democratic procedure was followed to the letter but the situation in the region became worse and worse. A governor was elected on the basis of his popularity but once in office he did no work, got drunk or just sat around doing nothing. What can be done about that? So I think this issue should be re-examined in the future.
You have the floor because we met some time ago, in Ufa, I think.
DEPUTY EDITOR IN CHIEF OF IZVESTIA MORDOVII TAMARA TERESHINA: Thank you, Mr President, and thank you for your perfect memory. This testifies again that you are an innovator and a young president with great prospects.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: That is a pleasure to hear.
TAMARA TERESHINA: Mr President, I have brought with me a photograph taken at the news conference three years ago – just as a talisman, and it has helped, hasn’t it? It was just before the presidential election. It was an informal event…
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I can take off my tie at the end, if you think that would be more appropriate.
TAMARA TERESHINA: You were wearing very elegant jeans, all of us noticed it. My colleagues and I sincerely wished you victory in the election, and it so happened that the Russian people shared our view and you became the youngest President of Russia and one of the youngest political leaders in the world.
And today we can see that you have a young and modern agenda, one that meets the challenges of our time. One of the prominent items on that agenda is the Skolkovo Innovation Centre, a project that should become a beacon and a brand symbolising new Russia.
Recently Saransk hosted a session of the Innovation Council and meetings of two State Duma committees, where world-renowned researchers and academicians were saying that Skolkovo is becoming a powerful point of growth. The process is underway in the regions as well, in particular, technoparks are being established, including in Mordovia, and an association of innovative regions has been set up, which is a completely new entity. We’ve never seen anything like that, thus the regions seem to understand the importance of innovation. Therefore, my question is this: do you think it is possible that the legislative ‘umbrella’ that applies to Skolkovo can be extended to support research and promote know-how, to commercialise know-how from the regions and to support the points of growth in the regions?
And one more question: during your visit to Dozhd (Rain) television channel’s studios you said that after you leave the presidency you would like to teach at Skolkovo. We have a centre for gifted children and teenagers in Saransk. Would you like to give two or three lectures for our students?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Skolkovo was invented, devised and built precisely so that its experience could be replicated. I am very pleased to be here today and to see all of you at his centre. It is a symbol of change, a symbol of modernisation, a symbol of our aspiration to improve our lives. However, it is not the only example of how we need to engineer the technological reconstruction of our state.
I would very much like to see organisations similar to Skolkovo spring up all over the country, and I do not exclude the possibility that we will set up Skolkovo’s representative offices, branches or some kinds of subsidiaries in different regions, especially since technoparks and other innovative organisations where these processes have been launched are already in place. What is important is impetus, which is exactly what Skolkovo is and I would like it to be perceived as such.
Therefore, this ‘umbrella’, as you put it, must be used in a variety of places and in some situations we should grant the same privileges as Skolkovo enjoys as an innovation centre.
As for the future plans, they are very definite since I have no doubt that one day I will no longer be President. I have always thought that I would like to share my experience, the experience of my presidency and my work in the Government. I think it can be very useful. Many interpreted my words as a farewell of sorts but that’s not true at all. I am sure that I will teach in the future because I like it, I find it interesting and useful, and I think it is a good job.
SWISS TELEVISION CORRESPONDENT CHRISTOF FRANZEN: Mr President, I have a question regarding the case of Hermitage Capital and Sergei Magnitsky. The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the case at the request of Hermitage Capital, and it involves charges of tax fraud in Russia and possible laundering of those funds in Switzerland. Will Russia cooperate with Switzerland on this matter?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: It is important to get to the bottom of this case. Russia will cooperate in regard to any procedures within the limits of the law, including the procedures that take place in Switzerland. The Prosecutor General reported to me about the official queries and I issued instructions to the Prosecutor General’s Office to handle the inquiry. I will admit that I have held consultations on this subject with the heads of other Russian law enforcement agencies, namely with the Chairman of the Investigative Committee and the Director of the Federal Security Service. It is essential to carry out the investigation to the end. This case involves a very tragic event – the death of Sergei Magnitsky, and we must find out why it took place. In this regard the investigators have already made substantial progress and I have been briefed that the investigation into the circumstances of Mr Magnitsky’s death will be completed in the nearest future.
As for the essence of the case, including possible tax fraud and other offences, things are not as simple as the media sometimes portrays and we must find out the truth and identify the circle of persons involved both in Russia and in other countries. Therefore, I feel strongly that it should be an objective, thorough and comprehensive investigation conducted quickly and its findings must be presented to the public.
Go ahead, please. Are you going to ask your question in unison?
PROJECT DIRECTOR OF THE SKOLKOVO FOUNDATION IT CLUSTER ALBERT YEFIMOV: We have the same question.
We represent the Skolkovo Foundation and I think I have the right to ask the question because apart from working at the Foundation I am also a blogger.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Will your colleague ask a question too?
ALBERT YEFIMOV: That was one of our projects shown earlier. We presented several of the Foundation’s projects we are currently working on.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: It's not a project – it’s your neighbour.
ALBERT YEFIMOV: Nevertheless, here’s the question I wanted to ask. Mr President, which of your current initiatives do you believe will remain part of the Russian history for years to come? There are today’s challenges, tomorrow’s challenges, and there are challenges that will remain forever or for decades. Which tasks are truly important? Now my colleague will ask the second question.
ALEXANDER CHACHAVA: The question is as follows: the Russian segment of the Internet is currently vulnerable to hacker attacks and various cyber crimes, as we have seen in recent weeks. Could you please comment on what the state is doing to make sure that hackers in Russia do not go unpunished, that they are prosecuted by the law, just like other thieves, criminals and crooks?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: The first question that was asked was very important. If you do not mind I will answer it at the end.
Now regarding the Internet. I have recently met with representatives of the Internet community, with bloggers and executives of the Internet companies. What can I say? It is a very new sphere and there are many problems even when it comes to making an accurate diagnosis of what is happening: who is to blame and what can be done, what has happened and how to prevent hacker attacks, including, the DDoS attacks you are referring to. The problem is that there is no effective response or technological answer to these issues anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, law enforcement agencies must have instruments at their disposal, both legislative and technological, to find the ‘authors’ of such attacks and bring them to justice.
What did we agree on? Per my directive, representatives of the online community will meet with the senior officials of the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service and discuss the legal and institutional mechanisms that could be established in this area. This will be fair and right. I hope that this meeting will take place soon. I remind my colleagues in law enforcement to bear this in mind.
KOMMERSANT-FM RADIO CORRESPONDENT YURY MATSARSKY: Mr President, would you please tell us if you believe that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s release from prison would constitute a danger for society?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: It’s a short question and the answer will be short too: it would constitute no danger whatsoever.
Friends, we've been working for two hours. We can’t go on forever, so let’s find the courage to finish it off with a flair, although to be honest, I have greatly enjoyed this precisely because it is spontaneous and unplanned communication - every one of you wants to ask a question. Some of you were lucky to ask one.
REMARK: One last question.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Why last? I still have the questions I selected earlier.
REMARK: Education and healthcare.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Education and healthcare. I will say a couple of words on the subject. I have a question I had picked about that.
All right, I suggest that you keep your unasked questions for a future occasion, since our lives are not at an end, on the contrary, they are at their peak and I hope we will have many more meetings. I'm not going to give up my trips around the Russian regions and to foreign countries. The experience of my contacts with some of you here has shown that I stay in touch with the regional media, that I don’t hide from it and try to answer your different questions. As for the federal media outlets, I interact with them on a regular basis.
I would like to go through some of the questions that have been sent to me. Perhaps this is the essence of the questions that have not been asked yet, and I chose some of the questions because I found them interesting. I will name the people who submitted these questions.
The question about NATO and the European anti-missile defence: I've already answered it, so I want to thank Zhang Guangzheng, a Renmin Ribao correspondent, but this question was asked earlier by a journalist from another media outlet.
Here is a question that I thought was very important and it hasn’t been discussed enough. Inna Salnikov of Omsk-Inform, I do not know if you are here now? You are, good, you’ve been lucky. "Mr President, I live in Siberia, and like many Siberians I am faced with the following problem: it is much easier to travel to Moscow or St Petersburg than to a neighbouring region. It takes 14 hours to cover 800 kilometres between Chelyabinsk and Omsk by a long distance train. Transportation is more stable between Siberian regions, but nevertheless, there has been no cardinal change for the better. Will money be invested in this sector and are any special programmes being planned?”
The answer is yes, absolutely, these programmes exist, they have not been shelved, and I hope that they will bring results, even if it takes longer than a year or two to see them. There are two programmes: one concerns the development of rail transport for the period up to 2030, and the second is a transport strategy, the Federal Targeted Programme for the Development of Transport until 2015. These are multibillion-ruble programmes, and they will be implemented. I would like to note that I understand perfectly how acute this issue is for many Russians, because it is extremely frustrating if you want to get from Omsk to Tomsk and are forced to fly via Moscow. We must revive interregional transportation, the regions must have their own aircraft fleets, they must get leased planes and operate the flights.
As for the railways, there is only one programme supervised by the Russian Railways, and the funding allocated for it amounts to 350 billion rubles a year, if I’m not mistaken. This is a lot of money and it must be spent effectively but I am confident that it will bring results.
I’ve been watching the way transportation links have been developing in other countries. I visited China recently and I saw how quickly speed rail links between cities are expanding. It is imperative that we work on this sector. We must not lose our competitive edge, and we must maintain a unified fabric of our country and our economy. We will invest heavily in this area.
Here's a good question. I hope you will like it. It’s from Angelina Ardeyeva, the Vyngy Vada (The Word of Tundra) magazine. It’s a really good question. "I would like to draw your attention to the following problem. The deer is the only animal that is used over 100%. Russia needs innovative technology to develop reindeer breeding. Let me give you an example. In the past treated reindeer skins in the form of suede were used in the space industry because of their special properties. At present, we are exporting them to other countries and in the worst case just throwing them out. My question is this: what can the state do to support reindeer breeding, which is a traditional occupation of the indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic, in the context of industrial growth and global warming?"
However exotic this question may have seemed to my colleagues, I deliberately chose it for two reasons. First, because it has to do with the way of life of many people, the people of the north. And second, I saw it as somewhat abstract too until I began to get involved in the national project. On our friends’ request, a special sub-programme has been introduced in the national project called The Development of Reindeer Breeding and Drove Breeding of Horses. Just due to this programme, the number of reindeer has been raised to 1,500,000 heads. We will continue to allocate funding and will certainly implement relevant programmes. At the same time, it is crucial to introduce processing technologies, which is what I hope the regions will finance. Processing plants should not be financed from the federal budget; the regions must find the funding for them. So you can go ahead and tell your governors from me: they must allocate the money.
Here's another important question. Artyom Pucheglazov of European Media Group: “Do you use junk words that you would like to get rid of?”
When I was thinking about my answer, I thought I would say yes, there are such and such words that are annoying, and I will try to stop using them.
But if we are serious, I would like to address all of you here and say that you are carriers of vitally important knowledge. And the language used by our media will determine the language of our children, the language of the future. Therefore, it seems to me very important that we all try to speak correct and beautiful Russian, our native Russian language, and to popularise and promote it everywhere.
And the last subject. Our colleague from Skolkovo asked this question too, as well as Yury Pronko from the Finam radio: “Mr President, exactly one year remains until the end of your first term as President. Many important events will still take place in this remaining period of your presidency but if you look back at the past three years, can you identify your main achievements? If possible, please tell us frankly about your failures.” Essentially, our colleague from Skolkovo asked about the same thing.
I do not think that I have any surprises for you in this regard, but I will say that I see it as a clear success and major achievement of the past three years that in what was perhaps the most difficult period of our country's development over the past ten years, during the global financial crisis, at the time of rising unemployment, we did not lose the momentum of national development. We were able to preserve all our main programmes and there was no dramatic deterioration in living standards; on the contrary, we recovered quickly and began to move forward.
I believe that is particularly important, especially if we see the tensions that remain in many European countries, which in some ways are perhaps even more successful and richer than we are. But we do not have the processes that exist today in the financial sector in Spain, Portugal and Greece. It is also crucial that we were able to join forces in that difficult period.
I think the main achievements also include the fact that we were able to implement a considered foreign policy that led to the easing of tension in relations with a number of states. This is very good simply because it gives us an opportunity to grow without being distracted by extraneous issues. But at the same time, we were able to defend ourselves and today we can defend ourselves, our independence, our sovereign decisions. I am referring to very complex issues, including the events of 2008. I believe it was very important for our state to make sure the nation did not fall apart but felt strong, regardless of other countries’ interpretation of those events. This was important primarily for ourselves.
As for the failures and shortcomings, I think here the answer is obvious. We have not succeeded at radically improving the standard of living in Russia. We developed but not as quickly as we would have liked. We addressed social issues but many problems remain: we have a high percentage of low income families, approximately 13% live beyond the poverty line. That is a great deal for a country such as ours, though let me remind you that some time ago the figure was 30%. Nevertheless, this is a very serious issue.
We have been unable to diversify our economy in the way we planned to. We have not been able to steer away from commodity dependence. We have not improved the investment climate to any great extent. This is not a reason to lose confidence but it defines the agenda for the future.
Thank you very much.
One final thing: I hope that all those who did not have a chance to ask their questions will be able to do so in the future.
All the best to you.