Saturday, November 1, 2014

President of Russia

YouTube channel

News conference of Vladimir Putin

News conference of Vladimir Putin.

1/37 Photo: the Presidential Press and Information Office Full captionFull caption|||Minimise

Vladimir Putin's news conference took place at the World Trade Centre on Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment.

Multimedia

Over 1,000 Russian and 200 foreign journalists were accredited to cover the news conference.

Channel One, Rossiya-1 and Rossiya-24 TV channels and Radio Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations broadcasted the event.

* * *

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased that the media has shown such interest in today’s event. Greetings to all of you. I know that there are many journalists from the Russian regions here. I will try to answer your questions to the exstent possible and tell you my perception of the outgoing year’s results. (Can everyone hear me all right?) As usual, I will begin by citing some figures. They are widely known but I have the most recent data, so I think that you will find it interesting.

To start with, the main indicators of economic development, the growth of GDP (gross domestic product) – I have the data for January-October 2012 – 3.7%. This is slightly lower than last year, when we had 4.3% growth, but I want to point out that amid the recession in the Eurozone, slowing economic growth in the United States and even some scaling down in China, I consider this a good result overall.

What were the causes of the slowdown this year? I've already mentioned the first reason, the general slowdown in global economic growth and even a recession in the Eurozone, one of the leading global centres. The second reason is our domestic problem, which is primarily concerned with crop failure. Last year the grain harvest was 90 million tonnes, and this year it was just over 74 million. This had an impact on inflation to some extent, which I will talk about a little later, and slowed down the pace of economic growth in the 3rd and 4th quarter. But, I repeat, I think overall this is a satisfactory result.

As for inflation, I am sure you know that last year it was the lowest in 20 years. This is an achievement we are very proud of because we tried to suppress inflation for a long time. Now we have seen the result of our efforts. This year (as of December 17), inflation rose slightly and was 6.3%, but as you can see, the figure is very similar to last year’s.

Industrial growth was 4.7% last year and 2.7% this year, which is almost half. Naturally, we cannot be happy about that. However, the fact that investment in fixed assets has not fallen, and has even shown slight growth, gives us reason to feel optimistic. Last year the figure was 8.3% and this year it is 8.4%. At the same time, the growth was much higher in the manufacturing sector, 4.4%, which is particularly gratifying. I hope that this is also the result of the Russian Government’s constructive policy.

Now on social issues. In 2011 the average monthly salary was 23,369 rubles, and in November of this year it was 27,607 rubles [$900]. Last year's growth was 2.8%, and this year it was 8.8%. This is a good indicator.

Another socioeconomic indicator that is very important for our country and for any other market economy is the unemployment rate and the situation in the labour market. Based on ILO calculation methods, the unemployment rate last year was 6.6% in Russia. In fact, we started the year with 6.6 % as well but by November of 2012 it fell to 5.3-5.4%. This is an excellent result and one of the best indicators in the developed economies around the world. The number of officially registered unemployed is 1%.

Real disposable incomes increased by 0.8% last year and by 4% this year. We know what is behind this growth. It is due to a sharp increase in the incomes of servicemen, internal troops and pay rises in the Interior Ministry. This is due to a 60% increase in pensions. I will speak about the planned pension increases later. The social sector wages have also posted growth. This applies to school teachers and university professors. I am sure we’ll come back to this issue. There has also been a clear growth in healthcare professionals’ salaries. Taken together, this is what has produced this result. I think it is a good result. The growth of 4% is a decent indicator.

As of October 2012, the retirement monthly pension has been raised to 9,810 rubles [$300] from 8,876 rubles. The social pension has also grown, but, unfortunately, it remains quite low: it was 5,200, and has been increased to 5,942, but bear in mind that this is the social pension.

Finally, let us look at the maternity capital. I remember there used to be a lot of questions about whether we were going to raise it. I want to reiterate: we are going to raise it and we will continue raising it. If last year the maternity capital was 365,698 rubles [$12,000], at present it is 387,640 rubles, and on January 1, 2013 it will be increased to 408,961 rubles.

To return to the economy, the banking system capitalisation is growing. What is particularly gratifying, there has been an increase in people’s deposits in our banks and our financial institutions, which grew by 19.6% year on year. In absolute figures, this amounts to 13.1 trillion rubles.

We have a trade surplus. Last year it was 198.2 billion and in January to October of this year it amounted to 164.6 billion. I think the figure for the year will not be any lower than for 2011. Bear in mind that the figures I am citing are preliminary and will be finalised in the 1st quarter of 2013.

We have been able to achieve these results not only due to the favourable global  economic factors, which were certainly in place, but also through the Government’s purposeful actions. First, Russia joined the WTO. Second, we signed the free trade zone agreement in the CIS. Third, the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space with Belarus and Kazakhstan were established. I have already talked about this at the news conference yesterday.

Trade with these countries grew by 10% – that is not bad at all. Most importantly, and I want to reiterate this in front of this large audience, we have a very good structure of trade with the Customs Union countries. Machinery and equipment make up 20% of all goods traded. That is very good, because machinery and equipment make up only 2% in our trade with the rest of the world – this is the average figure for all three Customs Union states. This suggests that we are very comfortable and the right partners for each other.

National debt remains at very low level, a little over 10%, of which the external debt makes up only 2.5%, there is little change here. We have one of the best positions of all developed economies according to this indicator.

The Central Bank’s international reserves have grown from $498.6 billion last year to $527.3 billion, this figure is for December 7. The reserve fund has also increased substantially: from $25.2 billion to $61.4 billion today. The National Welfare Fund has remained almost the same: it amounted to $86.8 billion last year and is 87.5 now.

I want to point out the stability of state finances despite the existing problems, of which we have many and I am sure we will discuss them later.

The Government made a very important decision this year to adopt the budget rule, that is, a cutoff of federal revenues and their use in current expenditure only up to the level of the price of a barrel of oil. For 2013, this level is $91 per barrel. Incidentally, this is a rather strict rule. The second part of the budget rule is that we agreed that we would not spend the money from the reserve funds until we achieve a certain level of savings in these funds. As a result, the budget is quite tight but feasible, and this together with an increase in the reserves – the Central Bank's reserves and the Government reserves – suggests that we have a balanced and meticulous financial and economic policy.

We are particularly proud of the birth rate indicator, the best in the past 20 years, as well as a low mortality rate, also the lowest in 20 years. This suggests that people have begun to plan their lives in a different way, expanding family planning horizons. This suggests that despite all the problems, of which we have more than enough, there is a sense of confidence in the country’s future as a result of our efforts. I have cited the income growth and welfare figures. I think this has had a positive effect in addition to the special measures to boost the birth rate and positive demographic processes.

Apart from the maternity capital, which I talked about earlier, we have a comprehensive programme for the support of women who decide to have the second and subsequent children. Starting next year, in the 1st quarter, the Government will launch a programme for the support of families with three and more children. In the 50 regions of the Russian Federation where the demographic indicators have been negative for several years (the north-west of the country, parts of the Volga areas and the Far East), families will receive an additional monthly allowance amounting to the subsistence minimum for children.

That is all I wanted to say in the beginning and will end my monologue now. I am sure that you have a lot of questions, or you would not have come here. Let’s start our direct conversation.

DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE PRESIDENTIAL EXECUTIVE OFFICE AND PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SECRETARY DMITRY PESKOV: Mr President, we could start with questions and answers, if you don’t mind.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Peskov will help us to warm up at the start. To find our bearings, and then we will move on to direct communication.

DMITRY PESKOV: I know some of you by name, but not all of you, so please introduce yourselves, state your city and media outlet.

Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Ksenia Sokolova, Snob magazine.

In response to US Congress passing the Magnitsky Act, the State Duma adopted restrictive measures against US nationals who want to adopt Russian orphans. Do you think this is an adequate response? Does it not bother you that the most destitute and helpless children become a tool in a political conflict?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, you have just said that this is a response to the so-called Magnitsky Act. Let me tell you briefly what I think about it. I have already spoken about it, but let me just outline my attitude to this case.

This is undoubtedly an unfriendly act towards the Russian Federation. What is at issue here is not just officials who are not allowed to open bank accounts or own real estate. I mentioned this in my Address to the Federal Assembly recently. We also believe that Russian state officials, especially high-ranking politicians should keep their money in Russian banks. Incidentally, there are many banks in Russia with one hundred percent foreign capital, and there can be no doubt as to their efficiency and reliability. If such a bank has an office in Russia or in Vienna, or in some other capital makes no difference; what is important is that it is an international financial institution. Hold it here, please.

As for real estate, I have also spoken about this. If our colleagues abroad can help us identify those who violate laws, we will be grateful to them and can even give them a prize for their efforts. However, the issue here has nothing to do with officials. It’s a matter of one anti-Soviet, anti-Russian law being replaced with another. They can’t seem to do without it. They keep trying to stay in the past. This is very bad, and has a negative impact on our relations. 

As for the issue you have mentioned, the adoption of Russian children by foreigners, as far as I know, public opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority of Russians do not support the adoption of Russian children by foreign nationals. We must do it ourselves. We must support the adoption of abandoned children or orphans.

In this regard, I fully support Mr Medvedev’s proposal. We should promote this work in our country, remove bureaucratic barriers and give even more support to the families that adopt children.

Now for the American side. It’s not about specific people, US citizens who have adopted our children. We know that tragedies happen but the vast majority of people who adopt Russian children take good care of them and are good, decent people. The State Duma’s response was not to that but to the US authorities’ position. What is their position? It is a fact that when a crime is committed against an adopted Russian child, the American justice system often does not react at all and releases the people who have clearly committed a criminal offense against a child, of any criminal responsibility. But that's not all. Russian representatives are denied any access, even as observers, in these legal processes.

We recently signed an agreement between the US State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry on the actions Russian representatives can take in such crises or conflicts. What happens in practice? In practice, it turns out that according to US legislation, states have jurisdiction over such cases. And when our representatives try to fulfil their obligations under the agreement, they say, ‘This is not a federal case, it’s a state case, and you do not have any agreements with the individual states. Go to the State Department and sort it out with them because you signed an agreement with them’. But the federal government refers them to the states. So what is the point of this agreement? Russian representatives are not even granted access as observers, much less as participants in the case.

What concerns do our partners in the United States and their lawmakers voice? They talk about human rights in Russian prisons and places of detention. That is all well and good, but they also have plenty of problems in that area.

I have already talked about this: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, where people are kept jailed for years without being charged. It is incomprehensible. Not only are those prisoners detained without charge, they walk around shackled, like in the Middle Ages. They legalised torture in their own country.

Can you imagine if we had anything like this here? They would have eaten us alive a long time ago. It would have been a worldwide scandal. But in their country everything is quiet. They have promised many times that they would close down Guantanamo, but it’s still there. The prison is open to this day. We don’t know, maybe they are still using torture there. These so-called secret CIA prisons. Who has been punished for that? And they still point out our problems. Well, thank you, we are aware of them. But it is outrageous to use this as a pretext to adopt anti-Russian laws, when our side has done nothing to warrant such a response.

I understand that the State Duma’s response is emotional but I think it is adequate.

QUESTION: Mr President, I am Alexander Kolesnichenko from Argumenty i Fakty.

I am an adoptive parent myself, and regardless of the foreign policy context I considered the amendment passed by the State Duma yesterday to be outrageous, inadequate and, sorry, cannibalistic. The people who have passed this law say that we have enough money to take care of our orphans and enough families willing to adopt tens of thousands of abandoned children. This is not true, or not completely true. Moreover, I think they are deceiving us, just as the regional authorities deceive us when they report on the growth of average wages in the public sector.

We have a national newspaper, and we get a lot of letters from the regions saying that teachers get a real shock when they compare their salaries to the so-called average wages. Sorry, this is probably another question. I hope that some of my colleagues will devote more attention to it. In yesterday’s news ...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I will answer that question too.

Go on.

QUESTION: I think there were only two good news items yesterday.

First, more people got a better idea of what the State Duma stands for.

And second, Prime Minister Medvedev said that there is a real need for new steps, new programmes.

Could you tell us in a little more detail what steps and programmes these will be? My personal three-year experience shows that our system treats adoptive parents as a threat on the one hand and a burden on the other. It was a great shock for me when we got to the final step in the process, came to court and had to face legal violations and humiliation out of nowhere.

Sorry, this is probably the third question. I am sure some of my colleagues will also ask about the judicial system.

Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have already voiced my position regarding yesterday’s decision. I disagree with you totally.

First of all, I repeat, this is not about specific people but about the attitude of the American authorities to the problems that arise in extraordinary situations when children's rights are violated and criminal offenses are committed. They are well known, as is the reaction of the US authorities.

I will say again that they do not allow Russian representatives access to these cases, even as court observers. I believe that is unacceptable. Do you think this is normal? How can it be normal when you are humiliated? Do you like it? Are you a masochist? They shouldn’t humiliate our country. It is true that we must work to enhance our system. Moreover, we have not banned adoptions by all foreigners. There are other countries besides the United States.

As you may know, many US states do not allow observers from international organizations to be present during elections. Do you like that? The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights was told outright that they must keep a 300-metre distance or they will be arrested. And all is quiet, everyone likes it. This ODIHR wrote that the election was fine and democratic. Do you like it? I don’t think so.

Why then do you call the law cannibalistic? The fact that you have adopted a child is highly commendable. I hope that many others will follow your example. You are a sincere and decent man if you did what you did, it is true, I know what I’m saying.

As for our judicial system, which perhaps is unnecessarily meticulous in such cases. You know, this largely depends on the personality of the judge who decides the case. People are different, including in the judicial system.

I remember when my good friend and colleague Gerhard Schroeder adopted two Russian children, they came to the court in St Petersburg and the judge asked, ‘How does your eldest daughter feel about the adoption?’ She said, ‘What does that have to do with me? Nobody has asked me’. And the judge said: ‘I'm asking you. If you are against it, I will not allow it’.

You know, this makes sense because each member of the family has to make this decision for themselves. And that is what the whole judicial system is aimed at. It would have been a tough decision but a fair one. After all, there is another problem: people reject the children they adopt and the number of such cases is growing. Therefore, it would not be right to simplify procedures here. Society must have a clear understanding whether a given family is capable of bringing up a child, whether they have the means to support him and whether the state aid that the family receives will be sufficient to raise the child. All these things are extremely important, and if a family is just looking to get some benefits, then perhaps they should be rejected.

It is important to understand all these things. If you want to ask me what exactly is to be done, I will have to think about it. This should be considered by specialists, experts and people like you. I say this completely sincerely. These are not just words. These are not empty words. We must talk with the people who bring up adopted children. There are many aspects to that. But as I said, I completely agree with Mr Medvedev and we had even discussed this issue previously, that we must expand the opportunities for Russian families to adopt children, to become adoptive and foster parents, and so on. We must establish a whole range of support measures, both financial and moral.

DMITRY PESKOV: Colleagues from Kuzbass.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr President. Oksana Panarina, columnist for the Kuzbass newspaper.

First of all, I would like to invite you to visit Kuzbass on December 25. We will be mining the 200 millionth tonne of coal – this is a record in Kuzbass history. And in January, the region will be celebrating 70 years since its foundation.

Now, here is my question: the issue of resettling residents from dilapidated housing is particularly acute in our region. A great deal has been done but it is not enough. Does the Government plan to increase funding for the resettlement of people from dilapidated housing?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I want to wish you happy holidays and congratulate the miners on the record results. I must say that the production and sales of coal in Russia and abroad are increasing all the time, and this year the miners have reached new hights compared to last year. Production has increased, as well as export deliveries, which is an excellent indicator. Miners do hard and very dangerous work, which requires constant attention from the state. And the people living in dilapidated housing need the support of the whole country and the federal Government.

You mentioned the programme we have in this area. I have been to such places and talked to the people, and I have also seen the flats they were moving into. It is a very expensive programme but we will continue it. As I said in the Address to the Federal Assembly and in my previous speeches, I hope that in the coming years we will fully resolve the issue of emergency buildings. There are two reasons to tackle this first, since the conditions in emergency buildings are much worse and even dangerous, and according to the law we are obliged to resettle the residents of such housing as quickly as possible. Therefore, we will first tackle this problem, and then gradually move on to address the issue of the dilapidated housing, although we will also increase the regions’ responsibility because we cannot allow for the amount of dilapidated housing to increase as we reduce the number of emergency buildings. This danger exists, but it is a separate issue. In any case, I can assure you that it will be at the centre of our attention.

DMITRY PESKOV: ITAR-TASS, our national news agency.

QUESTION: Veronika Romanenkova from ITAR-TASS.

You have been working as President for seven months now, and during that time you already managed to dismiss several ministers and reprimand several others, something that has never happened before. Why is that? Have your standards become higher or are ministers not up to their tasks?

In general, are you satisfied with the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s performance? You are not planning to send anyone else into early retirement, are you?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: In general I am happy with both the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s performance. We must not forget that the current Prime Minister served as head of state for four years which is both a huge responsibility and great experience. For this reason I am sure that Mr Medvedev will apply and use all this in his new position. Even though I know firsthand, and not just from rumours, how difficult this work is.

In this respect we talk about having to get your hands dirty, or get down in the pit, as miners say, and assume primary responsibility for decisions made. This situation is both very important and not always correctly understood, because the responsibility involved here is tangible. Take a decision, sign something: all this entails certain results. Whether they are positive or negative, they are immediately visible.

As for dismissals, there really have not been so many. I reprimanded three ministers. Why did this not happen before, and why was it required now? First, the situation in Russia has changed. We have to resolve what have become chronic, but nevertheless very important problems, especially in the social sphere. We talked about the need to raise salaries and the like. (By the way, let me say that I did not answer the question about teachers.) People working in Government are experienced, many of them have worked in different ministries for several years now, but they have never been top decision-makers. And yet many think that they already know everything. These are colleagues with whom I have worked for many years, but they must realise that there should be no difference between what was set out during the presidential campaign as high-priority and medium-term economic and social objectives, and what the Government is currently doing. They must work towards these goals. Our country is awaiting results in these areas. We should not have a situation in which presidential statements are one thing, and the Government’s real activities are something else. Ours must be the work of a well-organised team, a unified team, otherwise there will be no results. And people should finally realise this. That’s the first thing.

Second: I did not throw anybody out. I must tell you that the minister who resigned, after working for just a few weeks (and I do not want to reveal any state secrets, there is nothing special here) had begun to ask questions about whether he was in the right place. He expected it to be a little bit different. Incidentally, there is nothing special here, this is no crime. This person was previously engaged in internal politics, and basically it seemed to him that the Regional Development Ministry would be something similar. But it’s completely different, it’s domestic work. There we need to deal with roads and roofs, figuratively speaking; it is quite another matter.

It is no bad thing when a person talks about this honestly; no one will throw him or her out because of this. It doesn’t even relate to being reprimanded. He simply said: ‘You know, I see that it is not quite what I expected’. He stated this honestly and resigned. And he was right to do so. Why should he suffer at a wrong job and make others suffer too? That would be absolutely wrong. In principle, by and large and despite the fact that I reprimanded him, he is quite a capable and experienced person, and I think that his experience could be well used elsewhere.

DMITRY PESKOV: A colleague with the sign “Farmers would like to speak.” But please, do not speak, simply ask your question.

QUESTION: Fine, thank you very much. Oleg Kashtanov, from the newspaper Izvestiya Mordovia.

I have a question from the farmers of our Republic, where they amount to 40 percent of the population. This year they have worked well: they harvested more than 1 million tonnes of sugar beets, an unprecedented amount.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Where are they 40 percent of the population, in the Republic [of Mordovia]?

OLEG KASHTANOV: In the Republic, yes.

There is an issue which they would like to raise. The problem is as follows. A new regime for subsidising regional crops according to the so-called per hectare basis will be introduced in 2013. So this regime hurts regions in which livestock breeding is highly developed. On the one hand, farmers are asking for certain adjustments to the new order, and, on the other, they promise to double their production of meat over the next three years. Thus they will contribute to Russia’s food security, something you mentioned in the Address [to the Federal Assembly].

They wrote an appeal, Mr President, and if I may I will give it to you. And my related question: can farmers count on your support?

And one more thing please, if you’ll allow me. The residents of Mordovia asked me to convey their thanks for helping the Republic organise the 1,000th anniversary of the union between the people of Mordovia and other Russia’s nations. Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: And did they forget the World Cup [in 2018]? (Laughter.)

OLEG KASHTANOV: That was a special party for us.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I know that you had a special celebration on this occasion, and it’s true that sport is developing very well in Mordovia. I think that preparations for the World Cup have become a Republic-wide phenomenon, which is very good. It’s really great that both former Governor Nikolai Merkushkin and current leaders pay so much attention to development of physical culture and sports.

But to go back to your question about the new regime of subsidies per hectare, I must say that the Government took this decision in response to persistent requests from farmers. It was farmers who raised the issue of this subsidy. True, there are different approaches to this issue, but in general such a system is used in many different countries. It’s formulated differently but it is used in many countries and is highly cost consuming. It is not fully effective on its own; the important thing is how it is applied. If you and your colleagues, Mordovian farmers, believe that there are problems associated with the system (you didn’t tell me exactly what they were), then I can promise you I will put the question to the Government today and they will try to find out exactly what the problem is. And of course if we realise that decisions taken need to be adjusted, we will correct this as well.

But as for the traditional occupations of agricultural workers in Mordovia, I have no doubt that Mordovian farmers will show their best side just as they did in previous years. I would also like to note that there is no gold, no oil, and no gas deposits in Mordovia, the same as in some other Russian regions, but the Republic is developing at quite a good pace and in a versatile way. This applies not only to agriculture; it also applies to industry, and especially gratifying is the development of cultural and educational spheres.

I am very pleased to be able to say (this is not related to the question at hand, but I want to make use of the fact that there are many media representatives here) that Mordovia is one of our best examples of a multinational republic, in which relations between different ethnic groups and religions are absolutely harmonious. We travelled there with colleagues from Hungary and Finland, and we saw women and men in traditional dress in a street in one of the villages. And the President of Finland at that time, Tarja Halonen, asked: “Are you wearing these clothes because of the special occasion?” And they answered: “Yes, but we wear our national costume on ordinary days too – in truth, it’s a bit easier”. You know, this was so organic, so beautiful and so nice, that in all honesty it made me very glad.

So I wish you all the best.

DMITRY PESKOV: Let’s continue: Life News please.

QUESTION: Good afternoon Mr President, there are many jokes going around about you, no doubt your aides have told them to you?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, they are afraid to tell me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The latest one concerns the end of the world, for example: ‘Putin promises so much that he knows exactly when it will come’. Or for example: ‘The President decided to hold his news conference the day before the end of the world, because he wanted to pass final judgment on all of humanity’.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Just a second. First of all, I do know when the world will end.

QUESTION: When?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: In approximately 4.5 billion years. As far as I remember, this is because of the life cycle of our sun, which is 7 or 14 billion years. We are now in the middle of the cycle. I may be wrong and it may only be around 7 billion years, but around 4.5 billion have passed, and after another 4.5 billion years everything will end, the reactor will simply go out. That will be the end of the world. But before that point something else will happen to the sun: it will become a white dwarf and life will already stop at that time. If you look at the question of the end of the world from this perspective, it will end earlier.

QUESTION: So you are not afraid of this?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why be afraid if it’s inevitable?

QUESTION: People are saying that the French are scared and some are even fleeing to Russia. For example, [Gerard] Depardieu said that he received a passport from you but then Mr Peskov said that he was joking. So is it a joke or is it true? And what are the results of this? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, we have very good relations with France, we very much value our relations. They are traditionally very good.

Among our foreign partners France stands out. We have had very close spiritual ties for centuries now, despite tragic events in our common history. Nevertheless we have special economic, social and political relations with France.

Although France is a NATO member, we are met with understanding by its leaders and citizens, perhaps more so than in other countries. This is the first thing I want to say. So I hope that no decisions in this field will affect Russian-French relations.

Second: I am sure that high-ranking officials did not want to offend Gerard Depardieu. But any high- or medium-ranking officials will always defend their policy of decision-making. If this was not done very delicately, it is an unfortunate occurrence, nothing more.

But actors, musicians, and artists are people with a special, delicate psychological makeup and, as we say in Russia, the artist is easily offended. So I understand Mr Depardieu’s feelings. But I must say that even though he said – and I read his statement – that he considers himself a European, a citizen of the world, I know for a fact that he considers himself a Frenchman. I know this since we have very friendly, personal relations, even though we have not met many times. He loves his country, its history, its culture; that’s his life. And I am sure that he is going through difficult times and I hope that they will eventually end.

As for the humanitarian aspect of things, if Gerard really wants to have a residency permit for Russia, or a Russian passport, we can consider that this issue is resolved and will have a positive outcome.

DMITRY PESKOV: Tatarstan, please, left sector.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr President! My name is Dina Gazaliyeva, I represent my republic’s satellite television. I would like to know your opinion, as President of our nation, as the guarantor of the Constitution, on the statements by certain new politicians about how they want to change the territorial division of the nation’s regions. Some are even suggesting renaming them – for example, making Tatarstan the Kazan Republic and Bashkortostan the Ufa Republic. What do you think about all this?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, it is widely known that the Russian empire did not have divisions on the basis of ethnic territory lines; it simply had provinces.

This is true both of regions that are part of the Russian Federation today, as well as those that are no longer a part of our nation. For example, we had the Tiflissky Province, when there was still no Georgia. This is fully true for today’s federal constituent entities as well. And overall, things seemed to function fairly well.

Can we return to the past? I don’t know, and before talking about it, we should consult with the ethnic republics within the Russian Federation. We certainly do not need tensions in this area. In accordance with the law of the Russian Federation, no decisions along these lines can be made except through corresponding decisions by the federal constituent entities themselves. They can be adopted in two ways: either through a referendum, by vote, or through a decision by the parliament.

From the socio-economic point of view, it does sometimes make sense to talk about consolidation, so that a federal constituent entity could be just that (I spoke about this in my Address), so that it confirms its status of a sub-federal unit, and is capable of resolving its socio-economic problems and responding to current challenges.

But this should not be aimed at resolving the so-called ethnic issue. This is a very sensitive area and here, we cannot charge forward like a bull in a china shop. Let me stress this again: we are determined to adhere to the meaning and the letter of the law. In other words, issues of this kind cannot and will not be resolved without the federal constituent entities themselves.

DMITRY PESKOV: The young lady in the yellow jacket, please.

QUESTION: Inessa Zemler, Ekho Moskvy.

Hello, Mr President! I have a question and a request for clarification.

First, the clarification. First of all, I still do not understand your personal attitude toward this amendment: do you support the ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans? In one week, the document will be on your desk and you will need to decide whether or not to sign it.

And second, my question. You said a minister was supposed to take care of the roads. But nobody is working on the M-10 highway. Will it go into operation, or it won’t?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The M-10 highway?

INESSA ZEMLER: I’m talking about that very highway, the one connecting Moscow and St Petersburg.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, as a result of all the events around the Khimki forest, construction of the highway was postponed for 18 months. At a certain point, a situation arose when foreign partners said, if you are incapable of resolving domestic problems, we will wait a few more days or a few more weeks and then withdraw from the project.

Let me remind you that this highway is largely being funded through loans issued against guarantees of the French government. Thus, the loss of our French partners was highly undesirable, dangerous, and could have completely derailed this project. In that case, nothing would be getting built at all. It is unlikely that we could have reacted swiftly enough to gather a different pool of funding.

Thus, when we are resolving issues of protecting the environment, we are doing absolutely the right thing, but we always need to balance this with national interests and the development of our country and its infrastructure. If we had begun half a year earlier, it does not mean we wouldn’t currently have this difficult situation resulting from the snowfall, because I doubt construction would already be completed. Or perhaps it would be completed; I simply do not know the schedules involved. But one thing is clear: it would be constructed much more rapidly.

I want to stress that this certainly does not mean I am against the people who care about the environment and its protection.  But we simply need to do so in a civilised manner and weigh these issues against the need for development, because development always involves contradictions in this area. It is only important for there to be direct, civilised dialogue, so that people understand what they are doing and what kind of consequences may result.

I think that overall, we have been able to organise this work with environmental organisations during preparations for the Olympic Games. Moreover, you must understand that I had to make a decision that led to certain losses in the budget when we had already begun investing money into building facilities on the border with the biosphere reserve, and then the environmental organisations insisted that we move that facility. We lost, I believe, 100 million rubles. I said, “Fine, but at least we will maintain civil peace as well as the environment, and we can still make this change.” So we did.

In this particular case, unfortunately, this problem was not fully resolved in a civilised manner. That’s too bad. But apparently, the authorities should have acted differently from the beginning as well. They should have been more transparent and open. Perhaps then it would not have led to such clashes around the Khimki forest and would not have delayed construction of the highway.

Now, with regard to the law. I have not read it yet. I do not know the details. I did not see the text. I will need to see it. And I will literally try to do so today or tomorrow. I will make a decision depending on what it says. But overall, I think I have made my position on this problem fairly clear. I cannot make it any clearer.

Will I sign it or not? I need to read it first.

QUESTION: Do you support the adoption ban or not?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, I said that I do. It is only a question of the form and wording. After all, we still have an agreement with the [US] State Department and we need to see what it says. This is not a simple question.

DMITRY PESKOV: Let’s hear now from Magadan. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Antonina Lukina, Magadanskaya Pravda.

Mr President, before this news conference, as I was about to leave, I was, of course, preparing to ask a regional question. But now, just a short while ago, I looked online and once again saw some fairly specific information concerning the President’s health.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You should spend less time reading things online, they’ll teach you bad things.

QUESTION: Sometimes I have to. And now I’m looking up at the screen (since I am sitting far away from you), and up there, you seem like such an energetic, handsome man. My colleague from Primorye always gushes about how much she loves you, and today it is easy to see why.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you.

QUESTION: So my question is, could you please tell us where that information is coming from, and whom it serves?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: It serves political opponents who try to cast doubt on the authorities’ legitimacy and ability to perform. But I can answer the question about my health in the traditional way, In your dreams. (Laughter.)

DMITRY PESKOV: Sergei Brilyov, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Sergei Brilyov, Moscow, Rossiya TV channel.

Mr President, at the beginning of the news conference, you spoke about stability.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Did I? I hadn’t said a word about it.

QUESTION: You did.

At the end of your current term as president, you will have been in power so long that children who were born in your first year as President will become adults. Financial stability is a wonderful thing. But these 18 years – this is a special figure in Russian history; aren’t you concerned that stability could turn into stagnation?

And a legal question from a MGIMO University graduate (we studied international law there). I am not going to defend the Texas judge who did not allow observers into voting stations, I am not going to defend the American parents who killed a child, but even if every State Duma deputy takes in two children, the 450 deputies multiplied by two would make 900, and not the 956 children that Americans adopted last year. It would be wonderful if Russians were to take orphaned children into their families, but will you give the Foreign Ministry instructions to upgrade, to re-examine the Russian-American agreement? Because we do have a problem.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s start with the last point. I have already said that this situation simply isn’t working: we have signed an agreement with the federal authorities, but this is an area of law that falls under state legislation, and we simply are not allowed in there. After all, we know, I have information from the consulates, consulate employees are trying to access the court as observers in accordance with the agreement – they are simply not being let in. What then is the point of this agreement? It is nonsense. So naturally, we need to look at what is in it.

Incidentally, your colleague from Ekho Moskvy asked about this problem. This agreement stipulates that if one of the parties wants to renounce it, then they must give a year’s notice. So it’s not all that simple.

As for my view on what the deputies are doing: if the President of the United States agrees so easily with his legislators, then why do you think the President of Russia should cast doubt on what Russian legislators are doing?

As for the adoption of children by lawmakers, that’s great, and I’m sure that if we were to look into the matter, some of them adopt or take in foster children. But that is not their purpose; their purpose is to create rules of conduct, to regulate certain areas of public life with the help of legislation.

One year, we had some severe frosts in Leningrad – this was back in Soviet times, in the 1980s; Romanov was the first secretary of the regional party committee. Incidentally, there were many tall tales about him using dishes from the Hermitage, which is all really nonsense, but there are different ways of looking at the past. And when everything froze and residential buildings began to freeze, he kicked nearly the entire regional committee out to the street, saying “If you can’t govern, then go work in the streets.”  This may be looked at as good or as bad, but ultimately, you need governance, and working outside in the streets is not the best use of time for an administrator at that level.

Or, we can take a well-known example from the Great Patriotic War: Voroshilov arrived to command the Leningrad Front and went into battle himself. Is that good or bad? There is no doubt that he was a courageous man, a decent, fearless man, but he should have used a different management approach. So the same is true here. After all, it would certainly be nice if every deputy takes in a foster child, but that will not resolve the problems in our nation; corresponding laws need to be passed. We have already spoken about this today, your colleague asked about it. I think that we need to improve legislation, and that is the role of our nation’s parliament.

Stable stagnation – you know, that is always a very dramatic juxtaposition, but it does not have a serious foundation. Why? Because stability is a necessary, essential condition for development; I want to stress this and I want everybody to hear it. What kind of development can we have if everything in our nation is ripping at the seams in the political sense? Who will invest money in our country?

Regardless of how people may criticise the political system in China, money is flowing into that nation, first and foremost because it is stable, because investors know they can expect that their money will not disappear in five, ten or fifteen years as a result of some kind of political shock, and this is the most important precondition for stability. This does not mean that we must create the same system that China has, but we must ensure stability as a necessary condition for development, as I have already said many times.

DMITRY PESKOV: Our Georgian colleagues who have worked in Moscow for many, many years now.

QUESTION: Tamara Nutsubidze, Georgian television channel Rustavi 2.

Mr President, you once said that relations between our countries will depend on election results. Elections took place in Georgia and new people came to power. One of the first steps our new Prime Minister took was to appoint a special envoy [for relations with Russia]. Just a week ago there was a meeting between Mr Karasin [Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister] and Mr Abashidze.

I would like to know how you personally see the future of relations between our countries, based on the fact that the top priorities for the new Georgian authorities are the country’s territorial integrity, European integration and NATO membership. Are you ready for dialogue with the new government?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are seeing positive signals, very restrained so far but nevertheless positive, from the new Georgian government. And of course we not only see the fact that the Georgian government has appointed a special representative to normalise relations with Russia, we welcome it too. And as you see, we responded in the same way, otherwise there would have been no meeting with Karasin.

We will respond in the same way, but I want to draw your attention to a problem that is well-known. It stems from the fact that the incumbent President, Mr Saakashvili, has turned the current situation into a dead-end. Frankly, I do not really understand how to get out of this. Russia can’t revoke its recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We can’t do so by definition. But Georgia can’t agree to recognise their independence either. I have no idea what we can do about this.

We truly would like to normalise relations with Georgia. And to be perfectly honest, from an economic standpoint Georgia is even more interested in this than Russia. But we are not planning on turning up our nose and saying that we do not need this. No, we think that relations between two very close nations must be normalised, and we need to try and facilitate this. I do not know how to overcome the most difficult problems in our relationship, but because there are people who are willing to work on this in a professional way, let’s think about it together.

DMITRY PESKOV: Alexander Gamov, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Alexander Gamov. Radio, television and the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Radio, television and newspaper.

REPLY: Yes, we are an empire.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Like Murdoch.

REPLY: Almost: he’s fallen behind.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Be careful. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Mr President, you remember that Boris Yeltsin once said “I am the first President of Russia.” So by this measure you are both the second and fourth president of Russia, and you have been president twice. A lot has already been said and will be said about how our country and our people are changing. And how has Vladimir Putin changed over the years? How does Vladimir Putin, the fourth Russian president, differ from Vladimir Putin the second Russian president? What should we expect from you, will you work once again like a galley slave? What major steps will you take in the coming years, months, and days?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: As for slavery, we started working yesterday at 10:00 am and we finished at about 10:00 pm. My last meeting with Mr Sargsyan [President of Armenia] was over at five minutes to ten. And the whole week was very similar. In general I’m used to this.

About changes, you know the wonderful well-known saying: everything flows, everything changes. Therefore, people change, things change. You know, I will tell you how I’ve changed, and of course I’ve changed for the better; I cannot say that I’ve changed for the worse. I think that would not be very reasonable from my part, but of course changes have occurred and they are a result of both life and professional experiences.

I am convinced that working as Prime Minister for four years had a very positive impact on me, as did being forced to take direct responsibility in a very difficult and acute crisis for the country. And it was impossible to hide from this; of course it would have been possible but I consider that dodging this responsibility would have been absolutely wrong. I don’t know if you followed this or not, but I know that in late 2008, early 2009 it was necessary to stand up and say publicly: “We have problems here and there, but I want to say one thing only, and that is I will not let another 1998 happen, I promise.” Can you imagine this kind of responsibility?

I just talked about the fact that the opposition does not sleep, it looks at this and at that, but just imagine if everything came crashing down? Well, that would be the end! But it is very difficult to say anything with authority because of a huge number of unidentified factors we couldn’t influence. And this was the case more than once in those four years. I had to go into the details to be able to speak with confidence. This significantly increased the level of my professional training, confidence in what I do, what the people who work with me do, our entire team. Of course this is a positive thing.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr President, my name is Rolanda Kazachakova, I’m from the Republic of Tuva. Exactly one year ago on December 12 you were in Tuva and hammered in a rail spike launching the construction of the Kyzyl - Kuragino railway line. A year has gone by and it’s still as cold: - 46C. But the government has pulled out of the project, leaving one private investor.

My question is: should the people of Tuva expect trains on the Kyzyl - Kuragino line? Or was it for nothing that you froze in -46C, hammering in that spike? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is a very complex project, as I’m sure you know. It began when one of our businesses, which I think has been abroad for quite a long time now, acquired a mineral deposit. That company then traded it for a long time and involved various players.

It then became clear after these spikes were driven in and the first tracks were laid that the company was crippled by debts.  And this is the reason why we have had difficulty attracting investors to see the project through its normal development.

But the mineral resources have a great deal of potential both in relation to the consumption of coal in Russia, of which there is a great deal, and for export, including to China. And I would really like to see this project implemented.

Incidentally, it is no secret and everyone knows very well that the road should have been built by a private company, first and foremost to develop this coal deposit. Naturally, this would lead to the improvement of infrastructure throughout the region, which would also improve residents’ quality of life.  

I hope that these projects will be implemented. I think it is important to note that if the government’s participation is crucial, then we will participate.  

DMITRY PESKOV: Izvestiya newspaper.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Peskov knows everyone by sight, it’s surprising.

DMITRY PESKOV: I just have it written on a piece of paper.

REMARK: It’s good that a press secretary knows how to read.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: He can also listen.

QUESTION: Please, don’t laugh, you might not like the question.

Mr President, there are many journalists here, and we have a lot of questions for the authorities. And as it happens, we mainly associate state power with you.

In 12 years you have built quite a harsh, in some cases even authoritarian personal rule regime. Do you think this system is viable in the twenty-first century? And don’t you think it hinders Russia’s development?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think that we have ensured the stability that Sergei Brilyov asked about, and solely as a prerequisite for development. And as I have already said, I think this is extremely important.

But I cannot call this system authoritarian, I disagree with your thesis. And the most striking example that disproves it is my decision to step down as President after two terms. If I considered a totalitarian or authoritarian system preferable, I would simply have changed the Constitution, it would have been easy enough to do.

This doesn’t even require any sort of national vote, it would have been enough to take this decision in Parliament, where we had more than 300 votes. I deliberately took up the second position, both to ensure the continuity of government and to show respect for the Constitution and our laws.

As you know, at that time I couldn’t set myself the goal of inevitably returning after four years. That would have been ridiculous, especially since the crisis began and no one knew what would happen. We have all been through hard times. So, you can’t call this system authoritarian. If someone believes that democracy and compliance with laws are two different things, then that person is deeply mistaken.

Democracy is first and foremost about compliance with laws. Some are under the strange impression that democracy, like Trotskyism, is anarchy. It is not! [Mikhail] Bakunin was a wonderful person and very intelligent. But we do not need anarchy, or Trotskyism either.

You know that the anarchy of the 1990s served to discredit both the market economy and democracy itself. People feared it. But these are different things. I believe that order, discipline, and adherence to the letter of the law are not in conflict with democratic forms of government.

DMITRY PESKOV: Let’s have that young lady sitting with the BAM sign.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr President,

Amur Pravda newspaper, Yelena Pavlova, Amur Region.

Just recently there was a State Council Presidium meeting on developing the Far East and the Trans-Baikal Territory. We heard a lot of interesting proposals and you supported them all, including the development of the Baikal-Amur Mainline, the construction of a new branch along it, and generally increasing cargo traffic on this railway line, our legendary BAM.

However, at almost the same time, the companies Russian Railways and the Federal Passenger Company made the decision to stop running two lines: Tynda - Komsomolsk and Tynda - Neryungri. And in the end eleven villages along the BAM with a population of 4,500 people were left without any transport links, that is people cannot leave either by road or by plane. As a result, the editorial office has been showered with letters. Entire village councils are gathering signatures, gathering letters to you – you have probably already received them – and the Governor sent you a letter.

How do the Russian Railways policies match up with the state’s position concerning the development of the area? Those who live along the BAM say: “The President says ‘yes, yes, yes’ and in the end they forget us and we remain in the taiga, in the wilderness.” Could you comment on this?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I understand. There are many problems in the BAM zone, and one of the most important is relocating people from unfit housing, something we have already talked about. In fact, unfortunately these structures are not even recognised as housing and therefore do not fall into the ‘unfit’ category. I have already talked about this many times, but the problem must be resolved. The first steps in this direction have been taken, and we will continue to act in the same way.

As for Russian Railways and the decisions made. As you know, next year the government will support the Russian Railways company – and if it’s not yet known then I will say it now – by providing it with 40 billion rubles. Company representatives believe that this is not enough to maintain relatively low fares for passengers on local trains and in second-class carriages on long-distance trains, since both require subsidies.

We talked about financial problems, budgetary problems, or in any event I talked about them. The Government decided on 40 billion [rubles], although Russian Railways in general and some experts too believe that subsidies should be higher. And instead of 30 billion [rubles] for these types of passenger traffic, Russian Railways will receive only fifteen.

Of course there is nothing good in all this, just as there is nothing good in disbursing funds that do not exist in the federal budget. And the company chose what to do: either to somewhat reduce trains that are not profitable, and thus reduce costs and slightly raise fares in the low-price segment, in second-class carriages, or reduce support for local traffic.

Russian Railways decided to support local traffic primarily because it involves a large number of people working in big cities and living in the suburbs.

I think we will have to come back to this again because, in my opinion, we do have the opportunity to increase support for Russian Railways. And in cases like yours, where there is no other way to travel, of course such restrictions must be addressed. I will absolutely return to this.

DMITRY PESKOV: Bloomberg – the microphone to the third row, please.

QUESTION: In your Address to the Federal Assembly you spoke about de-offshorisation of Russia’s economy. I would like to know how exactly you are going to achieve this. As an example, recall the recent Rosneft deal with TNK-BP. The AAP Consortium received $28 billion and it was an offshore operation. Do you think this money will come back to Russia? And generally, how do you plan to get the capital from low-tax jurisdictions abroad back to Russia?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s a very good question. Thank you for asking it.

Why is it a good question? Because this is one of the key issues for our economy. It is clear that we must really strive for de-offshorisation, and the measures to bring it about should be careful, civilised.

The first measure is strictly administrative, and I think I mentioned it in the Address: like many other countries, including Europe, we must seek relevant agreements with offshore zones to compel disclosure of tax information and help reveal the information about the end beneficiaries of offshore companies. This is a civilised measure, and there is nothing to be concerned about. This is the first purely administrative, political and legal step.

The second measure is more difficult, but I think it is more important. We must improve our legislation to ensure that it is stable, effective and that it protects the owner’s interests.

The third measure is to improve the investment climate. These are major challenges that the state will tackle and we are developing a whole series of action plans, also in collaboration with business representatives.

As you know, we have developed a plan to improve the investment climate in the country at the suggestion of the business community and virtually all of our major associations (the Agency for Strategic Initiatives has also taken part). I must note that we have made progress in some aspects.

For example, we have moved up 30 notches in tax administration, and our rating in this parameter is higher than that of the United States. I think this shows that the objectives we have set for ourselves are achievable. All we need is to continue persistent efforts in this area, and that is what we are going to do.

DMITRY PESKOV: What does “problem” mean?

QUESTION: Hello, Mr President,

Alexei Ivanov, the Novaya Zhizn newspaper, Kirillovsky district in Vologda Region. I have a question on protected natural areas.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I am sorry, I would like to answer the second part of the previous question about whether the money will come back to Russia. We cannot say for certain that it will. I have told you that Rosneft made the payment to the private shareholders of TNK, and I have said that one of the de-offshorisation measures is about improving the protection of the owner’s rights. If we recognise that they are legitimate owners, receiving the money legally, then it’s up to them where to invest these funds. I would very much want them to invest these funds, or at least a significant portion of these funds, in the Russian economy, but first we must create the right conditions. I know that my colleagues from the Government and from some of our companies are in contact with some of the beneficiaries of the deal, and I hope they will decide to invest in the Russian economy.

I beg your pardon, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr President, I have a question about specially protected natural areas – the national parks. As you know, Russia has 41 national parks. One of them, the Russian North, is located in the Vologda Region. Unfortunately, the people living on its territory cannot purchase land, the municipal district is losing investors and therefore has fallen behind in its development. How, in your opinion, should these protected areas live and develop, and what should the relationship be like between the local residents and the nature reserves? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is the same question your colleague asked earlier: there is an inherent conflict between development and nature conservation. Nature reserves have adopted a special procedure for the use of land. If you think that it should be changed so that the land could be used in the economy, let’s think about it together. It is clear that there is a number of restrictions, I know and understand that. But it is also clear that these restrictions were introduced in order to preserve these special areas that we cherish and that have national value.

Of course, this should not be at the expense of the people who live in these areas. We should think about their way of life and sources of income. Perhaps, we should consider not only the use of land in these reserves, but also ways to develop tourism and to encourage small and medium enterprises in this sector. They must get state support and create new jobs there. As I said earlier, in North America, for example, economic activity is allowed in these zones, but it is not about farm operations, first and foremost it is about promoting small and medium business there. This system works well and has minimal impact on the environment. I think we should follow their example.

DMITRY PESKOV: Sakhalin, please.

QUESTION: Vladimir Semenchik, Sakhalin, the Gubernskiye Vedomosti publishing house.

My question is about one of Russia’s most remote areas, the Kuril Islands. The Second Kuril Programme has been in force since 2006, the funding is very substantial and a great deal has been done, but the programme expires in 2015. What plans does the federal Government have for the region’s development after that, considering that it has great strategic importance for our country?

Another related issue that everyone is familiar with is territorial. Currently the third expedition to the Southern Kuril Islands is cataloguing small islands that still have no names. New names are being suggested and may be adopted later. How do you feel about the idea to name one of the small islands, for example, the Putin Island? In that case everyone will know for sure that it is a Russian island and will never be aliened from Russia.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: If that’s the aim, you don’t need to use my name; the island could be named after Tolstoy, Pushkin or some explorer. I think that would be much more productive.

Let me first address the international part of your question. As for the territorial issue, we are counting on a constructive dialogue with our Japanese colleagues. And we have received a signal from Tokyo, from the party that has came to power again, that the party’s leadership will seek to conclude a peace treaty. This is a very important signal, we highly value it and intend to conduct a constructive dialogue on the issue.

You need not have any concerns about the economic aspect, the fact that the programme will expire in 2015. Why is that? Because we adopt the federal budget for two years, 2013 and the subsequent two years, until 2015. The development of the Kuril Islands will be given due attention in the long-term programmes for the development of the Far East and the Trans-Baikal Territory.

DMITRY PESKOV: Moskovsky Komsomolets, go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Viktoria Prikhodko, Moskovsky Komsomolets.

You said today that your aides are afraid to tell jokes about you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I was just joking. They tell me all the jokes.

VIKTORIA PRIHODKO: I understand, but I’m serious. In the past you always said that Alexei Kudrin was your source of a second opinion: when others said "yes", he said "no."

VLADIMIR PUTIN: He continues to do so.

VIKTORIA PRIHODKO: In your present team, who else gives you a second opinion?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, Mr Kudrin hasn’t gone away, he is still here, he is working in a different capacity, but I meet with him regularly, though not very often because we’re both busy, but regularly. And I listen to his opinion because I value it, as before. It is no accident that Mr Kudrin was named the world’s best finance minister twice, he is a top expert.

However, the difference between experts and decision-makers is that experts do have no political responsibility for these decisions, but it is always interesting and important to know their opinion to make a balanced decision. There are many competent, knowledgeable and experienced people in the world, and one of them, for instance, is Christine Lagarde, who heads the IMF. European countries have very good experts in the truest sense of the word, including those working in economics and finance, and there are people like that in the United States. I read and listen to their opinions, and I always try to compare them with our plans and the tools that we use to address the challenges facing the country.

VIKTORIA PRIHODKO: If you listen to Mr Kudrin’s advice, perhaps you have plans to put him on the team again?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The team is just a relative term. If I listen to his advice, then he is part of the team in this sense. 

DMITRY PESKOV: The colleague with a sign saying “The clock”, please.

QUESTION: Sergei Fadeyev, Kaluga, the Kaluga Evening daily.

I have a question from the millions of Russian late sleepers. When will we see the end of the experiment with Daylight Saving Time? It’s been tough.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I thought you were going to ask about the environment again.

I have already talked about Daylight Saving Time: when Mr Medvedev made the decision to change to a new system he relied on the opinion expressed by a considerable part of our population who said that changing the clocks in the winter and spring had a negative impact on their health and adversely affected some sectors of agriculture. But when the decision was adopted, it turned out that there were more people who were dissatisfied with it than those who called for the change. The Government will now decide whether to change the clocks or not when they have the results of study currently being conducted by government agencies. The final decision will be based on the results of this study.

I can see that there are problems, I feel them myself: it’s dark when you get up and dark when you go to sleep, I understand. There are also more systemic problems, especially related to the upcoming major sporting events, because, the FIFA World Cup, the Olympic Games, or the Universiade will be broadcast in other countries. And if there is a big difference in time, three hours with Europe, and four with the UK, most of the potential audience will still be at work when the competition begins. International organisations have already pointed that out. But, I repeat, we must first be guided not by these considerations but by the interests of the Russian people. The Government is conducting a study, and the final decision will be based on its results.

DMITRY PESKOV: Let’s move on. TV Tsentr.

QUESTION: Igor Konstantinov, TV Tsentr.

The last time we all gathered for such a big news conference, the event was held in Skolkovo because Skolkovo was a priority for a number of years and was considered a point of growth for the entire country. Many promises were made and a lot of money was allocated, but now it seems that the process has stalled. How do you see the future of Skolkovo, this young research hub?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Your question seems to imply that I am behind the impetus to stall the development of Skolkovo. I assure you that this has nothing to do with the truth. Mr Medvedev is the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and he has all the decision-making powers in such matters. The situation has nothing to do with the fact that he has moved from one post to another. This is the first point.

Second, I want to draw your attention to the fact that about five or six years ago, your humble servant invited Mr Medvedev to lead the Skolkovo project, and another colleague of mine was heading the project in St Petersburg. The aim of both projects was to create modern schools of management. The only difference was that we attracted private capital to develop Skolkovo, while the site in St Petersburg was given to the university together with the funding (I think it was 8 or 9 billion rubles), but they were not able to use it. The economic crisis began soon afterwards and all the money was returned to the budget. We were not able to give them back the money amid the crisis in 2009.

Skolkovo is not the only venue and it is not the only research hub. I know that many people in the academic community were critical of the project because we have many research hubs in Russia that were established back in the Soviet times and they are well-developed centres that have proven their effectiveness. I want to say that we support them and we intend to continue supporting them in the future. We have created a network of free trade zones, and some of them are very successful. Not all of them, but some of them are excellent, and they are at the focus of our attention.

As for Skolkovo, it is one of such zones, one of the research hubs, and I think that overall it is a good idea that should be developed further. The question is how much money should be allocated to it and how much should go to our traditional research hubs and so on, but this is a technical question.

DMITRY PESKOV: There are many journalists from Chechnya here, but I will give the word to that colleague from Chechnya, if you please.

QUESTION: Belkiz Dudayeva, the Put Kadyrova [Kadyrov’s Way] newspaper.

For years the attention of the global community was...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The animation in the hall is inappropriate, what is meant here is the elder Kadyrov, who died for his people. I would ask you to put away your smiles.

BILKHIS DUDAYEVA: The newspaper has the grand name Put Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrova.

For years the attention of the global community was focused on Chechnya and the Chechen issue. Now, thankfully, Chechnya has become a zone of peace, prosperity and socio-economic growth. Life in Chechnya is peaceful and quiet, but the epicentre of all the negative events moved to the neighbouring republics. Mr President, what do you see as the root of the problem? What steps should be taken to stabilise the situation?

And one more question. The Chechnya Svobodnaya [Free Chechnya] radio station, which has been renamed Kavkaz, reported throughout the entire Chechen campaign. I ask this question at the request of Chechen intelligentsia, who would like to see the airtime of the Kavkas radio station increase. Chechnya Svobodnaya used to broadcast 24-hours a day, whereas the airtime of Kavkaz has decreased significantly. Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Is Kavkaz part of the VGTRK holding?

BILKHIS DUDAYEVA: It is part of the Voice of Russia radio station.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have taken note of this question and will discuss it with my colleagues. We will try to change things for the better and increase the funding. The reason for the cuts is the Finance Ministry’s and the Government’s overall aim to reduce spending. I have already talked about this at the beginning: the budget is tight and the Government was forced to cut spending across the board, including funding for the media, although I am not sure that the decision was balanced and final. The media, especially in the Caucasus, play a critical role not only in promoting stability, but also in ensuring a positive outcome. 

As regards the situation in the Caucasus, yes, indeed, things are much better in the Chechen Republic and not only because fewer crimes are committed, both in terms of terrorist activity and criminal offences, which is largely the merit of regional authorities, as is the republic’s economic growth. We've talked about this and you know this well: the reconstruction of Grozny from the ashes is a great achievement of the Chechen people. Of course, it was done with the support of the whole of Russia, but it would have been impossible without the direct involvement of the Chechen people.

As for the problems of the Caucasus as a whole. First, the number of terrorist attacks and terrorism-related crimes nationwide has fallen and statistics show this clearly. Nevertheless, crimes and terrorist attacks continue to be committed and take people’s lives. It is always a tragedy.

What is the main challenge today? It is not only to improve the performance of law enforcement agencies, although this is also necessary. Socio-economic issues are the priority: the creation of new, high-quality and well-paid jobs. I have already said that nationwide the unemployment rate is 5.2-5.3%, one of the lowest in the developed world. But the situation in the Caucasus is different.

In the Caucasus, the unemployment rate is 15, 20 and even 25%, and it is even higher among young people. This is problem number one. Young people need jobs, they need to engage in constructive work, and we must create opportunities for them to study. All of this, along with the advancement of modern humanitarian ideas and patriotism, all of this together, I am sure, will bring positive results. But it requires serious, extensive and systematic efforts.

DMITRY PESKOV: NTV television channel.

QUESTION: Roman Sobolev, NTV.

I also have a question about children, not adopted but biological children.

Mr President, I don’t think you particularly like this question, but I just wonder how your daughters are doing and where they are, what is going on in their lives. Maybe you have already become a grandfather, even twice grandfather, and we know nothing about it. That is my question. Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Do you need to know this?

ROMAN SOBOLEV: I’d like to very much.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: So you’re curious? My kids are doing all right. They are in Moscow, studying and working part time. Everything is fine in their personal lives and in their careers. I'm proud of them.

DMITRY PESKOV: Let’s continue with TV channels. Dozhd TV channel, please.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr President. Anton Zhelnov, Dozhd TV channel.

I would like to ask for one clarification and one question. The clarification has to do with the Dima Yakovlev law. You have talked about the society, but I am sure you are aware that a large part of society, a minority but nevertheless these people are intellectuals, is strongly opposed to these amendments. There are bound to be rallies outside the State Duma, people will come. How important is the opinion of intellectuals, of the active part of society for you?

I will ask my second question later.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: For me, the opinion of every Russian is important, and even more so if it is a significant part of society, even if it is not the majority.

However, I want to draw the attention of those people to what I said. The problem is not with the individual US citizens, who adopt Russian children guided by the kindest considerations in most cases, and perhaps even always. Big thanks to them for that. The issue is with the US authorities’ attitude to problems when they arise.

We believe that this attitude does not correspond to the spirit or the letter of the agreements that we have with the United States. I would go so far as to say that it is a dismissive attitude, and the decisions adopted by us are a response to that.

I have already talked about it, should I really repeat it for the third time? If our representatives are not even allowed in the courts, what should we do then?

You know, it may be normal for some countries in other parts of the world that when children are adopted and then the representatives of these countries are told to mind their own business, perhaps these countries are not interested in the fate of their children. But we are interested, and I think rightly so.

Look at Schroeder’s example, which I mentioned earlier. I did not know about it, he told me this himself: a Russian embassy representative came to visit them at home. They introduced him to the children and explained that this is a representative of the Embassy of the country from which you came. He made sure the children were well taken care of and talked with the adoptive parents.

And what do we see over there? Get out – that’s the entire conversation. You can’t treat Russia like that and you can’t treat adopted children like that. That's what this is about – the policy of the American authorities.

ANTON ZHELNOV: One more question. When the rallies were held...

DMITRY PESKOV: One question per journalist.

ANTON ZHELNOV: Just a short one, Mr Peskov.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Go ahead.

ANTON ZHELNOV: When were the rallies, where people came out on Bolotnaya Square, we kept hearing an argument from the authorities: if not Putin, then who? How do you respond to that question for yourself, thinking about a future successor to whom you would entrust the country? Are there any new leaders in your opinion who are emerging now, who took part in the rallies? Do you perceive any of them as a serious competitor, perhaps, as an opponent? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I find it difficult to answer the question the way you have worded it: is there a person to whom you would entrust the country? After all, it is not me who is going to entrust the country but the voters during an election, when people come to the polls, they state their choice and name the person they trust and to whom they want to entrust the country.

As for yours truly, of course, I will leave this post sooner or later, just as I left it four and a half years ago. Naturally, I care about who will lead the country.

You know, you can say anything you like about what and how we did for the past 10 years. Let’s take this period – 10 years. It is a fact that we have nearly doubled the country's GDP. We came close to an 85% increase in 2008, and if it weren’t for the crisis, it would have been a two-fold increase. And we will get there in time, that is absolutely clear. This in itself is a huge achievement. We have increased the real incomes of the population by several fold. Just think back what the wages were like in 2000, if you subtract the inflation, and what they are now – the difference is several fold.

Just this year we raised the incomes of servicemen by two to three times; in fact, we are reviving the Armed Forces. We have raised veterans’ pensions by 1.6 times, and allocated 48,000 or 45,000 flats to servicemen only this year. Yes, there are problems with the allocation, so some of the flats are still empty. But Russia has never allocated such funds to address veterans’ and servicemen’s housing problems – never.

The macroeconomics is in good health, it has been a long time since we had such good indicators. Finally, the demographic processes, which I talked about with such pride. The birth rate is the best in 20 years. We are taking the necessary steps, it is not enough so far, but progress is evident in healthcare, education and so on.

You know, let me tell you something without any irony. I want the future leaders of the country, including the future President, to be even more successful. But I believe that if you compare this period with other ages in Russia’s history, you will see that it was not the worst, and maybe one of the best. But I want the future leaders of the country to be even more successful and more fortunate, because I love Russia.

DMITRY PESKOV: Let’s move on – Stavropol.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr President. Here is my question. Over the past few weeks, a leading federal TV channel has been being showing a news feature about people escaping from the Caucasus in the truest sense of the word, that the region is dominated by ethnic Caucasians who feel right at home there and are literally forcing Russians out. It looks very much like the story was paid for.

In your opinion, who is trying to shake up the situation in Stavropol Territory? The issue was recently raised, including with the hijabs. Who is interested in this and how can we reassure the residents of Stavropol Territory and those who live outside? Because those who are not familiar with the real situation in the Stavropol Territory are panic-stricken. We are panicking. What do you think?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think the way to reassure the residents of Stavropol Territory is not by saying that we’re now going to point fingers and accuse someone of spreading rotten and dangerous rumours, although that is always bad, but by implementing a more balanced, targeted and efficient migration policy.

The problems you have mentioned really do exist. For example, the issue of many students, or so-called students of so-called branches of leading Russian universities. People come there, including from the Caucasus republics; they don’t really study but just use this formal enrolment at the branches of Moscow universities to legalise their residence status there.

More so, that's not all, we also have to look at the policies of the local authorities on the distribution of property and land, and I'm not sure that everything is in order in that area, and it must be checked out. It is necessary to restore order in migration law and in migration regulations. This is the first point. People have grounds to feel concerned, I understand that.

Second. We must also work with all Russian citizens, wherever they come from and wherever they move to. They must respect the customs and culture of the places where they came to settle. This requires education initiatives, especially in regions that people leave mainly for economic reasons. We should rely on the local clergy, on the local moral leaders and we must teach young people with the help of parents and NGOs, wherever they come from and wherever they move to.

If we act immediately along all these directions and boost the efforts of law enforcement agencies against corruption in government bodies, including the police – if we will do it consistently and persistently, without abusing any of these tools, then we will achieve a positive result. And we must devote attention to the Stavropol Territory, which does have many of the unresolved issues that you mentioned.

As for the hijabs, you know that in our culture (by ‘our’ I mean the traditional Islam) the hijab is not worn. I've already talked about it once during a public appearance, but I can repeat once more. I once attended a major Muslim event, the International Islamic Conference. Russia is an observer in this organisation, and we gained this status on my initiative. It is a major gathering of almost all authority figures in the Islamic world.

To my surprise, one of the recognised Muslim authorities said in his speech, ‘What are we doing? We have forbidden our girls and women to study, we force them to wear a hijab, we are creating the conditions for us to lag behind in development. This is a mistake, we must not do it.’ However, then he continued: ‘We are forced to buy weapons from our enemies.’ (Later I told him, ‘Buy from your friends.’) But he also spoke frankly and publicly. So, in the Islamic world, Muslim authority figures say that they mustn’t do these things.

So why should we introduce foreign traditions at home? We should all pay attention to this, and talk about it, and refer to the views held by representatives of traditional Islam. As you know, they are fearless men who often give their lives to defend the ideals that are passed by the Muslim peoples of the Russian Federation from generation to generation.

DMITRY PESKOV: Interfax Agency, Vyacheslav Terekhov.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: How much time has it been?

DMITRY PESKOV: Almost two hours.

VYACHESLAV TEREKHOV: Mr President, a fair amount of time has passed since we acceded to the WTO. Are there any initial results? Do you think we have protected our sectors enough? A colleague here spoke about agriculture, the meat sector, livestock farming and so on. Because the impression is that we only started discussing it after it became clear that we would accede. What about the 17 years of negotiations?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, you are mistaken. Perhaps you and your colleagues began to discuss this topic publicly only recently, just before accession or after it had already occurred, but during the negotiation process, our experts were working on all the issues pertaining to WTO accession very thoroughly; otherwise, we would not have spent 17 years in negotiations the way we did. I can give you a broad overview of what that work entailed.

I already spoke about it, and I will take advantage of having so many members of the press here to talk about it again. You will notice that the tariff protection of the Russian market since our accession to the World Trade Organisation is at 9.5 or 9.7 percent. You see? Whereas the level of tariff protection in Ukraine, for example, which also acceded fairly recently, is 2.7 percent. Incidentally, the tariff protection level in the euro zone is 2.8 per cent. It is somewhat strange, because that would make it look as though Ukrainian manufacturers are more competitive than European, which of course is not the case, right? But we have over 9 percent, and in just a few years – around 2015, I believe – we will descend to 5.9. But even today, other WTO members have a much lower level than 5.9.

Are there any threats? Yes. Are there positive elements? Of course, there are. First, there are systemic positives pertaining, among other things, to the problem that we are constantly discussing today, the creation of a favourable investment climate. It is very important for potential foreign investors to know whether a nation is a WTO member or not. We became the 157th nation in the world to join this organisation: nearly all the more-or-less developed market nations are already members.

Most importantly, these systemic measures, measures of a systemic nature, may even be ideological. Are there any obvious positives? First of all, they pertain to not applying non-market regulation methods to our exporters and not limiting their activity in third-country markets. Now we can appeal to the relevant WTO authorities and bring it up if somebody is treating us improperly, unfairly, employing any means of competitive struggle.

Are there any risks? Yes, there are. Where are they, in what sectors? There aren’t many, but they do exist: in automotive industry, where our level of tariff protection is decreasing quite rapidly, including in passenger car production. But the WTO membership also gives us certain advantages, including in this sector.

I will give you a specific example. Just recently, I met with Mr Ghosn, CEO of the Renault-Nissan group. Given the shareholders’ shares redistribution plans, I was most interested in the social side. So I said to him, “Listen, they already had a lot of layoffs; and with the help of federal and regional authorities, by transferring some social facilities financed out of the federal budget to the regional level, we took some of the burden off the company. We made it easier for the company, we provided huge credit and other resources in order to keep it afloat, we did that. So what happens now to the workforce?”

He replied, “We are not planning any reductions. On the contrary, we will increase the number of vehicles we produce, we will create new platforms to serve as the basis for new Renault and Nissan technology, we will maintain the brand and increase production.” This is partially due to our accession to the WTO, and that is a good thing. You see, on the one hand, there is a decrease in tariff protection, but on the other hand, you have that kind of reaction from potential investors. So there are advantages and disadvantages.

Other sectors we should give particular attention to are shoemaking, for example (the level of tariff protection is dropping sharply there), and agricultural engineering. But the WTO framework has many instruments that are effectively used by long-time WTO members to protect their own interests, and we should learn to do the same, since it is possible.

We have negotiated some very favourable conditions for ourselves in the agricultural sector. For example, we negotiated the opportunity to maintain pork import quotas for the next three years. Pork requires particular attention, because in two or three years, these quotas will be eliminated. But we have agreed on an indefinite use by Russia of import quotas on beef and poultry – for indefinite term.

And finally, the level of support for agriculture. We negotiated a very high volume – $9 billion. Currently, we can provide only $4.4 billion in support from the budget – simply due to financial limitations. And in three years, in 2015, or even in 2018, it will still be $4.4 billion, since we agreed that it would be no less than that. What is there to be afraid of? We cannot provide more than that anyway. So I feel that there are more advantages than disadvantages. But we must certainly pay attention to the problematic sectors that are critical (and the Government is working on it).

DMITRY PESKOV: There’s the sign ‘ESPO’. Your question, please.

QUESTION: Hello! Yevgenia Vdovichenko, Gubernia information agency, Khabarovsk.

Mr President, the ESPO-2 [Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean pipeline] project will soon be ready – it is a pipeline largely oriented toward the US and Asia Pacific region. I wanted to ask whether any measures will be taken to develop crude oil refining within our own nation – perhaps in order to reduce exports somewhat?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, we already made the relevant decisions. Last year, we drew the attention of certain companies, including TNK-BP, to the need for major investment in modernising production. I hope that the new shareholders will do this more vigorously, although even the previous shareholders had almost found a solution to that problem.

As far as the ESPO pipeline is concerned, as you know, it is following a schedule. The first part of the work was completed several years ago, when we laid the pipeline system to Skovorodino, and from there we built a branch to China and simultaneously developed a railroad branch to the Pacific Ocean. But we stated even then that pipeline transport is cheaper and we would continue building this pipeline system to the Pacific coast in order to enter the Asia Pacific regional market.

This work has been completed. I want to congratulate the construction workers, engineers and everyone who was involved in this huge construction project. Just think: this is an enormous project, comparable to the construction of the Baikal-Amur railway back in the day, do you remember? And it was constructed with almost no infrastructure whatsoever: there wasn’t anything there – no roads, no power supply. And all of this was built.

Also, as you might remember, in the first part of our work, we even decided to move this pipeline 400 kilometres away from the shores of Lake Baikal because of environmental concerns. All this is justified. It gives us the opportunity to work more efficiently in the most rapidly developing global market – the Asia Pacific market.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr President! My name is Vitaly Ageyev, I have asked you multiple questions at various forums. I thank you on my own behalf and on behalf of the entire trade union representing flight crews for your support of retraining flight engineers, radio operators and mechanics. Thank you. The issue was resolved swiftly.

But, as you understand, this did not resolve the problem, and today we do not have enough pilots in our nation. You have already spoken about this at a meeting in Novosibirsk and at other meetings, including MAKS. However, some bureaucrats and parliamentary deputies keep trying to lobby for cancelling article 56 of the Air Code, in order to allow foreign workers to enter our market, our cabins, which does not happen in any other nation in the world. We are concerned and we would like to know what changes may have occurred.

In addition, we pilots are superstitious people (I, too, used to be a pilot) and did not invite you to our 13th congress. We are inviting you to our 14th congress. Please come visit. Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much for the invitation.

Pilots represent a special profession and even a special destiny, I would say. But even if we are growing accustomed to aviation, it is nevertheless a particular profession requiring courage and a high level of training and knowledge. But at the same time, this is an economic sector, and a significant one that involves freight and passenger transportation. It is a particularly important sector for our nation, due to the enormous distances in Russia and the fact that certain regions in the Russian Federation can only be reached by air. So naturally, we must give careful attention to developing regional aviation, and we will do so.

I will use your question as an opportunity to point out that we have created several public enterprises where joint stock companies clearly would not have managed or are not good enough at aviation operations. But public enterprises have many advantages in that they are working somewhat outside the market and do not need to cover certain passenger transportation expenses by increasing ticket fare, since they are subsidised by the government. We created several such public enterprises in Yakutia, Chukotka and somewhere in the North, in the Far East – in three regions. We will support the development of small aircraft. And naturally we must monitor the labour market.

But I want to draw your attention to the fact that transport operators are telling me that not permitting foreign pilots and specialists in our market greatly limits them in their ability to lower fares. Perhaps they are wrong – I can see your reaction –in, say, creating low-cost airlines. This has to do with the fact that they cannot attract foreign pilots and pay them corresponding salaries, or sometimes even less than what they supposedly pay our professionals.

Naturally, I know that this is one of the problems and I am constantly thinking about it: it is nonsense that it costs more to fly from Moscow to Vladivostok or Khabarovsk than, say to New York. It is simply unbelievable! Just a few days ago, I gave instructions to the transport, finance and economy ministers to present their suggestions on changing the situation. But one of the reasons is the restriction on foreign pilots. That’s how it is. We need to figure all this out and resolve these issues.

I want to assure you that, first of all, our approaches here remain the same, and second, if we are to resolve these issues, we need to do it very carefully and with direct involvement of corresponding sector trade union.

DMITRY PESKOV: Channel One still hasn’t spoken.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Pavel Pchelkin, Channel One.

I have a question about the courts and corruption, the fight against corruption in Russia’s top echelon of power.

We know that in fighting corruption, the most effective element is not the severity of the punishment, but rather, its inevitability. For example, there’s death penalty for corruption in China, but people still do it. In Russia, corruption is so widespread that we can conclude many people simply do not believe that punishment is inevitable. One gets the sense that an independent judicial system is completely lacking in Russia.

Do you agree? And how can we make our courts independent?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I do not agree with the statement that we completely lack an independent court system. That is something we do have.

We have made so many decisions already that at a certain point, many experts began asking questions as to whether we went too far. They questioned whether people in the legal system have ended up almost beyond control by the government and society, with no preliminary investigations possible against them, no operation activities and such, and that we have created a system that is entirely beyond society’s control. That is not my position, but I imagine you must have heard this point of view.

I do not agree with it either. Many things, basically the main things pertaining to awarding a punishment or removal from office, have been transferred to the judicial community itself and the corresponding self-governing bodies within that system.

But what else can and should be done in addition? If something has to be done, it can all be done. There are no taboos, we only need to ensure that these decisions are balanced. And we are ready to hold those broad public discussions. The only thing I do not agree with is indiscriminately accusing our entire judicial system and particular judges of corrupt practices and unprofessionalism. This is utter nonsense. We have a stable judicial system and it is developing. We have good traditions of judicial education and judicial activity.

So I think there’s no need to beat ourselves up. Although certainly, we always need to think about what can be improved and how. Let’s think about it together.

As for the fight against corruption, as I have already said, this is one of our problem areas. But it has a long history. I already mentioned the dialogue between Peter the Great and his General Prosecutor (now the Prosecutor General). When he brought up cases of theft, Peter the Great suggested that people be sent to Siberia or executed for even those minor crimes. But the General Prosecutor said to him, “Who will be left, Sire? We all steal.”

You know, it’s like a tradition. But at the same time, issues related to corruption are directly related to economic and market development. Basically, all nations with developing markets are affected to some degree by this social ailment. What does this mean? It does not mean we should simply give up and say, this is a tradition, oh well, that’s how it has been and that’s how it will always be. No, we need to fight this consistently and persistently. We need to introduce harsher punishments and, as you said, ensure that the punishment for any infraction in this area is inevitable.

But on the other hand, I can tell you that work is underway. When people say nothing is being done in this domain that does not reflect the actual situation. Just last year, if I remember correctly, approximately 800 thousand people were prosecuted on corruption charges. A significant number of them were people with special status – either high-ranking regional or federal civil servants or deputies, or law enforcement officers.

DMITRY PESKOV: Kabardino-Balkaria, you have the floor.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Not 800 thousand, but 800 people with special status.

Young lady there, please.

DMITRY PESKOV: Mr President, maybe we can give the floor to Kabardino-Balkaria first. We promised. And then we'll get back.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ok.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr President! Lyudmila Kazancheva, Kabardino-Balkaria State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, Nalchik.

Of course I would have liked to talk about something else, but alas, after the death of our colleague, the Vesti Kabardino-Balkaria TV anchorman, the issue of protecting journalists has become very relevant. Mr President, can you please tell us what should be done to protect those whose only weapon is a word, and whether journalists can be protected at all?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, when people choose certain professions, they basically understand what they are getting into – professions that involve some degree of responsibility and danger. Unfortunately, your profession is among them, and this is not just the case in our nation, but in many other nations around the world. And unfortunately, we do have crimes of that sort in our country. How can this kind of crime be explained? In my view, there is only one reason: the desire to frighten people. Because, as you know, your colleague was not reporting any anti-terrorist stories or anything of that sort. This attack simply represents the desire to make oneself known and scare people.

But I am confident that the result will be the opposite of what was expected, because I doubt people in your profession will all immediately get scared and leave their jobs. On the contrary, there are far more who will say, “We will not leave.” But is there anything that can be done to improve protection? The government has to do it.

Still, you and I fully understand that we cannot assign a bodyguard to every journalist. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, Investigative Committee officers and representatives of the clergy also get killed. This is the fight we all are engaged in, the fight against terrorism and extremism. There are victims. But we must ensure that there are as few of them as possible. And we will strive toward this goal in every possible way.

Right, how should we do this? The young lady over there has already been given the microphone, and you will be next, all right? She already has the microphone. I promise, the next question will be yours, all right? Thank you.

I’m going to let Mr Peskov run the show.

Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Diana Khachatryan, Novaya Gazeta.

You once said that any proposal that gets100,000 signatures will become a draft law.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I didn’t say that.

DIANA KHACHATRYAN: Yes, you did.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I didn’t. What I said was that if a proposal got 100,000 signatures, it would be considered in the State Duma.

DIANA KHACHATRYAN: Right. So, Novaya Gazeta has in two days managed to collect 100,000 signatures against the Dima Yakovlev law. I very much hope that you will take these people’s views into account.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, of course. It will be considered in the State Duma, as I said.

DIANA KHACHATRYAN: And now for the actual question: your colleague Mr Medvedev said that a responsible government should admit its mistakes. Has there been a mistake in the past 12 years that you would be willing to admit?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I’ve answered your question about the signatures, didn’t I? I believe that this should be considered in the State Duma.

As for mistakes, I am sure you’re familiar with the biblical saying “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” I am sure there have been some mistakes. But I can’t say that there were any systemic mistakes, anything that now, looking back, I would definitely want to correct. I say this in all sincerity: if there were any, I would tell you about them now.

We didn’t complete some of our measures and we took some steps at the wrong time, especially during the economic crisis. Some of the decisions that were taken did not work as effectively as we thought or as we would have liked, such as state guarantees, for example. It was a vitally important thing – the fight against the crisis. We were on the verge of slipping into recession, a long-term recession, and this would have implied long-lasting economic and social consequences.

The system of state guarantees did not work as we intended. Was it a mistake or not? Yes, it probably was. We had to organise the effort in a different way but there were other measures that did work, and on the whole, we made a recovery from the crisis even faster than other countries. Just look at the recession in Europe, while Russia has posted growth, albeit a modest one, but still we have a much better situation than in the once-prosperous eurozone, or even in the United States. I don’t see any major systemic mistakes that I would have wanted to turn around today and correct.

Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Mr President, I am from Vladivostok. My name is Maria Solovyenko, Narodnoye Veche newspaper.

I just wanted to tell you something nice, even though I criticise you very harshly in the newspaper, as you probably know, don’t you? (Laughter.)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I know, everyone criticises me.

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: You just said that you will issue an order to make the tickets even cheaper... Perhaps you are not aware that you can fly from Vladivostok to Moscow and back for 6,000 rubles? How can you cut the prices even more? Our Aeroflot...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, thank you for the...

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: This was just for a warm-up.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Oh, I see!

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: That’s right.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you for mentioning the subsidy scheme for flights from the Far East to Moscow, St Petersburg, and Sochi, as well as flights from other parts of the country, including Norilsk and some areas in Siberia. We will continue these subsidies. This year, 12 billion rubles were allocated for the subsidies, if I remember right. They don’t apply to all passengers but only to certain age groups: young people and the elderly. This is the first point.

Second. We have some ways to regulate prices on such long routes but the situation is particularly difficult with local flights: sometimes, in order to get from one town to another, people have to fly via Moscow. That’s terrible and that’s what I’m talking about.

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: Right, Mr President, now please get ready to answer a very serious question. (Laughter.)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I’ll do my best.

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: We have new pipelines being built in the Far East, and great new bridges, and all the rest. But who are we building them for?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: How did you like the APEC summit, the way it was organised? What did the locals think of this major international event in Vladivostok? Incidentally, we could have held it in St Petersburg, which has all the infrastructure, or in Moscow.

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: Mr President, they didn’t let me attend the APEC Summit, as usual, just as they didn’t let me cover your news conferences for five years. But I swallow my pride, sit down and write, and that’s why they don’t let me attend.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: But they’ve let you come here today, so there is some progress.

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: Yes, there is some progress. I’m just joking.

As for APEC, those bridges are really good. The roads are good too, though they’re crumbling already. (Laughter.) Life is better, yes – at the top. At the bottom, life is as bad as it ever was: the mayor and all that, but we won’t talk about corruption today.

I didn’t want to talk about any sore issues, but I think I’m going to have to. The border, for example, it’s not very secure, you know. Who did we build it for? And that former Defence Minister – it’s such a pain. And I think you have appointed him, and even defended him on television recently.

I would like to ask, what can you say about that official and how can we get back the money they stole – I mean Slavyanka and all that. What shall we do with the defence of the Russian Federation?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What did they steal?

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: They stole billions. Haven’t you heard?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I haven’t. (Laughter.) I'll tell you why.

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: Please give me an answer.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What is your name?

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: My name is Maria.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Masha, sit down, please. I'll answer your question.

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: Thank you, Vova.

DMITRY PESKOV: Masha, if you could let us have the microphone back, please.

MARIA SOLOVYENKO: Just one more quick question.

DMITRY PESKOV: No, let's show some respect for your colleagues.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s it, she’ll never give it back.

Now, about what they stole or didn’t steal. I have already explained my position and I did not defend anyone. It is true that I appointed Mr Serdyukov at the time. On the whole, he made good progress as regards the reform of the Armed Forces. It is a question of expressing your attitude towards other people in public. This is a separate issue. A man in a military uniform deserves certain respect. In general, any person deserves the respect of his superior, but people in uniform are a special caste and they should be treated with the utmost respect.

As for the style of leadership, we had some problems with that. But that is not why I dismissed him. I dismissed him because the investigating authorities had reason to question the organisation of the work related to the sale of property and some other issues. However, I would like us to keep within the bounds of the law, if you don’t mind. I've talked about legality with regard to our radical opposition, and the same applies to the authorities. Yes, there are doubts as to the correctness of the Defence Minister’s behaviour and decisions, and that is why he was dismissed.

However, only the court of law can determine whether they stole something or not. I can only assure you that the investigation and the trial will be absolutely objective. Nobody is going to shield anyone, I can guarantee that one hundred percent, so you can rest assured. But only a court can determine if someone is guilty or not guilty, if he stole or didn’t steal, and what shall be done with him.

In some cases, it is also necessary to instigate civil proceedings. I think that the current Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, will be able to do it, he is an experienced man. By the way, as far as I know, the ministry is already preparing for civil proceedings. Everything will be restored and we will take it to the end, not only in the Defence Ministry case but in all such cases.

You have remembered Mr Serdyukov. But, you know, the decision to develop the GLONASS system was my decision. Do you know how we made the decision? I looked at development plans: we would never have got this system off the ground with the plan proposed by the Government because our satellites did not have a lifespan of 15 years, like Western ones.

Now we are changing to that but it took five, six or seven years. And the financing for GLONASS was organised in such a way that as we launched the new satellites, some of the old ones had to be taken down. And we would never have reached the goal of 28-29 satellites.

Then I decided to change the financing scheme, to increase funding so that we could get the target number of satellites and, accordingly, to take the next step in the development of ground-based infrastructure, which is difficult for us, bearing in mind the lack of a domestic component base in electronics. We have a separate programme now for the development of electronics, and we have attracted private business and increased state allocations.

You know, I did not like hearing that there were also allegations of theft and corruption. We invested so much money in that area, made the high-tech sector our priority, and I watched as this project was implemented. Incidentally, we did it faster than our European colleagues, I have also talked about this. I had suggested that we should carry out this work together. This is one of the high-tech areas where we have outstripped our competitors and partners.

They don’t even have ten satellites yet, whereas we have an entire satellite grouping operating. I was so proud of these people who were involved in the project, and I thought to myself, Isn’t it just great that we have such smart, efficient and honest guys. But it turned out that there were problems as well. And we will bring the process to completion, there and in other sectors.

DMITRY PESKOV: Yamal, please.

QUESTION: The newspaper Krasny Sever, Natalya Rybyakova, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area.

The Tazovsky border checkpoint has been established in Yamal this year. It restricted the access of illegal immigrants to our oilfields, which can be considered the strategic assets not only of Yamal, but also of the whole of Russia. Many media outlets have begun to criticise this decision of the Yamal authorities. At present it is a high profile issue in Yamal, and many people believe that these measures should be introduced in all of Yamal. Mr President, I would like to ask your opinion on this subject.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This decision is the responsibility of the relevant federal and regional authorities. It is connected with the difficulty of controlling migration flows and the need to combat drug trafficking, unfortunately, because the Yamal Peninsula, like other regions that are rich in natural resources, has relatively high incomes compared to the rest of Russia, and we know that where there is money, drug dealers follow with their deadly product.

I know that a large number of people living in the region supported those restrictions, and the decision was made by the relevant federal and regional bodies. As for introducing restrictions on the movement of Russian Federation citizens around the entire territory, I believe that it would only be possible if federal laws are not violated. I have seen no violations here, so I have a positive opinion of this initiative.

DMITRY PESKOV: Let's have our Ukrainian colleagues.

QUESTION: Margarita Sytnik, 1+1 channel, Ukraine, special correspondent in Moscow.

Mr President, Viktor Yanukovych had a visit scheduled for Tuesday, but it was cancelled. On what grounds, what disagreements are there between Ukraine and Russia? And in general now, all negotiations between the two countries are secret, no one makes any comments even though everyone knows that they are discussing Ukraine's accession to the Customs Union and the gas issue. Has anything been agreed in this regard? In general, could you please clarify things, tell us what is going on? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, we are not talking about Ukraine’s accession to the Customs Union. Because for this to be the case, we must receive Ukraine’s official application for Union membership. No such request exists. But we understand that the Ukrainian leadership is concerned that the development of the Customs Union means that a number of the functions of individual countries will be transferred to the supranational level, including the Customs Union Commission. As such it will be more and more difficult for Ukraine to resolve its economic problems related to operating in our market and in third country markets.

For example, we regularly make decisions – and this is not linked with gas – about quotas for Ukraine’s pipeline goods, as well as for other types of products, such as sweets and so on. So what? Now it turns out that we can’t do this alone; we don’t give Ukraine the quotas it wants because this lies within the competence of a supranational authority, not because we don’t want to. Our Ukrainian colleagues thought for a while that we were joking, but then they realised that it was not a joke.

And given the extent of our cooperation this has a critical value for Ukraine’s economy. This is a serious issue related to the functioning of entire industries of the Ukrainian economy and helping its labour market stay at an adequate level, that is saving jobs. Now of course our Ukrainian partners are looking for a way out of this situation, and seeking forms of cooperation with the Customs Union that would be acceptable for them, but conform with the rules that govern the functioning of the integration association. This is the situation relating to the Customs Union.

As for the gas issue, as you know, we have a long-term contract until 2019, I think. No one questions its legitimacy. We work within the framework of this agreement, but not only it. If we see that our Ukrainian partners have some problems, certain difficulties, Gazprom takes steps in their direction: it provides the necessary loans and pays transit fees in advance to allow Naftogaz of Ukraine to function normally. This is normal conduct between partners and I very much hope that it will continue.

This work is not easy and it’s related to another component as well. It’s related to the fact that Gazprom is actively developing its infrastructure, regardless of the potential of our neighbours to transfer products to the markets of its traditional customers. You know that we have completed the construction of Nord Stream in the Baltic Sea, and we are already delivering 55 billion cubic metres of gas through it.

We already operate the so-called Blue Stream pipeline in the Black Sea to Turkey. Now we are discussing these issues with our Turkish friends – as you know, I was recently in Turkey – and they raised the issue of the possibility of increasing gas flows through this route, perhaps via the construction of additional pumping facilities. We are currently pumping 16 billion cubic metres, but we are discussing the possibility of larger volumes.

We have begun building the South Stream pipeline in the Black Sea which will deliver another 63 billion cubic metres of natural gas.

I think that our Ukrainian partners have made a very big strategic mistake, a fundamental one. Together with the Europeans we offered Ukraine to lease to us its gas transportation system, without violating Ukrainian legislation or law, without buying the property, allowing it to remain Ukrainian property. We suggested to let us have the lease and at the same time assume the responsibility for developing and loading Ukraine’s gas transportation system.

Everything that happened in recent years, including the notorious scandal of 2009, has prompted Russia to accelerate implementation of our infrastructure projects. We have extended an oil pipeline to the Pacific Ocean and we will now develop the gas industry in Russia’s east. We will develop production of LNG, that is liquefied natural gas. And then we will eliminate our dependence on traditional transit countries. The expediency of the very existence of Ukraine’s gas transportation system is being questioned. You understand that this is a structural problem in the Ukrainian economy.

But we are now ready to engage in dialogue on this topic. It is not easy, but it affects more than merely relations between the Russian Government and that of Ukraine, it particularly affects economic actors. I think that if we continue to work as we have been working, namely as the very closest partners and true friends, we will find a compromise solution.

DMITRY PESKOV: Omsk, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Inna Salnikova, Commercial News.

Mr President, could you please say something about your attitude to direct gubernatorial elections? Before leaving Mr Medvedev signed the bill into law. Therefore, in some regions direct elections have already taken place. And incidentally, in some cases the current Governor won, which raises further questions. And now the State Duma is preparing to discuss the abolition of such elections once again.

Tell me, why Moscow is so afraid of these elections and why does it not trust its own people seeing as we choose our own President?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Listen to me; what is your name?

INNA SALNIKOVA: Inna Salnikova.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Inna, listen to me carefully and I would ask you to refrain from coming back to this issue. But listen carefully to what I have to say.

We harped on about this, danced around the issue for many, many years, but listen at least once to what I have to say: we – and I personally – are in favour of direct gubernatorial elections. Naturally I think that Russian society has been ready for this for a long time. Moreover, it is actually in the interests of the federal government. Because when people choose their governor themselves they are responsible for the quality of his or her work, and rightly so.

But the questions that have recently been raised by representatives of the national republics are very important. And not just in the national republics, where people have coexisted side-by-side and lived together for decades. Also in those regions where there is no one nation or ethnic group, where representatives of different, titular nationalities think of themselves as playing a special role in the region and have lived there for centuries. And if one such nation is in the minority, then it always fears that it will never be represented in the region’s highest level of government. So ethnic conflicts may begin.

You see, I have already said many times that Russia is a complex, intricate country. Elections were held in Karachayevo-Circassia in 1999. Circassians said, “We will never elect our own president, there are fewer of us than Karachays”. And they immediately began firing with automatic weapons and the first victims were claimed. We must keep this in mind. Or do we want to unbalance the whole system of governance in Russia and create such conflicts? No.

Therefore, citizens living in such national republics who understand this, who are familiar with the problem themselves, in their families, and who fear such unfavourable developments have raised the question themselves. They said: “Give us the right to develop a system which is not biased against anyone to bring leaders of the republics to power.”

In Dagestan such a system existed for many years, although at the time it was in breach of the Constitution. A representative of one ethnic group was president or State Council chairman, a representative from the second group was the head of government, and the third was head of parliament. And then they switched posts. It is necessary to respect these traditions. I believe that we should grant people the right to develop an unbiased system, but we cannot give one region this right while refusing it to others.

Representatives of different nationalities live throughout Russia, in all regions, but the main titular ethnicity is Russian. There is no need to abrogate the right of citizens to develop their own system of representation. We should discuss everything and of course this right should be preserved in regions such as yours. But we should also give the citizens of national republics the opportunity to make optimal decisions in accordance with their traditions and culture, and thereby save us from national, ethnic and religious conflicts.

Well, as to the fact that regional elections brought representatives of the current government to power, this just bears witness to the fact that the authorities are not afraid of elections, they feel fine about direct elections for regional leaders. It is simply the best proof that we are not going to oversee any radical changes in this respect. Why would we?

QUESTION: Associated Press, Vladimir Isachenkov.

My question is about the situation in Syria. As you know, western countries, the Arab League, and Turkey are all in favour of Bashar al-Assad stepping down, and say that this is the precondition for peace in Syria. In your opinion, could the fact that Russia disagrees with this premise result in its isolation and a loss of Russian influence, not only in Syria but in the Middle East in general, if Mr al-Assad’s regime falls?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Listen my dear man, haven’t Russia’s positions regarding Libya been lost after the intervention? Whatever is being said now, the country continues to fall apart. Ethnic, clan and tribal conflicts continue. Moreover, the situation has resulted in tragedy, namely the murder of the US ambassador. Is this a result? People have asked me about mistakes; was this not a mistake? Do you want us to repeat these mistakes indefinitely in other countries?

We are not that preoccupied with the fate of al-Assad’s regime. We understand what’s going on there and that his family has been in power for 40 years now. Without a doubt, change is required. We’re worried about something else, about what happens next. We simply don’t want today’s opposition, having come to power, to start fighting with the current authorities, who then become the opposition, and for this to continue indefinitely.

Of course we are interested in Russia’s position in this part of the world: it is close by. But our main preoccupation is not so much our own interests, which are really not that much, practically nothing. Do we have special economic relations? No. Has Mr al-Assad been constantly in Moscow during his presidency? No, he has visited Paris and other European capitals more often than here. We advocate finding a solution to the problem which would spare the region and the country from disintegration and never-ending civil war.

That is our proposal and our position; not that al-Assad and his regime remain in power at any cost, but that people first agree among themselves about how they will live, how their security and participation in government will be assured. Only then should they begin to change the existing order in accordance with these agreements. Rather than the reverse, which would be to first drive out and destroy everything, and then try to negotiate. I think that agreements based on a military victory are irrelevant and can’t be effective. And what happens there depends above all on the Syrian people themselves.

DMITRY PESKOV: Komi Republic, please.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr President. Syktyvkar, Komi Republic, Darya Shuchalina.

I am the editor of the Krasnoye Znamya Severa newspaper, whose readership consists mainly of [the Great Patriotic War] veterans. That is why I have not so much a question as a proposal, and if you agree to it, you will make veterans all over the country very happy.

Today pensioners constitute the country’s golden reserve. These are the people who defended our country’s freedom during World War II and who worked for the nation’s recovery and built cities anew. Many of them don’t sit idly at home now that they are retired but take part in teaching patriotic values to young people and in the cities’ and regions’ public life. My proposal is as follows.

Perhaps we could proclaim 2013 or 2014 the Year of Veterans? Its aim would be to focus the efforts of the authorities and society on improving healthcare services for the older generation and helping them realise their untapped potential so that they can continue to make a contribution to the country’s development. Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There is probably no need for me to tell how I feel about the older generation. I totally agree with you about their contribution to the country’s development, the victory over Nazism and the reconstruction of our country after the war. Their contribution is unique, I am fully aware of that, and not only because of their great achievements, but also their attitude to their work and their homeland. They did not spare themselves, as I know from the example of my own parents.

Your proposal is very good, so let’s think about it. We just have to decide on the date. In 2015, we will be celebrating the anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, so perhaps we could name 2015 the Year of Veterans. Let's think about it, I'll make a note and will ask my colleagues not to forget your proposal and discuss it with the public.

Thank you very much for your initiative.

DMITRY PESKOV: Televideniye Glukhikh [Deaf TV], please.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr President. This is the third time I attend your news conference, so I’m very pleased.

In 2006, we raised the issue of recognising the sign language at the state level. In 2007, we raised the issue of improving the information availability. What has been done so far? We now have more subtitled TV programmes. But look, here we now have only hearing audience, no deaf people. And we have a lot of information for the deaf.

Regarding Televideniye Glukhikh, we have had television for the deaf since 1999 thanks to Alexei Spassky and his initiative. We have been working to develop it for 11 years despite financial problems. It has been difficult because there is no legal framework in this area. Until 1999 the state did not take on any commitments, that is why we, the deaf people, began to work on it ourselves. In 2007, I had a child and he is deaf. We started thinking about the lack of children's TV programmes for deaf children, and began creating our own children's programmes.

At present, we have the situation that there are people who do not support us since they only care about their own financial interests and their own cushy jobs. We want very much for our television to keep functioning, but we have already had to close children's, orthodox, historical and news programmes and only maintain the website. Therefore, we kindly ask the Russian Government to think about ways to keep us open, to help us survive and continue working and making such programmes. Therefore, our earnest request is that perhaps you could take this project under your wing?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is certainly a very important matter and it is not limited only to the people with hearing disabilities, but applies also to other people with disabilities. We must implement the international conventions we have signed in this area, including by introducing a barrier-free environment everywhere.

This is a big job that requires funding – not very much but these must be regular allocations. Some regions have tackled this issue systematically by applying these principles during the construction of buildings and sports facilities. Sochi is one such example.

As for the media, I don’t think it’s the matter of officials holding on to their cushy jobs. It is a result of a rigid approach to saving budgetary resources. But the media for people with disabilities, including the deaf, certainly deserve special support from the state. We will come back to this and will provide you with the support you need.

DMITRY PESKOV: Radio Mayak, please.

REMARK: (no microphone).

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Nevertheless, such terms as “average incomes” and “average life expectancy” are used around the world. Of course, they refer to average figures. Incomes in Central Russia are much lower; in many regions it is 16,000, 17,000 or 20,000 rubles. But I was referring to the national average, though I am aware that some regions that are rich in raw materials have incomes as high as 50,000 or even 60,000 rubles [$2,000]. This is common knowledge. What’s there to explain?

DMITRY PESKOV: Mayak, please.

QUESTION: Vesti FM and Radio Mayak, Valery Sanfirov.

Mr President, in recent months, the judiciary and military authorities, and other federal authorities have been exceptionally active in their mobility. They keep moving somewhere. At least, we hear announcements that the federal authorities want to move from Moscow to the satellite towns and the top courts are being moved from Moscow to St Petersburg. At the same time, military healthcare facilities are leaving St Petersburg and moving to the suburbs. Therefore, my first question is: who’s moving next?

Second, I would like to clarify, given the difficult situation in the global economy, to what extent is the federal Government’s move from Moscow to satellite towns financially feasible? And what is the likelihood that Navy Command Headquarters will return from St Petersburg to Moscow? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have no new information regarding the return of the Navy Command Headquarters. The decision had been made long ago. If the new Defence Minister and the General Staff decide that it is necessary to move the Navy Command Headquarters back to Moscow, I will consider this issue as the Commander-in-Chief. But I have not been asked to consider it so far. I think if all the issues have been resolved in moving the headquarters to St Petersburg, why should we spend more money on the move back? I would have to analyse how justified such a move would be.

Now about the new administrative centre in Moscow’s newly annexed territories. I have held a meeting on this issue and the relevant ministries and agencies have been instructed to calculate how much it will cost. This is not an idle question, because if we want to get some money from the sale of property that is located in the centre of the Russian capital, we must have a clear understanding of how much these buildings are worth. So far, these calculations have not been made.

You know how banks work. Say a property is worth an x number of millions, banks accept the property as collateral, but the loan they issue is not for the full amount of the property’s cost but only a part. We must understand how much money we can raise in loans for the construction. That is the first point.

Second. We need forecasts of the cost of new infrastructure such as roads, energy, communications, including government communications, which is expensive.

Third. We must provide everything to ensure the security of officials in the event of a conflict – this is a mandatory requirement. All states do it, and so does Russia, and we will have to do it in this case as well. This requires direct allocations from the federal budget. What I mean by security here is various types of shelters like the ones we have in central Moscow, and so on.

This is a mandatory aspect of state security, ensuring that the country is being governed, and this is particularly important in case of conflict, including global conflict. I do not think it will occur but every self-respecting nation does this, and Russia will have to do it too.

Finally, these are issues related to the functioning of the authorities at any level, be it Moscow or federal authorities. What do I mean by that? Garages, drivers, healthcare and so on, because all of these companies are now located in Moscow. If we move the officials and heads of various agencies to the new areas while the entire staff remains in central Moscow, the result will be that people will go back and forth between the government offices and the centre, which is not going to help ease the traffic in the city.

All of these aspects must be carefully analysed so that we gain an understanding of what it is going to cost. Only after that can we come to a final decision. Currently the Economic Development Ministry is working on this project along with the Federal Agency for State Property Management, the Communications Ministry and special agencies, including the Federal Guard Service. I hope that in the first quarter of 2013 we will gather the necessary information to make the final decision.

As for the courts, I think there is no doubt in this case. The Constitutional Court is functioning quite successfully in St Petersburg and when I met with Mr Zorkin [President of the Constitutional Court] and asked him if there were any problems, he answered: ‘Just one question – why didn’t we move earlier?’ Because traffic in St Petersburg is less congested, it is easier to move around, and the working conditions are better not only than in Moscow but also compared to their colleagues in other countries.

The judicial system in Russia deserves better working conditions. I think that even a small geographical move away from the executive and legislative branches will benefit the system, including in the fight against corruption.

DMITRY PESKOV: Russia Today TV channel.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Yelena Milenchich, Russia Today.

Russia assumed the chairmanship of the G20 this year. The priorities have already been declared but the Western countries and the BRICS states will differ on how to achieve these goals. How will Russia as a member of the G20 and BRICS will go about achieving these goals? Also, Russia will host the G8 Summit in 2014. Has it been decided where exactly it will be held?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Regarding the G20 and the question what Russia will do if there are different opinions, which is bound to happen not only among BRICS or G20 countries, but among any states anywhere. Haven’t we seen plenty of problems concerning trade and economic issues between the United States and its traditional European partners? Anything can happen.

The situation in the world economy is changing rapidly, but we would like to focus on two main areas during our chairmanship: economic growth and job preservation and creation. There are many other sub-items, but we will coordinate and agree this agenda with all the parties involved. Russia is the host country, but it is one of the G20 participants and not some kind of a leader that will impose its agenda on other countries. We will work closely with all our partners.

What was the second part of your question?

YELENA MILENCHICH: The second part was about the G8 Summit.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s right, about the G8. We first considered holding the summit at the Skolkovo Innovation Centre, but even the initial analysis shows that in order to ensure the security of the delegation heads and their colleagues, we would have to secure an area of Moscow that is home to around 400,000 people.

All of those people would need passes just to get home – after all, we can’t stop people from going home! It also creates problems for the movement of special vehicles in the area, for example, fire engines or ambulances.

In addition, the main buildings in Skolkovo will be completed only by 2016, and the G8 Summit will be held in 2014. We can’t host such an event on a construction site, so we will most likely choose a different venue.

DMITRY PESKOV: Be kind, “a colleague from the countryside” is written here. Please ask your question.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr President, Anastasia Subayeva, Greater Cheremshan newspaper, Ulyanovsk Region.

My question is about a touchy subject, about utilities. After the entry into force of government order No. 354 on providing utility services to homeowners in our region and others, residents began to receive bills of two to three thousand rubles more for utility services. The various clarifications offered by local authorities were superficial and somewhat distracting.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Wait a second, what region are you from?

ANASTASIYA SUBAYEVA: Ulyanovsk Region.

Desperate to explain things to people, municipal officials decided to write a letter to higher authorities asking them to suspend the 354th order. However, operating companies had already invoiced huge amounts and continue to do so. Some people pay, fearing large fines, and some are already unable to spend 50 to 60 percent of their salaries or pensions on utility services.

My question is as follows. Along with the fact that utility services themselves leave much to be desired, are you not afraid that the accumulated problems of housing and utilities will result in social upheaval? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s not scare each other. We should think not about upheaval, but about correct, well-balanced regulation in this sector.

And I understand people who are outraged by recent developments here. We will definitely return to this issue, and I will definitely look at what happens in Ulyanovsk Region with respect to higher utility prices. The reasons behind these increases are well-known, much has already been said about them. Above all, they are related to the lack of transparent decision-making processes and the monopolisation of the market for these services, as a rule by companies connected with the relevant levels of management in either the regions or the municipalities.

For that reason we must get rid of monopolies. We are to pay more attention to this. And something very important is transparency in decision-making. This should not be a closed sphere. You cannot just send a bill; you have to explain to people how this bill was calculated.

As for 30 or 60 percent of family incomes, I would simply remind you that there are relevant decisions and laws according to which if total payments for housing and utilities exceed 21 percent – and in some areas it is even less, in Moscow I think it is 15 percent – then citizens have the right to compensation.

First, people should know about this. Second, regional and local authorities must provide compensation. And in general we have to look at the prices in this sphere. We already had a situation two or three years ago when rates skyrocketed. We had to go back and reimburse people money that had been unjustly charged.

Let’s see what happens in Ulyanovsk Region.

DMITRY PESKOV: We have been on air for three hours, Mr President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Guys, we have to wind up.

DMITRY PESKOV: Let’s have RIA Novosti.

QUESTION: RIA Novosti, Yelena Glushakova.

You have already recalled 2008 quite emotionally, the time when you travelled personally to plants and factories to solve problems there. And how the government introduced subsidies for our entrepreneurs and other similar assistance mechanisms. Now, four years later, if there were to be a second wave of the crisis, would you need to manage our economy again in such a hands-on way? Is it sufficiently diversified?

And another thing. A member of your team, Alexei Kudrin, said yesterday that the anti-western rhetoric which has recently prevailed in Russia could harm our economy. As for Russian-American relations, what do you think? Do we need to “reset the reset”? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: So in essence you have two questions. Do we have sufficient resources to resolve economic problems should they arise, is that right?

YELENA GLUSHAKOVA: Yes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: And the second: how do developments in our international relations affect our economic problems? Have I understood correctly?

YELENA GLUSHAKOVA: Rather, it was the transition to Russia-US relations, since the crisis and now anti-western rhetoric has prompted concerns among investors, and foreign investments are not insignificant for us. Accordingly, what is your assessment of Russian-American relations, do they need to be “reset” once again?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I see. Let’s start with Russian-American relations and what Mr Kudrin said. I’ve already said that I meet with and listen to Mr Kudrin, but he is not currently working in the executive branch of government. Most likely, he considers himself part of the liberal opposition. But our opposition, if you will allow me to paraphrase the hero of a famous film, has no specific work. These people are smart, but they are not liable for their decisions.

As for rhetoric, anti-American, anti-western, or anti-any-other-country I might name, we do not need anti-anybody rhetoric, it is always harmful. But you and I are probably bad Christians: when you are slapped you should turn the other cheek. And I am not yet ready to do so on moral grounds. If we are slapped, we must retaliate, otherwise we will always be taken advantage of. Whether we do so adequately or inadequately is another matter. Along with this, they acted without provocation. They are up to their ears in a certain substance; I have already listed their problems, they are really drowning it, and they still insist on criticizing us. This is wrong; it is not our choice. We did not provoke anyone, they provoked us.

I would repeat that the question of whether our response is appropriate or not is another matter, and we must analyse it as such. I answered your colleague, you should look at the text that [Duma] deputies suggested. But we are not interested in damaging our relations with anyone.

As for the so-called reset, it is not our term, our American partners suggested it. I do not even really understand exactly what we are resetting: in principle we had normal, good relations which then soured and deteriorated due to the fact that we had different positions on Iraq. And the problems began at that point.

But I want to draw your attention to the fact that we did not articulate this policy proactively, our position was significantly influenced by the policies of the United States’ European partners, France and Germany, who did not support their efforts in Iraq either. Who was right? They say: I came, I saw, I conquered. Saddam was hanged, but the country is falling apart. Kurdistan is already practically independent. How many victims have there been? Perhaps more than during the entire period of Saddam Hussein’s rule. Whether [the invasion of Iraq] was an adequate means of solving the ‘Hussein problem’ or not, it’s hard to say. But I think that such means of resolving problems are very controversial, to say the least.

The second problem that arose then and continues today relates to missile defence. We have said so many times. We feel threatened when our partners create such systems. This leads to (or can lead to, if we do not respond) the nullification of our nuclear and missile capabilities. It also significantly disturbs the strategic balance which has protected humanity from large-scale military conflict since World War Two. There have been many small conflicts, but thank God there have been no big ones. And we overcame the Caribbean crisis due to the fact that there was such a balance, and no one wants mutually assured destruction.

I once talked to a man with whom I have a very good personal relationship and I still think very highly of him: former President George W. Bush. He said, “What are you worried about? We are not doing this against you.”  I said, “Well then, here is what we will do: we will not create a missile defence system, which is expensive and we don’t even know if it’s going to be effective, but in order to maintain a balance, we will have to develop ballistic attack systems.” He said, “You can do what you want. We do not consider you an enemy, so we don’t care. But you shouldn’t consider us an enemy either, so you shouldn’t care.”

So that’s what we’ve been doing. But that decision gave rise to a problem that remains to this day. After all, when we conceded, “All right, they are not directed against us,” (I won’t go into details now, there are a lot of them and they are very interesting, I'll tell you about them some other time) and suggested: “Would you be interested in employing a technology that wouldn’t threaten us?” They proposed a solution that we agreed to, but later they abandoned that technological solution.

All right, if you don’t want to do it, let’s at least write up some binding legal agreements confirming that it is not directed against us – yet they opposed this as well and refused to do it. We will be forced to take some countermeasures. Does this have a negative impact on our relationship? Yes, it does.

However, I would like to go back to the thesis formulated by the 42nd President: we are not enemies. I agree with that. We just need to be patient and look for compromises. I don’t think this has had any great effect on the investment climate or curbs Russia’s economic development. But it is our duty to ensure the national security of the Russian Federation.

DMITRY PESKOV: Let’s take the last two questions. St Petersburg, please.

QUESTION: Good evening, Mr President.

I would like to go back to the question asked by a colleague from Kabardino-Balkaria on the protection of journalists. Unfortunately, this problem is not limited to just one region – this problem exists all across Russia.

According to the Glasnost Defence Foundation, one hundred journalists have been attacked this year, which is double the figure for 2010. And I think it is a very serious problem. Just last summer, in July, I was attacked and got two bullets in the head from a traumatic gun as I was leaving the office. A criminal investigation was launched but it has yielded no results in the past five months.

I want to draw your attention to the fact that perhaps the issue of journalists’ protection could be resolved by strengthening the oversight of law enforcement agencies and increasing their liability for inaction in investigating such crimes. Very often the investigations of these crimes are very inconsistent. Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Which region is that, please?

RESPONSE: St Petersburg.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: St Petersburg? It’s highly regrettable that we come across such occurrences. This indicates certain systemwide problems in our society. I spoke about it at length in the Address to the Federal Assembly and devoted much attention to this matter.

I won’t tell you anything new, but you shouldn’t think that I want to cast the blame on anyone here. However, the media community is part of our society, it is involved in the life of society and is often involved in business. Therefore, here, we should always look into the causes of each crime. I am certainly not talking about your particular case. I absolutely agree that we must improve control over the investigation of these crimes.

I’ve made a note of this matter and I can promise you that we will devote a meeting to this issue as soon as possible, perhaps not before the New Year, there’s not enough time now, but in the first working days of the new year. I think we will discuss this at a meeting with permanent members of the Security Council.

DMITRY PESKOV: Pass the microphone over there, please. Go ahead. Did you want to ask a question?

QUESTION: Yes, I'm from Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region, the newspaper Golos Chitatelya [Reader’s Voice].

Your two teachers from School No. 281 [in St Petersburg], the only two who are still alive, have sent their greetings to you. 

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you.

QUESTION: They remember you well. I have spoken with them and they talk about you as if you are still a student at their school. These two teachers are deputy head teacher Vera Malyshkina and your history teacher Tamara Stelmakhova.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you. I am very grateful to them for everything.

QUESTION: I agree with the journalist from Argumenty i Fakty that you tend to get exaggerated statistics on pensions and some other things. I have an example for you. On my way here, I asked people: “What question would you like to ask the President?” Most people are very concerned about the rise in crime, especially in small towns, where it is most noticeable.

When I started to investigate this, it turned out that before the police reform each district policeman, the most direct link between the public and the police, was in charge of a territory with 3,000 people, and now one police officer is responsible for 15,000-18,000 people. Vsevolozhsk, which is not such a small town, has only seven district police officers and four detectives. Yes, they are getting 35,000-40,000 rubles now, but they are having such a hard time coping with the workload that even a higher salary doesn’t make up for it. And there are no new applicants for their jobs. What do you think about that? Crime is on the rise.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I want to ask you to convey my best wishes to my teachers. I want to say once again that I am very grateful to them. This is the first thing.

Second, about the statistics. The statistics are correct. Simply, as a colleague said earlier, these are average figures on the growth of pensions, and so on. And I was talking about the average old-age pension. The average figure really is what I said, but each particular case depends on many factors. In fact, the pensions are lower in many places around the country. So when people hear that, they say, “How can that be? I don’t get that much!” But I repeat, I named the figure for the average pension.

The same applies to wages. There are some differences between the regions. Salaries in resource extractive regions can be as high as 50,000 60,000, 70,000, or 80,000 [rubles]. Wages in the armed forces have been raised significantly. At the same time salaries in the central regions can be around 16,000, 17,000, 18,000, sometimes now even 20,000 and over. So when people say, “That may be the average salary but we get less,” – yes, it may be less in their region, but I’m talking about the average salary.

This figure is only an approximation, but why do we need it? It reflects the changes, the trend, and we can see that it is clearly positive. Whatever the case, we can see that wages are growing. Incomes may still be low but we can see that they have grown in the past year. That’s what I'm talking about.

Therefore, we can’t say that these figures are inaccurate.

Now, regarding the reform. As for renaming the police force, that is a matter of taste. At the time, as you know, I served as the Prime Minister and, of course, was aware of what was going on. But the name is not at issue here. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary to change the name. But the fact is at the time the structural, systemic changes in the Interior Ministry were largely overdue, including the need to raise the wages. There was so much talk at the time that in order to attract honest people into the police force, we must pay them more. Now we are paying more. You know, it’s not true that nobody wants to joint the police force. It may be a problem in Vsevolozhsk, perhaps, or in some other places.

The fact that police officers can’t handle the increased workload – well, the load may have increased in some places but I can cite some figures. They may be average figures again but they are: 75% of respondents are proud of their work and want to continue their service in the Interior Ministry. But there are 25% who don’t agree. That is a lot too. And maybe the people you were talking about fall into these 25%. But we are talking about the general trends, as I said.

As for the crime rate, it is high in Russia. That is a fact. We must fight crime by using different approaches. This includes education and media coverage, improving the social status of law enforcement officers and improving legislation. Most importantly, we must work on the aspect a colleague of yours mentioned earlier, which is not increase the punishment for the offense indefinitely, but to make punishment inevitable.

DMITRY PESKOV: One last question, Mr President?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We’ll see.

DMITRY PESKOV: Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Please pass the microphone to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

QUESTION: Alexandra Samarina, Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Good afternoon. Mr President, my question is about political competition. In the 2000s, during the so-called sovereign democracy, political issues, political development issues were addressed with the use of our political technologies. We know about these problems. People were not allowed to take part in the elections, signatures were declared invalid. These are only some of the problems faced by the people who went to the polls and did not reach the political Olympus.

My newspaper has analysed your Address to the Federal Assembly and your speech today and has come to the conclusion that politics is replacing political technologies, that you and the current political elite are increasingly interested in politics. This is evidenced by the fact that in the Address you urged the elite to keep their heads down and work hard, as well as the fact that you mentioned in the Address the possibility of introducing electoral blocs in the next election.

Would you agree that politics is replacing political technologies in the actions of our political elite, and that this will give rise to the development of political competition and will open the doors to opposition figures to take part in politics? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t think that we will ever completely get rid of political technologies. As you know, political technologies were introduced into our political life from the outside. They were not born here, on our soil. They were introduced by more experienced streetwise entrepreneurs who worked in this field for a long time in countries with developed democracies and who earn a lot of money in these political processes.

For example, do you know how many people voted early in the presidential elections in the United States? A huge number of people voted early. We would have been eaten alive if we had such a high figure. Isn’t that a political technology? Of course, it is. I'm not even talking about the organisations that specialise in election campaigns, organisations, companies and firms. It is a business of politics, and it will continue to grow. We should just minimise the negative aspects of the process, but we cannot escape it. As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tired.” These are the negative aspects of the process and perhaps they are inevitable.

As for competition, I am sure it will grow. And I must agree with you that we must focus more attention on political competition than on spin doctors, on legal political competition that should constitute a battle of opinions on the ways to tackle the challenges faced by the country. Not just “You, get out of here” and “Let’s level everything out and then build our own new world from scratch  – who was nothing will become everything.” We’ve been through all of that. Most of the people who have joined the ranks of the so-called irreconcilable opposition were in power in the past, and we know what they built, we know how they worked in the Russian regions, they destroyed everything and their work in the federal Government was not very effective either, to put it mildly.

They must have their own agenda and proposals on ways to address the problems faced by the country. In that sense, I hope that after the decision, say, on the freedom of political party registration is adopted, this fight will turn into real political competition and will create a competitive political environment in Russia. But people must have the opportunity to state their position, as I said in the Address to the Federal Assembly, and that is a difficult task for the authorities.

At present we have 48 registered political parties, another 200 are in the process – there are initiative groups to create 200 parties. It is difficult to provide equal rights to all of them, but we must aspire to that. I say this sincerely. Why should we do that? Because, when we do, the foolishness in each of us will come to the surface. I mean myself, too.

DMITRY PESKOV: Mr President, we have been on air for 3 hours and 25 minutes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s have a question from 6 Sotok.

DMITRY PESKOV: 6 Sotok.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr President. Andrei Tumanov, a freelance correspondent with 6 Sotok.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why freelance?

ANDREI TUMANOV: I am working in the State Duma now.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What a high-flier! (Laughter.)

ANDREI TUMANOV: Mr President, I have asked you questions on many occasions, six times, I think, plus Mr Medvedev as well. These questions are almost always the same, except for some details. Some of my colleagues are starting to criticise me, and I say, “Well, maybe our state system, the power vertical, is not effective enough if fairly simple issues that have to do with, say, gardeners or small landowners, issues of land and land surveying that affect millions of people, mostly pensioners, remain unsolved for years. What do you think?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I agree. I know all your questions in advance, we have known each other for a long time. By the way, I do not think you should make excuses for focusing on a particular subject. Generally, it is very important for the media and for journalists to specialise.

In the Address to the Federal Assembly I talked about court reporters, who emerged in the 19th century in Russia as a well-educated class of people who knew the law, wrote well and were able to state their position clearly and intelligently. They played a very important role in the development of Russian judicial system.

Therefore, if you specialise on a certain subject, that is nothing to be embarrassed about. The question that you ask repeatedly and that you are concerned about has great importance for our country. After all, a fair distribution of land – I mean in the broad sense of the word – is a key issue of the economy and social justice.

There is a huge amount of red tape in these issues and this red tape does not allow us to return much of our fertile land into the economy. Incidentally, the Russian Federation has 55% of the world’s arable land. Therefore, it is vital to address the issues of small proprietors, both those who have 600 and 1,500-square metre plots.

I’ll take advantage of the opportunity provided by your question to talk on a wider subject. It is very important to resolve the housing issue in a way that is just and right with regard to the areas that are close to major cities and have a well-developed infrastructure. Because it’s the biggest resource for solving the housing problem in the country. But we must do it in such a way as not to infringe upon the rights of those who can and want to work the land and to produce agricultural products.

We have developed a whole system of measures which, above all, deals with land registration. People pay for the land they buy in accordance with land cadastral appraisal, while the real estate is still being bought based on the old bureaucratic appraisal system. So we need to introduce some common sense to the system and bring real property cadastre into order by introducing realistic administrative procedures.

QUESTION: Mr President, you have not spoken yet about pensioners.

DMITRY PESKOV: You already asked a question.

QUESTION: No, the ones who are still working. Ms Malyshkina is 83 years old, but she still has a “fashionable” job as a “concierge” and thinks about you all the time. So I would like to ask, is it legal, is it acceptable for people to work until that age?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Do you want to restrict them, if an individual wants to work? We have many suggestions for changing the system of pension provision in such a way that anyone who is working would not receive a pension. That is how this problem might get resolved if your ideas are implemented. Therefore we should proceed very carefully in this regard. If a person is capable of working and wants to…

QUESTION: I represent the TVN television company in Poland.

There is an issue that, in the view of many Poles and Polish politicians, is greatly complicating relations between Poland and Russia at this time: the investigation of the air crash, or more precisely, the fact that the aircraft wreckage still lies at the airport in Smolensk.

This matter is very important to us for emotional reasons: the Polish elite died there and we would like for this wreckage to be returned to Poland as soon as possible. The Investigative Committee has replied that this is physical evidence and is to be kept in Russia until the end of the investigation. The Polish side has stated that we are prepared to keep and watch over this wreckage, but in Poland, and to provide access to it at any time for Russian investigators.

Is this possible? Perhaps you can assert influence on the Investigative Committee, so that they may resolve the issue of transferring this wreckage more quickly?

And a small additional question. In one month, a Russian national exhibition is opening at Auschwitz. This, too, is an issue that took a very long time to solve and involved long discussions. You visited Auschwitz in 2005 and you know this subject: usually, exhibitions of this kind are opened by heads of state. Will you visit Poland?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do not know whether I have an invitation. It doesn’t work that way for Presidents – I cannot simply decide to come. I must receive an invitation. We will have to see what is suggested there. As you yourself said, I have been there.

When such events are held, they unite us with the entire civilised world including Poland. I want to thank Polish people for not forgetting the history, for the fact that such events are being held and organised. In 2005, I was invited by President Kwasniewski. He held that event at a very high level. There were many war veterans invited too. It was a very positive and memorable event.

As for the wreckage of the plane, ultimately, this has to be decided by the investigators. I do not know the details. My understanding was that a very constructive professional communication was established between the Polish and Russian investigators. They are working together. And up to now, they have worked together quite effectively, in good solidarity.

I do not think Russia should hold this wreckage forever, even though I do not know in detail the Investigative Committee’s standing. I will speak with the senior officials of the Investigative Committee.

The one thing that I believe we cannot do is politicise the subject. This was a tragedy. We mourn together with the Polish people. You are aware of how we reacted to it with absolute sincerity. Thus, we care greatly about the objectivity of the investigation.

The weather conditions were bad, the first pilot of the Polish plane that had landed two hours prior had warned the first pilot of that following presidential plane that he should not come, that the landing conditions were unsafe, but they still flew out. It is a tragedy, you see? I don’t even want to delve into it right now. But naturally, we must attain an absolutely objective answer to all the questions from our side and from the Polish people. This is the Investigative Committee’s job, and I will talk with them.

The young lady with the animals sign.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon. What are those animals on your sign?

REPLY: It’s a cat. I didn’t know how else to attract your attention.

DMITRY PESKOV: So your question is not about animals?

REPLY: No. Can I ask a question about children?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Alexandra Krasnogorodskaya, Russian News Service.

I want to return to an issue that has been addressed many times today, but if you could provide a brief answer. You see, I have a list of the children for whom a decision has already been issued to allow adoption by foreign parents. These are nine children and they have Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. They are five to six years old. So my question is, what will happen to them if you sign this law?

And another very important question. It’s about the educative role of the state in our country. In the USSR, certainly, the state played this role, but today, we know that there is active financing of films and state television channels. But I have a question, why do these channels, which are partially financed by the state or belong to companies with state participation, employ journalists who allow themselves to focus primarily on negative information about our country, people like Svanidze, Dorenko and Pozner? What is your view?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: So they have finally been brought up.

ALEXANDRA KRASNOGORODSKAYA: They rail against the Russian Orthodox Church, they bring up issues that kindle interethnic conflicts – why does this happen?

Thank you very much. Those are my questions.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I already answered the first question and I do not have anything to add; I have not seen the wording of the law. It was adopted in its second reading, right? I have to see it before I can come to a conclusion about what will happen to the children you mentioned.

This is not about banning adoption for all foreigners, only American adoptive parents. But we do not know which foreigners have chosen these children for adoption, and we are to look at the text, and the bilateral agreement is still in effect. We should look into the matter, how all of its aspects match up. We have to speak with attorneys, to see how the law that is passed will work with the international agreement that was signed. So all this is a matter to be handled professionally. Right now, I’m simply not prepared to answer you. That’s the first issue.

Second, regarding the position of various media representatives concerning particular problems in our lives and our existence. I would not criticise so harshly, because the national channels are already criticised enough regarding their position. But as I see it, the executives of the national channels take the following stance: it is their mission to present various points of view to the public to judge, and it is up to the journalists themselves to decide how to present those points of view.

They can be presented reasonably, or they can be presented in ways that are unacceptable. I very much count on those individuals to hear us. Your question shows that you and people who share your position feel that, at the very least, these journalists present their positions in an unacceptable manner.

REMARK: Can the Internet have the floor?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Where is the Internet? Go ahead, please.

REMARK: Thank you for taking notice of the Internet after three and a half hours.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Please take notice of the fact that I have not been hosting this news conference: it was my press secretary. But this is just a remark. Go ahead.

He hasn’t even said anything but has attacked me already. You shouldn’t be so aggressive.

QUESTION: In the Address to the Federal Assembly you spoke about compassion and spiritual bonds. Do you think that perhaps it may be time to feel compassion and spiritual bonds for the Bolotnaya Square case prisoners?

For example, you probably know that there is a person called Vladimir Akimenkov, who has been in detention for months, and he is rapidly losing sight. At the same time Ms Vasilyeva, who used to work for the Defence Ministry and who caused much more damage to the state than Akimenkov, is under house arrest in her 13-room apartment and is demanding a housekeeper. Do you think this is fair? This is the first question.

And one more question, if you don’t mind. Don’t you think it is strange that through the efforts of the Investigative Committee and its Chairman, Mr Bastrykin, the main external enemy of the state – a strong state like Russia, which has risen from its knees – is now not even the small state of Georgia but a minor and insignificant Georgian politician Givi Targamadze, while the biggest domestic enemies are not even Alexei Navalny, but small opposition figures Leonid Razvozzhayev and Konstantin Lebedev, who are on trial for conspiracy against Russia? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: To answer your question about the enemies of the Investigative Committee, I can tell you that the Investigative Committee has no personal enemies: the Investigative Committee monitors compliance with the Russian legislation, and in the event that a law is broken its duty is to investigate the case and submit it to the court for a final ruling. We must bear this in mind.

As for the Georgian politician you mentioned, he is not an enemy of the Russian Federation; he is a man who attempted (and perhaps is continuing his attempts) to incite citizens of the Russian Federation to commit illegal acts which may take form of terrorist attacks, and to try the illegal seizure of power. They were caught on tape when they by accident – this is a state secret I am revealing here - entered the premises that were being monitored, and the video recording we have as a result proves this very convincingly.

This is factual evidence that cannot be denied. He instructed them about how to commit a crime in the Russian Federation, and the case must go to trial. You shouldn’t defend him. Any discussion (be it, as they say, as a joke or not) of committing terrorist attacks, including explosions on the railway – Mr Bastrykin cannot allow that to go unnoticed because, unfortunately, we have had such cases and such tragedies in our country.

How can Mr Bastrykin ignore a discussion on blowing up a train somewhere near Irkutsk? What are you talking about, you, a Russian citizen, when you could have been on that train, or your children, or friends, or other Internet users, how can you say that? This is the first point.

Second, about the people who are in prison, I do not think that people should be imprisoned for taking part in rallies, even if those rallies were held in violation of the law. That is my personal position as the head of state and a person who has a law degree. But at the same time – and I want to draw your attention to this – it is absolutely unacceptable when representatives of the authorities are assaulted.

I am sure you have great respect for the legal system in the United States. There, just you try to put your hand in the pocket and pull something out – you’ll get a bullet in the head and that’ll be the end of discussion. And the police officer will be acquitted. They have very strict laws against assault on law enforcement officers. Why do some people think that here it is allowed to tear off officers’ shoulder straps, to hit a police officer in the face or try to strangle him? If we allowed this, regardless of the assailants’ political views, we would ruin the law enforcement system in our country.

The next day our police officers will say, go out and fight the extreme nationalists, say, yourselves. Do you approve of their activities? I don’t think so, bearing in mind your liberal views. What if you were told: “Take off you glasses and go fight them yourself.” You must understand that it would destroy the law enforcement system. We must be very careful.

But I have to admit that I really am not familiar with the details and the names you have mentioned, on what grounds were these people detained and put in custody for the period of the investigation, but I'll see. I will not interfere if it is for the reasons I stated. But if they were detained simply because thy took part in rallies, I think that is wrong, and in the future the police will have to keep that in mind.

Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Yekaterina Vinokurova, Gazeta.ru.

In continuation of the question by my colleagues Ilya Azar and Diana Khachatryan of Novaya Gazeta, I would like to draw your attention to the following. According to the November polls conducted by the Levada Centre, your approval rating is about 34%. The number of people dissatisfied with the Government’s policy and the performance of the authorities is 55% and 45%, respectively.

Why do you think the figures are falling and why is there increasing distrust in society of the authorities and all state institutions? Do you think this may be connected, for example, with the difference in detention conditions for 18-year-old Alexandra Dukhanina, who was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and the former state official Yevgenia Vasilyeva; and with the fact that, on the one hand, we have adopted – within a fraction of a second - a response law to the Magnitsky Act despite the fact that a large part of society was opposed to it and demanded at least to hold a discussion, while on the other hand, the people who are disloyal to the authorities have no voice at all.

Thank you very much for your reply.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I will try to be very objective, but I am not sure you are going to like my objectivity. First of all, I think all these ratings are very approximate. The rating can go a bit up today and down tomorrow. I don’t think this is directly related to the issues you mentioned.

You represent the liberal spectrum of our society. Well, you just mentioned Ms Vasilyeva, who is under house arrest. But just recently I heard very different speeches from the people of your circle: “How is it possible to imprison a person for an economic crime?” Try to be more consistent, please.

She is suspected of having committed an economic crime, not a criminal offence. First, the process of proving the case is quite complicated. The issue here is not whether she was or was not locked up. The issue is that she must not be allowed to disappear before the trial. The issue is also to ensure an objective investigation. That was the decision of the investigators and the court. So what? This does not mean that someone is trying to undermine the investigation. I have already answered this question: no one is going to undermine anything. The investigation will be brought to its conclusion in this case, as well as in other cases.

As for the public attention to the problems you refereed to, you mentioned some names, but to be absolutely sincere and honest, I am not familiar with those names. I have already stated my position on this matter [of restraint measures] in response to your colleague’s question and I think that such measures should be adequate.

If those cases you refer to are connected with offenses against representatives of the authorities committed during mass rallies, especially against law enforcement officers, that is one thing. If it is something else, something I am not familiar with, then it’s another matter. If it is related to the possible planning or even discussing the possibility of committing illegal acts connected with the unlawful seizure of power in some regions or committing terrorist attacks, as in the case of the Georgian politician we mentioned earlier, who incited Russian activists to commit such acts – that is another matter yet again. I do not know the details but I think I have outlined my position clearly enough.

DMITRY PESKOV: Mr President, we have been talking for three hours and fifty minutes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s give the floor to Reuters.

QUESTION: Mr President, Alexei Anishchouk, the Reuters news agency.

News agencies reported recently that a Russian court decided to reduce Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s prison term. I think, it is probably no secret for many in the audience and on the other side of the TV screen that a Russian court, as an independent entity, is unable to issue such a ruling without coordinating this decision with you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why is that?

ALEXEI ANISHCHOUK: Several years ago you said that a thief’s place is in prison. Does this mean that, perhaps, you have changed your opinion o some degree? Does it mean that you believe Mr Khodorkovsky has served a long enough sentence and should be released?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Listen, you’ve got the wrong idea about the operation of our judicial system. This is the first point.

Second, I was not the head of state for four years, yet the courts upheld their earlier ruling we are all aware of. I could not influence the courts in any way – I want everyone to hear that. I had no influence whatsoever on the activities of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary. I did not interfere in this area. I did my own job and yet our courts upheld the ruling we are all familiar with.

Certain amendments to the existing legislation have been adopted, which gave grounds for the court to make the decision you mentioned. That is all. This is consistent with the existing Russian legislation and law application practice.

As for my thesis that a thief’s place is in prison, is there anyone who does not agree with it? Do you think he should walk free? When they placed a suspect under house arrest, our liberal activists were indignant. They said: “Put her in prison”. So you should make up your mind, who should go to prison and who shouldn’t. Or do you have a selective approach to this issue?

As for Mr Khodorkovsky, there is no personal prosecution in this case. I remember very well how it developed. There still are attempts to present it as a political case. Was Mr Khodorkovsky engaged in politics? Was he a State Duma deputy? Was he a leader of a political party? No, he wasn’t any of those things. It’s a purely economic offence and the court made a ruling.

Have a look at the US. They sentence people to 99 years of imprisonment for economic crimes, and even 100 years. There is a bright example involving the head of one of the funds. How did it end? It ended in tragedy: his family members committed suicide.

This is a worldwide practice. We are told all the time that justice in our country is selective. Do you think that man was the only person in the United States who committed that offence? No, he probably wasn’t. Just the system got to him first. It’s the same here. We should not politicise these cases. I’m sure that when everything is in conformity with the law, Mr Khodorkovsky will be released. May God give him health.

REMARK: [without a microphone].

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Taxes are an important issue but I don’t know what you want to ask.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Olesya Perezhogina, Glavbukh [Chief Accountant] magazine.

I represent our readers’ interests and would like to begin with a suggestion. Accountancy is a very popular profession. Unfortunately, accountants still do not have a professional holiday.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Is that true? I think they do.

OLESYA PEREZHOGINA: No, they don’t, it’s true.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Every professional group has one.

OLESYA PEREZHOGINA: Not officially. November 21 is the Tax Service Day, not the Accountants Day. Our readers would be very happy if it were possible to introduce such a holiday.

Now, a more serious question about insurance premiums. Small businesses are very concerned about the rise in premiums, especially self-employed individuals, because their tax burden will increase substantially next year. Are there any plans to reduce them and how will the system of insurance premiums develop in the future? Will the rates remain stable or will they continue to increase? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We had so many discussions on this matter with the trade unions and experts. A number of experts said we shouldn’t increase the insurance premiums but later they were raised anyway. The entire economy adapted to this system.

Then we were advised to lower the premiums because it was hard for small and medium businesses. Those who opposed the increase initially, said: “Don’t change anything now. The economy has adapted to this and businesses are doing all right”. Nevertheless, we lowered the rate.

There are no plans for further cuts. In any case, we have not considered them, although we will seek to reduce the overall tax burden in the country. But this is connected with budget revenues and the fulfilment of our social obligations.

On average, the taxes in Russia are no higher, and perhaps even lower than in developed economies. Therefore, it seems to me that by far the most important thing for us is to ensure the stability of the tax system.

Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Youth TV Channel O2TV.

Mr President, there are many different kinds of youth organisations in our country. Some of them are functioning under certain political parties, movements and so on, some are of a political nature. Do you think it could make sense to establish a national youth organisation under the auspices of, for example, the Popular Front (or not, as politics comes into play here again)? This would continue all the best aspects of the Young Communist League and Young Pioneers without the ideological element, and would involve schoolchildren and teenagers. Because it is no secret that they are often left to themselves. Such organisation would be concerned with patriotic education, physical education, and other types of education. This is my first question.

And if possible, a follow-up question to the one from Rossiya TV Channel regarding stability. Mr President, you are one of the few politicians and government officials in the world who have experience of managing such a large, vast country. I would probably even call you Russia’s Deng Xiaoping in the light of the scale of reforms that you are introducing. Have you ever thought about writing a book that could share this experience with the public and the younger generation? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much for your question and such a flattering comparison. I don’t think I deserve it, but it is still nice to hear.

As for a book, I have no time to write one or even dictate it. Some friends urged me to dictate simply a chronology of events at the end of every day or every week, but I do not have time; I simply don’t have time even to dictate. At the end of the day I don’t have the time or energy left to record anything on a dictaphone. Although it would be interesting.

As for a national organisation: you know about patriotic education because I talk about it every day. Of course, anyone can scoff or sneer at this as much as they like. But the people who scoff and sneer are those who do not connect their fate and the fate of their children to our country’s life.

Your colleague on your left just talked about my schoolteachers, many have talked about pensioners. How should we behave towards our parents if not with respect? How should we behave towards the people who built our country over a thousand years if not with respect? If we do not think about this, and forget what we were taught in school by our history teachers, then we will have no future. Without patriotic education from childhood, we will not resolve the fundamental, systemic issues that face our country.

After all, you all have children or will have them, I mean those who are too young to have them now. But if we want to live in this country, we have to think about this. Look at how other countries have dealt with issues related to patriotic education. Indeed, you all know that in some countries they raise the national flag every morning before school and almost every house flies a flag. This is no accident, and it is not useless.

We don’t need to work dogmatically, we should not formalise all this work; on the contrary, we must be creative. But I want to address you all, and please listen to me when I tell you that a great deal depends on you. A huge responsibility for the country rests on your shoulders. And this is absolutely not a political matter – every one of you and your colleagues can hold any range of views, including about the current authorities and their economic, social, domestic or international policies. But there are fundamental principles relating to the existence of the state itself, and one of those concerns respect for our history and nurturing patriotism.

Is it possible to create some kind of universal organisation in our current environment? It’s hard to say. I think that it would be very difficult to do. But the most important thing – and here I fully agree with you – is that such organisations must be as apolitical as possible. I already spoke in my Address of my willingness to support the idea of creating associations of students sports clubs. If this is the path we follow, then perhaps we will achieve positive results.

DMITRY PESKOV: Four hours, Mr President.

QUESTION: I simply must fulfil a request. I have a five-year-old daughter who asked me to say hello to President Putin. Mr President, you have a big hello from Anna Gribchatova from the city of Yakutsk.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: And Anna has a big hello from all of us.

QUESTION: Thank you. However, my question is about something else. I think it will be of interest to all those who live in the north of the country.

You were in the northern town of Tiksi and you know the situation there. We would like to hear what the state intends to do in order to revive and develop the Northern Sea Route and the port of Tiksi, in particular. Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The port of Tiksi is clearly linked to economic activity, including the development of the Northern Sea Route. As you know, changing climatic conditions in the north mean that the number of days suitable for navigation is increasing. And just recently ships carrying liquefied natural gas and other products successfully transited the Northern Sea Route.

It is much more cost-effective to deliver goods from European Russia, and from Europe in general, to the Asia-Pacific region this way, rather than going through the Suez Canal. We will certainly boost shipping, just as we will continue to work on the environmental cleanup of the northern territories. We will also continue to revive the Northern Sea Route by establishing security points along its entire length. I hope that settlements such as Tiksi will revive.

The current situation is unacceptable and the Defence Ministry’s decision to close the airport there was very controversial. But I am confident that such decisions will be amended. In any case it is necessary to revive Tiksi and similar towns. By the way, I have repeatedly asked the [Sakha] Republic’s authorities to pay more attention to Tiksi’s development. The situation there is very difficult, I saw what was happening myself. I do not believe that everything was done as it should have been. We need collective, joint efforts from both federal and regional authorities.

By the way, did you know that we will develop our icebreakers, both nuclear-powered and with conventional propulsion systems? All this bears witness to our intention to develop this crucial route.

Let’s move over here – Astrakhan? Let’s have a question from Astrakhan.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr President, for the opportunity to speak.

Enough Khodorkovsky, enough Magnitsky. I’m inviting you to go ice fishing. Rivers are covered in ice; winter came early this year. It’s true that airplanes are already overcrowded, and it’s also difficult to organise a fishing trip in the summer. The environmental situation is getting better, thank God, and the federal programme is now working – rivers and creeks are getting cleaner. Everything is going well with fish farming and commercial fishing.

But the bureaucracy in the Federal Agency for Fishery continues. You know that this old story stretches back a long time in Astrakhan; rallies have taken place. And now in 2012 the Fishery Agency has introduced new rules according to which a simple fisherman – an ordinary one who goes fishing in a small boat, fishes in reeds, casts a net – now under these rules seems to have become the captain of a sea fishing vessel, like that of a whaling fleet, or one which catches mullet in the Black Sea.

This ordinary fisherman has to abide by new rules and is subject to stringent checks; he always has to carry a fishing log, a copy of fishing regulations, and an original fishing permit. His log book must always show at which exact latitude and longitude he is, and he must calculate how much pike he has caught, and how much carp. So you see, it’s very bureaucratic. And if you get caught breaching any requirements, penalties are steep: fines for ordinary fishermen reach 10,000 to 15,000 rubles [$300 to 500]at a time. How can we fix this bureaucracy?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, I promise to pay particular attention to this subject and to look, together with the Federal Agency for Fishery, at what we can do to debureaucratize the situation. It’s clear what has caused this, namely the fight against poaching. Unfortunately, poaching has not been completely stamped out in the Volga Delta. But of course it is very wrong to create impossible conditions for fishermen who are working legally.

I remember a very good, great story; let me retell it now. When I travelled there a few years ago, the media were not aware of it, and in the morning we travelled through flooded areas on a boat. Then we saw a boat with I think four fishermen who were catching fish. I drove up to them, sat up, and one of the fishermen turned, looked at me, and began to cross himself. I asked: “Why are you crossing yourself?” When he realised that it was really me he said: “We drank a little bit yesterday and I thought I was seeing things.”

But people there are very nice, very hard-working, and we should not interfere with them, but rather facilitate their work. So I will return to this problem, take it up, and let’s see what the situation is.

Let’s show some respect to our foreign guests. Xinhua news agency, please.

QUESTION: Dear Mr President,

Last week in your annual Address you noted that in the 21st century, the vector of Russia’s development will be the development of and toward the East. And in an article published earlier this year, you suggested that Russia’s economy should catch the wind from China in its sails.

Please tell me, how does Russia intend to strengthen its cooperation with China as it develops its Far East? And in general, how would you rate current relations between Russia and China? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Relations between Russia and China are very close, I would even say that they have reached an unprecedented level of trust and cooperation. Our political cooperation is better than ever before. We are coordinating our efforts on major international issues. And of course relations between Russia and China have become a major factor in international affairs.

With regards to the economy, we must focus primarily on expanding our cooperation in the high-tech sector. This is already partially successful – I am referring to our joint projects in nuclear energy. But we must do more in several other critical sectors, such as aviation. We have plans to create a wide-body aircraft for civil aviation, and other fields, including helicopter manufacturing, are also extremely important.

There are many other areas, too many to be listed now. But one of them, investment cooperation, is both systemic and very important. In this regard, I believe we have a lot of attractive assets and opportunities, including in the Trans-Baikal areas and Far East. Chinese investors are keeping a low profile, but they are active. They participate in the Russian Direct Investment Fund.

China’s largest investment fund is an active participant in our own investment fund and, with the support of Russian colleagues, seeks out very interesting fields for cooperation. I think this is both very important and very promising. I hope our cooperation in financial spheres will achieve a similar dynamic. You know that we have agreed to conduct a small part of our trade – but nevertheless some part – in our national currencies, the ruble and the yuan.

Here is our colleague, his sign says Los Angeles – he was so angry that he did not get a chance to speak. Let’s not provoke him any more. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Dear Mr President, I am Sergei Loiko, Los Angeles Times.

You talked a lot lately about the case against Yevgenia Vasilyeva, the alleged misappropriations in Oboronservis, [former Defence Minister] Serdyukov’s involvement with all that, and the fact that the political situation in the country is nothing like in 1937. Of course, we are glad to hear that. But coming back to today’s main topic, we could say that in 2009 Sergei Magnitsky found himself in 1937. And the same applies to 1,500 orphans, whom neither Ms Lakhova nor Ms Afanasyeva [State Duma deputies who initiated the draft bill prohibiting US citizens from adopting Russian children] will take in, of which 49 children are seriously ill and have American families ready to take them in. You will agree with me that in any case these children will be better off in America than in an orphanage.

My question is as follows. I’m going back to Sergei Magnitsky, because you talked about him yourself. Russia has had three years to resolve the case but this did not happen. And in that event there would have been no Magnitsky list, you would not have quarrelled with the US, the children would have gone to America, and everyone would be satisfied and happy. But there has been no satisfactory answer. Why not?

You demonstrate a remarkable awareness of other high-profile criminal cases, which I will not name. I would like to hear your answer to the question about the $230 million that allegedly customs inspectors and the police – militiamen, as they used to be called – stole from the budget. These funds could have been used to rebuild beautiful children’s homes, and Mr Medvedev would not have had to assert in vain that we should do something. If we had already done something, we would have been able to keep our orphanages in normal conditions.

What happened to Sergei Magnitsky? Why did he find himself in 1937? Well, this is not the case for everyone. But why does 1937 keep merging with our own lives?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Regarding Magnitsky ... (Applause.)

Why are you applauding?

REPLY: We liked the question.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You liked the question, fine.

When Mr Magnitsky’s tragedy occurred, I myself was Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. I learned about this tragedy from the media. And to be quite honest, even today I do not know the details surrounding this person’s tragic death in custody. But of course I feel that I have to find out more.

But that is not the issue. I want you to listen, too. I understand that you work for the Los Angeles Times, and not for Pravda or Izvestiya, and that you have to take a certain position. I want our position to be clear. Mr Magnitsky personally is not the issue at stake. The issue is that US lawmakers, having got rid of one anti-Russian, anti-Soviet act – the Jackson-Vanik amendment (and they were forced to do so for economic reasons) – decided they would pass another anti-Russian act immediately. So we understood it as US lawmakers making clear to us who’s the boss here, and keeping a certain level of tension. If Magnitsky did not exist, they’d have found another pretext. That’s what upsets us. This is the first thing.

Second. I don’t know the details, but I am nevertheless aware of the fact that Mr Magnitsky did not die of torture. Nobody tortured him, he died of a heart attack. The inquiry into his case is set to establish whether he received or didn’t receive medical assistance in due time. If a person is denied assistance, especially in a public institution, of course we must figure out what happened. This is the second thing.

Third. Do you think that no one ever dies in American jails, or what? Of course they do. And so what? Must we make a story of each and every case? Do you know how many people US law enforcement agencies seize around the world in violation of national jurisdictions, drag off to their prisons, and try them there? Is this normal? I don’t think so. I’ve already questioned once: why does one country feel entitled to extend its jurisdiction to the entire world? This undermines the fundamental principles of international law.

In addition, as you know, Mr Magnitsky was not some human rights activist, he was not fighting for the rights of all. He was a lawyer for Mr Browder, who our law enforcement agencies suspect of committing economic crimes in Russia, and he was defending Mr Browder’s interests. Everything connected with this case is extremely politicised, and this is not our fault.

Now about the children. I have said many times and I want to repeat again that we are grateful to the American citizens, who have adopted or want to adopt our children, Russian children, Russian citizens from the heart. And they do this very well, they do so in accordance with the highest principles of humanism.

You said that these children will be better off in the US. But judging by what we know of certain tragic events, such as the case where a child was left in a car and died of heatstroke – is that better or worse? We know of other cases where children were beaten to death. Is that better or worse? But the issue at stake is not these particular cases; after all, children also die in Russia.

The issue at hand concerns official liability for these tragedies. People are exempt from criminal liability, and sometimes the judicial system does not even want to consider these cases. That’s what bothers Russian legislators, and this is what they are reacting to in the well-known draft bill that triggered such a reaction. I repeat: I must look at the details of the law, but in general I understand the mood of State Duma deputies.

Guys, we should end already, otherwise we will be sitting here all night. Please go ahead.

REPLY: Thank you very much.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You will probably ask about Karabakh, right?

Just a second, the person there already has a microphone; let’s let him ask a question and then give it to you, alright?

QUESTION: Mr President, I am David Akhvlediani, channel TV9, Tbilisi, Georgia.

By the way, I have some high-quality Georgian wine, but I left it at the hotel, because I was not sure whether I would be allowed in with wine or not.  

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You are offering us some wine?

DAVID AKHVLEDIANI: Yes, I will give it to your press office.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much. Georgian wine is very tasty, that’s obvious. In Georgia there is a special wine culture, quite different from that in western Europe. Naturally, it is unique.

DAVID AKHVLEDIANI: Georgia is called the birthplace of wine. Strabo, Pliny and Herodotus all wrote about it.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Perhaps. There are other views, but let’s just say perhaps. I will not argue with you.

DAVID AKHVLEDIANI: Mr President, my colleague here from Interfax asked about Russia’s accession to the WTO. Georgia was the last country to agree to that, and you know why that was the case.

And this is my question: according to the organisation’s provisions, Georgian wine and mineral water are supposed to appear on Russian supermarkets shelves. Yesterday I was in a store but I did not see any Georgian wine there. How soon will it appear?

And one more question. Recently, Prime Minister Ivanishvili declared that it is possible that you will meet. How realistic is that and when could it take place?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First, with regards to Georgian goods on the Russian market. We have to honour our commitments to the WTO, and if we have to do something, we will. We must fulfil our international obligations. For us it’s not so important but perhaps it’s more noticeable for Georgia’s economy.

But that is not the point. True, Georgia withdrew its objections to Russia’s WTO accession, and we must be consistent and fulfil our obligations. Incidentally, I will look at the problem. Perhaps there is one, and the issue should be depoliticised. This is the first thing.

Second. This is the first time I hear about a meeting with Mr Ivanishvili. We have no official invitations in this regard. In general, I would not rule it out. I do not know Mr Ivanishvili ...

REPLY (without a microphone).

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Visas are not included in World Trade Organisation rules. They are a separate issue.

As for Mr Ivanishvili, I do not know him personally. I think that he even had some business interests in the Russian Federation. I repeat: so far the signals are positive. We are ready to answer them in kind and we already have. But such meetings must simply be well-prepared and result in positive outcomes. But I do not really understand what the subject of our discussion will be. Although we are open to this in principle.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Mr President, thank you very much.

First, not only have you become Deng Xiaoping thanks to our colleague...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, no, I am Russian: Russian mom, Russian dad.

QUESTION: Yes, of course. But you have also disproved the conventional wisdom that a shell doesn’t fall in the same funnel twice, at least in my case, because you have given me the second chance in my professional career to ask you a question – thank you very much for that. My first question was about the millennium of Mordvin people’s unity with the Russian people, the development of relations with the Finno-Ugric world and Mordovia’s pivotal role in the Finno-Ugric world.

Also, thank you very much for visiting us for the millennium celebrations, as my colleague has already said. It was a very special occasion not only for Saransk and Mordovia, but for the whole of Russia. And all of Russia, everyone who joined in the celebrations, the whole one hundred thousand-strong crowd chanted “Russia! Putin!” – and it was great, a real thrill, it’s true. That’s a true story, I didn’t make it up.

I also wanted to say that my colleagues today asked you the same question over and over again, the same worn-out record spinning about the Magnitsky List, the Dima Yakovlev law and so on. I don’t know, maybe I walk down some other streets or ride in some other buses, but, Mr President, we have a completely different agenda in the regions.

Mr President, I would like to share a story with my colleagues and with you, one that made a lasting impression on me and I think that on others as well. I came here by an overnight train, and the taxi driver who drove me to the station had a Putin sticker glued on top of his car next to the taxi checkers.

Of course, I understand that Putin has a lot of fans, including in Mordovia, including me – and I asked him, “So, are you such a huge Putin fan?” He said, “No, I’m just really grateful to him for the World Cup, because here in Mordovia we don’t have any oil rigs and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get them, but the World Cup will have a real impact on our economy and our social sphere. It will raise them to a new level and give a real impetus to development.”

Mr President, do you think the taxi driver’s expectations are justified? He is a real life person, who, incidentally, is also a public sector employee, a member of the creative community, which you mentioned in your Address to the Federal Assembly. He drives a taxi in the evenings to supplement his income. What do you believe our regional team and the people of Mordovia should do to make sure this World Cup is not just a major image-building project but becomes a driver for the economy in a way that has an impact on every person in our region?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First, with regard to the agenda in the Russian regions and in the capital – it is true that it is a bit different. Thank you for pointing that out. I feel uncomfortable saying it but it’s a fact. However, in a context like today we must consider the agenda of the entire country, including the capital city, small towns and the republics.

If anyone thinks that I do not do that, that I have a dismissive attitude to the minority opinion, they are wrong. I try to hear and to take on board as much as possible. When I make decisions, I try to find out all the different points of view on the issue.

People in the regions are concerned about the standard of living – that is natural. We have a duty to our regions. I said this in the Address to the Federal Assembly and I want to reiterate that we must devote more attention to regional development.

We talked about the development of Moscow today, but Moscow cannot expand indefinitely. And it is necessary to create the right conditions for change, for the evolution of new points of growth. After all, we cannot use budget funding to build new cities – we must create the environment for the development of productive forces in different regions of the Russian Federation.

A region such as Mordovia is not like the Far East, but still much has been done there in recent years. Could the World Cup become the impetus it needs? To be honest, I doubt it. But it could lead to the development of infrastructure, which is essential for the growth of small, medium and large businesses. That’s a fact. This is the second point.

Third, people must have an opportunity to feel in demand. It is crucial for people in the Russian regions to feel fully engaged, to feel in charge, to watch the World Cup, which is a great spectacle, to see their idols and enjoy life. I hope that we will achieve that at least.

Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Mr President, thank you very much for giving me the word. Anastasia Khlunovskaya, news service, FM-Production, Barnaul, the Altai Territory.

I would like to tell you that tomorrow the Altai Territory will welcome its 30,000th newborn. That is a joyful occasion. Indeed, it is for the first time in 22 years that so many children are born in the region. We all realise that the demographic trend is due to the government programmes, maternity capital, benefits amounting to 40% of the salary, and that is great. However, I don’t think the main problem – housing – has been fully resolved so far.

Mr President, my question is as follows: when will we have affordable mortgages, not the kind that turns us into slaves but a real opportunity for a young family to buy a flat? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, the mortgage system is growing and the volume of mortgage loans issued increased by 40% last year, if I’m not mistaken. I don’t want to get the figures wrong, perhaps 40% is an exaggerration but it certainly increased by 15-17%.

Nevertheless, mortgage loans remain unaffordable for people with average incomes and we must continue our efforts to lower mortgage interest rates. They have gone up slightly and are at 12% currently. However, they are growing in parallel with incomes, and the number of people who take out mortgages has increased and is continuing to increase.

I have already talked about this: young families, especially people of the so-called reproductive age (excuse me for using such professional jargon), those who are just starting their careers, find it difficult or even impossible to take advantage of mortgage loans. Therefore, we must have special programmes, focusing first of all on the construction of economy-class housing. We have been talking about this for a long time.

And the key issue here is the allocation of land plots for construction that already have the necessary infrastructure. We can do this jointly with the regions. We must continue to subsidise interest rates on loans and adopt regional programmes.

In some regions, these programmes are being successfully implemented, where a young family receives the first subsidy after the birth of their first child, the second subsidy after the birth of the second, and is granted an exemption from paying out the loan after the birth of the third child. We have more and more such programmes around the country. We are moving forward along many directions and I am confident that we will succeed.

I want to applaud you on having such successful demographic programmes, which are expanding so vigorously in your region and producing such a good result. I hope other regions of the Russian Federation will follow your example.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We really need to wind up.

Shall we give the floor to the Kalmyks, the children of the steppe? Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: There are two of us here, Mr President. My name is Sanal Shavaliev.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Such a big guy and he’s taken the microphone from a girl.

SANAL SHAVALIEV: We have the same question.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Solng Makarova, Parlamentsky Vestnik, Kalmykia.

I have the following question: we have been talking about regional development. Unfortunately, we were not included in the World Cup programme, but nevertheless as of this year we are no longer one of the highly subsidised regions, which is a great achievement for us. A lot of work has been done, and we are continuing our efforts and achieving targets. Could we also get our own development programme? We have the population of 300,000 people, plus 50,000 people in the summer, minus 35,000 in the winter, and most of the young people move away because life is hard.

SANAL SHAVALIEV: We work hard, Mr President, our breeders got more than ten gold medals in the last agricultural show.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I know, that’s great. Livestock production is growing fast, it’s true. This is partly a response to the first part of your question about whether you could have special programmes. Livestock is developing without any special programmes.

As to the fact that Kalmykia is no longer a highly subsidised region, it testifies to the positive development trend in the republic and shows that it has talented, hard-working and efficient people. However, there is something I would like to point out. In order to encourage growth, the Finance Ministry and the Government – this was at the Government level, I think – decided that if a region stops being highly subsidised, a certain level of subsidies should continue for three years so that the region does not abruptly lose the support of the federal centre. I hope that this will be the case in Kalmykia.

As for special programmes, I think it is better to adopt sectoral programmes rather than regional. We develop regional programmes only where the situation is not improving as in your case, but where on the contrary, it comes to a standstill. For example we are faced with the depopulation of the Far East. That is a major challenge for the whole country and we must pay special attention to it, the Trans-Baikal Territory and the Far East. But we won’t forget about Kalmykia either.

SANAL SHAVALIEV: Mr President, a personal request. Could you wish my daughter a happy birthday?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would love to. What’s her name?

SANAL SHAVALIEV: Kermen.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I will write her a message and pass it on to you, all right?

SANAL SHAVALIEV: Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s it, everyone, thank you very much. We all realise that it is as hard to finish our conversation as it is to complete renovating a house. We just have to stop.

Thank you for your positive involvement in today’s event. I want to apologise to all those whose questions I could not answer or did not answer the way you expected, or did not give the floor to everyone who wanted to speak.

I want to congratulate you all on the upcoming holidays: Happy New Year and Merry Christmas! All the best to you!

Goodbye!

Add to blog
Add Bookmark
E-mail
Form

Send

Subscribe
Print version

Home Speeches and Transcripts News conference of Vladimir Putin

Close Print

D. Medvedev

Choose text fragments to highlight and get a unique hyperlink URL (in the address bar).