Friday, October 31, 2014

President of Russia

YouTube channel

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

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Direct Line with Vladimir Putin was broadcast live on Channel One, Rossiya-1 and Rossiya-24 TV networks and Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.

During the programme, the President answered more than 85 questions from Russians on the most pressing social and political issues.

The total duration of the programme was 4 hours and 47 minutes.

* * *

DIRECT LINE PROGRAMME HOST KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Good afternoon,

We are live with President Vladimir Putin.

(Applause.)

DIRECT LINE PROGRAMME HOST MARIA SITTEL: Mr President, today we have invited to our studio people who are well-known throughout Russia, and some of them are your authorised representatives. Others may not be so familiar to everyone, but they are also true heroes of the day, the people who were portrayed in our television broadcasts. They are neither ministers nor artists, but rather engineers, doctors and paramedics – all real heroes of the day who live in Russia.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: As in previous years our Direct Line will broadcast from both cities and villages. This year we will speak to the settlement of Novoshakhtinsky in Primorye Territory, the legendary Prokhorovka in Belgorod Region, as well as Lipetsk, Sochi, Novosibirsk and St Petersburg.

While preparing for today’s programme we invited certain people to the mobile satellite stations that have been set up. In particular, people who make up their own kind of target groups in order to discuss the most urgent, pressing issues in our lives today. Issues ranging from rising prices, corruption, problems with housing and utilities, to the situation in education, medicine and science.

MARIA SITTEL: And it is our viewers themselves who are going to determine the other topics. So call, send your questions via text message, or post them on our website, and I think we shall start now.

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let me also greet all those who have gathered here in the studio and all Russian citizens who have shown such a keen interest in our meeting today.

This format is well-known. Of course, in some ways it’s a bit formal, but it remains very useful. That’s absolutely true and very obvious. Such direct contacts with people provide a very faithful reflection of what worries and interests our society today. Therefore a direct exchange of views such as this one, direct information, and receiving feedback from the regions are all both extremely important and extremely useful.

MARIA SITTEL: And so Mr Putin, a year ago you took office once again as President of the Russian Federation. And at that time you signed a number of executive orders commonly called the “May executive orders” that contained objectives that Russia must achieve over the next five years.

To what extent are you satisfied with the rate at which these orders are being implemented? If you can, tell us what percentage of the tasks you set have been realised by your subordinates during the first year of your presidency?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I cannot answer with a percentage because this is quite a complex thing. But I can say at once that the tasks that I set immediately after I assumed office as President were extremely difficult to execute. I did this deliberately. I can confess that I deliberately set the bar too high, knowing that the results expected of the executive authorities, not only the federal ones but also the regional ones, were unrealisable. Because if we do not work intensively, results will be much more modest.

What has been done, what has not been done, and am I satisfied? Overall I am and I believe that work is proceeding satisfactorily. There are glitches and I’ll talk about them too. Certainly during our meeting today there will be a lot of questions about existing problems, and that means that glitches exist. But what has been done? First of all I would like to draw your attention to increasing incomes. Salaries are rising in Russia, and we were recently in Sochi with members of the Government and experts too. Many experts rightly warn that salaries are increasing faster than labour productivity, and this warning is also supported by economic theory. In economic terms this is not the best indicator, but from a social justice perspective naturally we are moving in the right direction. Wages and incomes have increased not only because we’ve increased payouts to servicemen and military veterans, but because of general economic growth. That’s the first thing.

We’ve indexed our pensions twice, in February and in April. And the old age pension crossed the threshold of 10,000 rubles [$320] for the first time. As agreed, immediately after May 2012 we made a very important decision in terms of supporting demographic trends. Namely, along with maternity capital, we introduced another payment following the birth of a third child in demographically challenged regions. And these payments are being made; they cover a child’s minimum subsistence level.  Payments differ depending on the region, but on average, the national average is – and I want to emphasise this – about 7,000 rubles [$220]. For families with children this amounts to real support.

In general, the demographic situation is improving. We have record birth rates. Mortality indicators have somewhat deteriorated and I want to point out that this must be addressed. But in general the demographic situation is advancing in a positive direction.

We have increased scholarships, as promised, and made a number of other positive steps in the social sphere.

One of the most important areas is improving the business environment. Here, too, there is a positive trend, and it has been noted, among others, by international organisations. Ratings show, though I do not hold them completely reliable, that on the whole the business community has noticed some progress in improving the business environment. This includes such aspects as business registration and getting connected to infrastructure, although many problems remain in terms of connectivity, say, to the electric grid. That is what the general picture looks like.

The large-scale programme of re-equipping the army and navy with modern weapons is also moving forward.

I want to reiterate: I won’t go into detailed percentages here, but the overall situation is satisfactory.

MARIA SITTEL: Mr President, if you don’t mind, let us go through it point by point. You talked about salaries at the beginning. We have a paramedic here. Let's hear a question from a healthcare community representative.

DIRECT LINE HOST VALERIYA KORABLEVA: I would like to tell you briefly about Natalya. Natalya Osipova, who is sitting next to me, is a paramedic from Kuzbass and a real hero. She walked three kilometres through a storm to reach a village because the ambulance car got stuck on the road, and in the end she saved from death a whole family.

PARAMEDIC NATALYA OSIPOVA: You have said that wages are going up, but as a healthcare professional I have not seen any pay rises, especially for ambulance workers. I don’t think our wages have gone up at all.

So I have a question. As a paramedic, I work in extreme conditions and am responsible for the life of each patient, yet we get a monthly payment from the federal budget of 3,500 rubles [$110], while a nurse who assists a doctor and is not responsible for patients’ lives gets 5,000 rubles. Why do paramedics earn less than nurses? That is my question.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: In general, wages are going up – that is an obvious fact.

As for healthcare professionals, their national average salary is slightly higher than, say, teachers’ salaries.

You have identified an issue that really seems to exist. Let me try to think it through aloud so that you and I can work out what has caused it.

This is what I think it is: as you may recall, some time ago I ordered the following additional payments to be made from the federal budget: 10,000 plus 5,000 rubles for general practitioners, plus 5,000 rubles for doctors, and 3,000 plus 6,000 for emergency doctors – 3,000 for paramedics and 6,000 for A&E doctors.

On January 1, the Government transferred this responsibility together with the money to the regional level. The amount of funding involved is about 40 billion rubles. All of the money has been transferred to the mandatory health insurance system, through which it reached the regions of the Russian Federation. I think that the problem here is not financial but has to do with poor management. I often get blamed for the fact that I have always had to micromanage many aspects of government activity. I think that in this case there has been a failure in the control system. There has even been an increase in the mandatory health insurance – 61% because this funding came from the federal budget and was transferred to the insurance system and then on to the regions. Again, in absolute terms, the funding amounted to 40 billion rubles. The regions are responsible for paying this money to healthcare professionals, because these were targeted allocations, transferred for this exact purpose.

We must find out what happened there and why the money was not paid. In my view, at a guess, it is the fault of the Government and the relevant ministry. In this case, the Healthcare Ministry, unfortunately, should have monitored whether the money was spent by the regions on the purposes for which it was transferred and whether it reached the final recipients, that is, professionals like you. Obviously, this was not done. This is the first point.

Second, the regions have received the funding but they have a lot of tasks and problems (I have talked about this to my colleagues in the Government), and instead of paying the money to healthcare workers they may have spent it on other purposes. It is also necessary to check where the money went, and if it is gone, it must be returned and paid to you and all your colleagues. We will look into this separately. Let me assure you that healthcare professionals will receive all the money they are entitled to.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you, Mr President. This issue deserves to be looked into separately because we have a huge number of questions about salaries in the healthcare sector. Personally I don’t understand how the Government and regional authorities have simply overlooked this issue: as usual, the funding has been transferred but has not reached the recipients.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The funding is not always transferred but in this case I know for a fact that it has been: I have even told you the exact amounts.

MARIA SITTEL: So it is sitting somewhere in savings accounts.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The money was transferred for this specific purpose but it has not been paid to the workers in a significant number of regions. I assume that some regions have paid the people.

MARIA SITTEL: The state runs the risk of not fulfilling its social obligations – that is what this is called.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Maybe just to speed up the process, it would be wise to punish the heads of the regions where people have to live and feed a family on 5,000 rubles a month?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, absolutely. We have to look into this, but especially if the money is sitting in bank accounts while the regional authorities are waiting to see what will happen – that is one type of situation, but if they went so far as to spend the money on other purposes, that is an administrative offence.

MARIA SITTEL: You already mentioned the unprecedented meeting on economic issues that you held in Sochi. What was it? It was like a “meeting of despair” because of the economic crisis and also a “meeting of hope” because participants there were still searching for some sign of growth, of hope, of a resolution and a way out. In your opinion, what was it? And how far does your personal assessment of Russia’s economic situation coincide with those of your colleagues in the Government?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There was neither despair nor hope. It was simply a working meeting of the heads of relevant ministries, agencies, Central Bank chairperson, and expert community representatives. We were not limited to high-level bureaucrats.

We talked about current problems in the global economy, and about how they affect our domestic economy. But of course warning signs of a slowdown in economic growth in Russia were the impetus behind it. There is nothing unusual nor unexpected here. Experts and we ourselves – and we already became experts long ago – all knew that the downturn we are observing in the global economy, especially in the Eurozone, has quite a serious impact on us, because Europe is our main trading partner.

More than 50 percent of our trade is with Europe. But if there is a severe recession there, a slump, every year over several years then this can’t but affect us. In the end, it affected us directly. So we met to assess the situation once again, to listen to each other, to listen to different opinions, to understand our own share of responsibility in this recession. I say “our” with a generalised meaning referring to authorities at all levels: the Cabinet, the regions, and presidential office. So we met to see whether our own policy has had some negative effect on this downturn or not.

I must say at once that there is no secret here: some members of the Government believe that we have significantly contributed to it. Others don’t believe this, and think that the downturn is solely a result of negative developments in the global economy. They believe that we just should watch carefully what is happening there and have instruments available to respond if the crisis spreads. This dispute is not between the Presidential Executive Office and the Government, but rather within the entire community involved in governing our country.

Expert opinions are also at odds. We have no dividing line between the Government and the President, the Executive Office and the Government. The dividing line concerns fundamental issues, particularly the issue of how to relate to current events.

But I'll tell you (and here one does not need to be an expert) what is the essence of the problem, of the dispute, or rather the debate. Several colleagues believe that certain factors have arisen.

First, the continuing global economic crisis, including in the Eurozone, affects us too.

The second factor is man-made: too tight monetary policy within the Russian Federation itself. It is largely justified, because our policy has been focused on inflation targeting, suppressing inflation, that is fighting increases in prices. This is done for the benefit of our people and our economy.

But some say that this has excessively suppressed the money supply, that the Central Bank has allowed the currency exchange rate to fluctuate freely and stopped buying foreign currencies in the domestic market, and therefore the money supply has decreased. They believe that we have adhered to the so-called budget rule and thus begun to prevent petrodollars from being injected into the market. This has ultimately resulted in further decline in money supply.

Then, despite the lowering inflation, our banks continue to lend at high rates – 14 to 15 percent – to individuals and legal entities, all economic actors. Yet inflation has fallen: it is now just over seven percent and is expected to reach 5.9 or 6 percent by the end of the year. So some colleagues say no, we are to make some adjustments to our policies. Strictly speaking, this is the essence of the dispute.

It is probably true that adjustments are necessary but I want to emphasise and draw your attention to the following: the fundamentals of our economic policy will remain unchanged. We will continue to focus primarily on macroeconomic indicators and encourage industries to meet social needs of the people.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, in essence are you satisfied with the measures the Government is taking to counteract a possible crisis?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: But there have not yet been any special measures.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: The thing is that we have a lot of questions about the Government; we are receiving them now, as we have over the past days ever since the Direct Line’s call centre began operating. Let me read out one of the questions we received via Internet: “Mr President, don’t you think that in its current composition the Cabinet is not able to fully perform its duties? Therefore, is it not time to replace some of the ministers?” That is Pavel Zakharchenko from Belgorod.

Of course Education Minister Dmitry Livanov is being roundly criticised, and the State Duma has demanded that he be released from his position. Nevertheless, we still want to hear the answer from your lips.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What is this person’s name?

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Pavel Zakharchenko, from Belgorod.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good for you Pavel Zakharchenko.

It is necessary that authorities at every level – in presidential Executive Office and the Government – feel and understand that ordinary citizens are closely monitoring the results of our work and evaluating them. We must always be guided by citizens’ opinions.

As for some members of the Cabinet or the Government as a whole, I’ve often heard various calls to dismiss one minister or another, or for the entire Government to resign.

Dear friends and colleagues, I share your view that the expectations of all levels of authorities must be high. However, I would draw your attention to the fact that the Government has not yet been working for a year, no year has yet passed. Even since the presidential inauguration, Maria Sittel said that a year has passed, but it has not been a full year yet. The inauguration took place on May 7 and the Government was formed after that. People have not yet worked for a year. Of course no small amount of grievances have accumulated during that time, but the Cabinet should be allowed enough time to produce results or come to understand that some of its members are unable to ensure such results. That is not something that can be seen in a year. The responsibilities and work of the Government are immense.

Again, there may be many complaints [about the Government performance] but I don’t think there should be hasty reshuffling since it will do more harm than good.

MARIA SITTEL: I am sure we will talk some more about resignations today because there are a lot of questions from the audience.

Returning to the economic crisis, Mr President, we have invited Alexei Kudrin into our studio, let's give him the opportunity to state his expert opinion.

DIRECT LINE PROGRAMME HOST MARIA MORGUN: Let me remind you that Alexei Kudrin was in charge of Russia’s financial sector for 11 years. He was Finance Minister from 2000.

Mr Kudrin, please.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There is something else I would like to point out. Yes, he was in charge of the financial sector but he was also twice recognised to be the world’s best finance minister by the international expert community.

ALEXEI KUDRIN: Thank you, Mr President. And thank you for inviting me here.

I would like to continue what you said regarding the factors that in the past year have led to a slowdown in economic growth, which was just 1.1% in the first quarter of 2013. In the general balance of external factors, which have a serious impact on our economy, and internal factors, I would say that this year it was predominately the domestic factors that have impacted the slowdown. The external factors manifest themselves in the high oil prices, which have remained, and as a result we have such slow growth rates despite the high oil prices. We have not seen such high average oil prices even in the period before the economic crisis.

Therefore, what do I think should be at the focus of the Government’s efforts? It should try to free our economy from oil dependence, from dependence on export of natural resources and its impact on all aspects of our lives. I do not believe there has been such a turnaround in our economy. Some measures are taken, but these factors remain much present in our economy.

Second, the Government should be more transparent and it should give clear guidance to business. Today we don’t even know how much the insurance premiums for businesses are going to be. As you know, small businesses have suffered from high insurance premiums last year. Today we must find a solution to improve the situation.

Third, there had been promises that regions will receive more support. I support this decision. Many people believe that the former Cabinet contributed to the centralisation of spending. I could agree with that. We greatly increased spending at the federal level, including on the military, the pension system deficit. We need other measures. Some of the spending and revenues should be transferred to the regions to give them greater freedom, and we will see growth generated in the regions.

I cannot talk about all the factors now, but one that I see as very important is the need to understand the active part of our society, which creates jobs and invests in the economy, to understand the future of our public relations and our political system. We live in a mature country that is able to come to a consensus on key issues, and today this new factor of trust continues to cause concern in society, among the people who are willing to work, invest and create new jobs.

There is one more issue that I would like to take up with you, Mr President. Yes, experts have declared that the wages are growing faster than labour productivity in our country. Of course, we are all pleased about the growing wages. Many people here will probably say that they should grow. But we must understand that such growth has some absolutely objective limitations. As a result, we will invest less and subsequently economic growth will slow down even more. Therefore, the model should be as follows: first a higher rate of labour productivity growth, followed by a high rate of growth of wages. In that sequence.

The meeting you held recently clarified some issues, but it should have been done a year ago.

Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Kudrin and I have known each other for a long time and we argue a lot, but I have always had great respect for his opinions because he was the Finance Minister in two Cabinets. I have already said that he has been recognised the best finance minister in the world by the international expert community twice. It’s true. I am sure that he was indeed the best Finance Minister, but not the best Social Protection Minister.

We often debate different issues. I certainly agree with the view that labour productivity should grow at a faster rate than wages. This positive trend has been achieved in some industries, such as railway transport. I don’t know the latest figures, but that was the case last year.

Naturally, it is vitally important to shift our economy to innovative development. That is not easy to do even with high energy prices, when in general it is easier to achieve a positive result. It is difficult to attract the financial flows to that sector because what is required is more favourable conditions for the development of processing industries. How can this be done? We must introduce benefits and in effect rebuild the tax system. The Finance Ministry, including under Mr Kudrin, has always exercised extreme caution and thoroughness in this sphere because it can lead to the loss of federal revenues, and our national defence, social obligations, pensions, and so on are all dependent on the budget. This is the first point.

Second, the decentralisation of finances and transferring the sources of these revenues to the regions. The Finance Ministry has always been very conservative in this respect but in general that is the right trend. That is the road we must follow. I hope that Mr Kudrin’s successors will gradually move in this direction, with his professional support. I absolutely agree with this.

As for the fact that we have exhausted the extensive growth opportunities created by high energy prices – that is also true. Mr Kudrin hasn’t mentioned this just now but he often tells me about it when we meet privately. I agree with that too. There is just one thing I want to draw your attention to. It is not just the high oil prices. Favourable or unfavourable external conditions also depend on the state of our partners’ economies. For example, oil prices can be high, but metals have fallen because there is reduced demand for metals on the global market. That is a very important factor that triggers a chain reaction. The demand for coal falls as well as a result, and so on. Goods are transported less, transportation companies begin to suffer – there is a whole chain. Therefore, external economic factors may remain favourable, but we cannot say they are optimal. But in general, I keep in touch with Mr Kudrin and his colleagues, his teams. He has been teaching, and very successfully as far as I know. I hope that you will continue to give your expert support to the Ministry to which you gave many years of your life. I know that you feel deeply for it and are in contact with the colleagues at the Ministry.

As for the public trust, that is also true because our overall efficiency and competitiveness depend on how far society trusts the authorities.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, you have been talking about Mr Kudrin’s excellent professional qualities. When will you bring him back into the government?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: He does not want to come back.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Does that mean you have made him an offer?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s right.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: And he refused?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, he did.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Well, I expect that the guests in our studio are ready to follow Alexei Kudrin and join in our discussion.

Valeryia, please.

VALERIYA KORABLEVA: When we were getting ready for air...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: He’s a slacker, he just does not want to do any work. He got away as soon as the going got tough.

VALERIYA KORABLEVA: That is a real problem for many people.

ALEXEI KUDRIN: May I, Mr President?

You know, I served as Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy for a long time, but the system of half-measures and half-reforms will not work and Russia will not be freed from its oil dependence in this way.

I'm not saying that my opinion is the most important or correct one, but this programme must be implemented fully. Today we do not have a programme of freeing our economy from its dependence on oil, a programme where every measure would have its proper place: money, institutional and structural reforms, and the role of the regions. That's the problem, Mr President. I am not ready to be in charge of other, inertial processes and micromanage the economy. I want to do real work.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t know whether this discussion has any interest for the public but it is very important. It is not just bickering between me and Mr Kudrin, whom I highly value.

It was with good reason that I said he was recognised as the best Finance Minister, but not the best Minister of Social Protection. It’s an important point. Is he right in saying that it is harmful for the wages to grow faster than labour productivity? He is right. But how could we have slowed the growth of wages when you know how expensive everything is? You see, military pensions at some point were at a lower level than civilian pensions. We had to raise them, as well as the wages for servicemen. I know Mr Kudrin’s position, it is very well though through.

Some time ago, Mr Kudrin and other officials, who are now sitting on huge money in banks, were the initiators of introducing cash payments instead of benefits. We debated it for a long time, and I told him, “Mr Kudrin, you will not be able to do it right, it won’t work.” He said, “Yes, we will.” We all know what happened in the end. We had to pour money to cover up the problems at a great social and political cost.

Frankly, I thought that was how it would end up from the start. But it is true that if we had done nothing, public transport would have probably come to a standstill because the number of people who had subsidised fares was much greater than the number of passengers who bought tickets at full price. As a result, the public transport system started to fall apart.

Why am I telling you this? Because tough economic measures without regard for the consequences in the social sphere are not always justified, especially in our country where incomes are still very modest.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Thank you Mr President.

I would still like to give the floor to Valeriya Korableva. Please go ahead.

VALERIYA KORABLEVA: While we were preparing for our programme and talking with guests, it became clear that probably one of the most talked about topics today is corruption. Tens of thousands of people phoning our call centre were interested in precisely this issue. In our studio we have the well-known military expert and retired Colonel Viktor Baranets.

MILITARY COLUMNIST FROM KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA VIKTOR BARANETS: Authorised representative of the President of Russia.

Mr President, I know you sometimes listen to my opinion too, so I’ll speak as long as Mr Kudrin did.

Mr President, over the past six months, Russia and its army have been observing in astonishment as the investigation of a number of criminal cases involving Oboronservis and, looming over it, the former Defence Minister [Anatoly] Serdyukov, unfolds. Mr President, while covering this investigation I was faced with a paradoxical problem: on the one hand, dozens and hundreds of high-level professionals have found facts, evidence, proof and documents that conclusively prove the guilt of these rascals warming the seats at the Defence Ministry. On the other hand, we hear that there is no factual basis on which to bring them to justice, and some of those involved still have the status of witness. That is one side of the issue.

As an expert, a journalist, and a person you trust, another aspect of the question is not clear to me at all. Why do we have double standards in the administration of justice? Many of defendants in criminal cases are already lying in their bunks in Butyrskaya [Prison], some have already served the terms, and others hold some kind of VIP status – they stay at home, and what’s more they manage to mock us by writing poems. Although in general, the best poems are written In the Depths of Siberian Mines [poem by Alexander Pushkin] and in the [prisons in the] forests of Mordovia. (Applause.)

Mr President, I have two small questions for you. The exacting people of Russia have asked me to ask them. People say that some strong, powerful, secret hand is manipulating the investigation into this enormous criminal case and I would simply like to ask you: do you know whose hand it is?

And the second question: Mr President, as the guarantor of our Constitution, do you see your role as ensuring that the investigation of this cluster of criminal cases, involving Oboronservis, [Yevgenia] Vasilyeva and [Anatoly] Serdyukov, is carried out in a normal, honest, transparent and principled fashion, and does not turn into some kind of parody that the nation laughs at?

And in conclusion to my remarks, let me express my confidence that when answering, and in contrast to Serdyukov, you will not hide behind Article 51 of our Constitution [the right to refrain from incriminating oneself or close relatives].

Thank you. (Applause.)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You shouldn’t be a journalist; you should be working in court as a defence lawyer.

VIKTOR BARANETS: I am helping, Mr President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Baranets, I very much value your support as my trusted subject, and I know you as someone who is anxious about our country and its army.

You talked about how the facts demonstrate the guilt of the parties you listed. In fact, only a court can determine whether these facts prove a person’s guilt or not. With all due respect, neither a newspaper, nor individual media representatives, nor individual citizens can declare a person guilty before trial. In accordance with our Constitution, that you just recalled, this can only be done by a court.

About whose hand it is: I do not know about hands, arms, legs or other body parts involved. But I would draw your attention to the fact that it was not long after I returned to the post of Commander-in-Chief that these criminal cases were instigated. I think that it is abundantly clear that no one tried to stop them being initiated, to say the least, and that law enforcement agencies were instructed to look into the problem. This investigation is proceeding objectively and will continue until its end. And a fair ruling will be reached about who is guilty and who is innocent, if guilt is indeed at stake. And the corresponding punishment provided for by law will be imposed.

Now, about the fairness of having someone writing poetry while someone else serves a prison term in Siberia. Recently, particularly in recent years, we have talked a lot about the humanisation of our criminal legislation. This is not always justified. If people have committed serious crimes, they must receive their due. In economic crimes often pre-trial detention is considered superfluous, because there is no need to determine in advance that people should be taken into custody and charged, people who are not interfering with the investigation.

“Someone is in prison, and Vasilyeva is walking around her posh apartment” and so on. You know, just because some are in prison, especially if they were imprisoned wrongfully, does not mean that Ms Vasilyeva and others like her should be imprisoned too. We mustn’t look at whether or not she is in prison, but whether other people have been rightly convicted. Whether there have been any abuses of power by the authorities and law enforcement bodies. That’s what you should pay attention to.

If the investigation finds that wherever she is, she is in the right place and not interfering with the investigation, well so be it. At the end of the day it’s the investigator’s decision. If it does not disturb him she can be at home in her apartment, and the investigator calls her in for questioning, questions her and her former colleagues and so on, then so be it. But where you’re completely right, and I have absolutely no doubt about this, is that we will see the case through to its proper end. This does not mean that we have political reasons for doing so, want to look good in front of outraged citizens, and will plant them in jail at any cost. We do not need to go back to the dark period of 1937. If they are guilty they will be punished. And if some parties are innocent then this will need to be communicated clearly and understandably. We will have to explain this to people and show it. The fact that there are currently many such cases that resonate within society, as they say, is, I think, no bad thing. People are to know what’s going on. Then perhaps officials at different levels of government will also realise that in the end no one can breach the law with impunity.

As for the judicial system itself, there are many grievances in its regard, but I would draw your attention to the following. Out of all cases only 15 percent of participants appealed to a higher instance for judicial review. All the others were satisfied with the quality of the courts’ performasnce and the results of court proceedings. The courts are sharply criticised but the numbers speak for themselves: only 15 percent complain. In general this is a standard figure compared with other countries. We will see this case through to its conclusion. Finally, the remark that the “army is observing in astonishment...” is, I think, an exaggeration. Our army is engaged in combat training and developing new weapons and equipment.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, there are a lot of questions about the Oboronservis case. I flipped through and found some text messages we received. For example, one asks: “Why did the Commander-in-Chief not know what the Defence Minister was doing?” And another asks if this is not turning into another short term campaign issue.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have already said that I became Commander-in-Chief on May 7, 2012. Look at when this case was opened. As soon as I started to get acquainted with things, as soon as I was shown certain figures, including the results of audits by the Accounts Chamber, it became clear that it was not possible to resolve this with that agency alone. The Chamber alone was not enough and we needed to involve the law enforcement agencies. Then the case materials were immediately submitted to the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigative Committee.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: If I understand you correctly, this case was not opened during the previous period?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Previously there were no audit results from the Accounts Chamber. As those figures appeared I became President and Commander-in-Chief. I was briefed on the issue and I immediately ordered that the affair be transferred to the Investigative Committee.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: And about campaigning?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I think that in general corruption, and in our country in particular, exists everywhere – everywhere, and I can assure you of this. The question is its degree. I will not deny that in Russia everyday corruption is exorbitant and actually represents a threat to society as a whole. Therefore we will fight it no less insistently than inflation, and kill it off as much as possible.

MARIA SITTEL: The fight is already underway. At your initiative, officials in different levels of government are affected by, so to speak, barriers, obstacles and new requirements; foreign bank accounts are banned, officials must declare their income and expenditures. Many people see this as a good, fine, positive start, and many, including for example in the Government, say that the fight against corruption is overzealous. What is it Mr President, excessive or rather insufficient efforts?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We were just talking with Mr Baranets. He believes that our efforts are insufficient, that we should take all of them into custody and prohibit everything. I believe that overzealousness is not present here.

As to whether our efforts are insufficient, let’s look at the results of the fight against corruption that is currently underway. By the way, over the course of 2012 criminal proceedings were opened against more than 800 people who have a special legal status. Namely representatives of law enforcement agencies, deputies from different levels of government, the highest-ranking officials: more than 800 people in total. These are not jut few cases that have caused such a large public outcry, there are many throughout Russia. As I have said before, these efforts will continue.

Are we being excessive? You heard my position on, for example, the Oboronservis case: only a court can determine if a person is guilty or not. For that reason I hope that there will not be any overzealous conclusions. Obviously there are abuses within the law enforcement system itself. This always has been the case and unfortunately still is. And what Mr Baranets said about how some people behind bars were wrongfully accused must also be dealt with case-by-case.

Recently, about a month or a month and a half ago, I was at a meeting of the Prosecutor General’s Office Board and spoke with my colleagues in a lot of detail. My position is well-known: there should be no abuses in the law enforcement system and when they do occur we must identify, detect and respond to them.

MARIA SITTEL: There are all sorts of tricks. We know, for example, that about thirty State Duma deputies divorced (fictitiously) in order to not have to declare marital property.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Maria, with regards to the question you asked, about our move in favour of declaring incomes and expenditures, and ban on holding foreign accounts, some of our liberal economists believe that the ban is bad and amounts to a restriction for some Russian citizens.

I want to emphasise that we allow all citizens of the Russian Federation to place their money where they see fit, including in foreign financial institutions. At the time I not only agreed with this, I supported it. Why? Because all too often our citizens have been faced with problems when they were simply cheated in what I would call a hard and cruel fashion. In the early 1990s they were cheated when their savings were burned up [by inflation], then in 1998 they lost everything again. We have to give people the freedom of choice. But there is a special category of people who consciously choose public service for themselves, and we must let them decide for themselves what is more important: saving money abroad or serving the citizens of the Russian Federation in the high-ranking positions they have achieved through their service.

And there’s another thing that, in my opinion, is extremely important. If a person places a lot of money abroad, he or she is always dependent on the state where the money is held. We are to set people free from this dependence. Every person must choose for himself or herself: if they want to work for the government let the money return here, no one will take it. This is especially true for people who work in economic spheres, in government and for members of both houses of parliament; in the end the state’s economic well-being depends on them. If they do not trust their own economic system, what they are doing here? Let them drag their money back here, and there will be more chances that we will work persistently at strengthening our financial and economic system.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, the big story of recent weeks is the death of Boris Berezovsky in London. We have a lot of questions on this topic. Let us first of all ask you to clarify the story with the letter. Does it exist? Did Berezovsky write a letter to you?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I don’t really want to talk about but it seems rude to dodge the subject.

I received the first letter from him early this year, sometime in February, I think, and the second letter arrived recently, after his death. The text was the same. So it was not one but two letters.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Could you tell us some details about them? First, were they handwritten?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The first letter was completely handwritten, and the second had a handwritten header, the main body was typed, and then a handwritten part at the end. One of his former business partners, a Russian citizen, brought me the first letter, and the second was delivered recently also by a business partner, but one who was a foreign national.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Could you reveal some details of the letter’s content?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Actually, some details have already appeared in the media. Well, he wrote that he had made a lot of mistakes and caused great damage, and asked for forgiveness and the opportunity to return to his homeland.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Why didn’t you make this letter public? As you know, some allegations made in the West...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You see, these letters were quite personal, although I have never had a close relationship with him. We knew each other, of course, but there wasn’t a close relationship. Still, he turned to me with a request. Some of my colleagues wanted me make the letter public immediately. I am very grateful to the Lord for keeping me from doing that.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: I want to clarify all the same, this is an important point: did you reply to the first letter, which you received in February?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I didn’t. You see, he asked me to let him return to Russia. Of course, the Head of State has the right to grant a pardon or do some other things, but it would have required a legal analysis (apart from the moral aspect of the case). Perhaps, it would have been necessary to consult the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office. I needed to understand the legal aspect of the case.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Would you have granted permission to bury Berezovsky to Russia if his family had requested this?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, let’s... Of course. Is there a need for me to grant special permission? This is a family matter.

MARIA SITTEL: Just one more question. How plausible do you find the version that foreign special services were involved in his death?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I wouldn’t put it past them. I don’t know. Anything is possible, but we have no such information.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, if we go back to special services, and, indeed, rumours about them circulated in connection with Berezovsky’s death, there have been two huge tragedies in the last few days: the secret services are now investigating the terrorist attack in Boston, and here in Russia a heinous crime is being investigated in Belgorod. We have had a huge number of questions about Belgorod too. The most frequently asked question on this sad subject is, I quote from a message from Alla Ivanina, who asks you, “Why couldn’t the death penalty be brought back for such repeat offenders? After all, there is no assurance that he will not repeat the nightmare again after he serves out his sentence and comes out of prison. It seems there is no real punishment in our country, and such psychos and murderers are not afraid of anything.”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The death penalty issue has long been debated in society. You know, sometimes when you hear about such cases, it seems logical to reach for a pen and sign some documents aimed at the return of the death penalty, or to ask State Duma deputies to do it. But you have to talk with criminology experts. They believe that the toughening of punishment in itself does not lead to a decrease in crime.

I have cited an example once – I think it was on Direct Line some years back. In the Roman Empire, the punishment for pickpocketing was death, and the pickpockets were at their most active during these executions because they gathered the biggest crowds. This is a textbook example.

I understand people’s outrage and their desire to see criminals punished. The question is what is the most effective measure. Why do you say that such criminals as this will go free eventually? One type of punishment available to us is life imprisonment. I assure you, prisons are no resorts.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: But there's an important proviso: that is true if we are taking about life without parole, which criminals can get after they serve 25 years of their sentence.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That is practically always the case, but it is something to think about and discuss. To be honest, I have thought about it.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: To continue with the American story, I will quote another message that I think is important. It was sent by our compatriot who now lives in the United States, his name is Mikhail Smurygin. “In the wake of the terrorist attack in Boston, many Americans turned against Russia, as the terrorists were from the Caucasus. The Internet is full of anti-Russian comments. Our relationship with the United States is quite strained already and these accusations do not help. How are you going to address this?” This is a question from Mikhail Smurygin.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think that ordinary Americans have absolutely nothing to do with it, they do not understand what is happening. I want to appeal to Russian and American citizens, and to all the people who follow these international events, and to say: Russia is itself a victim of international terrorism, one of the earliest victims.

I have always felt outraged when our Western partners, as well as your colleagues from the Western media, referred to our terrorists who committed brutal, bloody, appalling crimes on the territory of our country, as “insurgents”. They were hardly ever referred to as terrorists. They provided assistance to them, information support, financial and political support – sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, but it always accompanied their activities on the territory of the Russian Federation. While we always said that they shouldn’t make empty declarations that terrorism is a common threat, but make real efforts and cooperate with each other more closely. But now these two criminals have provided the best possible proof that we were right.

One can endlessly speculate on the tragedy of the Chechen people during their deportation from Chechnya by the Stalin’s regime. But were Chechens the only victims of repression? The first and the biggest victim was the Russian nation, which suffered the most as a result of repression. This is our common history. You can speculate all you want but does it have to do with the United States? What did they do to deserve this? It's not about nationality or religion, as we have told them a thousand times – what is at issue here is extremism.

They moved to the United States and they were granted the American citizenship. The younger brother was an American citizen. Some people there are saying now (not the US Administration but they are politicians) that the surviving terrorist suspect should be declared a prisoner of war. They have completely lost their marbles. A prisoner of which war? Has the civil war between the North and the South started again? What complete nonsense. They are talking gibberish.

I am not saying this to accuse anyone of anything. I just want to ensure that this tragedy has prompted us to boost cooperation in addressing common threats, one of which – the most important and dangerous one – is terrorism. If we really join efforts we will not have any more such attacks and we will not bear such losses.

MARIA SITTEL: I suggest that we move on to the topic of housing and utilities. This is an issue that concerns millions of citizens regardless of their gender or socioeconomic status.

The costs of water supply, electricity, gas and rent have risen.

One of our heroes (Aleftina Rapatsevich) lives in a small town of Beregovoy (Omsk Region), but was born in Leningrad. She survived the siege and is now 85 years old.

In spite of her age, she created a management company in the housing and utilities sector. And today, she is here in our studio.

Dmitry, please pass the microphone to Ms Rapatsevich.

ALEFTINA RAPATSEVICH: Hello, Mr President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Hello.

ALEFTINA RAPATSEVICH: I come from Omsk, I live in a small town of Beregovoy. Given that our management company was engaged in serious fraud, we appealed to the court, won the case and liquidated it. Granted, I must say that they are still managing several buildings, but I think we will finish this work.

We took into account the fact that you instructed the Prosecutor General’s Office to look into the housing and utilities issues. Together with my action group, I attended an appointment with officials on November 7, 2012, but there were no results.

Now, the question. In order to get an appointment with someone, it is absolutely necessary to go into attack mode; there is no other way. You have to storm in like it’s Berlin. (Applause.)

As for what they stole, in our house alone (I live in a two-story building), they took off with 21 million rubles they charged us for just two services – mopping floors and repairing entrance halls, which we actually do ourselves. That’s four companies taken together. That’s how these management companies rob people.

I have one strong request: to adopt the law currently scheduled for 2014 that would clearly define the management companies’ functions, already in 2013. So that they do not steal, but instead do what they actually charge for. They include many things in the tariffs they set, but do nothing. Our town is growing old, many houses have been dismantled, and there is no new construction. We have 10,500 residents in our village, both young and old, and there haven’t been any jobs since the Beregovoy timber plant was closed – it was a very profitable company, I worked there for 40 years.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ms Rapatsevich, with whom were you unable to get an appointment?

ALEFTINA RAPATSEVICH: The town mayor.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Shame on him. (Applause.)

MARIA SITTEL: There you go! Just ten thousand residents in Beregovoy, and no way you can get an appointment.

ALEFTINA RAPATSEVICH: Ten thousand people. And in order to get an appointment, I had to… they refused to see me (there is a woman working in his office named Loshachenko), they said, “We will not make an appointment for you, you are a very dangerous person.” And after I sent a telegram to Omsk Mayor, Mr Dvorakovsky, they called me every day – this happened on November 22 and the appointment was for December 5 – they called me every day to say, “You have an appointment, you have an appointment.” And the prosecutor’s office wrote that they had violated my constitutional rights. But they told me, “Well, you ultimately got your appointment.”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ms Rapatsevich, there was a very famous figure in world history, a German politician Otto von Bismarck. When he became involved in European politics, unifying  Germany, there was a rumour going around that he was a very dangerous person because he would say what was on his mind. Apparently, judging by this story, you are also a very dangerous person. (Applause.)

Now to the prosecutor’s office, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika is waiting to see you. I am sure he is watching this programme now. (Laughter and applause.) And he is rubbing his hands, thinking about what he can do.

This is Omsk Region, right?

MARIA SITTEL: Yes.

ALEFTINA RAPATSEVICH: Yes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ok.

ALEFTINA RAPATSEVICH: I went to the regional prosecutor’s office; there were two people there. I spoke to the captain.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ok.

ALEFTINA RAPATSEVICH: But nothing happened there! No sympathy, no concern, nothing!

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I see.

They say that she has already been made a lieutenant, but let’s not be too quick. (Laughter.) Let’s not be too quick, let Mr Chaika look into this. But I think the Governor of Omsk Region will also find a common language with the mayor. I promise you that the things will move as fast as you would like them to.

As for the core of your question. This is certainly a very important issue. Why? Because we need such interested and involved people in this sector. You can tell that the old guard is in demand. In Italy, Napolitano, who is 87 years old, has been elected President again. The old guard is needed not only in our nation, but throughout the world overall.

The issue you are dealing with is extremely important and can be fixed only – well, not only, but largely – with active engagement by civil society.

At one of the meetings with my authorised representatives, a suggestion was made by some of my colleagues on organising corresponding public structures to oversee the situation in the housing and utilities sector. And what Ms Rapatsevich is doing is exceedingly important and right. After all, we know what is happening there. I also spoke about this publicly many times.

After making corresponding decisions – overall, they are aimed in the right direction with regard to these management companies, but unfortunately, these management companies are often affiliated with local municipal governments and there are not enough of them on the market. They are micro-quasi-monopolies on the market, and they include in the tariff – the payment, actually – almost everything they can, even if it has nothing to do with what it is being charged for. For example, heated buildings include unheated attics and other similar sections. They make enormous money off of this, sums that are absolutely unmanageable for the public.

Ms Rapatsevich, do not leave Moscow too quickly. In addition to speaking with Mr Chaika, you also mentioned the law going through the Duma, specifying the functions of management companies – I promise you, my colleagues in the State Duma will also be happy to meet with you and discuss all the details. The Cabinet will also give this matter its attention.

ALEFTINA RAPATSEVICH: There was an article in Rossiiskaya Gazeta saying that this law should be adopted in 2014, but that’s too late.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: All right! I will look into it carefully myself, to see what is being revised or updated in this law, and speed up this work as much as possible. My colleagues from the State Duma will certainly meet with you.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, we are literally swamped with questions about rising housing and utilities sector bills. I asked viewers to send in copies of their housing and utilities bills before this broadcast. Here is one from St Petersburg. The people live on Belgradskaya St, five people living in a flat of 77 square metres in area, probably a three-room flat. In December 2012, their bill was 3,442 rubles, but the bill for February 2013 came to 8,090 rubles, though we are still talking about exactly the same flat here.  

VLADIMIR PUTIN: And you say it was 3,000 rubles before?

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: It was 3,442 rubles. That’s Belgradskaya street in St Petersburg. Then we have this completely absurd case, a bill sent in by our viewers living in Perm, Petropavlovskaya street. The building there is part of the so-called manoeuvrable stock, that is to say, housing for people who have lost their homes in fires and so on. We are not even talking about flats here, just rooms. In any case, this woman, her last name is Morozova, her first name isn’t on the bill’s receipt, paid 1,258 rubles before for her one room, but now she got sent a bill for 6,657 rubles. Her neighbour, Vladimir, who lives two rooms down from her, got a bill for 13,551 rubles. There is supposed to be a rule keeping cost increases within a six-percent limit. The system is totally non-transparent. 

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is appalling! I already talked about this issue. What’s more, after receiving a bill like this, also from St Petersburg incidentally, I raised the problem with the Government and the regional authorities and said that these kinds of increases are unacceptable. Of course there are a lot of problems in the housing and utilities sector. We know that more than 60 percent of the infrastructure is in unsatisfactory condition and the sector as a whole needs modernisation and investment. But this is no excuse to resort to such barbaric means and place the whole burden on ordinary people. Local authorities did not take timely steps earlier to gradually raise costs and ended up creating a huge gap between needed revenue and the costs people were actually paying, and now they heap all the consequences of this situation overnight on people’s shoulders. This is not right and we cannot let this happen.  

Furthermore, the Government issued a regulation making it possible to raise the prices during the heating season and then bring them down again when the heating season is over. But this has led to a situation where we see unprecedented jumps in costs during the heating season. I am not saying that the Government should immediately cancel this decision, but we need to regulate the situation. What do ordinary people know or care about this government regulation? They are not aware that their bills are about to go up suddenly during the heating season, have not put money aside for it, haven’t thought about it. And then they suddenly get these bills and there’s no money to pay them. Any increases in cost need to be lower and better spread over the year.

Regarding the situation in St Petersburg, I spoke about this with Governor Poltavchenko just recently and he said that they have already taken just such a decision and will get everything sorted out. Let’s hope they do get it all sorted out and organised as soon as possible. The same goes for the other regions too.

Even more importantly, we agreed, and the Government promised, that tariffs would rise by no more than six percent on average a year. I stress this point, but I note too, that this is the average, and in some places, in former military garrisons for example, or other closed systems where nothing was indexed for years, the increase might be slightly higher. Mr Poltavchenko said that in St Petersburg, for example, they won’t manage to reach the target of six percent and are looking at an increase of slightly over seven percent. This is within acceptable limits. There are quite a few regions where the increase is slightly below six percent, and in others it is higher, but overall it should be six percent. There shouldn’t be any big jumps. I hope the Government will meet this objective.

Finally, in cases where people have been overcharged, they either need to get their money back or have this money be counted towards future payments. We used just such a scheme a few years ago when I was Prime Minister. There is nothing to stop us from doing this again now. 

MARIA SITTEL: Summing up this issue, I’d like to thank Ms Rapatsevich once again for taking an active civic stand on the matter and not being indifferent. You have the President’s solid backing now and can organise a public movement in Omsk Region that could set a good example for other regions too.

Thank you.

(Applause)

We have been on air just over an hour now. Let’s cross now to the main information centre, where they are processing all the questions, and hear from Tatyana on how things are going there.

TATYANA REMEZOVA: Thank you, colleagues. The number of calls coming in is growing all the time. We have crossed the 2-million mark now, with 2.3 million phone calls as of this moment. There are 3,556 calls coming in each minute. You can just imagine the workload our operators are having to cope with.

One of the most frequently asked questions is about the state of our roads. That question is coming in from practically every part of the country. Obviously it’s a real problem in people’s minds. We’ve got a caller with a question in this area on the line right now. They say he’s calling from the city of Izhevsk.

Good afternoon, you’re on air. We’re listening to you.

QUESTION FROM IZHEVSK: Hello, my name is Yevgeny. When the snow melts, our roads melt too. I get the impression the authorities find it more to their advantage to write off funds for road repairs rather than build actual normal roads.

TATYANA REMEZOVA: Mr President, before you answer the question, let me read a few text messages sent in on the same subject.

“The roads in Volgograd remind one of footage from wartime newsreels.” We’ve had a huge number of calls from Volgograd about the road problem, actually.

Here’s another short message: “I pay my taxes. Where are my roads?”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, roads have long been known as one of Russia’s traditional problems. This is due to the country’s sheer size, and also because so many of the problems in this area have yet to be properly tackled and resolved.

At the same time however, let me note that we decided a couple of years ago to establish regional road funds. This was an idea that met with active resistance from some of our colleagues. These funds used to exist and then were abolished, but we decided in the end to revive them. The funds are financed by revenue from excise duties and the transport tax.  

The interesting thing is that these funds, which are used to finance road construction, are growing steadily. The situation has been a little nuanced this year it is true. The amount of money coming into the federal road funds has increased, but not by much. The federal road funds have grown though and now come to more than 400 billion rubles. The regional road funds have decreased a little, dropping from 543 billion rubles to 445 billion, as far as I know. This is due to a drop in revenue from excise duties on petrol.  

I won’t go into all the details of this situation, but to summarise, the oil people used to say that they hadn’t the capabilities for moving over to high-octane petrol such as Euro-4 and Euro-5, but as soon as an incentive was introduced to encourage this move, they suddenly all found the needed capability and have for the most part moved over to high-octane petrol, and the revenue coming in from excise duties has thus gone down. But this does not mean that we are short of funds. 

I know this because plenty of regional heads used to come to me, and they come to the new Government now too, asking permission to reallocate the money earmarked for road construction for other uses. Their argument is that although there is plenty of money in the funds they don’t have the needed capabilities right now to actually carry out the road construction. The problem is therefore not financial but organisational and technical. I hope very much that the Government will not go ahead with these requests to reallocate the road funds’ money. 

Another aspect of this issue is quality control, which is something our viewers and listeners also mentioned just now. Here, as in the housing and utilities sector, any improvement will be impossible without stringent public oversight.

We know that Pskov, for example, has an excellent public group, The Roads of Pskov, I think it’s called. It started off in the internet and then became real and not just a virtual presence. It’s a youth organisation, and they are quite effective and consistent in monitoring the quality of road construction.

I call on people to develop this kind of work throughout every region in the country.

MARIA SITTEL: Before going back to the information centre, Mr President, am I correct in understanding that we do have the money for building roads?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, if the governors say that they are not even managing to spend all of what they have, it means that there are sufficient funds out there.  

MARIA SITTEL: I don’t understand where the problem is coming from then? Who is to blame? A country like Russia cannot afford to be without roads.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We have a vast territory but only a small road network. You know that it was only not so long ago that we built the road connecting Chita and Khabarovsk. We didn’t even have a road connecting the eastern and European parts of the country. 

MARIA SITTEL: But this is a real disgrace for the country! And now we have the money but people are saying these funds should be reallocated for whatever other purposes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, we need to keep developing the road sector, keep on with its expansion, and ensure quality control too.

MARIA SITTEL: Who in the Government is responsible for…

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The Transport Ministry.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: We also need to fight corruption in the road sector. The roads built for the APEC summit, for example, are already unusable in places. 

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s a problem not only with the work done for the APEC summit. There are similar problems elsewhere too. I need to take another look at that same Chita-Khabarovsk road that we spoke of just now. People have been writing to say that there are quality problems there too. I doubt I will be able to travel that road again, given the time that takes, but I could use another means of transport, a helicopter or something, to take a look at what is going on there. Of course, I cannot go and inspect all the roads in the country. This is something that the Government and the regional authorities need to organise at their level.

MARIA SITTEL: Unfortunately, it looks like without your personal involvement, Mr President, nothing gets sorted out.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is an age-old problem in Russia. We just need to organise regular on-going work. 

MARIA SITTEL: Other countries seem quite good at resolving this problem.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Other countries have tackled it in various different ways, including during crisis periods. In Germany in the 1930s, for example, they built roads there as a way of fighting unemployment. They took extraordinary road construction measures. We have also examined various possibilities for using road construction as an anti-crisis measure and a measure to get people in employment and pump up the economy.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you.

Let’s go back to the information centre. Tatyana!

TATYANA REMEZOVA: Yes, thank you.

Thousands of people are trying to get through. Let’s take another call. This one is from Perm Territory.

Good afternoon, put your question, you’re on air.

QUESTION FROM PERM TERRITORY: Hello, Mr President!

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Hello!

QUESTION FROM PERM TERRITORY: My name is Maria. I want to know what will happen with the maternity capital payments after 2016?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Maria, you probably know that the maternity capital was one of the programmes I initiated. We started discussing the idea in 2006, and introduced it in 2007 for the period running through to 2016 inclusive. In other words, families, mothers who had a second child during this period through to 2016 would be entitled to take part in the Maternity Capital programme.

We made a conscious and deliberate decision to set this time period because we had to be absolutely certain that the federal budget would be able to meet the maternity capital payment commitments. The payments have been adjusted regularly, as we promised. This year, as far as I know, the maternity capital entitlement comes to 407,000 or 408,000 rubles. I might be slightly wrong in the figures, but it is more than 400,000 rubles, anyway. Overall, this is a solid sum of money that is a substantial support for big families.  

We did not know then and still do not know exactly how the demographic situation would develop. We cannot predict exactly how many children will be born but can only make estimates. We know the general trend, but do not know the exact figures, and it is therefore impossible to say exactly how much federal budget money will be needed for meeting our commitments in this area after 2016. 

As for what will happen after 2016, I think that we should continue programmes in one form or another to support birth in Russia, but they should be more targeted in nature. I do not yet know exactly what forms these programmes should take, but people who are planning their families and would like to have a second or third child should feel reassured in any case that until 2016 inclusively, the maternity capital programme will continue to function and people who have a second or subsequent child will receive this money, just like Maria Sittel. Maria, how many children do you have? 

MARIA SITTEL: Three.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Three, that’s great, Maria.

MARIA SITTEL: But I haven’t received my maternity capital yet.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You will.

MARIA SITTEL: There’s still time before 2016. Thank you.

KIRILL KLEIMENOV: The maternity capital issue is something that interests many of our viewers, especially big families, where every penny really counts. Big families also include foster families, families caring for children who have lost their parents. We have the chance now to visit just such a big family. My colleague Alisa Romanova will introduce them. They are on air now in the village of Novoshakhtinsky in Primorye Territory.

ALISA ROMANOVA: Good afternoon, or good evening rather, since we are here in the Far East, where the time is seven hours ahead of Moscow.

This is the Kuzmenko family’s home. They are raising 15 children – three kids of their own and the others are adopted. Let’s take a look at how they live. This is the girls’ room. This is Galya, and this is little Matvei. Matvei, let’s go to the boys’ room. This is where the Kuzmenkos’ sons, Danila and Fedya, live.

If these children hadn’t been adopted by Yelena and Sergei Kuzmenko, many of them would have had an unhappy fate. Take little Polina for example. She is six now. When she was taken into the family, she was one year old and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. At that moment she weighed only 4 kilos, didn’t speak at all, couldn’t walk and didn’t even crawl. But you would hardly recognise her now. (Applause)

Let me introduce the parents – Sergei and Yelena Kuzmenko, and here is little Polina that I was just telling you about. You’re six years old now?

POLINA KUZMENKO: Yes.

ALISA ROMANOVA: Tell us what you call your dear mum and dad?

POLINA KUZMENKO: Princess, Queen, Cinderella, and I call my daddy a prince.

ALISA ROMANOVA: You can see how big a family this is. We just counted 20 people, and that’s without the oldest son who is away studying in another town at the moment. There are several generations here. This is the oldest daughter’s family, and this is the youngest member of the family, little David, who is just one.

Yelena and Sergei, we see that you have this big family with so many children, and of course you receive some help, but even so, there are still plenty of problems, as we have learned. Now you have the chance to tell us about these problems and ask your questions. Yelena, go ahead.

YELENA KUZMENKO: Hello, Mr President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Hello.

YELENA KUZMENKO: I have a question about benefits and subsidies for large families. We are a foster family with adopted children but we don’t get these benefits. We don’t get subsidies of any kind.

And a few words about allowances. The subsistence minimum in Primorye Territory is set at 8,000 rubles, and we get a child allowance of 5,400 rubles. It’s impossible to get by on these pennies. The children inevitably end up losing out.

On the matter of family budget too, half of our budget goes on paying for the flat, the phone, water, and electricity. Our bills are high but we don’t qualify for any subsidies.

My husband will tell you about our problems now.

SERGEI KUZMENKO: Yes, of course. The children we take in from the children’s homes have various health problems and we have to spend a lot of money on their care. You know that our pharmacies are full of expensive medicines. But we treat the children no matter what. The day before yesterday, for example, my daughter had a toothache. We don’t have a children’s dentist here in Novoshakhtinsky, so we took her to a private clinic. They treated the tooth but we had to pay 5,000 rubles for it. That is a lot of money for us. It turned out an expensive tooth to fix, but you can’t leave teeth untreated.

YELENA KUZMENKO: Mr President, you see what kinds of problems we have. We hope you can help to settle these problems, because it’s just not possible to live this way. There are many other foster families in Primorye Territory, and they also hope to see these problems resolved, so that we can receive some kind of subsidies and get hospital treatment without having to wait in the queues. We spend a lot of time waiting our turn in hospitals, and nowhere are they willing to take us without making us wait first. They always say that they don’t know anything about our situation and the rules are the rules and we have to queue, and so we spend our time queuing everywhere.

One of the children recently had an epileptic seizure, and I queued for an hour and a half. No one would let us go ahead out of turn.

My daughter also wants to ask you a question.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, of course.

QUESTION: I want to ask on behalf of all the children in our family for a children’s playground, because there are many children in the family, but we don’t have any playground. There’s not been one ever since we moved here. We hope our dream will come true.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ok. Yelena, when did you move into this house and under what circumstances? 

YELENA KUZMENKO: I’m a military servicewoman, a former senior warrant officer. I received a housing purchase certificate that covered my two birth children and my husband, but because we have many children in the family we wanted to buy a separate house. We couldn’t afford to do so in the town, so we bought one here in Novoshakhtinsky, using the certificate, since we didn’t have money of our own. 

VLADIMIR PUTIN: So you used the certificate?

YELENA KUZMENKO: Yes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I see. That’s a start at least. Something is actually getting done.

Regarding child benefits, they were a real pittance before, only 1,200 rubles, and the Presidential Executive Order issued late last year raised them to 5,500 rubles. Regrettably, it’s true, the Government has not yet issued the accompanying regulations setting out the procedures for these benefit payments.

The payments actually started just a few days ago. I draw my Government colleagues’ attention to the fact that a government regulation is required here. This needs to be done. The benefits will be increased in the same way that benefits for children with disabilities are being increased. I also note in passing that the social pension for disabled persons of group I is going up to just over 8,800 rubles.

Furthermore, the State Duma is currently examining a draft law that introduces a new one-off payment of 100,000 rubles for adopting a child. I hope this draft law will be passed as soon as possible.

Finally, the most important that Yelena spoke about is the issue of making foster families equal in entitlements to big families in which the children are birth children. I think this would be fair in every way and I will give the Government this instruction. (Applause) What difference does it make if the children are birth children or adopted? Everyone says that such children become like their own. People like Yelena and Sergei are doing a very important moral and civic job here, and they should get our support.

Yelena, I promise that I will give the Government this instruction, and I hope they will work out the details with the State Duma deputies.

KIRILL KLEIMENOV: And the children’s playground?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: And you will get this too, of course.

The anchors will be taking note and following up everything in this respect.

I promise you that you will get your children’s playground. We will sort out this matter. This is not a problem.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Thank you, Novoshakhtinsky. Thank you, Primorye.

Let’s give the opportunity to ask a question to...

MARIA SITTEL: Just one second. On the topic of adoption, I have a question from Marina from Vladivostok.

Mr President, is it possible to look into the legislative aspects of letting the adopted children access their personal records after they reach adulthood, upon request? You see, in Russia, people aged 30, 40 and even 60, who were adopted as children, are unable to find out who their birth relatives were, as state officials refuse to provide that information. This is a problem we have.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is both a legal and moral problem. For example, why have Americans been and are still so keen to adopt Russian children specifically? One of the reasons – not the only reason, but one of them – is that, as far as I understood from looking at American laws, it is prohibited to provide any information about a person’s birth parents. No, pardon me, just the opposite, you can access this information. And there were cases in legal practice when adoptive parents had their children reclaimed by their birth parents. But when a child is adopted from abroad to the United States, including from Russia, it is impossible to obtain any data about their birth parents. And this safeguards adoptive families from having any conflicts in the future.

So I repeat, this is not just a legal issue but a moral and ethical one as well. And I think that if we are to resolve it, if we follow the path that you brought up, then we first need to consult with society, with the people, to hold an open, direct discussion on this topic.

MARIA SITTEL: Anyway, each case should be examined individually, don’t you think?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, we need general rules that could be applied individually, but there needs to be some kind of common approach.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: We have many questions from people in the studio.Let’s hear them.

Olga, please go ahead.

OLGA USHAKOVA: Thank you, Kirill. A few minutes ago, we spoke with Primorye. As you saw, it’s already evening there. And here in our studio, we have a person who wants to ask a question about time changes. This is Alexei Lavrinenko, a collective farm chairman from Stavropol Territory. Please, go ahead.

COLLECTIVE FARM CHAIRMAN ALEXEI LAVRINENKO: Hello, Mr President.

During the election campaign, you were constantly asked questions about daylight saving time. You promised to look into the issue, to consult with others and to make a decision. What decision will be made?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I already said that this issue falls under the authority of the Government of the Russian Federation. I do not want you to think that I am avoiding a decision on this matter, but earlier, Mr Medvedev had made this decision, the Government implemented it, and it is now under the authority of the Government, which must make this decision. I do not feel this is a case where the Government requires Presidential intervention (although, of course, this can formally be done). I think we need to look into what is happening. Mr Lavrinenko, you are a state farm director?

ALEXEI LAVRINENKO: A collective farm.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: How are the cows milked? According to a schedule?

ALEXEI LAVRINENKO: We do not make the time change; I have the authority to make that decision at our collective farm. We are living according to the old time.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The old time? Seriously?

In other words, you have not even made the change to the new time?

ALEXEI LAVRINENKO: No. We go to work as we used to in the past.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Does the collective farm know that Lenin has died already? (Laughter.)

ALEXEI LAVRINENKO: Look, we just shifted the time by an hour.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I see. You know, let’s address these issues to the Government. I understand those who want to wake up when it’s already nice and bright outside and go to bed when it’s dark. There is a problem for the business community, especially for those who work with Europe, and a problem for sports fans.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: And there will be more. The Sochi Olympics are coming soon.

VLADIMIR PUTIN:Yes. But the IOC will adapt to our situation. Let’s look into it.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, do you have any questions in this regard? Are you comfortable?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, if I say now that I am comfortable or uncomfortable, I immediately define my position. I repeat, I do not want to impose on the Government’s authority. Let the Government of the Russian Federation settle this matter.

MARIA SITTEL: Let’s take a question from the audience. Maria?

MARIA MORGUN: Mr President, we invited several of your authorised representatives to join us in the studio for this programme. Sergei Malenko, a journalist and political expert, is from Perm Territory. Please, go ahead with your question.

SERGEI MALENKO: Hello, Mr President. The topic of corruption has already been brought up here, but I would nevertheless like to return to it. Moreover, I would like to add something about the efficiency of state management.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The inefficiency.

SERGEI MALENKO: I would like to hear your answer and understand what you think.

We have a person named Anatoly Chubais. Since I have already heard your position regarding Oboronservis, the privatisation and reform of the Unified Energy System [RAO UES], we will not discuss them, although we can see certain results from the RAO UES reforms in our bills for housing and utilities services. Instead, I’ll ask about RUSNANO, a big state company with a great deal of trust put in it: economic diversification, nanotechnology development, venture investments – this company received an enormous influx of capital over the last few years.

And now in April, the Accounts Chamber reveals some serious infractions in the work of the company’s management. At the same time, management salaries are many times higher than salaries at certain private companies and even transnational corporations. This year, they are looking at losses of 20 billion rubles, a figure comparable to the budget of a large city like Perm, which is a million city. And in this respect, as your authorised representative, I have a fairly simple question: when will this outrage end, how much longer are you going to tolerate having Chubais in power? And the traditional question from a huge number of Russians: when will he finally be jailed? (Applause.)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Chubais remains someone whom we very much need; public opinion is constantly deflected toward him when people don’t like something. I believe both he and many other people who worked with him at the time certainly made many mistakes, and this led to a certain image of them.

But somebody had to do what they were doing. They changed the entire structure of the Russian economy and essentially changed our trend of development. Let me repeat, in my view, this could have been done in a different way, with smaller social losses and expenditures, not as harshly. But it is always easy to judge these situations in hindsight. But when people lead the way, and it is unclear what the next step should be, whether it will be the right step or a mistake, it’s important to have the courage to make those steps. Many mistakes were made, but it is clear that these people were brave. They had courage to make transformations.

Many curious and funny things happened back then. For example, we learned today that officers of the United States’ CIA operated as consultants to Anatoly Chubais. But it is even funnier that upon returning to the US, they were prosecuted for violating their country’s laws and illegally enriching themselves in the course of privatisation in the Russian Federation. They did not have the right to do this as active CIA officers. In accordance with US law, they were not allowed to engage in any kind of commercial activity, but they couldn’t resist – it’s corruption, you see.

But we should give credit to the American legal system: despite everything, they went to admit that CIA officers worked as consultants in Chubais’ entourage. You asked how long he will be in power, but he is not in power;yes, he is heading a state corporation, but it is nevertheless a commercial organisation and he is not present in the government agencies.

Now, with regard to responsibility. After all, they said themselves that they had allocated the funding inefficiently. Naturally, I am monitoring what is happening there; today they are reporting losses of 2.5 billion rubles. This is, of course, a large sum of money. Is it possible not to make mistakes in this area…

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, 22.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, no, 2.5 billion. 22 billion was the initial figure for ineffective investments; today, they are stating losses of 2.5 billion. Is it possible to avoid making any mistakes in a sector like nanotechnologies, doing everything absolutely profitably? It’s hard for me to say, but I suppose it’s possible. After all, what is their problem? They are using non-traditional energy, silicon. But should they have invested in silicon, particularly in our nation, which is rich in hydrocarbons, where some still don’t do time changes and it’s dark when you rise and dark when you go to bed? When do these batteries suppose to work? I do not know and do not want to give any assessments now, this is a difficult area.

I won’t argue that back in the day, this was one of my initiatives, to create this company, because nanotechnologies are one of the main paths in scientific and technical development. And overall, a fair amount of useful work has been done there. I was there a couple of times and seen the materials related to their work. There were blunders and failures. But no shady activity, nothing law-breaking. You see? These are two absolutely different things. Even when we have our regions invest money for other purposes, not as intended, it does not mean the money was stolen. In this case, the money was invested inefficiently. But that is not theft.

I am not going to defend Mr Chubais. Moreover, he is my opponent on many issues (although he has told me many times that he does not get involved in politics, I can see that this is not the case). But it’s unfair to randomly take a person and declare that he is a criminal, that he stole something; it’s unjust. And we are not going to do that.

MARIA SITTEL:Our next link-up is ready.

This year we celebrate the anniversaries of several heroic battles of the Great Patriotic War: we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, and that of the great Battle of Kursk is approaching. So today we are live in legendary Prokhorovka, where the Red Army decisively rebuffed Nazism.

So, to Prokhorovka and our correspondent Olga Skabeyeva.

OLGA SKABEYEVA: Hello, Moscow! Hello, Mr President!

The legendary Prokhorovka, Belgorod Region, where the largest tank battle in military history took place, welcomes you. But before we go back to those valiant days, before we introduce our esteemed veterans, I want to say that our entire region experienced a terrible tragedy when six people were killed in Belgorod. The suspected shooter was captured only a day later. Yesterday a two-day mourning period in our region ended.

And now we are together with our respected veterans at a huge memorial complex called ‘Russia’s Third Battlefield– Prokhorovka field’.

The Battle of Prokhorovka involved 1,500 tanks from both sides: 900 Soviet and 600 German ones. Nothing of that scale had ever happened before or after. 1943, the year of the Battle of Stalingrad and the Kursk Bulge, was the turning point in the Great Patriotic War, the year that forced the Germans to begin their retreat.

This year on July 12, here in Belgorod Region, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Prokhorovka. And here today are real witnesses of those terrible events, participants in them, our veterans. We tried to make everyone as comfortable as possible, we have good weather here. The youngest veteran here today is 88.

So let’s give the floor to our veterans: this year Abram Yekhilevsky has his own anniversary to celebrate – he will be 90. His chest is full of awards and medals. Mr Yekhilevsky liberated Orel, stormed Konigsberg, and made it to Berlin. He is a truly loved, revered and respected man in Belgorod Region.

MrYekhilevsky, you have the floor, there is your camera.The President is listening to you.

ABRAM YEKHILEVSKY: Hello, Mr President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Hello.

ABRAM YEKHILEVSKY: Despite our respectable age, together with activists from the veterans’ movement we do a great deal of work aimed at the spiritual, moral and patriotic education of young people.We try to introduce them to the historical truth about the Great Patriotic War, and tell them about the resilience, courage and heroism of our people on the front and their feats of labour in the rear.

Our country’s major holiday – the 68th anniversary of Victory – is approaching. At this time, during these days, we remember our comrades, friends who gave their lives for the freedom and independence of our Motherland, for our Victory. Their memory will live forever in our hearts.

And today, unfortunately there are still some regions where good-for-nothings vandalise monuments erected in our honour. For example, in Volgograd a young man relieved himself, and in Rzhev another stripped almost to his underwear and began to dance on the monument. There are many other examples.

Mr President, it is very sad and painful for us, war participants, to see and hear all this. And I want to know your opinion as to what else could be done to protect our memory, and what additional work could be done among the younger generation, so that they remember and give special attention to our glorious history of defending the Fatherland and the Great Victory?

We are in Prokhorovka, whose earth was abundantly watered by the blood of our soldiers during the war. July 12, the 70th anniversary of the famous tank battle, is approaching. And we would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the 4,000 Great Patriotic War veterans in our region, including participants inthe tank battle and the Battle of Kursk, to invite you to participate in this anniversary celebration if you can find the time. Please come!

Thank you for your attention. (Applause.)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Yekhilevsky, dear veterans, first of all congratulations to all of you – those who are in Prokhorovka field today, those who live in other regions of the Russian Federation – congratulations on the approaching Victory Day. I want to tell you that today I signed an executive order about celebrating the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. This will take place in two years time, but we need to start preparing now in order to decently celebrate this anniversary.

Just recently we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, after which the Soviet Army took all the strategic initiative. And soon we will celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Prokhorovka, and that of Kursk. I will be sure to come. Thank you very much for the invitation.

With regard to the acts of vandalism and misbehaviour of some of our citizens, of course first and foremost our young people, what can I say? First, not all young people think and behave this way. The vast majority of young Russians understand the feat you accomplished in the name of humanity and our Motherland. I can assure you that this really is the case. And this is best proved, for example by the feat of the famous Pskov paratroopers during the bloody events in the Caucasus [in 2000], when out of 90 people – and I want to specifically point out the figure – only 4 remained alive. They have fulfilled their sacred duty to the Motherland in full. And this is the best proof that there is absolute continuity of generations.

But unfortunately we are also faced with the problems you just talked about. And I think that in this respect, naturally the blame lies with the concrete perpetrators of these barbaric acts, but it is also our shared blame. Our fault lies in the fact that we do not pay enough attention to young people, we do not pay enough attention to the study of our own history. It is society’s entire fault, but it is also that of the authorities. You must forgive us for that. We will do our best to change the situation.

And not just out of respect for our veterans, although that is an extremely important thing. It is in the interests of our country’s future. Undoubtedly we will count on your support in this work. Despite their respectable age, the vast majority of veterans remain in service and influence the patriotic education of society in general and young people in particular in the most beneficial way.

Once again, thank you very much for the invitation. (Applause.)

MARIA SITTEL: Mr President, the issue of our shared historical memory is directly and closely linked to education and to school. You recently proposed that a standard history textbook should be introduced. That initiative sparked a heated debate in society. Today, we have teachers, researchers and members of the Russian Academy of Science in the audience. It would be fair to let them have a say, so let’s give them the floor. Dmitry?

DMITRY SHCHUGOREV: Thank you.

Yesterday we spoke with some history teachers from Moscow schools, and judging by what we've heard, there are different opinions. Let's find out what Moscow teachers think.

I give the floor to Anton Molev, a history teacher at Moscow High School No.1505.

HISTORY TEACHER ANTON MOLEV: Thank you.

Mr President, as you probably know, your proposal to introduce a standard history textbook on which you have even issued specific instructions has provoked a heated debate.

There are two diametrically opposite views. On the one hand, there is an understandable fear of possible uniformity and return to some totalitarian aspects, and on the other hand, the idea that uniformity or, more precisely, a unified approach and a standard concept would be good not only for teaching history, but in general for all textbooks as a standard approach to new education.

In this regard, I think it is crucial for the professional community to understand what, in fact, is the authorities’ position and your personal position as President, what risks do you see in the implementation of this idea and how they could be overcome. Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I can only repeat what I have said earlier. I think that there should be a unified concept of this textbook, a set of textbooks that would show us the chronology of events and their formal assessment. Without a formal assessment, students will lack a fundamental understanding of the events that took place in our country over the past centuries and decades.

The differences in the perception of the key aspects of our history lead to such negative consequences as were mentioned earlier by Mr Yekhilevsky, a veteran, when young people do not understand the country they live in and do not feel a connection to previous generations. They do not realise that the achievements, for example, of the Great Patriotic War veterans is something for them personally to be proud of. They do not understand this connection with the heroes of the past.

Last year, if I’m not mistaken, we had 41 history textbook versions for Grade 10, and this year, there are 65 recommended history textbook options for Grade 10. Is this normal? I remember, even people of very liberal views, who now seem happy to criticise and even disparage, some of them came to me a few years ago and showed me, look what they’re writing, they’re completely off their rocker. Sometimes it’s not even clear who won World War II: Rommel's Afrika Korps fought against the British, and millions of Nazi Germans fought on the Eastern Front. Who broke the backbone of Nazism? Who routed those divisions fighting on the Eastern Front? Who knows that the Battle of Stalingrad was the only battle in the history of World War II when the enemy suffered greater losses (1.5 million people) than the Soviet forces. The Red Army also suffered heavy losses, 1.2 million people, but the enemy suffered even more – 1.5 million. Who knows that today? Only the experts. But without knowing this, it is impossible to understand the value of the monuments that these people desecrate today.

This does not mean that we should return to totalitarian thinking. If there is a general line, an official point of view, the textbook can present more than one position, and it is the teacher’s job (and our teachers are talented people) to draw the students’ attention to the fact that there are different assessments of the same events and to teach young people to think and reason for themselves. In fact, this is the essence of the modern education system not only when it comes to history, but also in other subjects. I think it is quite possible and achievable.

MARIA SITTEL: Let’s go back to Prokhorovka and give people there another opportunity to ask a question.

Olga, can you hear us?

OLGA SKABEYEVA: Yes. Now we will give the floor to our farmers. Belgorod Region is famous for its agriculture: there are 12,000 small farms as well as major enterprises here. The industry employs up to 150,000 people. Everyone has the same question.

We will give the floor to Natalya Korolkova, head of the local meat packing plant.

NATALYA KOROLKOVA: Hello, Mr President.

Today our agricultural region fears bankruptcy. Since Russia joined the WTO, we suffer daily losses. Only in the first quarter of this year, losses amounted to about 13 billion rubles, and that is only in livestock farming. You always say that our industry requires special, close attention from the government. Until 2015 it is clear that we will receive subsidies. But I can assure you that today we have a difficult life even with subsidies. And what’s next? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ms Korolkova, of course the WTO accession and the situation in such a critical sector as agriculture are very closely related. But WTO accession does not mean that agriculture will stop developing. I’m going to say a few words about this.

Indeed, what danger does WTO accession represent for agriculture? It reduces potential government support, reduces subsidies. This is the first thing. And the second thing is that it lets cheap, but quite good quality goods access our markets.

With regards to allowing low-cost, high-quality goods into our markets, in general the idea is to encourage our producers – and not only in agriculture, but in other industries too – to produce goods at acceptable prices for our citizens with a quality that meets the world’s best. I very much hope that this will also transpire in agriculture.

But of course there are threats too. In order to combat these threats, for agriculture in particular, we have developed a whole system of protection measures. What is their primary form? Further subsidies. As you know, this year we started to subsidise per hectare too. Moreover, compared with past years the amount of support for agriculture in 2013 (it was significant in the past too, but this year it has increased) will amount to 180 billion rubles allocated from the federal budget alone. More recently, the Government announced that it has taken the decision to provide additional direct support to our farmers in the amount of 42 billion rubles. And I want to stress that together with regional support, this year the total will be about 260 billion rubles.

Let me draw your attention to the fact that 260 billion rubles is somewhere around $8 billion. And in WTO negotiations we received the right to subsidise our agriculture this and next year not for $8 billion but for $9.5 billion - $9.4 billion. So we have not used up the quotas provided for in our WTO accession agreements. There are simply budgetary constraints, although significant growth continues. But that’s not all.

We have kept previous support measures for agriculture in place. For example, for some types of livestock farming, such as livestock breeding, we will keep the low VAT rate of 10 percent until 2017. You know that agricultural producers are entitled to use a simplified tax system. And for one of the options under such system, which many agricultural producers use quite actively, we have completely removed the tax on profits.

There are other forms of support too, and we will keep them all. One very interesting aspect is that under WTO rules regions where agricultural production is considered risky can be excluded from the remit of WTO requirements. So we have a great deal of instruments to protect our producers. We have kept quotas for poultry, pork and beef. I do not know what kind of meat you produce, but I would draw your attention to the fact that we have significantly reduced the volume of imports of poultry, for example. Five years ago our imports stood at 1.4-1.6 million tonnes; two years ago the volume was reduced to 200,000 tonnes and eventually down to 100,000 tonnes last year. But I know that our poultry farms can cover these volumes themselves. However, the quotas remain.  

Still, I understand your concerns. I myself, both as Prime Minister and now as President of Russia, draw the attention of the Agriculture Ministry and the Government’s economic bloc to the fact that with regards to, say, pork, there are certain problems that require careful consideration. Now I simply do not want to speak publicly about them, so as not to aggravate ongoing negotiations with our partners, especially from European countries. And perhaps pork requires separate support measures.

I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture will not only address these questions, but also provide adequate and timely solutions.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you for your reply, Mr President.

Thank you for joining us, Prokhorovka. Let us once again express our sincere gratitude to our veterans and wish them many happy years to come.

Now let's take a telephone call. Here is Tatyana Remezova from the call centre.

TATYANA REMEZOVA: Thank you. Work in full swing here. Let's take a phone call. We have Moscow Region on the line.

Good afternoon! Your question, please. You are on the air.

QUESTION: Hello!

Mr President, here is my question for you: there are plans to introduce the requirement from 2015 that immigrants must carry an international passport? Why not introduce it already now? Immigration flows bring drugs and violent crime, people are afraid to go out at night. We fear for our children.

Can I ask a second question?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Public sector employees like myself get a minimum wage. My salary is 9,000 rubles minus 13% income tax. How can I make ends meet with such a salary?

These issues concern many Moscow Region residents.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your reply.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you.

First of all, with regard to immigrants. I also think that we need to civilise and tighten procedures for the entry of foreign nationals into the Russian Federation. Primarily this applies to the citizens of the Central Asian republics.

Why from 2015? Many immigrants are already resident here. To make sure this process is civilised, we must give our partners time to issue the passports and the relevant forms. This volume of work can be done in about eighteen months. We could try to speed up this process, but in that case it would be more difficult for us to set demands for our partners. To make sure this process is civilised, we would simply have to provide financial assistance from the federal budget for the production of these documents. I suppose we could consider it, although it would entail additional expenses for us while it would be better to use the money on increasing the salaries of public sector employees.

Incidentally, with regard to public sector salaries, we have already talked about the fact that wages are growing faster than labour productivity. This applies primarily to the manufacturing sector but everything in the economy is interconnected. As soon as wages go up in the public sector, the manufacturing industry responds to it in one way or another. For example, higher pay in the military sector is inevitably reflected in other sectors and, one way or another, affects the growth of wages.

Unfortunately, this level remains quite modest in the public sector. That is why the executive orders of May 7, 2012 devote considerable attention to social issues and raising wages in the public sector.

I draw your attention to the fact that, for example, teachers in 15 regions already receive the average wage for their region’s economy, and this level is 90% in 34 other Russian regions. I very much hope that this year all the regions will bring the level of teachers’ salaries to the average for the economy. This is a very difficult task, which stretches the regional budgets almost to the limit, so that the federal Government has to provide assistance to many of them. The same goes for university faculty members and professionals in other fields.

With regard to preschool education, for example, the objective there is to bring the level of wages to the average for the sector. That includes raising salaries for university faculty members by 200% by 2018, and so on. Therefore, a significant part of our objectives in the social sphere has to do with increasing wages in the public sector, for which we have come under harsh criticism from our liberal colleagues.

We will act carefully, but this is the policy we will continue to pursue.

KIRILL KLEIMENOV: Well, I think it has been a while since we took a question from the audience. Let's turn to our studio. Valeriya Korableva, please.

VALERIYA KORABLEVA: I have here an employee of the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works. He has a question.

IGOR MAKOVCHUK: Good afternoon, Mr President!

My name is Igor Makovchuk and I am from Magnitogorsk, Chelyabinsk Region.

Recently, there has been an increasing number of girls in our schools wearing hijabs. France has already outlawed it. What about us? Are we in for Islamisation?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There is nothing good about it. There are certain national traditions in some of the republics but what you are talking about has nothing to do with tradition: it is a demonstration of a certain attitude to religion.

Even the Muslim regions of our country have never had this tradition. By the way, some Muslim countries have laws prohibiting hijabs.

You mentioned France, which has adopted such a law. I believe that in our country (and I've already talked about this), we could and should bring back the school uniform. Work on this is already underway. I hope the regions will not disregard or abandon these efforts, but will work on introducing the school uniform.

STATE DUMA DEPUTY VALERY YAKUSHEV: Mr President, I'm afraid my turn will never come.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s possible.

VALERY YAKUSHEV: I talk with you every time we meet, as you know.

I have great respect for you and I feel sorry for you. Do you know why?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why is that?

VALERY YAKUSHEV: Today, 90% of the questions have had to do with social issues. Why don’t the governors meet with their regions’ residents like this, listen to them and answer their questions? They don’t feel the responsibility. All of Russia is listening and watching today, but later they will say: “It was Putin who made the promise, go and ask him.” People judge the Government by the quality of their lives, and for people you are the Government. It is not the ministers; it is you. And everyone points at Putin. So get the governors to do their own work instead of shifting the responsibility to you.

Thank you. (Applause.)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You are absolutely right. No one should shirk responsibility. I never have. I believe that it is a useful format that is very valuable to me and the country.

As for the governors, many of them work very actively with the public, although not necessarily in this format. But I agree with you that we must always look for new formats and try to be closer to the people. Only then can we understand what needs to be done to address their problems.

MARIA SITTEL: Let’s all go to Lipetsk now, to the Russian Air Force’s 4th Centre of Combat Application and Conversion of Frontline Aviation. Our colleague Yevgeny Rozhkov is working there.

YEVGENY ROZHKOV: Good afternoon, colleagues! Hello, Mr President!

Lipetsk here, the Russian Air Force Combat Training Centre. That’s how it was called 60 years ago when it was founded. Today it is a national centre for pilot training and retraining, Russia’s most prestigious flight school. We have been working here for only a few days, but I can tell you for sure that I have never seen such high level of piloting and military aircraft operation skills anywhere else.

The aerobatic team called the Falcons of Russia simply works wonders. It is led by Major General Alexander Kharchevsky. Hello, Mr Kharchevsky.

First, we probably do not need to introduce Mr Kharchevsky to you, Mr President, as you know each other well: in 2000 you flew together in a Su-27 fighter, almost the same as the one you see next to us.

By the way Mr Kharchevsky, could you reveal a military secret? Where did you fly at that time?

ALEXANDER KHARCHEVSKY: On March 20, 2000 we flew from Krasnodar aerodrome to Severny aerodrome in Grozny, and back again. 

YEVGENY ROZHKOV: And tell us honestly, what kind of G-forces do you experience while inside this flying machine?

ALEXANDER KHARCHEVSKY: A maximum of 9g.  At that point the pilot’s weight increases nine times over.

YEVGENY ROZHKOV: I’ll add just one more thing: Mr Kharchevsky does not yet know that his subordinates are currently preparing the documents to include him in the Guinness Book of Records, as he has been flying fighter planes for 43 years now. That’s an absolute record.

Please, you have the floor.

ALEXANDER KHARCHEVSKY: Hello, Comrade Commander-in-Chief.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon.

ALEXANDER KHARCHEVSKY: Today the Air Force is in the process of renewing its aircraft and helicopter fleet with new, complex and modern aircraft technology, which requires crews with high professional skills, able to use the full range of these machines’ combat capabilities. But we have a paradoxical situation: while the technology is becoming more sophisticated, the level of professional selection of future military students is dropping due to lack of competition. The minimum competition we need is 10-12 people competing for each place. In addition, the situation with the deficit of flight personnel will worsen as of 2014 because there was no admission of students to flight schools for three years.

How can we resolve this situation as it might affect the future of our military aviation?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Kharchevsky, first of all let me welcome you. It is a pleasure to see you in good health, in the ranks, in service. I perfectly remember our flight to Chechnya. I am grateful to you for teaching me to roll a plane. I remember that during our landing on our return, you showed me how a master does it, with all the g-forces. That was a good lesson for me. Let me repeat once again how nice it is to see you in the ranks.

As for the shortage of flight crews. You did not actually say it, but I understand that the implicit question concerns the fact that we recently optimised military academies and many of them were not exactly closed, but rather enlarged and merged with one another. Now I do not want to make any assessments of the things done in previous years, but in general the amount of officer training must correspond to the Armed Forces’ personnel requirements. And that amount should not and must not be determined in reference to the distended army of the Soviet period.

At the same time, we must train as many specialists as the Russian Armed Forces needs, and no less.

Over all these years total enrolment has not diminished, even though I know that in some specific fields it really did go down. You see this as you are working at the Combat Application Centre. If you feel that there is a problem with pilot training, then perhaps it is necessary to pay attention to this issue and I will do so. You can be sure of this. But in general, the staffing level for serving officers of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is 98 percent. I think we would be hard pressed to find any other agency in which staffing levels are so high.  

As for pilots, we will analyse this issue separately. I can promise you this.

And I want to wish you and all your colleagues, all officers, success in their service. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MARIA SITTEL: Yevgeny, do you have any more questions?

YEVGENY ROZHKOV: Of course we do.

MARIA SITTEL: Then please go ahead.

YEVGENY ROZHKOV: Lipetsk Air Base is very large, even huge, and it is often called a City-Base. More than 10,000 people work here, including pilots, engineers and navigators, such as Pavel Lykov, senior navigator for combat training. He said that he has a lot of questions for the President, and all of them are in some way or another connected with the military equipment next to us. Pavel, please go ahead.

PAVEL LYKOV: Hello, Comrade Commander-in-Chief.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon.

PAVEL LYKOV: My question is the following. We have successfully mastered the Su-34 airplane and use it. We look forward to receiving new aircraft this year, namely the Su-30SM and the Su-35. But it is no secret that these planes were developed in the Soviet Union, and that aircraft of this generation are called “4 plus-plus”. In order to maintain Russia’s defence capabilities at the highest level, we need to use fifth-generation aircraft. My question is as follows: when will this new technology be operational at our base in Lipetsk and in the Armed Forces in general?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I am sure that you, as a highly qualified specialist, can make an adequate assessment of the equipment currently available in the army. There was a time when we were very anxious about aviation. Today the situation is changing, and changing for the better. I think you notice it too. And not just with respect to military pays, I am also referring to modernisation of the Armed Forces, including combat aircraft. “4 plus” and “4 plus-plus” fighter jets meet modern requirements. But of course we have to think about the future. And the famous machine that experts call the [Sukhoi] PAK FA is a promising tactical aircraft already in operation. Four machines are currently undergoing tests. One of them was recently flown here, to Russia’s European part, from Komsomolsk-on-Amur and is currently undergoing trials.

Ask your colleagues and test engineers their opinion of this machine; experts also call it T-50. I think that judging by many parameters – the manoeuvre capability, other indicators – it will outperform its main rival, the American F-34. I could be wrong but I think it’s the F-34 or F-35. Judging by many parameters indeed. However, some issues still need work. They include the propulsion system and weapons, so that the engine enables us to accomplish the tasks we set for this machine, and to ensure that its weapons are powerful and precise. Do we have such opportunities? Yes, we do.

Serial production of the T-50 fifth-generation fighter jet should begin soon and it should go into the field in 2016.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Thank you, Lipetsk.

Mr President, we also have a famous pilot in the studio. I can see Magomed Tolboyev, a fighter pilot.

OLGA USHAKOVA: He’s a Hero of Russia.

MAGOMED TOLBOYEV: Good afternoon, Mr President.

As president of the International Aviation and Space Salon MAKS, which you open every year, I would like to say that it is a great honour for us and I hope you will also take part this year. Before I ask my question, I want to brief you on several issues.

First. The International Aviation and Space Salon has been held for 20 years, but five years ago it was transferred to Oboroneksport. Another intermediary has been created – TEC, the Transport and Exhibition Complex; therefore, currently the succession is the International Aviation and Space Salon – TEC – Oboroneksport. The land has been transferred to TEC, it is state land, a technical zone with a total area of 242 hectares. We built many pavilions at our own expense. By the way, the Government did not give us a penny, all the funds came from private investors. Did you see the scale of construction? Now we have lost the land, it is now the property of TEC, although the buildings remain in our property and we are responsible for paying taxes. As a result of all this activity, the Aviation and Space Salon is bankrupt.

OLGA USHAKOVA: What is your question for the President?

MAGOMED TOLBOYEV: I wanted to ask my question after I say a few more words, Mr President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Go ahead, please.

OLGA USHAKOVA: Unfortunately, we have very little time, so I would ask you to state your question.

MAGOMED TOLBOYEV: Let's continue the subject raised earlier about training flight crews. You're probably aware that the Government is drafting a project on the Transport Ministry’s initiative about attracting foreign pilots to work in our aviation market. The question is: how can this be? Doesn’t this amount to deliberate undermining of national security?

REMARK: It applies to civil aviation.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The project concerns civil aviation?

RESPONSE: Yes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Civil aviation pilots?

First, let’s talk about what is happening with the Aviation and Space Salon, with MAKS. This is the first time I’ve heard about its financial problems. But if some land, 242 hectares of land, has been transferred into your ownership and you have problems paying for it, you should just submit to me the details of this case. We need to look into this. I can talk to Mr Chemezov about it and to the Government too. And if MAKS needs support, we will find a way to provide it because I am very grateful to you and all your colleagues involved in the organisation of the salon, which is one of the major international venues of this kind and is highly respected around the world. It is a venue where we can present our aviation and space achievements. We will certainly provide you with every support. We just need to understand what kind of support you need.

Now, regarding the pilot training. Yes, indeed, such a decision is being drafted by the Government of the Russian Federation. Why is that? It is due to the fact that our fleet of civil aircraft is growing. I regret to say that so does the share of foreign technology. Why do I regret it? Because Russian manufacturers have so far been unable to produce the right quality aviation technology and in the right amount, especially, as I am sure you know, when it comes to wide-bodied aircraft.

We now have plans to develop a medium-range M-21aircraft; in addition, you know about the Superjet 100, and so on. But we do not make wide-bodied aircraft yet, so we have to buy it. That is always very dangerous from the economic point of view because as soon as you start buying something, it means you close down your own production or create problems for sales in this market. But we have to do it. And unfortunately, the shortage of pilots is growing. We are increasing the number of trained pilots. They are trained in six schools but that is not enough.

Some eighteen months ago, we reached the level of 600 graduates a year. Last year, it was almost 800, if I’m not mistaken. This year 940 new pilots will graduate. But we need 1,200 pilots a year!

Almost all market economies allow the access of foreign pilots to the labour market, except for the Russian Federation, where it is forbidden by the Air Code. Keeping in mind, first, the deficit and, second, the large share of foreign aircraft, and that we have to attract pilots who know how to fly these aircraft and use the technology, the Government has decided to introduce a quota of 200 pilots, and I want to emphasise this – 200 pilots a year for five years, but only crewmembers and not pilots in command of the aircraft.

REMARK: The quota is only for pilots in command.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, it is for crewmembers.

But they could also be commanders. Crewmembers could also be pilots in command. Therefore, it is still being discussed, but we must act in line with the industry’s interests, but also bearing in mind the interests of the people who work in this industry, especially pilots. There must be a balance, between the quality of service and security, that is, the use of people who know how to effectively use the foreign technology. I hope that the balance will be found.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you, Mr President. Now let's go over to our call centre.

Tatyana, which region is the most active?

TATYANA REMEZOVA: The Central Federal District is the most active, and every tenth caller is from Moscow. But now I want to give the floor to the Far East, there is a question that we found very interesting, so we called back its author. Hopefully, the connection will not fail us now.

Komsomolsk-on-Amur is on the line. Can you hear us?

PAVEL ULANOV: Yes, I can hear you very well. Thank you.

TATYANA REMEZOVA: Please your question.

PAVEL ULANOV: Good afternoon, Mr President!

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Hello!

PAVEL ULANOV: My name is Pavel Ulanov and I have a question.

Why does petrol 92 cost 34 rubles per litre in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and diesel fuel is even more expensive at 36 rubles? What is the reason for such a big difference in price, and in general, how is the price made up, considering that in Venezuela, which is also an oil-producing country, a 40-litre tank of petrol costs $2?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Ulanov, the issues of price setting, the economic justification of these prices and social justice are always on our agenda. In general you’re right, and we must monitor this.

As far as I know, the average price of 95 octane petrol in European Russia is approximately 31.40 rubles per litre, and diesel fuel – I may be wrong, but I think it’s about 32 rubles per litre.

The prices in the Far East have traditionally been a little higher. Here in the European part the price is 31.5 rubles, and you have 34. The difference is 2.5 rubles. It is also money, of course. The same goes for diesel fuel. This is due to several reasons, but primarily it is due to the fact that one of our companies, Rosneft, has a monopoly of the market. It supplies petroleum products to the Far East. The company explains the price difference by the remoteness, long distances, the complexity and cost of delivery to the consumer, and so on. We must always keep on top of this issue. I have raised it with the company’s management more than once, as well as the Federal Antimonopoly Service. I will raise it again, so that they kept these issues under control.

As for the fact that in some oil and gas-producing states hydrocarbon resources are sold very cheaply or at bargain prices, we can certainly discuss this.

By the way, I draw your attention to the fact that petrol prices in the United States are a little higher than ours. However, incomes are also higher there, so on the whole petrol is cheaper for the consumer if we take its price against the consumer basket. But the United States has a very low tax on petroleum products. The state receives tax revenues in other areas, for example they have a very high vehicle tax and other contributions.

If we look at European countries, petrol in Germany is twice as more expensive as ours, and in general prices are comparable. As for oil and gas producing countries, then yes, in some of these countries, petrol, petroleum products and gas are sold at extremely low prices. Unfortunately, this usually leads to major problems in the oil and gas industries. They do not have enough resources for development, for exploration and launching of production at new fields. Therefore, these countries are often forced to raise prices sharply, and I want to stress this, the prices for gas, oil and petroleum products.

I do not think we should follow this non-market policy. We must follow a different way by introducing price controls and proper pricing, and here you are absolutely right.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, I have just had a look at the Direct Line website, and there is a question that continues on the subject broached by the Far East just now. This person wrote, and he refers to the Far East Minister Viktor Ishayev, that we sell electricity to the Chinese at 1.5 rubles per kilowatt, while our own consumers in the Far East pay three or four rubles. Why is that?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Ishayev is probably getting ready for the gubernatorial election in one of the Far Eastern regions. He used to be a governor and a successful one, but I would advise him to check his facts more thoroughly. How much did you say?

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: One and a half rubles to the Chinese and twice as much to the Russian consumers.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, the consumers you are talking about are the so-called end-users. That is, the generating company first sells electricity in bulk, and then wholesale companies incur various expenses and sell electricity to consumers at their own prices. The price increases a little at each stage.

As for the prices for China, I'm not sure of the exact figures, I must check them more closely. But this is a wholesale price, and we don’t know how much these Chinese companies charge their customers. I doubt their prices are lower than in the Russian Federation.

MARIA SITTEL: Let us stay on the subject of cars for a few minutes longer. Dmitry, pass the microphone to Vyacheslav Lysakov, please.

DMITRY SHCHUGOREV: All right, but I have one request. We have been on the air for almost three hours, so let’s keep it short.

VYACHESLAV LYSAKOV: Thank you.

Mr President, we...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have a feeling this is going to be about blood alcohol content, right?

VYACHESLAV LYSAKOV: That’s right.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I knew it. As soon as you took the microphone...

VYACHESLAV LYSAKOV: This issue concerns millions of motorists. There are a lot of us here. The vast majority of us are normal, reasonable, law-abiding people. The State Duma is planning to toughen the punishment for driving under the influence, and plans to introduce criminal liability. Many people are concerned how fairly these punishments will be applied.

My colleagues in the Russian Popular Front are all in for justice, like you. Therefore, we have prepared a draft law, invited experts from the Mendeleyev Metrology Institute in St Petersburg...

DMITRY SCHUGOREV: What's your question?

VYACHESLAV LYSAKOV: I'm talking about information that is currently available. A draft law has been prepared that introduces the prohibition law in the legislative field – that is, drivers must not drink a single drop; the steering wheel and alcohol are incompatible. But the law stipulates a margin of error. The mere act of drinking alcohol will be punished, but with the possible margin of error. That is, the figure displayed by the device cannot be lower than the margin of error.

DMITRY SCHUGOREV: Thank you. As I understand, this was just a news announcement and not a question.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What is your question? Do you have a question?

VYACHESLAV LYSAKOV: Mr President, not a question but a request that you give your support to this scientific approach, because this issue concerns millions of people.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The request is to change the rules and introduce the blood alcohol content measurement?

VYACHESLAV LYSAKOV: You could say that, but this draft law has been submitted to the State Duma and is already signed by many deputies from United Russia and other parliamentary parties.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The current rule is zero blood alcohol content, isn’t it?

VYACHESLAV LYSAKOV: Look, if a person is killed, his blood is analysed and he is pronounced intoxicated if his blood alcohol content is over 0.5. Below that he is sober. And in relation to the living, to a normal driver, any showing above zero is considered intoxication. This approach is not scientific.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I see. Before we move on to this subject, I want to finish my answer to the previous question. This is very important. The cost of electricity in the Far East and the price in China. I hope I have already explained the difference. However, this does not mean that the electricity prices in the Far East are optimal. I think they are still too high for the Russian Far East.

A possible solution would be for them to build up their own energy capacities. It is essential to build new power plants, new refineries and so on. That is part of the programme for development of the Far East.

Now let’s move on to blood alcohol content. You have told me about it before, I think it was in Rostov-on-Don. I understand and I want to emphasise once again my own position. I am in complete agreement with you: you cannot drink and drive.

We must make sure that no one gets behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol.

There are probably some people who will not agree with this, but I am sure that the vast majority of people will because a driver under the influence of alcohol cannot control his reflexes and his reaction. And if we make it legal to drink one or two glasses of alcohol, you know, glasses come in different sizes. Therefore, you must not drink and drive.

You're right, after our meeting in Rostov-on-Don, I thought about this issue and read about it. It is true that the blood alcohol measuring devices have a margin of error and manufacturers state this margin of error in product materials.

So let's proceed as follows: let’s ask Rosstandart to conduct a study of this technology. It is one thing they write in their equipment documentation, and quite another what happens in practice. Rosstandart should research this and depending on their conclusion we will make a decision about the legal limit of blood alcohol content.

VYACHESLAV LYSAKOV: The Metrology Institute is a division of Rosstandart, and we already have their conclusion. They say that not only the equipment’s margin of error must be considered but also other factors such as air temperature, humidity and atmospheric composition. None of this is considered now. We have such a conclusion already.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The Government and I should have it as well.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you, one more question from the studio. Maria!

MARIA MORGUN: Mr President, I would suggest that we give the floor to a person who did not choose to become your authorised representative during the election campaign, he refused, someone who has been heading the famous Echo of Moscow radio station for 15 years now, Alexei Venediktov.

Mr Venediktov, please make it short.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: He was offered to become my authorised representative?

MARIA MORGUN: That’s what they say. You can ask him.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Did I offer you to become my authorised representative?

ALEXEI VENEDIKTOV: Mr President, I see that your authorised representatives are somewhat bloodthirsty: one calls for incarcerating Serdyukov, the other wants to lock up Chubais. It is a good thing that I walked away from such company.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ok.

ALEXEI VENEDIKTOV: To be honest, I think that relations between a President and a journalist do not need to be formalised as other relations between humans do.

My question is as follows. Three years ago during a similar Direct Line, you answered a question about your attitude to Stalin. You said that this was an important question, that this was a tricky question, and answered it very carefully. But in your third term as President some of my colleagues and I see certain Stalinist elements. I would like you to comment on them.  

Political trials are taking place in Russia – those of Pussy Riot, Alexei Navalny, the case of May 6 [2012], and there are a huge number of people suspected of being foreign agents, I am talking about the law on NGOs. The Duma passes and you sign a law that severely restricts the freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet.

Please tell me, do you really think that using these Stalinist control methods Russia can become a progressive world power in the 21st century?

Thank you very much.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You and I have repeatedly discussed all these issues. I do not see any elements of Stalinism here. Stalinism is associated with a personality cult and mass violations of the law, with repression and camps. There is nothing like this in Russia and, I hope, never will be again. Society is different now and simply would never allow it. But this does not mean that we should not have order and discipline. It means that all citizens of the Russian Federation, regardless of their official position must be equal before the law. And these girls from Pussy Riot, these youngsters who desecrate the graves of our soldiers must all be equal before the law and responsible for their actions. Nobody puts anybody in jail for political reasons or because of their political views. People are punished for their actions in court when they violate the law. Everyone must abide by this.

I have already spoken more than once about mass gatherings. Can they be held? Yes, they can, and they should. But they must be legal and not interfere with people’s everyday life. After all, today’s media, and your radio too, can cover any event and transmit the position of opposition members to millions of our citizens. Why then go asking for trouble and pick fights with representatives of law enforcement agencies? Why is this done? Only to draw attention to oneself, but in an improper manner. And everyone who breaks the law must take the consequences.

As for NGOs, I have already spoken many times on this account. We welcome the work of NGOs. Moreover, we even welcome our oppositional colleagues. Why? I am personally very interested in this, because both here in Moscow and in the regions there are many instances of shameless treatment of our people, many violations of the law by bureaucrats and authorities, and the authorities themselves either respond poorly or do not respond at all. And so naturally for me, as the guarantor of our Constitution, as a person who was elected by an overwhelming majority of our citizens, it is essential to know what is happening at the local level and be able to respond to it in a timely manner.

But if these activities are not aimed at improving society, but only at boosting one’s own PR to the detriment of society, then that is a bad thing. If an activity that purports to be a part of domestic political procedures is financed from abroad, it’s not necessarily bad, but we have to know about it. Let them tell us about it – what is wrong with this? After all, these activities are not prohibited. Who is prohibiting organisations engaged in domestic political affairs that receive money from abroad? No one, and the law does not. But let them tell us where their financing comes from, how much they receive, what they spend it on and where. What is wrong with that?

In the US such a law has been in operation since 1938, and not simply because it was adopted during the fight against the Nazi threat. Today such a threat no longer exists yet the law continues to apply, and is applied to our organisations, among others, who are trying to conduct some kind of work in the United States. We had such examples just last month. Why can’t we do the same thing? What is undemocratic here?

For example, you talked about restricting freedom of speech on the Internet. Listen, Alexei, people in this studio, those currently watching us on TV: what restrictions to freedom of speech are there on the Internet? In reality the Internet is a space of ​​freedom, and nothing can be restricted or banned there.

But society can and should bar itself from certain things. From paedophilia, child pornography, the distribution of drugs, and teaching suicide methods. But after we enumerated these three or four items to which we have paid attention and included in the law, what happens, is everything else banned? No. How is the law constructed? If there are items related to child pornography, paedophilia or suicide methods, for example, the provider should notice that itself and block the offending site. Such things should be brought to its notice, and the provider should block them. Since we passed the law nothing has occurred to restrict activity on the Internet. Such laws have long been adopted in all developed countries. Adopted long ago!

Let me also say that I am convinced that the opponents of such restrictions are not acting to defend Internet freedom, but acting primarily for commercial reasons related to making money from advertising. The volume of advertising on the Internet has caught up with that on major federal TV channels. There is a struggle going on there, and it’s about money too. Money is a good thing and we must fight for it, but society must and should protect itself from things like paedophilia, child pornography and teaching suicide methods. We have to do this for our country’s future. (Applause.)

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Here’s a short question, Mr President. Alexei Venediktov mentioned the court case against Alexei Navalny just now, and I found this question on the internet: “Alexei Navalny is getting dragged through the courts. Does this mean the authorities fear him?”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, there are people out there fighting corruption, we all should fight corruption. We have this woman here from Omsk taking part in the discussion today, and she’s fighting corruption in her own way. Different people are taking their stand in their own way. But if you fight corruption, you have to be squeaky clean yourself, otherwise it can all turn into just self-promotion and political advertising. Everyone has to be equal before the law – this is the point I want to stress. No one should be under any illusion that just because they spend their time shouting “stop thief!” they can get away with theft themselves. But at the same time, this does not mean that if someone’s views differ from the authorities’ views, we should start looking for pretexts under which to put people on trial or send them to prison.

I am confident that the court proceedings on this and other matters will be as objective as possible, and I have made clear to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the other law enforcement agencies that we need maximum objectivity.

MARIA SITTEL: Mr President, let me continue with three comments from the internet. “You are the president of pensioners and workers, but the country’s thinking youth are out [at the opposition demonstrations] on Sakharov Prospekt and Bolotnaya Square. Do you agree?” “Why are you so negative about the opposition? Are you afraid of them?” And here’s one more on this subject: “Are you ready now to talk with the opposition and find some kind of common moral ground with them?”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I’m not simply ready to talk with the opposition; I talk with them already, all the time.

As for what has come to be called the ‘non-systemic’ opposition, we offer them dialogue too. Some members of the opposition simply reject all offers of dialogue. It seems to me in any case that this concept of ‘non-systemic’ opposition is gradually losing its relevance. People have the right now to establish political parties with only the minimum of bureaucratic formalities involved. You need 500 people minimum, I think, to do this now, and so if you want, you can establish a fully legal political party and fight for the voters’ confidence. It’s one thing to cry disaster after all, and quite another thing to offer the voters a positive agenda. You can do this only through the proper legal procedures, using the possibilities the law gives us. This is all perfectly possible. Please, go ahead, take action, join the fight, enter the parliament, and prove that you’re right. It’s when talk turns to the actual specifics, the concrete steps, that the problems immediately start coming.

Today’s discussion started with a catalogue of how bad everything is here, a list of all the woes. Yes, there are a lot of problems, and what should we do about them? Some say that we shouldn’t try to raise wages too fast. Fine, but then this is something you have to explain to the public. Or they say that we are to raise the retirement age. Again, you must explain this to the public. Yes, maintaining a balanced pension system is a difficult task and a very complex economic and social problem. But make proposals then on what you want to see done. It’s easy to sit wagging your tongue, but what do you propose actually doing?

We are not just ready for discussion but want it, seek it, only we want it to be civilised and professional, open and clear. A lot of things would fall into place and become clearer then. Moreover, I think the authorities have an interest in engaging in discussion. Maybe this would help make some of the things the opposition leaders talk about clearer to the public in general. Maybe some of these things really are necessary and this kind of discussion could give the authorities the nudge they need to start taking unpopular but essential measures in the economy. This is all useful, but it has to take a healthy and civilised form.

I therefore hope that the dialogue will continue.

MARIA SITTEL: To what extent would you characterise yourself as the president of this or that generation? Are you the pensioners’ and workers president?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: When it comes to being the pensioners’ and workers president, well, I’m from a working class family myself and I have immense respect for workers. They are the main ones holding up the whole country on their shoulders.

As for pensioners, you saw the veterans taking part in the discussion just before, and my parents too, they lived through the siege of Leningrad, my father fought in the Great Patriotic War, was a war invalid, and so I feel in my marrow just what sort of people these are. What’s wrong with being their president? I would just like to thank them for all the support they give me.

If we’re looking at today’s workers though, being a worker today is certainly not just about using your muscles. Workers’ jobs today are becoming more and more skilled and demand ever more intellectual input. Some of the public discussions today show that members of the modern working class, the working class’ elite, are in every measure equal to other social groups. When you look at it, after all, who are scientists, doctors, teachers – they’re all workers, all people just hard at work in their jobs, and I rely on their support too.

MARIA SITTEL: Do you feel you have young voters’ support?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, young people are very active, they’re just starting out in life, and I’m sure that our young people are able to see for themselves what we have achieved, what we are doing now, and what we can do in the future. Of course a lot will depend on the attitude they take.

COMMENT: Mr President, you are quite simply the clever people’s president.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much!

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, the news agencies are reporting that the Primorye Territory governor’s press secretary has already announced that a children’s playground will be built in the yard of the large family’s home out there, and given all the details of the planned construction.

COMMENT: Let’s meet more often!

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Excellent! Incidentally, in Primorye Territory we have a very interesting person, well prepared for the job I hope, who we appointed to his current post from his previous job as rector of the Far East Federal University. Before that, he’d worked practically his whole life in universities. I hope that this intellectual component will help him in his work. The region is very rich, very interesting, but at the same time also very difficult.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Let’s give the floor again to our guests here in the studio.

Olga Ushakova, go ahead.

OLGA USHAKOVA: Thank you. We have here today writer and Chairman of the Izborsk Club Alexander Prokhanov. Mr Prokhanov, you have the floor, but please keep your question brief.

ALEXANDER PROKHANOV: Mr President, the country is trying to develop, trying to make the big leap forward that you have spoken about. But this kind of big leap forward is possible only when you get all of society united around a common cause. Instead though, an unfair system and inequality – financial, social, status inequality – are dividing society and driving people apart. Is it not time to introduce a luxury tax? This could be the first step in eliminating the terrible and divisive unfairness in society. We must tax these palaces of gold and the diamonds in which oligarchs’ wives and lovers drape themselves from head to foot. Development and justice are synonyms after all.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: How do you tell the oligarchs’ wives from their lovers, by their fragrance?

REPLY: By their age.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Oh, by their age.

You probably know my own view on this matter as I’ve stated it many times, including in my Address [to the Federal Assembly]. I am in favour of a luxury tax. The issue of social justice and the huge income gap is a very serious one, not just for Russia. In some countries with developed economies, the USA too, this is becoming an ever more serious issue. Europe in this respect deserves credit for having made more effort to give a social dimension to its economy, and so the divides are not as great there. I think therefore that we would do well to study Europe’s best practice and traditions in this area and see what we can try out here at home.

Coming back to the luxury tax, as I said, I personally support its introduction. There are proposals regarding cars for example, specifically, a proposal to double the basic tax rate for luxury cars worth more than 5 million rubles [$160,000], and triple the basic rate for cars worth more than 10 million rubles. There are not so many people with cars of this kind, and I think the tax would be even not so much an economic measure as simply have a moral connotation.

As for real estate, I believe there should be an additional tax here too. True, this idea has run up against problems in the Government. I’ve spoken with the Cabinet members many times on this issue, but they still have not come up with the proper required mechanism for applying such a tax to real estate. The problem here is that we still do not have an official land valuation system in place. We need to get this work completed as soon as possible so as to be able to tax big and expensive real estate. You are right on this count and I fully agree with you.

MARIA SITTEL: We are now ready to cross over to St Petersburg, Russia’s cultural capital, where the Mariinsky Theatre is about to show off its new stage in all its glory in a few days. Dmitry Vitov and St Petersburg, over to you.

DMITRY VITOV: Good afternoon, Moscow. Good afternoon, Mr President. Good afternoon, colleagues. We chose the Mariinsky Theatre’s new building as our venue for the linkup from St Petersburg for a reason. People have been talking about expanding the theatre ever since the mid-nineteenth century. Back then the performers were already feeling the shortage of rehearsal space. There was nowhere to store unique music score archives, and original costumes, many of them real works of art, real museum exhibits. Most important of all, there was not enough room for the audiences. Now the Mariinsky Theatre is finally getting ready to move into its new building. Before this hall actually opens to the public, we invited members of the culture and arts community here to discuss the problems in this sector. Let me move things straight along now and give the floor to Boris Eifman, the famous choreographer, director of the Ballet Theatre, and a well-known teacher.

BORIS EIFMAN: Mr President, I want to announce a piece of good news. The Dance Academy will begin functioning in St Petersburg on September 1, 2013. This is a unique school that will train new generation universal dancers. The Dance Academy has an ambitious social programme too. We will be teaching orphaned children and children from underprivileged families, giving them the chance to get an education and live a happy creative life.

Let me tell you now about our theatre’s biggest problems.

You have given your backing to the Dance Palace project, and I am sincerely confident that by 2016, St Petersburg will gain a unique new world-class ballet centre in which both professionals and also amateurs, for whom dance is a part of their lives, will be able to realise their potential.

But our theatre is in a serious situation today because we quite simply have nowhere to stage our shows. Commercial organisations squeeze us out of the federal theatres, whose stages we rent, and the result is that Petersburg residents and visitors to the city end up missing out on a chance to see our country’s modern ballet.

Mr President, I ask you to help the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre return to our city.

Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Eifman, we have discussed this issue in the past, several times at least, but before I say a few words on the problem itself, let me thank you for your creative work and helping Russia not just to continue its classical ballet traditions but to develop new forms too. You deserve a lot of credit for what has been accomplished here and we are very grateful to you.

Regarding the theatre itself, I can guess at what has prompted your question and your concerns. This is related to the fact that the site where VTB Bank had planned to carry out a developer project involving elite housing construction is now to be used instead for the Higher Arbitration Court and the Supreme Court’s new buildings.

I think that this [the courts’ move to St Petersburg] is a very good thing for the city, because we call it the northern capital, but with the Constitutional Court having moved there it really does take on some of the functions of capital and really does become our northern capital.

I can guess though, that you are worried that the piece of land on the site that was to be used for building your theatre might disappear from the overall project. This won’t be the case. I met recently with the St Petersburg Governor and our colleagues from the Government and the banks, and we reached a final decision. The city’s share and the federal share in the project have not been completely finalised yet, but the general agreement has been reached and your theatre will be built.

MARIA SITTEL: We have a culture-related question from Moscow now. Ms Antonova, director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, is here. You have the floor.

DIRECTOR OF THE PUSHKIN STATE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS IRINA ANTONOVA: Mr President, my question also concerns St Petersburg. The matter is that 65 years ago, in 1948, Moscow’s world-renowned museum of modern Western art was closed down. This museum was founded by two absolutely phenomenal Moscow collectors, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov. They were the first in Europe to appreciate and believe in the new directions that were emerging in art at that time. They put together a collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works that it would be no exaggeration to call the best of its kind by quality at least, if not by quantity, in this area of art.

The museum was closed down on Stalin’s orders. Ideological arguments were the reason given. The museum was accused of formalism and of collecting art that was anti-people in nature. Those were the same kinds of accusations used back in the late 1940s against the work of Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian, Anna Akhmatova’s poetry, Zoshchenko’s writing and so on. The museum in question was founded in 1923 and at that time was the world’s first museum of modern art. New York’s famous Museum of Modern Art opened five years’ later, in 1928. In other words, our collectors in their genius guessed and understood the directions developments were taking.

VLADIMIR PUTIN:  Are you talking about the Guggenheim Museum in New York?

IRINA ANTONOVA: No, the Museum of Modern Art, it gets called MoMA for short.

The collection that we had from that museum was simply amazing, not to mention very extensive. There were a lot of works by Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, more than 50 works by Matisse, and nearly 50 works by Picasso. When all of this was under one roof it was obviously the best museum in the world in this area of art.

One of the collectors, Sergei Shchukin, wrote about how he followed [art collector Pavel] Tretyakov’s example when putting together his collection of new Western art, and he planned to donate it all to Moscow.

Mr President, modern Russia has done a lot to redress the injustices of the past against its citizens, even if there still is perhaps more work to do here. Modern Russia has rehabilitated the names of great cultural figures and has also rebuilt Christ the Saviour Cathedral. We cannot let churches be destroyed.

I want to now ask if you would be willing to consider the issue of this collection. I realise that the matter is complicated because it would involve getting part of the collection returned to Moscow. The works were all transferred initially to our museum, but then part of the collection was given to the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Would you be willing to examine the possibility of returning that part of the collection and rebuilding this museum that would become a real cultural jewel for Moscow?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Fortunately, we are not talking about returning works from abroad or handing works over to other countries. The issues here are all domestic. As far as I know, these works are all on display at the Hermitage and are not hidden away from the public. Of course I would support any decision to rebuild the museum, but the decision would have to be the result of consultations between the specialists first and discussions within the museum community itself.

Have we switched off St Petersburg? Mikhail Piotrovsky...

MARIA SITTEL: No, St Petersburg is still on the line.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Piotrovsky is going to say that he “will never give anything away, it will never happen.” Mr Piotrovsky, you are ready to return part of the collection to Moscow and help revive the Museum of Modern Art?

I am not sure but I think these works are exhibited. Matisse, Picasso’s Girl on a Ball, Monet. There are some very interesting and very valuable paintings, like Paris after the Rain. There are a lot of different things, it’s a huge collection, and I think all the artworks are exhibited.

DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE STATE HERMITAGE MUSEUM MIKHAIL PIOTROVSKY: Naturally, they are all exhibited, they were transferred to the Hermitage in exchange for some 200 old masters’ paintings that were removed from the Hermitage and transferred to the Pushkin Museum in the 1920s. But that’s not the point. (Laughter and applause.)

First of all, Mr President, we are surrounded by three miracles created by Mr Gergiev...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I knew it.

MIKHAIL PIOTROVSKY: And he created them with your help. I am very grateful to you for that, because it's absolutely amazing and extraordinary.

First, I would like to talk about a general issue that is important everywhere, but it is particularly important in culture: anger. Rage and anger have permeated our information field. They are everywhere – in the media, on the Internet, everywhere. The right, the left, the sidelines, the marginalised and the liberals – everyone is happy to pour dirt on each other, and that's just fine. But we have a new trend with press statements and interviews turning into denunciations, parliamentary inquiries turning into accusations, when people are deliberately turned against each other and made to cross swords. This is a different type of thing because it washes away the intellectual sensitivity from our relations.

I have a question for the authorities. How do you feel about all this? Do you think it is what real democracy is all about and that’s just great? Or let them come to blows, we’ll see who wins? Or “the dogs bark but the caravan moves on”? And generally, full speed ahead to the caravan? It’s such a simple question, as if it were taken from the National Final School Exam. As for the museum business – I am ashamed that museum business has come up in such a discussion with the President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I want to answer in any case. I’ve been asked to indicate my position and I don’t mind. But this issue must be discussed in detail by the Ministry of Culture, with the involvement of experts and museum professionals.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: We are talking about establishing a new museum, Mr President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Reviving a museum.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: It’s not about returning artworks to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s what Mr Piotrovski said. You see, I don’t know anything about this. It turns out that part of the Hermitage collections was removed to Moscow. We must look at this situation closely and analyse it at the level of experts.

As for the moral side of things, I don’t think there is anything special here. It’s not very good when people start demanding that someone is thrown in jail but I am sure we can resolve everything calmly by discussing it. This is a routine issue, although one that is interesting and deserves to be analysed.

IRINA ANTONOVA: This is a moral issue.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good. All right. We will not forget about it.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, we still have a lot of questions in the studio.

Olga, please.

OLGA USHAKOVA: Thank you, I would like to give the floor to our colleague, Chief Editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta Konstantin Remchukov.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA CHIEF EDITOR KONSTANTIN REMCHUKOV: Mr President, I would like to ask a question on foreign policy. My assessment of the past year is as follows: I think Russia’ relations with the United States and the West in general have deteriorated. There has been a significant reduction in the level of trust between the West and Russia. I think your last visit to Germany and the Netherlands was very revealing because most of the time, at least judging from what we were shown, you talked about same-sex marriages and paedophiles, and it was difficult to see if there is any traditional and substantial component in the Russian-German or Russian-Dutch relations at all.

I am one of the people in Russia who believe that good relations with the West can serve for Russia’s benefit. It entails exchanges in technology, information, healthcare, medicine and pharmaceuticals. In this regard, do you think it would be beneficial to discuss confidence-building measures during your possible meeting with President Obama in September? Because one meeting will not be enough to restore trust; it is a multi-faceted process. This is the first question.

Second, do you agree with my opinion that the state of our relations is at times reminiscent of the Cold War, with this exchange of the Magnitsky List, the anti-Magnitsky List, the accusations of suppressing democracy and political freedom in Russia and counter-accusations that the West finances our opposition?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I want to say that a certain cooling in our relations began with the events in Iraq. That did not happen yesterday, last year or the year before that. It started with the events in Iraq, when our colleagues, especially our American colleagues, called on us to take an active part in those events. At the time we said that we believed this step to be a mistake and we would not participate.

By the way, a number of other countries supported us, including NATO members such as Germany and France. Nevertheless, this gave rise to a certain cooling off despite the fact that our position was open and honest. My counterpart at the time told me on several occasions: “We do not resent your position, we had an honest dialogue.” But still there was some cooling off.

That was followed by the events in Libya and in other parts of the world. I have repeatedly stated my position on this matter. We are seeing this chaos everywhere and we do not believe that our partners’ position is absolutely right. Why should we support what we consider wrong? However, that does not mean that we do not need a set of measures aimed at building up our relations.

You are right, a great deal of time during my last visit was devoted to the rights of sexual minorities and other matters of this kind. But, you see, they have their own standards, I spoke out when I was there and I can repeat here: if the Dutch court allowed an organisation that is engaged in promoting paedophilia, why does it mean that we have to adopt similar standards?

If they want their population to increase by letting in more immigrants, let them do that. We are not trying to tell them how to run their country. Why should we follow their lead? We have a different society. Try to allow an organisation like that here. I said when I was there, just try to allow anything like that in Russia. We have such a diverse country – there is the North Caucasus, the Far East, the North and the central part of the country. It would be impossible to introduce everything they have over there. Impossible. And how can they demand that we introduce their standards? Or, maybe we should demand that they instil our standards in their country? Let's not demand anything from each other. Let's treat each other with respect. Naturally, this does not mean that we shouldn’t look for a rapprochement, for a way to understand each other better.

By the way, the countries I visited are our leading trade and economic partners. Despite the fact that we disagree on some issues, which I have just mentioned and which you referred to, nevertheless our trade with Germany amounts to $74 billion and it is even more with the Netherlands – $82 billion, although German experts believe that part of the $82 billion actually belongs to their companies, because our import and export only passes through the Netherlands. That may be so but it doesn’t matter. In any case, these two countries are our leading partners. These misunderstandings in the humanitarian field have no impact on our cooperation. But I agree with you that we must work on improving our relations. We are ready for this.

I also want to tell you that we have not done anything to provoke this deterioration. Did we enact this Magnitsky List? Why on earth did they need to do this? Can you just explain this to me? No one can explain it, you know! Nobody knows the purpose. There used to be the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which discriminated against the Soviet Union, limiting its trade with the United States. It was introduced decades ago because Soviet Jews were not always able to move to Israel. What is the situation now? Russia is being accepted into the World Trade Organisation with the help of the United States, for which we are grateful to the Obama Administration. The accession process has begun. But the trick is that if they had kept the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, the United States would have begun to lose money following Russia's accession to the WTO. They were forced to abolish it. It was an excellent opportunity to leave the Cold War behind and move on. But no, they had to think up another anti-Russian law, the Magnitsky Act. The investigation of those events has not even been completed. Why was this done? Just to show off who is the toughest here. What for? It is an imperialist approach to foreign policy. Who would be happy about it? We warned them that we would respond in kind. But apparently they didn’t expect a strong answer. I don’t know if our response is good or bad; it may have been somewhat excessive. Our deputies gave vent to certain emotions. It is a mistake to assume parliament in other countries and the Congress in the United States is so independent while ours is completely domesticated. No, that does not reflect the reality of our political life. We have a ruling party which has the majority, but its members have different views, and it takes a lot of effort to convince them to act in one way or another.

But you are right that both sides should treat each other with respect and seek ways to improve mutual understanding.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, we are ready to cross over to another city now, Russia’s Olympic capital.

Anton Vernitsky in Sochi, over to you.

ANTON VERNITSKY: Good afternoon, Moscow.

We are here in Sochi at the Adler Arena, Russia’s most modern speed skating centre, which will host the Olympic Games. There will be 12 events held here at this venue. This unique stadium is located only 400 metres from the sea. You can smell the sea on the other side of the walls, but we’ve got real snow here. We’ve brought together some of our most famous athletes here, including Ilya Averbukh, Irina Lobacheva, and our Paralympic team’s flag bearer Alexei Ashapatov. We’ve interrupted our Paralympic athletes’ training process and they’ve come here to ask you their questions. Also with us here are the wonderful Olympic volunteers, and the builders who built this stadium, which is so unique in many ways. It’s even got a mirror ceiling, as you can see, so as to create a special microclimate inside the building. 

My colleague Viktor Gusev, who is a sports commentator and probably spends more time here than in Moscow, is already looking around the commentators’ area.

The builders here worked not just on this unique facility but at other Olympic sites too. Dmitry Morozov is someone who helped build this stadium and is currently working on the Formula 1 track. Let’s have him put the first question on behalf of all the builders working on the Olympics.

DMITRY MOROZOV: Hello, Mr President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Hello.

DMITRY MOROZOV: I don’t have a question so much as a statement. There’s been a lot of talk in the media and on the internet lately about how the Olympic construction work is behind schedule and isn’t up to standard, and about how much is being stolen, and how nothing’s ready and we’ll end up making a disgrace of ourselves.

But this is not the case, Mr President. You had the chance to see for yourself that a mass of sites have already been completed and the trial events there have all been a success. I can tell you that for all of us, thousands of people who have been away from their homes and families for quite some time now, working on the Olympic construction sites, it’s really hurtful to hear all these accusations.

I’d like to know how you feel about this sort of talk, what’s your opinion?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think this kind of criticism was only to be expected and overall we shouldn’t let it offend us. First of all, the accusations aren’t being levelled at the builders themselves but at the project organisers, and they target financial institutions and financial flows that have nothing to do with the builders.  

But you are right in saying that the work is on schedule and that overall, all of the sites will be completed on time and will go through all of the planned trial competitions. I am absolutely certain that all of the Olympic preparations will be completed on time and will be of the proper quality. 

But as the International Olympic Committee members said to us, we can’t start to drop our guard as we reach this final stage of preparations. On the contrary, we have to be more alert than ever and pull together all of our administrative, financial and organisation efforts to ensure that we are fully ready for the Olympics. I am sure we have the capabilities we need to do this. I am sure that we will succeed.

MARIA SITTEL: But Mr President, isn’t it turning out to be very expensive for Russia to hold these Olympics?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: It’s not a cheap undertaking. The figures have already been quoted, I can repeat them now.

MARIA SITTEL: We’ve heard various figures.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, there have been various figures given because people use different calculation methods and include different things in the cost. Talking about the cost of the Olympics themselves, we’ve got 99 billion rubles from the federal budget and around 144 billion from investment raised from other sources.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Is that counting the ski jumps?

MARIA SITTEL: Which turned out more expensive.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: These figures include the cost of the two media villages, one in the Imereti Valley and the other in the mountains, 14 sports facilities, and 22 auxiliary facilities.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you. Let’s go back to Sochi.

Anton, let’s hear another question from you there.

ANTON VERNITSKY: Yes, of course.

We have some of the volunteers here. They have an important occasion at the moment. They’re going through their own training process and are working at the ice hockey junior world championship. Our junior ice hockey team is playing against the German team in the quarterfinals today. Let me turn to Ilya Averbukh, who I think has a question to ask on behalf of all former sportspeople (though I doubt there’s really such thing as a ‘former’ sportsperson) and future viewers. Please, you have the floor.

ILYA AVERBUKH: Even if there’s not really such a thing as a former sportsperson, nonetheless, as someone who has retired from competition, I want to ask you a question about our country’s image. The Sochi Olympics is a huge event of course, and when you come here to Sochi you can’t help being filled with pride for Russia. Thank you very much for giving us these Olympics. 

Together with the guys here, our Olympic champions, we’ve created an ice project. You’ve already had the chance to see it. It could become a real image-boosting project that can show just what a modern, innovative and beautiful country Russia is, rich in talent and Olympic champions. But it is quite hard to find the backing needed for these kinds of projects that can showcase Russia as a modern country abroad. There isn’t such enthusiasm for these kind of innovative and image-boosting projects. I therefore want to ask you how to find the needed support, who we should talk to, and what are your hopes for these Olympics? 

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let me return your compliment and say what an excellent specialist and organiser you are. You have put together a wonderful team, and that’s not to mention your own past achievements. Of course people like you and your colleagues should get support. 

There is just one point I want to make though, and that is that with really big projects like the Olympics we cannot disperse our efforts, not when it comes to the federal budget funds in any case. We cannot spend extra money on additional projects, even if they are very attractive. We cannot start trying to carry out new projects until we have completed all the spending needed to prepare for the Olympics themselves. We need to concentrate our efforts on this big project first.

What are my hopes from the Games? I hope first of all not even so much for the chance to advertise our country abroad, though this really is very important of course, but what I really want is for the Olympics to spark an upsurge in interest in sports, in mass sports. I hope that millions of people of all ages in Russia, especially young people of course, will take up sport and make it an integral part of their lives. I hope that this will help to improve our people’s health and ultimately have benefits for the demographic situation and so on.

Of course, when I look at all of the sites you referred to just now, I too feel pride in our country, our engineers and our builders. I want to say a huge thanks to them for working to such high standards and in such good time. These are really impressive facilities. It is far from every country that would be able to produce something like this. But Russia can, and Russia is doing this.

Of course we hope too for a successful performance by our athletes. Naturally, you need to put your all into the competition, not just be there to work up a sweat, but be there to win. Sport is sport of course, but I hope that our sportspeople will give their very best, knowing that they have our whole huge country and their millions of fans behind them.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Thank you, Sochi. We have been live on Russia’s two main national TV channels and radio stations Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossiya for over three and a half hours now.

Let’s go back to the television centre, to our colleague Tatyana Remezova.

Tatyana, please, go ahead.

TATYANA REMEZOVA: Thank you, Kirill.

Today we talked a great deal about salaries, particularly the salaries of public employees. But now I would like to discuss a slightly different aspect of this problem.

We have a self-employed entrepreneur on the line from Nizhny Novgorod Region. Hello, you’re on the air! Please ask your question.

QUESTION FROM NIZHNY NOVGOROD REGION: Hello, Mr President! I am speaking to you on behalf of all entrepreneurs. Please, help us. Our taxes have been raised very high.

We are living in a rural area and we simply cannot pay such high taxes; the pension fund contributions have grown enormously. Please help.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Those are not taxes – those are contributions to so-called social funds. These include, first and foremost, pension fund contributions, as our colleague said. Clearly, these decisions were made in order to balance the pension system. But I agree that these contributions have turned out to be very difficult – and not even so much for medium-sized businesses, and certainly not for large ones, as much as for self-employed individuals, especially in rural areas.

You did not introduce yourself, so I don’t know what your name is, but I fully agree with you. Just recently, we were discussing this problem at a meeting in Rostov-on-Don with the Russian Popular Front. And there, too, your colleagues, self-employed business representatives, very modest people working very hard, said that these social fund contributions have become too much of a burden, so there are two ways out: either to work under the table, to hide from these contributions, or to stop working altogether. And both are very bad options, especially the latter. The first is bad, of course, but the second is just terrible, because we need to keep these people. Rather than having them line up at an employment office or receive social allowances and benefits, it’s better to create the conditions for them to be able to work and provide jobs for themselves, their families, and maybe even their acquaintances, friends, or simply people who are looking for the opportunity to work.

We are currently looking into several options for resolving this problem. One option, which I think is the main one, is to return to a system when these contributions to social funds amounted to one full minimum monthly wage for self-employed individuals and entrepreneurs with revenues under 300,000 rubles a year. For those who make more than 300,000, a gradual scale would apply, such as one minimum monthly wage plus one percent of the amount exceeding 300,000. It is not complicated, but this problem is still causing arguments within the Government.

The Government’s social bloc believes that people deducting only one minimum monthly wage from 300,000 will not be able to provide for their pension rights, and this is unjust because all the other contributors to these funds will have to subsidise their pension rights.

The Finance Ministry believes that reducing current contribution levels this way will lead to a shortfall in budget revenue.

Both concerns are justified. But ultimately, it is more important to preserve this sector of our economy and support people like you.

Thus, I will ask my colleagues in the Cabinet to accelerate this decision using the formula I just explained.

MARIA SITTEL: Let’s take another question from the audience. Dmitry, let’s hear from your sector.

DMITRY SHCHUGOREV: I would like to pass the floor to our colleague Mikhail Leontyev.

JOURNALIST MIKHAIL LEONTYEV: Mr President, you said that a ‘shale revolution’ is a threat and a challenge for Russia and the Russian economy, and that we must respond to it adequately. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said there is no such ‘shale revolution’ so there is no need for any kind of response. However, the company is losing markets and capital. So what shall we do, first of all, with Alexei Miller, second, with the ‘shale revolution’ and restructuring of the economy, which even Alexei Kudrin is supporting, although he ‘sucked’ all the money from the economy which could have been used for these types of reforms? (Applause.)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you, Mikhail, for giving Kudrin and Miller a hard time; we have already criticised Chubais. Incidentally, I feel we must always differentiate such things: it’s one thing to talk about, say, Anatoly Chubais and administrative responsibility, talk about his efficiency as a manager, and another to talk about the criminal aspect of the matter, whether or not one exists.

With regard to a company like Gazprom, earlier I brought up Rusnano, but Gazprom is our leading company alongside Rosneft, which certainly became one of the largest global players in oil and gas production. So it’s hard to say whether Gazprom missed the ‘shale-gas revolution’ or not – we do not have an answer yet. Why? Because shale gas production cost is much higher, may times higher, than that of gas extracted in a traditional way.

Moreover, we have enough so-called natural gas bubbles to extract gas the traditional way. For the time being, we have enough. Currently, we cannot even develop everything we have.

Furthermore, extracting shale gas and shale oil, which is also possible, is tied to enormous – I want to stress this – enormous environmental costs. Many people living in regions where shale gas is produced have black slush pouring from their taps instead of water. At the very least, these technologies require serious development.

And finally, this does not mean we have refused entirely to work with shale gas. Even international experts who are studying this problem say that Russia has very serious prospects for shale gas production. We have enormous undeveloped territories and enough minerals to work there in terms of hydrocarbons production.

I do not think we have missed anything, but we should monitor this situation very carefully, and you are absolutely right here.

MARIA SITTEL: Mr President, we have a lot of questions about developments in the post-Soviet area.

There’s the question of a customs union with Ukraine for example, whether or not Ukraine will join the Customs Union.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, that depends on Ukraine, not on us.

Ukrainian experts themselves have spoken in favour of the idea. Experts from the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, one of its institutes actually, I think it’s called the Institute for Economics and Forecasting, have said that Ukraine’s GDP would grow substantially if Ukraine joins the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space. They are not talking about just a small increase in GDP, but about real percentage-point growth. We estimate the increase would be worth around $9-10 billion a year.

Ukraine itself, its people and government, has to decide if they need this or not. The Ukrainian economy has huge, wide-ranging ties with the economies of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and abandoning this cooperation would be an irreplaceable loss for everyone involved. And while Russia would still be able to compensate in some way for these losses, Ukraine would find this very difficult indeed. I am afraid that this could lead to deindustrialisation in some production sectors. Ultimately though, the choice is up to Ukraine. We will respect whatever choice they make. The ball is in our partners’ court.  

MARIA SITTEL: Maria, do you have any more questions?

MARIA MORGUN: Yes, I want to give the floor to a French citizen.

We have with us here Dmitry de Koshko. He’s a fourth-generation émigré, a journalist, and he heads the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots in France.

Mr de Koshko, go ahead, you have the floor.

DMITRY DE KOSHKO: Hello, Mr President.

My question concerns citizenship for Russians living abroad. My now double compatriot Gerard Depardieu was lucky. He got his [Russian] citizenship in practically a single day, but many of our compatriots in many countries around the world, people who speak Russian, love and support Russia, end up having to wait many years before finally getting a reply on their citizenship applications, and sometimes do not even get citizenship in the end. 

You said last December when addressing the Federal Assembly that the procedure would be simplified. We were all very happy to hear that news of course. But what progress has been made since then? You said that people who take Russian citizenship and resettle in Russia must give up their former citizenship, but does this apply too, to people who continue to live in other countries? These are the kinds of questions we often get asked at the coordination councils.

Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, this is currently the rule. As for Mr Depardieu, he was granted citizenship through a special procedure in accordance with our Constitution, on the grounds of his services to Russian culture. He is very well-known here in Russia, not just because he knows how to put on a show, but because he’s an outstanding actor who has made a name for himself all around the world. He recently acted in a soon to be released film, Rasputin, I think it’s called, and plays one of the main parts. This film is directly related to Russia’s own film industry and to Russian culture in general. So, I think the decision was justified. 

Actually, this is not just a one-of-its-kind case. I will not give the details of who has discussed this matter with me. People do not want this news to take on any kind of sensational overtones. As for Mr Depardieu, he’s an impulsive man, and as I said earlier, he expressed this desire to become a Russian citizen without any prior discussions or consultations. This is not some kind of a Kremlin project. What could we do when he announced his wishes publicly to the whole world? Were we to say “no, we’re not going to grant your wish”? And on what grounds? It would have been laughable, absurd, you understand? And so of course we were happy to present him with a passport, and even thanked him for his choice. 

As for our compatriots, I think that they should be able to obtain citizenship under a simplified procedure, as should all people from the post-Soviet area who are healthy, educated, of an age when they can have children, and adapt easily to our cultural environment. Russia needs such people.

Many countries, Canada for example, search all around the world for just such people. The Foreign Ministry there has a quota and a set task to attract these people to Canada. Why should Russia not do the same thing? But this should be in the interests of Russia itself, benefit our people and not unsettle the labour market in any way. There are all these tried and tested schemes, and we can and should use them here too.  

As for the group into which you yourself fall, I think that people like you, people whose forebears, parents, grandparents, ended up abroad and became foreign citizens not through their own free will, should benefit from a special procedure for getting citizenship.

I just recently updated my instruction to the Government and the Federal Migration Service. I hope that these procedures will be drafted and applied.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: I suggest that we now move thousands of miles away from Moscow, to a place where researchers in Akademgorodok are waiting to ask the President their question.

Igor Kozhevin from the Novosibirsk Technopark, Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is on the line.

IGOR KOZHEVIN: Greetings to Moscow from the Novosibirsk Technopark. I am here in one of the technopark buildings where the most comfortable conditions possible have been created for implementing the latest business projects. Everyone who wants to ask the President of Russia a question is here, in one of the park’s facilities, which houses highly modern equipment built using cutting-edge science. Overall, people have a special relationship with science here, and indeed, we have felt this during all of our time in this town. And so, we have invited scientists, graduate and college students, and those who are working directly at the research park to participate in our meeting. I am here with several researchers and I would like to give them the floor. Please introduce yourself.

DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE BORESKOV INSTITUTE OF CATALYSIS OF THE SIBERIAN BRANCH OF THE RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES VALERY BUKHTIYAROV: Hello, Mr President,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Valery Bukhtiyarov, I am an associate member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and deputy director of the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis here in Novosibirsk. So, it is no surprise that my question concerns the never-ending dispute in our society regarding the efficacy of the work in Russia’s scientific sector, first and foremost in the Russian Academy of Sciences.

You know well that there exists a point of view stating that there is no more reason for being proud of the Academy of Sciences, as we did during Soviet times, when the nation was carrying out space and nuclear projects. Without getting into this dispute, without trying to prove that these arguments are unfounded, I would like to note that during the era that can now be recognised as the golden age of academic science, we experienced organised, systemic governmental support for the science. First and foremost, this involved setting or identifying scientific priorities that actually resulted in those large-scale projects. It also involved the creation of systemic infrastructure for implementing large-scale projects. This meant implementing the entire chain, from laboratory research to implementing production technologies.

Unfortunately, it is no longer the same today, so I have a question. Do you think that the government, government institutions should be more engaged in infrastructure support?

I specifically referred to infrastructure support rather than competition. A great deal has already been done in this direction in science to really create the conditions for the implementation of such large-scale projects, for example, deep conversion of resources, which is very relevant today. It is not just a matter of increasing financing and subsidies for scientific research in Russia, although that is also worth discussing, but rather, first and foremost, creating the entire chain, including the most important, missing link: national engineering centres, whose goal would be to scale up scientific developments. Without this link, it is impossible to implement an entire large-scale project.

I would like to note that there are already examples of such institutions. One example is the French Institute of Petroleum, which is responsible for implementing ready-to-operate technologies in oil processing and petro-chemistry in France. Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Bukhtiyarov, this is a very important question and a major one. I recognise the walls that surround you today; I visited your facilities once. We even had a meeting. And incidentally, the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences demonstrates good performance indicators in this respect. The people managing the Siberian branch are results-oriented.

As for comparing the Soviet period and today, we always compare; people have always compared and will continue to compare everything we had before and everything happening now.

You talked about the need to identify priorities. At the same time, you recalled the golden age, as you called it, of Soviet science and its nuclear and missile projects. But I think we can agree that the scientists were not the ones who identified those priorities. The priorities were set as was needed to resolve national security issues. That is precisely why such enormous, truly colossal resources were channelled toward these goals, including intellectual, financial and other special resources. And the problems were resolved – resolved in a brilliant and timely manner.

Today, the situation is different. But to make this comparison objective, let me remind you of other aspects that characterised science in the Soviet Union. Let’s recall genetics, cybernetics and other fields that were ostracised, and the fact that scientists who defended the most cutting-edge ideas and theories were persecuted. There was such period in Soviet science. There was the good and the bad. Fortunately, nothing of this kind exists today in Russian science.

As far as infrastructure is concerned, it is developing – developing successfully. Perhaps things are not going as fast as we would like them to, because unfortunately, in the 1990s, Russian science had to cope with a different kind of problem – it needed to survive. Right now, we are talking more and more about the need to develop infrastructure for scientific research (indeed, we are also doing a fair amount of work along these lines). And recognising the development level of Russian science, as expressed by our participation in nearly all the major international research projects, such as CERN and others, is evidence that we are on the right path. We are present everywhere, physically and intellectually. And you know this better than anybody else.

As you know, we are developing funds, providing fund and grant support. You mentioned this, even though you didn’t seem to want to discuss it, but it’s true and we shouldn’t forget it.

As for applied science, you just spoke about this very subject – particularly a specific project related to deep conversion of raw materials, which is extremely important for our nation, exceedingly important. Thus, I would like to draw your attention to the following. Naturally, state infrastructure support is needed. We need to create engineering centres that will promote these developments. But you should also take on some of the responsibility for promoting the products that you want to offer on the market, the market of intellectual services and intellectual products. We do have it here. We have leading global companies working here, in our nation. Other global companies with which we are in contact – American, European, Asian – all of them are also present in Russia. If you prove to them that your developments are the best and that they can yield profit, they will come running to you themselves, if that’s really the case. But, of course, promoting goods and services on the market is a special kind of work. You are right; I suppose it is difficult to solve this problem without state support.

Our nation is creating research parks – indeed, you are currently inside one of them (looks like you are working); we are creating other facilities designed to solve this problem. I guess so far, it is not enough. We will need to take the example from our European partners, including our northwest neighbours in Finland, where this system is very well developed. We will work hard and give this matter even more attention.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Thank you, Novosibirsk.

As it happens, we have our own innovation cluster here in Moscow – Skolkovo – although lately, the news coming from there has more to do with financial scandals rather than innovations. The latest one concerns Skolkovo lecturer Ilya Ponomarev, a State Duma deputy who delivered ten lectures for $300,000.

Mr President, there are many such scandals. Could you tell us what you think? Do you even believe in the future of this project?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do. After all, how did it all begin? At a certain point, I initiated two projects: one in Moscow and another in St Petersburg. The project in Moscow was Skolkovo and the second was launched in a place not far from central St Petersburg, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. This platform was handed over to St Petersburg State University (the project is patronised by Sergei Ivanov), while Dmitry Medvedev was in charge of Skolkovo project from its very start.

We decided to focus our attention on Skolkovo as far as private investments are concerned. The platform in St Petersburg was given to the university, so the government sponsors it and things are developing real slow there. We hope that it, too, will come to fruition.

Initially, both projects were planned as business schools. Later, three or four years ago, the Moscow project began to transform into an innovation centre. I think this is a good idea; we just need to ensure that other participants in this innovation process, including our recognised science towns like Dubna and others, do not find themselves treated like poor relations, and we cannot create exclusive conditions for just one participant in this project. I think the project itself deserves support, but that does not mean that someone can act outside of current laws, like the Olympics project. It does not mean that laws can be violated; it means that everything will be strictly monitored, including here. And if somebody received money for unclear reasons – I don’t know whether this individual even had a higher education at the moment when he received that money, but even if he did, he did not deliver any lectures, as the law enforcement agencies say, and instead, all his work involved compiling cheap texts from the Internet that are not even worth three pennies – then this needs to be dealt with. Incidentally, I cannot confirm this, we simply need the relevant authorities to provide a legal evaluation of this case: if this is true, then something needs to be done. But what if it’s not true? I don’t know yet. If that’s the case, then great, let him continue with the lectures. Are they worth $650,000? That I do not know.

MARIA SITTEL: While on the subject of Skolkovo, Mr President, I have two text messages: “Why doesn’t the government set specific goals when investing that much money into Skolkovo?” And another: “When will all the Skolkovo money be stolen?” (Applause.)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You surely know that this project does not fall under my direct control, but I assume it will follow the same rules as other similar projects, as I just said. And we will carefully monitor how the money is spent, where it is directed, toward what goals. I am confident that there will not be any theft allowed there.

What was the first part of the question?

MARIA SITTEL: Why doesn’t the government set specific objectives when it invests money?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: As for specific objectives, this question should primarily be addressed to the Education and Science Ministry. As far as I understand, the project is not being managed by setting specific goals to reach certain results. Instead, conditions are created in order for people with various projects to go there, to use the conditions created there to present the results of their work. That is more or less what Mr Bukhtiyarov was saying about the need to develop science infrastructure – this is one of our attempts to create elements of such infrastructure. It’s another question whether this is working or not.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, we still have a lot of questions left and we have barely talked about the situation in healthcare. Many people can’t understand the meaning of changes taking place in that sector. Let me read out one of the messages sent to our Direct Line: “It is not clear why they introduced the compulsory health insurance (CHI) policy if it just allows you to get an appointment slip, while all the treatment, prescriptions, medicine, and surgeries are paid for with your own cash.” And in general people are asking what will be free and what will be covered by the CHI?  

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is an extremely important question and one whose impacts are keenly felt. We originally intended that healthcare reform would be accompanied by introduction of new standards for treatment, which would lead to... Let me make it simple, for people who are not immersed in this topic. Injections used to cost the government around 100 rubles [$3.20], and once we raise the standards, they will be not 100, but around 150 rubles [$4.80]. This is covered by the government through the CHI system. Among other things direct government funding should also result in wage increase for health workers. This is the first aspect of the new system.

The second thing is that hospital stock available in Russia is now comparable with, and in some cases even supersedes, bed capacity in the most developed countries in the world. And as the technology level of medical services increase, the number of patient days must be reduced. Because hospital beds are not social beds where people can simply relax and recuperate, but rather a place where specific type of treatment is provided aimed at achieving positive result, based on modern methods, new materials, and new medical technology. And in general this process is correct. But what happened? We have not developed the basic amount of these medical standards. This is the first main point.

The second general point is that because these standards are not available, what do the local authorities do? Standards have not been developed though they should have been, so local authorities start deciding for themselves what is free and what isn’t. So in general we are seeing quite a disturbing tendency associated with arbitrariness in this area, which has rightly captured citizens’ attention. And the Government must respond to this very quickly. We need to finalize these standards, so that everyone understands precisely and clearly what is compulsory and free, and what medical providers can charge for certain services. But these standards are designed to keep our nation healthy, and eventually they need to be elaborated.

As for the number of beds, what is happening in that respect? People have started cutting their number not where it is needed, but where it is easier. And the number of patient days is not diminishing because of more high-tech services, but simply by the numbers. In some remote settlements or villages health workers are simply defenceless, and it is easier to make cuts. Go and try to make cuts in any major hospital – the resulting noise and din, and proximity to the authorities will slow the whole process down very quickly.

And in places where people have nowhere to turn to and must rely on paramedic services, they start making cuts instead of developing this system. I’ve also drawn attention to this, including during preparations for today’s event. One of our goals in reforming the healthcare sector in recent years has been to develop rural medical assistance centres. And yet they began to cut them. I would draw the attention of the Government and the regional authorities to this.  

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: We now have the opportunity to return to the call centre. The calls keep on coming in. Tatyana Remezova, our colleague, please go ahead.

TATYANA REMEZOVA: Yes, thank you very much, Kirill.

The preliminary results: as of 4 pm the total number of calls is approaching 3 million. This is an absolute record and exceeds all previous direct lines. And judging by how much our operators are working, I can predict that within an hour we will already be at the 4 million mark. That is absolutely certain.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think that in an hour we will all need a doctor. Let’s slowly bring this to a close.

TATYANA REMEZOVA: Let’s see how things go.

Mr President, it’s interesting that for some reason the number of calls on price rises has increased dramatically in the past hour; simply a surge of calls on this topic. Let’s now try to take one such call. My colleagues tell me that we have someone on the line from Khabarovsk Territory. Can you hear us? Please ask your question. The President is listening to you.

QUESTION FROM KHABAROVSK TERRITORY: Hello, Mr President,

I have the following question for you: why are gas, water, bread and food all becoming more expensive? When will prices stop rising at these rates?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I'll tell you now what’s happening on average, though to use an expression from the healthcare field we were just discussing, no one is interested in “the average temperature for the hospital”. But nonetheless, price increases reflect primarily such thing as inflation. And in general inflation in Russia is at its historical low. The year before last it was at an all time low: I think it was 6.2 or 6.3 percent. According to forecasts, by the end of this year it should be about 6 or 5.9 percent, as the Economic Development Minister [Andrei Belousov] told me yesterday. At least, that is what we forecast. Now, today, it’s at 7 something percent.

In general, I would repeat that the country has seen only modest price increases. For some items – gas, water, electricity – this is not due to increases in tariffs but, as a rule, increases in standard rates. And we have the same unsatisfactory situation in the housing and utilities sector we talked about at the beginning of our Direct Line. What’s going on? I have already mentioned this, and I want to say it once again. After all, at the beginning of the year we froze the tariffs for the services of so-called natural or infrastructure monopolies: gas, transportation and electricity. But when people receive bills they do not feel this, but rather see the opposite: prices have risen, and risen steeply. This is due to the fact that often regions revise the rates themselves. If a rate used to be X, then now it becomes X plus Y, and this increases the cost of the service itself. And that is unacceptable. I hope that the Government and the regional authorities will react accordingly.

But as for increases in tariffs, they are planned. They are still being planned. And this causes inflation expectations as well. At the meeting in Sochi [with members of the Government] that we just mentioned, at the meeting I talked about, there were proposals to keep the rise in tariffs on natural monopolies  lower than expected. This is a double-edged sword,  bearing in mind these monopolies’ investment plans. However, probably here too we will have to back down. The Government will prepare a decision on this issue.

As for housing, I have already stated my position. We will work in this direction in order to protect people from unreasonable charges.

MARIA SITTEL: Thank you, Tatyana.

Mr President, what is the situation with the pension reform? Let me read out a text message: "The President says one thing about the pension reform, Dmitry Medvedev has some other ideas, and the Government does something entirely different. Tell us please, what is going to happen with the retirement age and term of employment.”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The President and the Prime Minister are saying the same thing. Perhaps you can find different details in what we say but there are no discrepancies. Has the Government prepared the necessary measures? No, not yet. I had issued the instructions to prepare the so-called retirement formula by March 2013 but it is not ready yet. The aim of the pension reform is to ensure a decent standard of pensions for Russian citizens in the short, medium and long term. The pension reform’s objective is to balance the pension system.

As you know, a law has been passed on changing the scale of contributions to pension funds. This law should come into effect from January 1, 2014. I will not go into detail now, I don’t want to bore everyone with this, especially the people watching TV at home, but in order for this law to come into force on January 1, 2014, the Government must prepare proposals to change the procedure for calculating pensions, or the so-called pension formula, because it would be extremely dangerous, if not impossible, to transfer the pension system and retirement funds’ income from public to private ownership or vice versa without a clear understanding of how the pension is calculated. The Government had to do this by March 2013. Unfortunately, we don’t have any definite proposals yet.

MARIA SITTEL: What is the new deadline?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We will continue these discussions. I think that the work should be completed in the near future. If they do not do it, they will have to admit that they had not executed the instructions, and in that case it is unlikely that we will be able to introduce any changes to the current pension system from January 1, 2014.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, not all the questions were sent in through our call centre, or as text messages, or via the programme’s website.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I'm sorry, Kirill, but I want to finish with the previous question. This is a vitally important and highly sensitive issue, and we will not take any action until we are satisfied that every step has been analysed and considered thoroughly and can be implemented for the benefit of Russian citizens.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: I wanted to say that not all the questions we have received came by SMS or through the call centre. Some people addressed you through the media. In particular, Gennady Zyuganov, a viewer from Moscow, asks the following question to which he is waiting to receive your answer: How is Vladimir Putin planning to create 25 million new jobs in the foreseeable future, given the fact that hardly any large new high-tech manufacturing companies have opened in recent years, while science and education have for nearly a decade been run by ministers who have a poor understanding of these fields?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We have had a change of Government and almost 60% of the ministers are new people. They have come from all over the country and are young and energetic. At the beginning of our meeting today there was a proposal to change everything and to send them packing. I have my own position on this matter, which I have already stated. So the statement that these people have been working there for ten years is false, although naturally there must be continuity in such a key body of executive power as the Government. If there were no continuity, we would see some serious negative consequences on running the country.

How will we create 25 million new jobs? This is a difficult task. By the way, it was not my initiative but I actively supported it. This initiative came from the business community, from the OPORA Russia business association, and I gave it my full support. This is an extremely ambitious goal but I want to say again: if we set only easy tasks for ourselves, we will not make any progress in our development.

How will we tackle these challenges? Of course, we cannot create 25 million completely new jobs: that is a huge amount. But we can create 25 million new jobs by converting what we already have into new high-tech jobs through the modernisation of enterprises and production, as well as by creating new ones. This is what Mr Kudrin talked about earlier – we must convert our economy onto an innovative development track. This is a key objective of our economic policy. And I assume that we will create, if not 25 million, then at least 24 and a half million new jobs. We're working in a very competitive environment, and yet entire industries in our country are created from scratch.

Think back to the Soviet times. We had our own pharmaceutical products but there weren’t many of them and we imported a lot of medicines from Eastern Europe: we had drugs from Yugoslavia, Poland...

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: India...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There are still quite a lot of Indian generics on the market. So we had our own products, but not enough of them. Then, in the 1990s, the industry collapsed completely, so that now we are in essence building a whole new branch of the pharmaceutical industry, and it is a cutting edge industry, with the participation of leading global companies and industry leaders. New companies are springing up across the country, in many regions of the Russian Federation.

We have new businesses in the electric power industry, including in the nuclear energy sector. Our objective is to launch almost the same number of power stations as had been built in the entire period of Soviet nuclear power industry. They had put up 28 large power stations, and our target is around 25. Of course, we are building on what was achieved in the Soviet era. But there are new companies in hydropower generation, aircraft building and defence. For example, we have just started the construction of two new factories for the production of our new S-400 air defence systems, for which there is enormous demand around the world. All over the world! We cannot even satisfy that demand.

Therefore, there is every chance that we will create 25 million jobs. We must work hard on implementing this task.

MARIA SITTEL: Friends, I want to draw your attention to the fact that we have been on the air for over four hours. Shall we take it into the home stretch?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s.

MARIA SITTEL: Mr President, we would like to propose a quick question and answer session, which has become a tradition on this programme. We have specially selected some questions: short answers to short questions.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Do you have the questions?

MARIA SITTEL: We do. Have you also selected some questions? Go ahead, you can answer them. We can take turns. Everyone has a folder.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s do that, although we have never done it like that.

Here's a short question. Could you pass him the microphone?

VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE POLAR EXPLORERS ASSOCIATION NIKOLAI KORNILOV: Good afternoon, Mr President,

My name is Nikolai Kornilov and I am Vice-President of the Association of Polar Explorers, St Petersburg.

We want to thank you for your support of our polar explorers and our team is always happy to see you both in the Arctic and the Antarctic.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you.

NIKOLAI KORNILOV: Some time ago you issued instructions to draft an executive order on declaring May 21 the Polar Explorers’ Day. May 21 would be celebrated as Polar Explorers’ Day. This date was selected because the first drifting station North Pole-1 was set up on May 21, 1931. Four of the Papanintsy were there.

And here is our request: we would like to celebrate the Polar Explorers’ Day on May 21. When will you sign this executive order?

Thank you very much.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You can start celebrating. I’ll sign it.

MARIA MORGUN: Dmitry Kokarev, three-times Paralympic swimming champion.

DMITRY KOKAREV: Yes, I am a three-time Paralympic champion, and here I would like to speak on behalf of all Paralympic summer sports. I would like to thank you for all your support and the reception at the Kremlin. If you remember, I asked you to sign a flag.

My question is this. We are currently training for the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but we are badly short of specialised swimming facilities with wheelchair access, that is for disabled athletes. Our team is one of the leaders among Paralympic Summers, and we would like to have our own centre where we could train and improve our performance.

I would like to point out that the documents for such a sports centre have already been signed, they were sent to Moscow, but then there was some problem and the initiative was shelved. There were plans to build a centre in conjunction with the Nizhny Novgorod regional government and the Ministry of Sports of the Russian Federation. Will it ever be built? Because there are such centres in Europe and even in Ukraine. Are we any worse than Ukraine? (Applause.)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, if we respect someone, we have to admit that they are better than us in some ways, and Ukraine can be something better than us too, why not? I love Ukrainian culture and people, I think it's part of our soul. So why is it so surprising if they are ahead of us in some field?

Dima, do you think there have been any changes in the support of Paralympic sport in recent years?

DMITRY KOKAREV: Yes, the situation is changing slowly, but we would like to see such a centre.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: A swimming pool.

DMITRY KOKAREV: Yes, a swimming pool.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I understand.

DMITRY KOKAREV: It could even be for different sports, a facility for all Paralympic athletes. Let give you an example, since we are talking about it. We have sports facility at Lake Krugloye. Everyone knows about it and it’s very good.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Have you trained there?

DMITRY KOKAREV: Yes, we have. But it’s just too small, and healthy athletes can use it too, which cuts our training time. You are an athlete yourself, a martial artist, so I am sure you understand that to get a result you have to train hard.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, I do. Dima, first of all, I want to thank you for your results and to say once again that we have great respect for our Paralympic heroes. That’s exactly who you are, real heroes, you deserve this title. (Applause.)

You have just mentioned the facility at Lake Krugloye. That really is a world-class base. Sochi also has facility where Paralympic athletes can train. There are other projects, some of them have already been implemented, and others are in progress. I'll tell you frankly, I don’t know anything about the agreement between the Sports Ministry and the Nizhny Novgorod Region, but I promise...

DMITRY KOKAREV: This agreement exists. But for some reason...

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I will certainly look into this. I just can’t give you a definite answer now, but I'll try to make sure that the project is implemented. We’ll give it a push.  All right?

I want to wish you good luck. (Applause.)

DMITRY KOKAREV: Can I say a few more words?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Go ahead.

DMITRY KOKAREV: You have mentioned the total cost of the Winter Olympics, and all we need is one and a half billion. Is that a lot?

MARIA SITTEL: It’s not a lot.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: It’s true, Paralympians are good at counting. They also know how to perform well and to win, and they also know how to count. (Applause.)

Let's go back to our questions. Who will start?

MARIA SITTEL: I will.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Where did you get them?

MARIA SITTEL: All the questions come from the website, as phone calls or text messages. We have the callers’ phone numbers, so you can get in touch with them.

Question: Are you considering Sergei Shoigu as your future successor to the presidency?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The people of the Russian Federation will choose my successor.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, another question: In your travels you go to places where everything is good and perfect. Come to any town in Siberia, without warning the officials in advance, and you will see the real Russia. You will be shocked.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I visit places like that all the time, and it’s true, I am sometimes shocked. Most recently, by the way, as you may have seen, when I was in Buryatia, I visited small timber processing companies. Some things really are surprising, to put it mildly. It is very useful to visit such places. I will continue this practice myself and would highly recommend the members of the Government and regional authorities to travel to such places more often.

I have also selected some questions. I think they could be of interest to many people: Do you find your work easier now than it was ten years ago or even earlier?

Do you know why I picked this question? Each period of the country’s development has its own challenges. Ten years ago, we faced a very difficult situation: Russia’s statehood was under threat. But that does not mean that today issues are less complicated or less important. People’s needs and expectations are growing. Our expectations are not based on the situation we had ten years ago but on what has been achieved today. And rightly so. There is a certain logic and social justice in this. So there were certain difficulties back then and there are some today. If we work together, we will achieve a result.

MARIA SITTEL: Question: In Derbent, on Mamedbekova Street, remains of ancient tombs were found during the pipe-laying works. These findings have major historical importance for Russia. It is necessary for the state to get involved before they are looted.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Derbent is one of the oldest cities in the Russian Federation and one of the most ancient cities in the world. We will certainly turn attention to it. Could you make a note for me, please? The Culture Ministry will be sure to get involved.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: A question from Kuzbass, judging from the area code: I have worked as a miner all my life, but the Order of Honour went to performers Maxim Galkin and Anita Tsoi. (Applause).

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Kirill, could you set that message aside for me, please?

What can I say? I have visited mining regions on several occasions, unfortunately following tragedies that occur there. Not only after tragedies, I have also been there on regular working trips. I must say that miners are very special people. You know, people who haven’t visited those regions will never be able to appreciate it. You go down into the shaft always knowing that methane can accumulate somewhere there and blow up at any moment ­– that takes a special character. This is the elite of the working class, and they deserve our respect and careful attention.

But Anita Tsoi and Maxim Galkin are also hard-working people. I am sure they deserve their awards.

As for the workers, one of our colleagues from the Russian Popular Front, a worker himself – this is the time we go back to Rostov-on-Don – proposed just recently that we revive the Hero of Labour order. We have done so, it's been revived, and we will present it on May 1 each year. (Applause).

Let me have this note as well.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, it's your turn.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: "When will there be a federal law on beekeeping that protects bitten citizens?” (Laughter).

Actually, this is a very reasonable question because people who work in various areas of agriculture constantly tell us that the regulatory framework is not effective enough.

The Governor of Krasnodar Territory has sent me a draft law on wine several times – it’s been three times already, I think. There are people who have special concerns about livestock farming, and we heard about one problem in that area today. It was a fair remark connected with Russia’s accession to the WTO. Agricultural producers are very conscious of this sphere. 

Perhaps we should also pay attention to beekeeping, or include it in more general legal regulations, bearing in mind that the problem exists.

MARIA SITTEL: Question: Why does Cyprus get a loan at 4% interest and we pay 20%?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have already talked about this. I believe that commercial banks in Russia got too carried away with their own profit margins and are exaggerating the risks in the Russian economy. We will certainly discuss and analyse this situation in the market further without any administrative pressure. The question we have just heard concerns different sectors. Within a country, loans to individuals are issued by commercial financial organisations, whereas inter-state loans are issued to governments, not to individuals, against state guarantees. Accordingly, there are completely different interest rates. You can even say that it amounts to diversifying our reserves, to a certain extent. Although the Cyprus case shows that it is not always a reliable investment. This is the first point.

Second, there is another consideration, which is that when we issue state bonds, for example, we do that at 1.5-2% interest while we charge 4% for loans, and that is profitable.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, there is an online debate about something you said at the beginning of the programme:  you said that people believe in the Russian judicial system, but according to a survey, only 20% of Russians trust our courts. What do you plan to do to make Russian courts truly independent?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is necessary to improve the judicial system and to increase people’s confidence in it. But there are people who hold a wide variety of views on the Internet, which is a special communication venue. Some people there are highly professional, while others often act and speak under the influence of emotions. There are many complaints about the judicial system, and they are often justified. But you can’t say that it is completely under state control – there are facts that prove this is not the case. I have already cited these figures but I want to repeat them: only 15% of all participants in litigation appeal to a higher court to challenge the decisions taken.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Maybe that’s precisely because they do not trust the system?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Not at all. If a person does not trust the system or if he does not trust the court, which made a ruling in his case, he appeals to a higher court.

In addition, the Russian judicial system is developing. We introduced the system of appellate courts for criminal cases last year, and this year we have introduced appellate courts for civil cases. So, the whole system is developing but we must pay close attention to this process.

In particular, I hope that the relocation of the Supreme Court and the Higher Arbitration Court from Moscow, which is the centre of business interests, even though it is just a geographical change but it will promote the development of the judicial system. Although we realise that it is not difficult to get on a plane and fly to St Petersburg, but it is a relevant change.

“We, the students of 11th grade at the St Petersburg higher school..." - this is my old school, and they invite me to visit. I just wanted to say on the air that I will never forget that I graduated from that school and remain infinitely grateful to the teachers, who gave me so much and supported me at a very important stage in my life. If it is possible, I will visit the school with pleasure.

MARIA SITTEL: Would it be possible to abolish the F marks for physical education?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, this is not an idle inquiry. At some universities students who fail PE cannot get a scholarship and in some cases are even expelled.

My position is that everyone should do sports, and no one should hide behind a health certificate to avoid PE. And the students who do have health restrictions need individual training programmes. There must be special techniques that can help improve physical fitness without causing any harm. In my opinion, it would be enough to have a pass/fail mark. But this is a matter for professionals, although there shouldn’t be any excesses in any field.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: “Why don’t we know our national heroes, unlike the United States, where people applauded Boston police officers when the operation was completed there?”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There has been yet another tragedy there. This time someone shot five people.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Yes, in Illinois, I think.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Another tragedy, although this doesn’t look like a terrorist attack. It’s just a criminal offence.

As for our heroes, I agree with the author of this message.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: It was a phone call.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would ask the media to pay more attention to these people, they deserve it. They often risk their lives to protect the interests of our citizens.

Take that police officer who detained the famous shooter, the perpetrator of that terrible crime in Belgorod...

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: His surname is Sedykh.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: He was wounded. I told the Interior Minister yesterday to present state awards to him and his colleagues.

Here is a specific question: We would be very grateful if you could have an ice hockey rink built in our yard. I just wanted to say that we will build one.

MARIA SITTEL: Are you happy? We get this question a lot. Are you happy?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Me?

MARIA SITTEL: Yes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That is a philosophical question. I am eternally grateful to Russian citizens for their trust in making me the head of the Russian state. (Applause.) This is my life’s work. I do not know if it’s enough to be happy – that is a separate matter.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Question: Do you think people don’t respect Russia because they fear it or because they consider it ignorant and poor?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is a view that is being imposed on the international public opinion. I am sure that it is not true. Some people would like to think so and impose their beliefs on others. I do not think that we are not liked or are considered ignorant. The achievements of Russian culture are recognised throughout the world. You cannot imagine either the European or world culture without Russian culture: without Russian music or our literature. People who don’t know it should feel ashamed.

As for people’s attitudes… I've heard many times in different situations and from different people, and it was especially evident when we were competing for the right to host the Olympic Games, when completely different people, independently of each other, told me, “We will support you because we need a free, independent and self-sufficient Russia.” We will certainly promote these qualities.

MARIA SITTEL: A remark: “I just need to say this: I love Russia, and my grandchildren will praise their beautiful homeland, rather than look for its faults. Way to go, Mr President!”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, that’s good, you see! I'm very pleased. Thank you. (Applause.)

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Your question.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: All right. “I ask the President to provide assistance to the World Cup by making a film about Yashin.” This is a request from Mr Zinovyev.

This is probably a reaction to the film that was just released, Legenda No.17. It is about [Valery] Kharlamov and also about the outstanding coaches that have shaped our team and created such a player as Kharlamov. But, of course, Lev Yashin is also one of our legends, and such a film would be very popular. We'll think about it.

MARIA SITTEL: "Why are only the questions that the authorities are comfortable with chosen for the programme?”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t agree. A lot of tough issues were raised today, and it was not easy to respond to them. I can’t agree with this statement. 

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, we have a lot of personal questions. For example, who is your favourite pop singer?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is like asking what team I support. I don’t think it would be right for me to answer it. I have many favourite singers, some of them are here in this hall, some of them have been my personal friends for many years and I am very happy about it. We have many outstanding talents on the pop stage, as well as in the political arena and in the theatres. Yury Yakovlev, who is loved by millions of our viewers, is 85 years old today, and I want to offer my congratulations. (Applause.)

We also have many brilliant people in the political arena: today is also Vladimir Zhirinovsky's birthday so let's congratulate him, too. (Applause.)

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Your question.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: “I demand that the federal standard for food is reinstated.” We have the federal standards for food.

MARIA SITTEL: “Will cannabis be legalised in Russia?”

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, it won’t. Industrial hemp, which is a derivative of cannabis, can be used in agriculture and to make fabrics, but I am strictly opposed to legalising the drug. In some countries – my trip to the Netherlands was mentioned earlier – soft drugs have been legalised for a long time, and the point of this was to create a legal alternative to hard drugs. Practice shows that this is not effective: it becomes the first step to hard drugs and severe addiction, and we do not need that.

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, here is a question-reproach: How did you, a former KGB officer, allow the ministers in your Government to steal on a grand scale? We feel hurt for our country.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Do you mean they should have been allowed to steal on a small can? There must me no major or minor theft. It is true that I worked for the KGB [State Security Committee] for a considerable number of years, but mostly my work had to do with foreign intelligence. But I must tell you that we do not allow anyone to steal. If we get information that there is reason to suspect a state official, even of the highest rank, in breaking the law, it is instantly forwarded to law enforcement agencies for investigation.

I said, it has been less than a year since May 7, 2012, when I returned to the office of President. But after I read some materials, they were immediately forwarded to the Investigation Committee.

Question: My son is completely unmanageable. As a father, what advice would you give me? This question comes from Nadezhda [Hope in English]. We have her telephone number.

I chose this question especially. I would say that the state bears a significant share of responsibility for the education of young people, but we must not forget about the parents’ responsibility either. It is possible to give advice in every case but you have to know the situation, the family, the child and his living conditions. I really wish Nadezhda and her family to find a solution to their problem. I am sure that this is possible and I wish her every success.

MARIA SITTEL: This will probably be the last question from me: When will everything be all right? And I close my folder with this.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: When will everything be all right??

MARIA SITTEL: Yes. When will everything be all right?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: People who are fond of drink say that you can’t drink all the vodka but that is the goal you must aspire to.

Everything will probably never be all right. But we will aspire to it. (Applause.)

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Mr President, I will ask one more question, which is very optimistic, I think: I want to serve our nation and homeland. Will you help me?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you for choosing this question, or request. I am sure that the vast majority of our citizens share this person’s attitude to our country: they want to serve it, to serve their people. And we must certainly support such ambitions.

The President cannot look at every case and each person has to determine for herself where she can be most useful to her country and what kind of work she should train for. You succeed in the area where you feel successful, where you feel that you can apply your talents and your skills. This is a large part of realising your potential. It is a very good sign that people are talking about it.

Let me have this note please, and I’ll get in touch with its author. 

KIRILL KLEYMENOV: Here it is.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have one last question too: How can one become President? You can establish your own party, you must prove that you want and can serve your country effectively and you must have the courage to move towards you goal. (Applause.)

Thank you!

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