President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Vasilyev, as you know, I regularly meet with leaders of the State Duma party factions; and, of course, it is impossible not to meet with you as the leader of the main political party.
Head of the United Russia Party Faction in the State Duma Vladimir Vasilyev: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I know that United Russia is conducting large-scale work in the parliament and not only there. It is very actively involved in political life, it formulates a multitude of initiatives on high-priority aspects of socioeconomic development, protection of people’s rights, development of the social sector in general, and it certainly takes an absolutely patriotic stance on international issues.
I would like to say that I am grateful to the faction for its position. And, of course, I am happy to see you and to exchange opinions on the current work and on short-term tasks that you are formulating for the party.
Vladimir Vasilyev: Mr President, thank you for finding the time to meet with me despite your busy schedule. This is very pleasant and important.
Indeed, the party faction has accomplished everything that you have just mentioned. As the largest faction, we have to make essential decisions in line with the current situation, rather than the decisions we want to make or populist decisions (as you have said), and we are quite successful here.
I am very grateful to our colleagues; we have a good line-up, the Duma Speaker and leaders of other factions. We maintain good relations, though we can argue at times, but mostly we have respectful relations, and we have jointly and unanimously passed 20 basic framework laws. They deal exactly with the issues that you have noted, and they focus on security, development of the national economy and, most importantly, all this aims to guarantee the interests of the people.
If possible, I would now like to brief you on our current work.
In your 2023 Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, you set forth key guidelines, and we noted the response of our voters and our own. I will not go into details, but I would like to tell you that we are treating these matters seriously. We have therefore placed people in charge of each issue, and we are overseeing everything collectively. In all, we are currently monitoring 32 issues.
In your Address to the Federal Assembly and the State Duma in particular, you set forth a number of issues. We have already passed three draft laws in the third reading, and you have signed them. The first law deals with integration of the new regions into the Russian cultural space. The second law focuses on tourism in specially protected areas. You emphasised this in your Address, and this law is important for expanding tourism and using these territories for their benefit, rather than their detriment. The third law stipulates less stringent penalties for certain crimes, including those linked with tax evasion, for example. If possible, I would like to discuss this issue regarding more lenient penalties a bit later.
We have passed 15 draft laws in the first reading, including on employment of population. This is a highly important issue, and you have also touched upon it. The situation on the national labour market is quite good, but we want it to become more useful and convenient for people. As you have said, we must train personnel, help people find their calling in life, earn good wages, support their families and be successful. On the whole, we can accomplish this objective.
We have passed a draft law on legal protection of entrepreneurs from unjustified and excessive criminal prosecution. We have two approaches here. Sometimes, we opt for a tougher punishment. And then afterwards we feel we have overdone it, that it is no longer possible to tolerate the situation, that a decision needs to be made.
I believe that, in the current situation, when patriotic-minded people chose to stay in the country, when they are sharing hardships, bearing their brunt, and when they are actively defending their Motherland, including their home area, it is necessary to show a respectful attitude, and we understand this. Later, I will cite a rather good example in this field, and I believe that it may prove useful.
You also drew attention to supporting service personnel involved in the special military operation and their families, and you asked us to prioritise this issue. We are working on this. We are moving to provide free legal assistance to veterans, to abolish state duties, to ensure their status as combat veterans (this also concerns Donbass militia men who enlisted in 2014), to reduce the statute of limitations for recognising those missing in action as deceased. Social security measures for families who have lost their breadwinners is very important.
We are cooperating with the Defence Ministry and the Special Military Operation working group, headed by Secretary of the United Russia Party’s General Council Andrei Turchak.
We have granted combat veteran status to personnel involved in the special military operation, including civilian personnel; in fact, they expected and deserved this long ago. We have formalised loan-repayment holiday rights for those involved in the special military operation and their families. We have exempted them from utility bill fines and those linked with housing overhaul fees, and we guarantee that they will keep their civilian jobs. This work is underway.
I would like to specifically mention that our draft laws provide for the protection of our citizens in the new constituent entities. In February, as you instructed, a package of laws was passed that will extend all measures of social support, pension and social insurance, as well as uniform standards in education and public healthcare to the new regions starting March 1, 2023.
All parliament parties have upheld draft laws concerning the protection of special military operation participants and their families, the integration of the new regions, our country’s defence capacity and technological independence, and protection of our traditional values. As I said before, all parliamentary parties supported these 20 draft laws, which is a very telling result.
We are working towards fulfilling the people’s programme. I would like to thank you. You attended the congress and supported the programme. It incorporates about two million proposals from the public.
I mentioned mechanisms of non-punitive control and I think, we are making them work. I would like to explain.
Each section was thoroughly discussed with the Government.
By the way, we have already held 22 “government hours” and 22 ministers regularly report to all the parliamentary parties. The Prime Minister will present his report soon. We had a preliminary meeting. This strategy allows us to easily make beneficial rather than populist decisions because we work together and carry the responsibility to the public together.
Also, I would like to note that, when we started working, our intention was to find mechanisms for more effective problem-solving, and we found them.
First of all, at the Speaker’s initiative, this Duma convocation established an oversight committee, chaired by my colleague Oleg Morozov, an experienced manager. This committee is supposed to be in charge of seemingly simple things such as supervision. And when we met for the first time, at a meeting with the Accounts Chamber, we discovered an interesting reserve, resource, or prospect. Previously, the Accounts Chamber would submit an annual report, a final document that could not be reversed. All we could do was to take punitive action. Now, we have agreed that each quarter, the Accounts Chamber will submit a clear progress report on each site in the programme. These are schools, hospitals, paramedic centres – vital public facilities. People monitor the progress. They know it is their initiative.
So how does it work? We have the Accounts Chamber that can submit quarterly progress reports. We have the Treasury that only shows spending reports. Our deputies verify what happens on the ground by visiting regions and facilities. How is school construction progressing? Is the construction pit there? Are there any difficulties? They meet with contractors. Our voters – local residents waiting for this school or kindergarten – can also participate in these inspections. You cannot think of a better way to monitor these projects. It is good to see that this work brings actual results and not only moral satisfaction.
Not long ago, on March 16, we listened to a report by the Acting Chair of the Accounts Chamber. The good news was that compared to 2021, and with a greater number of inspections and a greater number of violations revealed, the total cost of these violations, Mr President, was half of what it used to be.
Vladimir Putin: Excellent.
Vladimir Vasilyev: This is a resource. These are newly built schools and kindergartens and, importantly, all of that is being done without reprisals.
I would rather not idealise things, as we keep hearing about instances where they put pressure on people, try to sweep shortcomings under the rug, and to talk or to force people into accepting projects with violations that hadn’t been fixed. But we must work and keep developing forms. I believe this form is both correct and effective. We will definitely continue doing this. We discussed this at a meeting with Mikhail Mishustin and Government members. We recently held such a meeting ahead of the Government report, where we raised a number of issues and found the audience to be receptive.
Mr President, I would also like to note that our deputies are constantly working in the districts with families of the participants in the special military operation. Who knows better than family and friends what frontline soldiers may need? Deputies use this information to organise humanitarian convoys. Our party sent 17,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid. We rarely talk about this, but I would like to take this opportunity to simply mention this work that is performed by businesses and our colleagues, and everyone else, for that matter, since ordinary people chip in as best as they can. A good process is underway in society. It is gratifying to watch it. We must use it and make sure our defenders know what the people are doing for them.
I would also like to mention several proposals put forward by our faction, which we shared with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. We agreed that by the end of the first six months of the year we will save something, add something, see things are moving forward in aluminium, for example, or in a number of other areas, and hope to achieve positive results for the first six months of the year, and then we will see.
There are literally several such issues. The Government understands and supports us, but I must inform you about this, because this is what our faction and the party asked me to do.
Today, our new industrialisation needs a breakthrough, it needs technological sovereignty. You have said that the country needs professionals with vocational training and university degrees. For this reason, what we want, just as you have said, is to focus on vocational training…
Vladimir Putin: Yes.
Vladimir Vasilyev: We wanted to support this effort, and to make a request. We have a project to renovate schools. This is a major undertaking. Last year, we carried out repairs at 1,300 schools under this programme. This was a good result. The goal for this year is 1,500 schools. Contracts are being signed, and in some cases repairs are already underway. We launched the process, it is up and running, and deputies are keeping an eye on it.
With your support, we could carry out a similar project for vocational training institutions. Of course, we do understand the challenges we face, since this project would require about five to six billion rubles. However, there are 4,000 vocational school and colleges across the country, and 1,500 of them need repairs. In fact, the way the building looks and feels defines, to some extent, an institution’s prestige for students, the faculty, and laboratories. We would like to ask you to support this undertaking, since we are moving in the same direction.
Vladimir Putin: Fine. I will instruct the Government to look into this matter.
Vladimir Vasilyev: There is one more thing. The Healthcare national project includes an initiative to fight cardiovascular disease. It has been running since 2019. People who need subsidised medications are already receiving them under this project. It amounts to about 10 billion rubles. Our colleague, Denis Protsenko, oversees this undertaking. He persuaded us that we need to add 10.15 billion rubles to this project, and the party, as well as Dmitry Medvedev, would like to ask you to support this initiative. This would be an annual allocation, but according to experts, these medications will prevent up to 32,000 deaths among working-age adults. The amount we need would be an adequate price to pay for achieving this result.
Vladimir Putin: Did you say 32,000?
Vladimir Vasilyev: Up to 32,000 working-age adults. This is what our experts led by Mr Protsenko, who has our confidence and trust, have been telling us.
Vladimir Putin: Make no mistake, we will look into this issue.