In particular, the President heard reports from Russian Railways President Oleg Belozerov and Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov about work to improve the efficiency of Russian Railways’ operations. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov delivered a report on measures to regulate the alcoholic market.
Also, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets spoke about preparations of venues for the National Final School Exam (EGE). Natural Resources and Environment Minister Sergei Donskoy spoke about the upcoming Earth Hour event. During the meeting, the President also focused on the doping scandal and the need to quickly improve anti-doping legislation.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
Today, we will discuss measures to develop the Far East, including improvements to the pricing policy for the electric power. To be honest, I did not discuss this matter with [Prime Minister] Mr Medvedev just before. We were looking at other issues, but we do need to reach a decision on this matter.
It is not acceptable when electricity prices are much higher in one region than in others. This creates problems for the people living in these regions and for doing business, and this is a serious matter. We therefore must find a solution here.
Before we turn to this issue however, there are a number of routine matters to take care of. One of them is the work to make Russian Railways more efficient. Let’s ask Mr Belozerov [President of Russian Railways], who was invited to the meeting today, to tell us about what is happening in this area, and then we will hear from [Transport Minister] Maxim Sokolov.
Please, go ahead.
President of Russian Railways Oleg Belozerov: Mr President,
First of all, let me thank you for supporting railway transport and for taking decisions that help to make Russian Railways’ operations more effective.
To sum up the results for 2015, despite the overall negative trend, our company’s freight turnover increased by 0.3 percent and reached the highest level since 1991. As far as passenger traffic goes, we transported more than 1 billion passengers and some passenger segments posted substantial increases. Passenger traffic was up by more than 22 percent in the high-speed segment, for example. Over the year, we also succeeded in cutting our transportation operations’ costs by nearly 40 billion rubles.
(Mr Belozerov went on to give a detailed breakdown of the company’s financial results for 2015 and set out the forecasts for 2016).
Investment activity is another area for improving our company’s work overall. Mr President, in accordance with your executive order, our company was one of the first to start carrying out independent technical and price audits in 2013, and our big projects have gone through the necessary procedures. We have made a number of organisational decisions to dramatically improve effective control at all stages.
[Deputy Prime Minister] Mr Dvorkovich gave the instruction to establish a committee of the company’s board of directors to oversee priority investment projects. The company has set up a special department in this area. This work has already made it possible for us to cut the cost of the projects to modernise the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian mainline railways by 8.3 billion rubles. Proposals for optimising investment projects have been drafted and the money freed up as a result can by channelled into our investment programme’s other priority areas.
Let me end by saying that Russian Railways is up to all of the tasks that you and the Government have set us, Mr President, and we can guarantee quality railway transport services for industry and the public.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Mr Sokolov, could you say a few words on how the change of Russian Railways top management has gone and on how the situation is developing, as you see it?
Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov: Mr President, colleagues,
Mr Belozerov has already given a lot of information and I will just add that indeed, for the first time in the last few years, Russian Railways doesn’t need any additional subsidies from the federal budget to ensure that its operations are loss-free. I am referring primarily to subsidies for day-to-day operations of course, including for capital overhaul of infrastructure. In the past, these subsidies have come to 20–30 billion rubles a year.
I am not talking here about contributions to charter capital for carrying out large-scale investment projects such as the bypass of Krasnodar, Ukraine and other projects. In this respect, let me note too that this is the first time in Russia’s recent history that we are seeing such big investment in railway infrastructure construction. Overall, despite the infrastructure and financial limitations we face at the moment, Russian Railways is carrying out all of the planned work and is responsible for most of the sites itself and carrying out all of the work to deadline.
(Mr Sokolov went on to speak about the solutions found for problems with commuter train routes, in particular through purchases of new rolling stock).
On the subject of transport machine building, I note that the investment programme provides for the purchase of around 500 Russian-made locomotives, some of which are being purchased with the National Welfare Fund’s support. This decision was included in the 2016 plan for supporting different economic sectors, signed by the Prime Minister. We hope that this plan will be supported and approved.
As far as support for industry goes, I note too that as we remove from operation freight wagons that have come to the end of their service lives, this creates real demand for new wagons, and we see that this is giving a real boost to our industrial sector.
Last year, we updated regulation of freight and passenger transport and introduced penalties for non-productive inactivity of cars. This has made it possible to relieve the burden on infrastructure throughput capacity. We also adopted a number of bylaws that enabled us to introduce a single network-based technological process for rail transport.
Vladimir Putin: We will soon hit the peak season for passenger transport. I draw your attention to this because this season usually brings various issues that need timely resolution. I hope you will make a timely report to the Prime Minister and respond to the upcoming peak demand. This is something that needs to be done.
Maxim Sokolov: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: In January, a presidential executive order was signed and issued, transferring the Federal Service for the Regulation of the Alcohol Market to the Finance Ministry. Mr Siluanov, what has changed over this time, and what are your upcoming proposals?
Finance Minister Anton Siluanov: Thank you, Mr President.
Yes, I would like to say a few words about the situation on the alcohol market. It is a rather complicated situation. Over these last years, we have seen a substantial drop in sales of legal alcohol production and thus a decrease in budget revenue in the form of excise duties on alcohol. We see at the same time that there are various ‘grey’ and illegal schemes for producing and selling alcohol.
In accordance with your decision, the Finance Ministry, together with the law enforcement and security agencies, set up a working group. Well-coordinated work, particularly with the Federal Security Service, Investigative Committee, and Interior Ministry, enabled us to shut down a scheme to evade tax payments to the budget in Kabardino-Balkaria. This illegal scheme cost this one region 24 billion rubles in lost budget revenue.
Now, it has been stopped. A number of businesses that were producing counterfeit alcoholic products have been shut down, and 11 criminal cases have been opened.
The Government has drafted a plan to raise additional budget revenue, and normalising the alcohol market’s operation is an important part of this plan. A number of measures will be taken in this regard, including tougher penalties for selling alcoholic products that do not have legal excise duty stamps or are sold in shops that do not have the appropriate licence.
(Mr Siluanov went on to report on the specific measures to normalise the situation on the alcohol market, in particular, the work of the Unified State Automated Information System (USAIS), which oversees production and sale of ethyl spirit, alcohol and products containing alcohol).
Licensing and regulating retail alcohol sales is the regions’ responsibility, and so we are working with the regions on overseeing programmes to install equipment at retail outlets to monitor sales of all alcohol products within the USAIS system. We are carrying this out together with the regions.
The main thing is to synchronise legal measures and introduction of the USAIS system in order to ensure full control this year over production and sales of alcohol products. This will protect the regional and federal budgets from substantial losses caused by semi-legal and illegal schemes.
Vladimir Putin: Good.
Ms Golodets, students sitting the National Final School Exam early will start their tests on March 21. In 2014, there were a lot of complaints about this system. Last year, the exams went ahead more or less without problems. What is the situation this year?
Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets: Mr President,
Our task is indeed to ensure all conditions needed for a safe and comfortable organisation of the National Final School Exam. Our priority is to ensure that the exam is honest. Last year, as you said, we succeeded in this objective.
There were no cases last year of exam contents being uploaded on the internet, and we detected no violations. This was achieved primarily through the introduction of a compulsory video monitoring system at all exam venues. This year, the online monitoring will cover 83 percent of all exam venues.
We will use special couriers to deliver all exam materials this year. This will provide much greater protection for all exam materials. We are ready to hold the exam. This year, 752,000 students will be taking the exam. This is 20,000 more than last year.
Another important point is that the exam’s structure has changed. There are more than 21,000 students who want to sit the physics exam this year, and also big increases in the number of those wanting to sit biology and chemistry. More than one in four school leavers will sit the physics exam this year. This is an excellent result because it shows that students and parents and the comm