The meeting discussed development prospects for the Far East Federal District.
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Excerpts from transcript of meeting with journalists from the Far East and Siberian federal districts
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, thank you for yet another warm welcome.
Second, I enjoy being in Khabarovsk, because the city is well-suited for holding events, and overall, Khabarovsk Territory is developing quite successfully.
I suppose that, as in any territory or any region, it has its own problems, but the fact is, Khabarovsk is the capital of the Far East Federal District, and this explains a lot. The presence of governors and ministers responsible for important areas (transport, finance and regional development) means one thing: I have gathered you all here to talk about the development of our regions, both now and in the future, and how to perform the duties conferred upon us, because there are many opinions on this topic.
Some will say that everything is great, while others feel that things are quite bad. But the truth, as usual, lies somewhere between these two positions, because there are positive things in the modern system for delimitation of competences and their financing, and there is a sense that not everything is fair; that regions, as well as municipalities, could expect more, and we must find the right balance. That is why I instructed the Cabinet to work on this matter, and we will also discuss it today.
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Question: In your view, do you feel that the Far East has changed, and has your view of the Far East changed?
Dmitry Medvedev: In my view, of course, the Far East has changed, and is changing in the right direction. How quickly? I suppose, not as quickly as I would like because the rates of transformation in all areas could be higher.
There are objective factors, such as the economic crisis, which have served as an impediment. There are subjective factors; we should have worked harder, both in the Far East and elsewhere. My feeling remains as before: the Far East is an extremely important part of the Russian Federation, with immense investment and intellectual potential, and everything will be fine here.
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Question: The federal budget is being formed for the next three years. And once again, all of the nation’s money is concentrated in the hands of the Finance Ministry. Later, our governors will travel to ask the Government for money, and the mayors will beg from the governors. Does this mean that we will have another three years of vertical governance?
”This visit [to Kunashir] was exceptionally interesting for me, not just because not a single Russian leader has ever visited the Kuril Islands, but simply because this is a truly amazing territory, and it is our territory – it is also Russia.“
Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, money is always concentrated within the Finance Ministry. If you tell me to whom I should direct it, perhaps I can think of something, but for the time being, that is the government’s only option. All money goes through the Finance Ministry, because we have a consolidated budget.
Second, this is not all of the money, because we have a budget revenue distribution system: some revenues go to the Russian Federation budget, and some go to the regions. I just said that there are various assessments. Is this fair? I think that at a certain point the system created was absolutely optimal. But now I do not feel this way. But that does not mean all the money will be only in the hands of the acting Finance Minister or any other individual.
The regions and municipalities generate their own revenues, which they receive directly, and nobody goes to Moscow to beg for that money. The money belongs to the regions and municipalities themselves. The problem is that this money is not sufficient.
As for its distribution, this is something I would like to decide on in the near future, taking into account suggestions by the commission, which currently deals with the matter. Rather, there are two commissions: one is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, and the second is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin. And they need to make these suggestions. I believe the time has come to change this system; the proportion of that change, however, is a separate issue.
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Question: One year ago, you visited Kunashir. This was the first time the President of Russia had visited the South Kuril Islands, and this sparked a very nervous reaction among our neighbours, the Japanese. Perhaps it was also because currently, the Kuril Islands are actively strengthening their defence capacity; new weaponry is being delivered.
But I would like to ask about something else. Did that trip help you see the Kuril Islands from a new perspective and understand what needs to be done in order to improve life in this wonderful, interesting region, so that its economy can develop and, in spite of the distance, the people can feel comfortable and live good lives?
Dmitry Medvedev: I will begin by saying that of course, this visit helped me. It was exceptionally interesting for me, not just because not a single Russian leader has ever visited the Kuril Islands, but simply because this is a truly amazing territory, and it is our territory – it is also Russia, regardless of how strange this may seem to some of our neighbours. This is evident.
”We are ready to develop the Kuril Islands jointly, we are ready to provide investment opportunities, protect Japanese investments, and create conditions for running businesses.“
And second, in order to resolve any challenges, I have said many times that it’s essential to personally visit at least some of the territory you are governing or working to develop, to get behind the wheel of a car, for example (in this case, I drove around in a Japanese car, and it was very comfortable).
And after my visit (naturally, this is only partially symbolic), the financing of programmes there moved at a quicker pace. Unfortunately, that is the nature of our state. And this programme devised until 2015 is currently being financed at 100 percent. I am certain that we will do everything: kindergartens, schools, and two airports will be opened on Kunashir and Iturup. We are simply giving attention to this very important region. And it has enormous potential.
As for defence capacity and security, we do not take any actions there aimed against other nations, Japan or any others. This is our land, and so, we must have military units there, because it is a border area; but everything should be reasonable and adequate. That's about it. We won’t have anything unusually sizable there. And nobody should perceive this as any kind of militaristic action. However, the units should be there.
Still, what’s most important is that we would like to see investment flows into the region, the Kuril Islands. I have spoken about this many times. By the way, I spoke about it with the plenipotentiary envoy today. We have told our Japanese colleagues more than once that they should come, visit and invest money; they can do business there. And Japanese nationals can work there. In fact, this will be joint development of the islands.
But the Japanese take a different position. They say, “First decide, and then we will invest.” That won’t work. And I have told them very sincerely that we are ready to develop the islands jointly, we are ready to provide investment opportunities, protect Japanese investments, and create conditions for running businesses. And we are ready to do this right now.
Reply: But Korean and Chinese businesses are going there…
Dmitry Medvedev: That is certainly great as well. We welcome all investors. Korean or Chinese businesses — that’s just as good. What’s most important is for the Japanese to jump in on time.
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Question: Right now, Kamchatka Territory has a unique opportunity: the opening of the Northern Sea Route. Please tell me how is this idea viewed in principle at your level, at the state level? Are there any real, long-range plans, and if so, what are the timeframes?
”We are the largest Arctic nation, we have the longest coastline and the biggest sea route, so to speak. We need to allocate money to our icebreaking fleet, as well as our sea vessels in general. We must also develop our ports. We must be perceived as an Arctic power, as a state that isn’t there by accident, but rather, by right.“
Dmitry Medvedev: You have a beautiful territory. Every time I travel there (especially before; today, I hope the situation is starting to change), I am always startled by the dissonance between the beauty and, to be completely honest, the disorder, the untended appearance.
As for using the Northern Sea Route and the Arctic Ocean in general, we are not just planning certain decisions; indeed some decisions have already been made. I have held many meetings of the Russian Federation Security Council concerning this topic. We gathered in various formats, and now, a corresponding law is in the State Duma, a law devoted to organising possible vessel voyage along the Northern Sea Route and the use of Arctic wealth.
At the same time, we are changing the Merchant Shipping Code, and we will even create a special department that will work on these issues. I feel that all of these things must lead to one very important effect: we must be perceived as an Arctic power, as a state that isn’t there by accident, but rather, by right. We truly have full rights.
We are the largest Arctic nation, because we have the longest coastline and the biggest sea route, so to speak. But naturally, we need to allocate money, including to our icebreaking fleet, as well as our sea vessels in general. We must also develop our ports, including in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. After all, it is an open port, and vessels sailing under different flags can enter it. But unfortunately, it is not in the best of shape, so right now, we need to carry out its reconstruction and modernisation and then we will reap the fruit from developing the Arctic and developing Kamchatka Territory. I hope we will succeed.
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Question: You are currently at the head of the United Russia party list. In your view, do our people trust the ruling party? The reason I’m asking is, in spring, many regions held municipality elections, and in some regions, the results were surprising, to put it lightly: in some places, the communists won, in others, it was Just Russia, and elsewhere, it was the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. We have examples of this in Novosibirsk Region.
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I didn’t find it surprising. Either we have a democracy, or we have the triumph of one political force. United Russia is the most powerful party, and it proves its right to manage the state, the regions, and municipalities by winning the elections, or, due to its own failures, proves its inability to do so.
But the party is not homogenous; it consists of different people. And the fact that members of different parties win in a particular region or municipality means only one thing: we have a democracy that works, people are voting in the direct sense of that word, and specific leaders who represent any political force can fail.
”United Russia is the most powerful party, and it proves its right to manage the state, the regions, and municipalities by winning the elections, or, due to its own failures, proves its inability to do so.“
But as far as the current situation is concerned, I will say this. Regardless of the criticism aimed at United Russia, the majority of our people understand that ultimately, at this time, it is the most authoritative force that has proven its capability in recent years to run the state – at the federal level, at the regional level, and at the municipal level – through action, not words.
And everything that happened, everything, including the improvement in living standards, is the result of United Russia’s work, which supported the President, the Cabinet and, in fact, formed the Cabinet, supported various initiatives in the regions and municipalities. Of course, there are problems too, and this affects the authority of individual party members, leaders, and the party itself.
You know, when people sometimes say, “That party’s rating has fallen by five per cent, it’s a catastrophe,” well, that’s life, that’s an entirely normal situation. If the level of authority is sagging anywhere, that means the party must work on it and think about how to avoid destroying it, how to improve its positions, including in the pre-election period. And indeed, this is the electoral campaign season.
Overall, I feel that United Russia’s chances of having a stable majority in the State Duma are very good, because even now, although the electoral campaign is only starting to gain momentum, United Russia enjoys the support of 45 to 50 per cent of the population (depending, of course, on the survey). But the campaign is underway, and everyone is capable of improving their results, so it would be good for United Russia to have a ruling mandate – a real, solid mandate.
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Question: We’ve had primaries in our country recently and apart from the United Russia party, their participants included representatives of public organisations that supported the Popular Front and other initiatives, and selected worthy candidates. Currently systematic preparations are in progress for the upcoming elections.
But what is the current situation here in Kuzbass, in Siberia? Leaflets are being posted all over the place in which the LDPR and other parties urge people to vote only for Russians: “We defend Russians’ interests,” and so on. That’s what those leaflets say.
We have a multinational country, with over a hundred ethnic groups living here. I have many friends who are not Russian and they are rightly concerned about the reasons why some people use slogans like that. What is going to happen to them: are they going to be exiled or will have to move away? I have heard them voice fears like that. Law enforcement agencies and the Central Election Commission have not made any official comments. Mr President, I would very much like to hear your opinion on this matter.
”Regardless of the criticism aimed at United Russia, the majority of our people understand that ultimately, at this time, it is the most authoritative force that has proven its capability in recent years to run the state – at the federal level, at the regional level, and at the municipal level – through action, not words.“
Dmitry Medvedev: I am very concerned about this trend for the same reason as the one you stated: our country has 180 languages and a huge number of ethnic groups. When such leaflets and political campaigns are centred on nationalist issues, you can expect trouble. People do this either by mistake, unwittingly, or because they deliberately want to provoke tragic developments.
Throughout its history our country developed as a multinational state, where Russians lived in peace with other nations, Orthodox and Muslims, Buddhists and adherents of other faiths. It can be extremely dangerous to start dividing them up now and can take us in a very unwelcome direction.
I have discussed this with leaders of all parties and told them: “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t only top the United Russia party list but I am also the guarantor of the Constitution, the President. If any of the active political forces try to play this card or get carried away by this theme and create problems we will have to apply legal measures because such activities verge on the criminal, particularly when they become direct provocations.” You see, it is a matter of perception, the slogans themselves can be relatively neutral but the question is how they are interpreted.
I am also a Russian and I also support Russians. But I support all the others as well, all the people who live in our country. The question is what conclusions follow from this. That is the main thing. As for law enforcement agencies, the CEC and other election commissions, they must monitor compliance with election legislation, as well as laws on equality of all nations and ethnic groups in our country.
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Question: Mr President, my question is related to the previous one.
The Russian Federation is a multinational country, which is great. However, for various reasons, ethnic groups are losing their roots, they are forgetting their own traditions, stop speaking their languages and entire cultures are disappearing. One example is the Yiddish language, which was spoken by the first settlers of the Jewish Autonomous Region and which today is spoken by only about half a million people in the world.
Do you think this could be a task for the state to tackle, to provide support to ethnic groups and to make sure they don’t forget their languages and lose their traditions?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, it is the responsibility of the state but also of the diasporas, the ethnic groups and speakers of the 180 languages I mentioned earlier. The state should invest money in it and support the numerous national cultures in our country.
On the one hand, all of us share a common culture, but on the other hand, there are separate elements in that shared culture and the challenge is to maintain harmony between them. The aim is to prevent minority cultures from being marginalised or squeezed out, and to make sure there are native speakers of each language.
Of course, this cannot be done artificially and it is senseless to force people to learn a language. They tried to force us to learn languages at school and that did not always work. We should create incentives so that the people themselves will want to learn not only the national language of communication, the Russian language, which is our official state language, but other languages, and for that people must have a sense of belonging to a particular nation, to an ethnic group, take pride in its history and at the same time the desire to continue its culture and not let it merge with others.
How can this be achieved? We must launch programmes, allocate funding and involve businesses and non-governmental organisations. Incidentally, this is being done in different places. If I understand correctly, you represent the Jewish Autonomous Region.
Response: Yes, the newspaper Birobidzhaner Shtern.
”Our country has 180 languages and a huge number of ethnic groups. When such leaflets and political campaigns are centred on nationalist issues, you can expect trouble. People do this either by mistake, unwittingly, or because they deliberately want to provoke tragic developments.“
Dmitry Medvedev: Right. I have visited the Jewish Autonomous Region as the President and I liked the fact that you have many cultural oases and they should receive support not only in your region but also across the country.
To conclude, I’ll say that everything depends on us, on our own position. As long as one carrier of a language and culture remains, it means that culture is not extinct but we must devote time to this issue.
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Question: We have a federal project, the Vostochny Cosmodrome. There has been talk about it for several years and we are already proud of it, everyone is anticipating it but still there are certain fears and talk that there will be no space centre, that it is impractical to build and we don’t need it after all, that it will cost too much. Could you please tell me as President how realistic this project is and whether the Amur Region will get a space centre?
Dmitry Medvedev: You’ve put it very well: “We have no cosmodrome yet but we’re proud of it and we’re worried that we won’t get it even though we’re proud of it.” That’s the way to go.
The cosmodrome will be built, all the decisions have been made and there are no plans to postpone it at present. I hope that by 2013 or 2014 we will be able to launch medium-range shuttles, and hopefully from 2015 we will be able to launch the Angara project shuttles – I hope we’re not counting our chickens before they’re hatched because, unfortunately, we have recently had a spate of failures in space – that is the reality and the reasons must be investigated.
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Question: The economic crisis of 2008–2009 largely encouraged the development of domestic tourism in Russia. The Altai Territory is not Krasnodar, of course, but we were among the first regions to get involved in this effort. I would like to hear your forecast for the industry and Russia’s prospects as a tourist destination.
Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, you have a really beautiful region, I visited it recently, and the same can be said for all the other regions represented here. But in terms of tourism you and the Altai Mountains have absolutely unique potential.
”Experts believe that our country could expand the tourism industry to 70 million visitors a year, doubling of the tourist inflow, which will generate new revenues and jobs. The main thing is to create the right recreation infrastructure, hotels, roads and restaurants, and to provide security.“
What can be done here? We can and must develop domestic tourism, and it is true that the crisis encouraged its development. Now it is very important not to return to the pre-crisis situation, when most Russians spent their money abroad. Yes, it is true, there are some warm and pleasant resorts, but frankly, they are nothing special, and some places, though I don’t want to offend anyone, are frankly boring, all they have is the sea and the beach, and nothing else. Some people enjoy that but I for one get bored sitting on the beach all day long. We have such a diverse country that its tourism potential is simply enormous.
I was surprised to read once – this was a long time ago, maybe 10 years back – that 90% of Americans, who are not the poorest nation in the world, spend their holidays in the United States because their country is huge and offers many different types of holidays: the sea, the mountains, and everything else. We have the same: different seas, different mountains, different places. Our tourism potential is currently estimated at 35 million visitors a year. Is that a lot or not so much?
It seems pretty good, but only five of them are foreign visitors, and 30 are Russians travelling on various tours, both long and short. But experts believe that our country could expand the tourism industry to 70 million visitors a year, doubling of the tourist inflow, which will generate new revenues and jobs. So I think that our country’s tourism potential is very underestimated.
The main thing is to create the right recreation infrastructure, hotels, roads and restaurants, and to provide security. All this combined will result in an influx of tourists; I have no doubt about that. We already have foreign visitors and many Russians spend their holidays in our country as well, and that will only get better.
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Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for coming here and for your questions, so interesting and important for your regions and for the whole country. I can tell you that I always enjoy talking with the regional media and here’s why: you always have reasonable and absolutely specific questions that have direct relevance for the people. I think journalists should always bear in mind their audience.
Yes, journalists can have their own convictions, that is absolutely normal, journalists may not share other people’s beliefs and they can have their own views. Nevertheless, the profession exists to protect people’s interests, and in that sense the position of the regional press is always closer to the public than, for example, the position of the media in the capital.
I’m not saying it’s bad; it is also very good and it is professional. But if I am asked the same questions – about the fate of our famous prisoners or what we are doing to investigate certain crimes – those are important issues, but life is not limited to them.
These are important topics, I agree, but when I have to answer the same questions, it means that the people are isolated by their own reference frame. In my opinion, though I may be mistaken, the journalist’s mission is something different; it is in those things you asked me about.