This is Dmitry Medvedev's fifth meeting with journalists. Earlier the President met with media representatives from Siberia and the Far East, the Volga, Southern, North Caucasus and Northwestern federal districts.
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Excerpts from transcript of meeting with journalists from the Central Federal District
Mikhail Mokretsov: World experience shows that societies in which power changes hands periodically and the different political parties are known and predictable are able to achieve social and political stability. The USA is a classic example. There are essentially just two comparable main parties there that succeed each other in power. We have just one big party of this kind, and this creates precisely the kind of unipolar order that we have frequently criticised since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Do you not think that the time has come to develop a second big political party here that could also take the reins of power? And if yes, who will do this and how they will go about it?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: For a start, I do not think that we have a unipolar world here, because we have seven parties after all, not one, but seven. Their success or failure is ultimately up to the voters to decide by giving their support to the party of their choice. You cannot just create a party and declare, ‘We are the second party of power, and you, the people of the Russian Federation, must vote for us. You’ve got United Russia, the first party of power, and now you have us, the second’. This would be an outright parody of democracy.
We have seven parties. Whether this is a lot or too few is another matter. We introduced tougher criteria for political parties at one point, and perhaps the moment will come when these criteria could become more flexible. But at the same time, we should not have too many parties, because when the number of parties gets out of hand people end up with only a fragmented picture of who stands for what and who could best represent their interests. We had this kind of completely fragmented political scene in the 1990s, when the country had some 30–40 parties. The result was an ineffective parliament that did not represent people’s interests at all, because people would vote for some small party that had no chances of clearing the barrier or would obtain just one seat, say, and be incapable of actually doing anything. In this sense, big parties are a positive development.
As for whether it is a good thing or not that just one party has the majority at the moment, this is a matter of personal taste, really. Frankly speaking, it is a good thing in terms of being able to carry out particular government policies because it means the authorities can count on the support of the majority in parliament and pass and implement the laws we think are needed, and for which the deputies vote. Let me remind you that in the 1990s the situation was a lot more complicated and many of the reform-minded laws proposed by the Government and by individual deputies were not passed and would be blocked by the other groups in the parliament. That was a worse situation.
You know too, that many countries have a multiparty system, but in reality particular political parties can end up staying in power a very long time. Think back to Germany, for example, where the Christian Democrats were in power for 20 years in the post-war period. Or take Denmark, where the Social Democrats were around 50 years in power, I think. In Japan, the Liberal Democrats were in power for 38 years. As for other situations, in the USA, the Democrats had the majority in one of the houses, in the Senate or the House of Representatives, for a very long time, for 30 or 40 years, I think. Britain too not so long ago had the situation where the Conservatives were 18 years in power, starting from Margaret Thatcher’s time. In other words, this is not such a rare situation and there is nothing so surprising about it.
United Russia was formed as a political party in 2003, and it is now 2011. That is not such a long time. ‘We’re fed up’, people say, ‘they’ve been in power for so long’. But when you stop to think about it, it comes to eight years, and that is not such a long time.
Another different matter though, is just how much United Russia actually meets people’s expectations today about how they want to see our country develop. I think that United Russia does meet their hopes, but we will get the answer to this question in the election on December 4. I do not think we have a unipolar system.
I agree with you on one point, though. It is a good thing when a party has a confident mandate to govern the country. This helps. But the system must indeed contain a mechanism for enabling different political forces to succeed each other in power. What kind of mechanism? This mechanism is created by the laws that we have, and by the existence of strong parties that people want to vote for, because the decision ultimately lies with the voters. People sometimes do not understand what benefit voting for a different party will bring them. In this respect, of course, voting just out of desperation is also not the best way for things to happen.
I am sure that we will succeed in building this system, though I cannot say exactly when, in time for the next elections, or the ones after that. This system will perhaps look more like what we see in other countries today. But as far as today’s political life goes, I think it is perfectly in keeping with European democratic standards in terms of electoral laws, and the range of political parties, which in Russia cover the whole spectrum from right to left. As for how effective these parties are, that is for the voters to decide.
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Denis Pimenov: You place a lot of priority on developing advanced technology, science-intensive and innovative sectors in the economy. As someone with a background in the technical sciences this makes me very happy, because I know just how needed these things are and what benefits they can bring. But as a resident of Voronezh Region, I am interested above all in the sectors of direct concern to our region – aircraft manufacturing and the space and rocket sector, in particular.
Taking into account the real economic situation today, what kinds of support can these sectors expect to receive?
Dmitry Medvedev: What kinds of support? You know very well yourself the situation, given that these two sectors were always among the leaders in Voronezh. I know this too and recall my recent visit to your local companies. We should finance production, and at the same time, we also have to design new equipment that we will be able to sell and promote on our market and abroad.
What do we need to do here? In the case of aircraft manufacturing, this is not a sector we can simply abandon entirely to the market. There were people in the 1990s who said that the market would put everything in its place, but this is not the case. That approach would simply bring the aircraft manufacturing, ship-building, space, and defence industries to ruin. If we do not invest, the market alone will not get these industries on their feet, and we realise this. The market will easily get the restaurant and retail businesses on their feet, as it has successfully done so, so that in all our towns we now have a proper system of daily services with more or less decent service, restaurants, shops, and hotels. This has all developed a lot and looks much like what we see in other countries.
But the sectors I mentioned cannot be saved in this way. They need specific programmes, and we have these programmes. Before, we were only at the stage of getting them underway, but now they are moving ahead. We have a programme for supporting the aircraft manufacturing sector through to 2025, for example (a long term programme, given that the cycle in these sectors is long, as you know), and this programme provides for colossal investment, 2.5 trillion rubles [$80 billion], in the sector. This is a huge sum that will help us to maintain and develop our aircraft building industry. I know these issues well. I fly often and I know what our old planes are like, what our new planes are like, and what the difference is in terms of quality and service.
Why do I bring this up now? I fly in a new Russian-made plane, say, and see that it is modern and has new equipment, digital guidance and so on, but at the same time, I see that it has not yet gone into series production and that there are therefore still some rough edges that should have already been sorted out. If you take the Tu-154, for example, around 1,000 planes of this model were made. That is a large number. They are old of course, but everything in them has had the run-through and been sorted out down to the last detail. We are to get large-scale production moving, not just produce sample models, a handful or a dozen, but manufacture hundreds and thousands of them. This is the way to advance, and I hope that our big aircraft manufacturers will do just this.
As for the space sector, it is in the same situation. The scientific component also plays a very big part in this sector, and this is something that will always receive budget funding. But of course we must promote our products on the international market, develop quality spacecraft, because our recent failures in this area have made a serious blow to our competitiveness. This is not a fatal blow, but it does mean that we are going to have to make a thorough examination of the situation and punish those responsible. I am not talking about putting anyone up against the wall, as during Stalin’s years, of course, but we can use money as a punishment, get back from them the funds we put into them, or, in cases where clear responsibility is established, disciplinary or criminal liability might need to be considered. If we sort out this whole situation properly, I am sure that our high-technology sectors have an excellent future ahead. The main thing is not to lose them.
Let me note the nuclear industry by way of another example. This is a sector that we have not lost, indeed, we are one of the world’s leaders in this industry. We have not only held onto our lead but have expanded and become more open, and are building many facilities. Yesterday, my colleague Mr Lukashenko [President of Belarus] and I signed an agreement on building a nuclear power plant in Belarus. We will be providing the loan for this project, as is customary, and they will later repay this money.