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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: First of all, let me congratulate all the women in the presidential press pool on the upcoming March 8 [International Women’s Day] holiday. Your job is not an easy one, requiring you to travel frequently around the country, leaving behind your loved ones and family. I understand what this is like, but I hope we will keep working together and hope for your continued support. I wish you success and all the very best.
Question: Mr President, my question does not fit with the holiday mood at all. Hugo Chavez has died. You knew him well. Relations between Russia and Venezuela have really reached a new level now. How do you see his role in building relations with Russia, and how will our ties develop from here?
Vladimir Putin: I first met Hugo Chavez in 2000, and over this time we did indeed build up a good working relationship and also developed a warm friendship. This definitely helps when building relations between countries.
Hugo Chavez was a good friend of Russia. He was most definitely an internationalist by conviction, but at the same time he was proud of his Native American origins and called himself an Amerindian with pride. He loved his people.
He was courageous by nature, stuck to his principles, knew how to set the goals he considered essential, and knew how to stick to them right to the end, knew how to realise them. He showed character.
Opinions can differ over Hugo Chavez’s policies. Taking his economic policies say, there is a lot you could argue about, but there is absolutely no doubt that he was trying to develop his country and refused to let the difficulties and burdens of this development effort rest on the shoulders of ordinary people. He put all his strength and effort into pulling hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Venezuelans out of poverty and need.
As for international relations, I have no doubts at all about saying that he sought to build friendly relations with all countries without exception, without any exception, but he was never going to do so at the expense of his beloved Venezuela’s interests, and was never going to try please everyone in every way at the expense of his own people’s interests.
Chavez was without question a very talented and charismatic man, a brave man, and in his own lifetime became a symbol of Latin America’s struggle for independence and true freedom. In this sense, I think that in his lifetime he joined the ranks of such outstanding sons of Latin America as Simon Bolivar, Ernesto Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro, who is still with us today. This is how we will remember him.
As for our future relations with Venezuela, this will depend above all on the Venezuelan people and the future president and leadership there. We hope that today’s policy will continue.
Question: Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatyev is coming to the end of his term soon. Will some new and unexpected figure take his place?
Vladimir Putin: An unexpected figure, yes. You’ll be happy. Really, you’ll be pleased.
Question: You think so?
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely, I’m convinced of it.
Question: Our industrial output declined in January and there was a drop in economic growth. What do you think are the reasons for this?
Vladimir Putin: I would link this to the general situation in the global economy above all. If you’ve been following the developments, you would have seen that this situation began first in some of our big partner countries, and then spilled over into Russia itself. We hope the support measures the Government is working on now and our consistent demand-driven policy that takes into account demand on the domestic and global markets will have a positive effect.
Let me remind you too, that we decided to give the Government a number of additional powers, including as regards financial resources that can be put to use to deal with the consequences of a worsening in the global economic situation and contraction of our traditional markets, and we put in place a number of other economic support measures that can be used if the need arises.
Question: On the issue of measures, can you lower the Central Bank rates if necessary?
Vladimir Putin: The Central Bank rates are a reference for the economy, just a guideline. Of course we are to encourage all of the economic side of our state system to direct its efforts at fostering economic growth, but when it comes down to it, the Central Bank has its own specific tasks and, though we can encourage the Central Bank to join in the common effort, we cannot burden it with functions that are not within its natural purview.
Question: With this Women’s Day holiday coming up, maybe you could sign an early release from prison for the girls from Pussy Riot?
Vladimir Putin: That isn’t up to me but depends on the relevant procedures and laws currently in effect in our country.
Question: Do you think they deserve an early release?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t want to comment on court rulings. Our courts make their own decisions.
Response: You commented in the past on the Pussy Riot case.
Vladimir Putin: Maybe, I don’t remember, but today I’d rather not do so.