Taking part in the meeting were First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev, State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Yarovaya, presidential aides Igor Levitin and Maxim Oreshkin, Minister of Labour and Social Protection Anton Kotyakov, Minister of Education Sergei Kravtsov, Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova, Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, Minister of Sport Oleg Matytsin, Minister of Healthcare Mikhail Murashko, Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Patrushev, Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov, Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Minister of Science and Higher Education Valery Falkov, Minister of Construction, Housing and Utilities Irek Faizullin, Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic Alexei Chekunkov, Minister of Energy Nikolai Shulginov, a number of heads of Russia’s constituent entities, as well as Head of the Federal Agency for Tourism Zarina Doguzova and CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriev.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Our agenda calls for a discussion of socioeconomic development matters. We will review them in a comprehensive manner with the governors and representatives of the Government and federal agencies.
We are now in Vladivostok, where the Eastern Economic Forum opens today. It brings together the heads of major companies, business leaders who already have or intend to set up their enterprises in the Far East. We will definitely take into consideration the proposals made by the business community when planning further actions and steps to develop the Russian Far East.
Last year, I signed the Executive Order On Socioeconomic Development Measures for the Far East. It served as a foundation for the National Development Programme for the region that runs until 2035. Its primary aim is to attract people here and to accelerate the improvement of living standards in the Far East.
I would like to draw the attention of the Government, heads of regions and municipalities to the fact that all the initiatives included in the programme must be carried out in full, which means that they need to be backed by the required financial and administrative resources.
There is one thing I would like to highlight at this meeting. The history of Far East exploration and development, and major, landmark projects that were carried out here, such as the Trans-Siberian Railway or the Baikal-Amur Railway, and now the construction of the Vostochny Space Launch Centre, and all the major infrastructure facilities in Vladivostok for the APEC Leaders’ Meeting, showed the importance of constantly moving forward. Mr Trutnev, our colleagues and I have just reviewed a report on the plans for the next few years.
We need to be bold when setting goals and aim for delivering on the most daunting tasks based on a long-term planning horizon and strategic, rather than immediate, needs.
I will give you several examples. Frankly, at some point, we dragged out the expansion of railway capacity. Clearly, there were many reasons for that and, overall, they appeared to be objective and relied on market-based calculations. Unfortunately, or, maybe, fortunately for our coal miners, these calculations and miscalculations were off the mark. Things have turned out differently, but we have not prepared the infrastructure and cannot take full advantage of the favourable situation on the global coal market. We cannot expand our exports in the way we could have done otherwise. This is undoubtedly a lost opportunity for the companies, the regional budgets and the entire country. These are lost resources that could have been used to support our people and to develop territories.
Yes, I understand, I remember these considerations, and there were risks involved. But things turned out differently, and we have received less or are receiving less than what we could have received. This goes to show that we should go an extra mile when building social infrastructure. People who live here, or plan to come here, need not only jobs, but comfortable living conditions as well and they need them now or very soon rather than in the distant future. We need comfortable cities and towns, high-quality healthcare and education, transport, communication services, and the latest-generation telecommunications.
If we rely on the dry standards alone rather than the state vision of the strategic importance of the Russian Far East, we will not achieve the kind of rapid social and socioeconomic development we are looking for. I want the Government and the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East to operate based on these considerations. We need to invest today in order to obtain tangible results tomorrow.
Before we move on to the reports, I would like to discuss two specific topics.
I will start with air transportation. We have a subsidised ticket programme for flights from the Russian Far East to European Russia. This year, it covers all residents of the Far Eastern regions in addition to groups entitled to benefits, such as young people, retirees and large families.
However, in some regions, people were unable to buy tickets at reduced prices this year for two reasons: either the tickets were sold out, although there is still a lot of time to go until the end of the year, or a region has not received subsidies at all.
I have just discussed this matter with the Minister of Transport, and I want our colleagues, primarily from the federal ministries, to hear what I have to say: this kind of situation is, of course, unacceptable. The issue of subsidised air tickets must be kept under constant control, and this is not about something missing somewhere at some point.
I spoke with the Minister of Transport: every year there is a fight over obtaining these subsidies in the Government. Listen, we are citizens of the Russian Federation and we all live in the same country. Certainly, we need to ensure connectivity of the territories and free movement between its regions. So, it is necessary to create an automated subsidy system. I want the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Transport, as well as other agencies to think about this and to come up with a solution. There is nothing complicated here. There must be a system that will automatically issue support funds to respective regions to cover the measures I am talking about.
This is a critically important and sensitive issue. Reduced airfares should be available to residents of all Far Eastern regions throughout the calendar year. Of course, the number of flights, especially during periods of heavy traffic, must be increased if we want to accomplish this.
Further, it is necessary to increase transport connectivity between the Far Eastern regions, as well as expand the network of intraregional routes and upgrade the aircraft fleet that services these flights. We have spoken about this more than once, many times, in fact.
This work is unfolding, and we must spare no effort to step it up. Most importantly, the people must see the results.
The United Far Eastern Airline has been created on the basis of the Avrora operator; in July it carried its first passengers. By the end of the year, the company will add 20 more interregional routes to its flight schedule, and by 2025, the total number of routes covered by Avrora will exceed 530.
Please note that air routes should include destinations that people need. Importantly, airfare must be affordable. This is the only way to increase passenger traffic. The purchasing power of those who will use this service must match the airfare.
The company plans to increase its aircraft fleet and purchase 45 new Russian-made aircraft. Please update us today on how this work will be organised.
Another important matter is that many communities in the Russian Far East are located in remote areas that are hard to access. Air travel is often the only way people living there can get to the “mainland.”
At the same time, small airports, even those that have just a few flights per week, have to comply with the same or almost the same regulations as major air hubs. This includes safety and infrastructure security requirements, the availability of rapid intervention teams and so forth.
I would like to ask the Government to look into this matter and, if possible, to remove any requirements that are excessive and burdensome, but only those and nothing else. It is understood that no one must get any silly ideas about this, and this should not be done at the expense of security. Upon close inspection, and if you dive into the guidelines and rules, there are probably some things that are clearly excessive and burdensome for small airports.
Finally, we need to keep up the efforts to develop a network of small airports and airfields in the Far East. In fact, small aircraft and air medical services played a major role during the coronavirus pandemic, when people needed to be quickly transported to hospitals in major regional medical centres.
Just like their colleagues across Russia, doctors in Russia’s Far East have been working selflessly and with great dedication. I would like to thank them for this once again.
However, the Russian Far East’s healthcare sector still faces many challenges: specialists are in short supply, and primary care needs to be substantially upgraded.
This year, we launched programmes to overhaul primary care across the country. Today, I would like to hear how these programmes are advancing in the regions of the Far East.
As I have already mentioned at the beginning, the Far East is a special region, and we need to take this into consideration. It would be wrong and unacceptable to rely on one-size-fits-all solutions here. We will never achieve tangible results or produce meaningful changes if we rely on standard approaches.
There are many small villages and towns in the Far East that are hundreds of kilometres away from each other, and the current model of funding healthcare is often lax. People cannot always get access to quality medical care, and the equipment at outpatient clinics and first aid stations sometimes leaves much to be desired.
I would like to emphasise that a person dealing with a problem, including a disease, does not care about standards or bureaucratic documents, even if they are correctly formulated and well written. That person needs a medical centre or even a small first aid station where he or she can receive real help and which has doctors and equipment.
Let me repeat once again: in this respect, we need to draft a special approach that would take into account the specific features of sparsely populated areas. I would like to ask the Government to submit their proposals in this regard.
I have already discussed with Mr Trutnev some aspects of this problem – both yesterday and today. I will not get ahead of myself now. Obviously, this issue requires more work, but we must refrain from a formalistic approach to resolving the issues of social guarantees and social development in the Far East. There are certain proposals, and let me repeat again that they must be well thought out. Yesterday, we spoke about this with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and I asked the Government to pay special attention to this issue. I hope this will be done as soon as possible. This applies not only to medicine but also to education and some other areas.
And one more point. As you know, we are launching a programme of medical rehabilitation for those who had the coronavirus. They must have access to medical exams for full recovery.
For the time being, the Far East objectively lacks the capacity and infrastructure for the rehabilitation of all residents of the region – at least those who need it.
However, as I have said, people need assistance and support today. Therefore, I would like to ask you to envisage special solutions for the residents of the Far East in the medical rehabilitation programme and for developing the relevant infrastructure.
Let us move on to discussing the issues that I have just mentioned. If you think I have forgotten something, please raise these issues yourselves.