In particular, the meeting addressed implementing the Russian Popular Front’s anti-corruption project, which includes monitoring purchases for state and municipal needs.
Also, Russian Popular Front representatives talked about independent supervision overimplementation of the presidential executive orders of May 2012.
Opinions were also shared on several current issues, including matters related to Russia’s new federal constituent entities: the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol.
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Excerpts from transcript of meeting with core members of the Russian Popular Front
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues and friends.
Today we are going to have a regular working meeting, even a rather boring one I would say, because we are not going to take up anything exciting. On the contrary, we need to consider very mundane issues that are, however, very important for the country and its people.
The way I see it, the RPF has become not only an established organisation, but also a powerful factor in public life. I am very happy to see that branches of the Russian Popular Front have been set up in practically all regions of the Russian Federation. The Front has found its slot and is engaged in specific important tasks.
For me this kind of meeting is very useful, as is your work in terms of the May 2012 Executive Orders, because they set out society’s main demands in addressing the challenges that the people and the entire country are facing.
A careful consideration of what is going on and how things are being done is extremely important for an analysis of the current situation and for adjusting our joint efforts so that we meet the targets. This work will be even more efficient, of course, if it is conducted jointly with parliamentarians of all levels, with the Presidential Control Directorate and the Accounts Chamber. However, the activity of the Russian Popular Front is extremely important in and of itself.
In this connection, I find your work to monitor state procurement very important and relevant. As we all understand, this is at the joint of such things as the state’s efficient operation on the one hand and the efforts aimed against corruption and the abuse of power (I do not enjoy talking about this, but we have to) on the other.
I know that you have launched a special website, and I would like to hear about it: how it works, what interesting and useful information does it provide, what you suggest should be done to enhance the efforts in this direction.
Just as important as monitoring state procurement mechanisms is oversight of the state and municipal property privatisation. We have quite a few issues here as well. I should say that we are not alone here – every country faces this. Naturally, society needs to control this constantly.
As you may know, yesterday I met with the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoys to federal districts – you must have seen the media reports. There is one very significant problem pertaining to the implementation of the May 2012 Executive Orders.
This has to do with the fact that the targets set in the Executive Orders are very rigorous and challenging, especially in the social sphere and especially those that deal with raising living standards and salaries of public sector employees. True, the regions’ revenues are lower than their social spending.
What would I like to stress here? If we do everything consistently, logically, these tasks are quite feasible. I am sure you will be speaking today of cases when instead of saving funds, people waste them and then ask for budget resources to meet those very targets that could have been met equally efficiently, but in a different way and at a lower cost. This is the first point.
The other is that inflated bureaucratic administrations continue to exist, little has changed here.
We will also speak of the fact that one of the most important development factors in the modern world and in this country is education. It is a significant development factor. However, if we see that a raise in salaries is followed by a 12.5% growth in the number of teachers and professors rather than a structural change – there will never be enough money.
Our main concern should be that staffing everywhere – in administrations, education and healthcare – should be optimised. Just like an army, it should be compact and efficient. This applies to all spheres of life.
In this connection (and I am about to finish my monologue) it is very important for me to have your support, to find out your opinions and the information that you have – this is exactly what they call feedback.
Our conversation today is also very important for me because, as you may have heard, the annual Direct Line will be held shortly. We need to compare notes, to hear what is going on in the country the way you see it.
Fine, thank you. Let us begin.
Co-chairman of Rpf National Headquarters Sergei Govorukhin: Allow me please to break the envisaged monotony of the discussion, as the meeting has authorised me to express to you, Mr President, our sincere gratitude for your committed and courageous attitude demonstrated in these momentous days in Russia’s history.
Every one of us suffered terribly from this unending phantom pain caused by the removal from Mother Russia of the small island of our Fatherland. Now we are together. Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Sergei Govorukhin: Let us proceed to our frontline agenda.
We have set up regional branches in Crimea and Sevastopol. Our representatives from Crimea are attending today, like my neighbour Valery Yurin. I would also like to use this opportunity to extend our gratitude to the people of Crimea. They not only withstood the 23 years of defence, but the people have remained intact as a spiritually healthy Russian organism, possibly even healthier than many regions within Russia.
I would like to give the floor to Mr Kazakov or Mr Yurin now. Who will it be? Please welcome Rustem Kazakov, co-chairman of the Crimean regional centre.
Co-chairman of Rpf Regional Centre (Republic of Crimea) Rustem Kazakov: First of all, Mr President, I would like to thank you for supporting Crimea. It was very difficult to the very last moment, but you were on our side all the time. You know, people felt that you were with us to the end; you did not waver in this moment of trial.
I am a Greco-Roman wrestling coach; I have many trainees who can show very good results. We have already met with officials from the Ministry of Sports, and they took note of everything we need in Crimea. I believe they will support us.
What we would like is to be able to take part in all national championships in Russia, in international competitions, so that we become full-fledged participants. Everyone is looking forward to this.
Mr President, frankly speaking, we have faith in you and you should remember that we are always with you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Sergei Govorukhin: Mr Yurin from Sevastopol.
Vladimir Putin: Just a minute, please. We discussed these issues with the Minister of Sports only recently and they have some specific proposals.
We will of course integrate the athletic activities of Crimea and Sevastopol into Russia’s athletic life. This applies to development programmes and athletes’ involvement. You have some very good high-class athletes.
Rustem Kazakov: Yes, we do.
Vladimir Putin: You have some internationally acclaimed athletes. However, this is not the only thing we should consider. We need to develop mass sports, and just as in the rest of Russia, there is much to be done. As I know, Crimea has even more problems here than other regions do.
You mentioned their health: this is because they were on a strict diet all this time. This is why their spirits are so high.
Sergei Govorukhin: My sister lives in Sevastopol, so I know very well what life was like there.
Vladimir Putin: Quite a few things there are in a very bad state – just about everything, actually. With some things it’s just amazing how neglected they are. We have plenty of issues here, but out there, things are even worse.
However, I know for sure that the region has huge economic potential. I believe that in the next few years (maybe even sooner) Crimea will stop being a subsidised region and will begin contributing to the federal budget. They have everything they need to achieve this: an industry that, though small, could be very efficient, excellent resorts on the southern coast, and a prospective infrastructure – five or six deep-water ports. These are all very efficient structural components of the peninsula’s economy. If they are developed rationally, the results will be fast and tangible.
Rustem Kazakov: Thank you, Mr President.
Sergei Govorukhin: Shall we give the floor to Sevastopol?
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Sergei Govorukhin: Valery Yurin, Lieutenant General, retired, co-chairman of the regional centre in Sevastopol.
Co-chairman of Rpf Regional Centre (Sevastopol) Valery Yurin: Mr President, first of all, thank you very much for your holiday gift to the residents of Sevastopol, Crimea and all of Russia of returning Crimea to Russia. A special thank you from the entire Black Sea Fleet for removing them from the ‘communal flat’ and giving them one of their own. This is great.
I would like to say that residents of Sevastopol will make every effort to quickly integrate and develop the economy so as not to rely on subsidies.
Vladimir Putin: I am sure this is the way it will be. Sevastopol also has great potential; we spoke about it with the authorities of Crimea and Sevastopol. It was only yesterday that I met with the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy [to the Crimean Federal District] and with Mr Aksyonov [Prime Minister of the Crimean Republic]. I will soon be seeing the head of Sevastopol Alexei Chaly and we will also talk about it. You have great potential.
I would like to join in thanking the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol for the position they took. Moreover, I can tell you that the final decision was made after the people’s wishes became clear. We were not ready for this course of events. Frankly speaking, we could imagine what was on people’s minds, but we did not know for certain.
It was only after the first sociological polls, which were conducted covertly, that we saw the real numbers. It finally became clear that we made the right choice. The first poll showed that some 80 percent of Crimea’s population was in favour of joining Russia, and in Sevastopol the numbers were even higher.
Then, at the referendum, as it was unfolding, and this is how it usually happens, the number almost reached 97 percent, 93 percent. It was just amazing. But this was all due to your firm stance.
Sergei Govorukhin: Shall we move on to the boring RPF agenda?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, let us do that.
Sergei Govorukhin: A topic that the RPF has been working on for seven months already – For Honest Procurement. Mr Brechalov, please.
Co-chairman of Rpf National Headquarters Alexander Brechalov: I would like to make a presentation.
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Why did I say this? Because if we had not known of such a position, we would not have acted the way we did – so consistently and with such persistence.
Remark: This is a good trump card to beat all the double standards.
Vladimir Putin: It is.
Alexander Brechalov: I do not find the agenda boring.
Mr President, colleagues,
After seven months of work on the Popular Russian Front project For Honest Procurement, we can say with confidence that the project has turned into the public oversight platform that so much has been said about. Members of the public can use it to implement their right to participate in the life of the nation and truly monitor state and municipal procurement and procurement by state companies. In other words, I would say this has become a popular project.
Now some figures. Since September 1, 2013, when the project was launched, we have found over 300 questionable purchases worth a total of over 150 billion rubles [over $4.2 billion]. We have dealt with 58 violations worth over 30 billion rubles and called off over 30 purchases worth over 10 billion rubles.
As I already said, members of the public are taking an active part in the project and they are the ones who determine the direction of our efforts. It is thanks to concerned individuals that we have set up the so-called wastefulness index that the heads of regions, municipalities and state companies have come to like so much.
A journalist asked me in this connection: why do we dig so deep (this is exactly how he put it)? Say, what does it matter if they buy an expensive car for some bureaucrat, or he uses a private plane to travel on business – it does not really cost all that much. However, in this rather short period of time we have managed to find facts of such inefficient spending worth over 2 billion rubles. For comparison, this is roughly the budget of two or three towns with a population of some 50,000 to 70,000.
Now let us move on to more serious figures. As I have already said, the public forms our agenda. We have recently received a large number of requests to conduct an investigation into the privatisation of municipal state property. This has to do with Federal Law No. 178. We conducted a detailed on-the-spot analysis; this was an extensive job and we had help from the public. I would like to give a few examples to illustrate the depth and scale of the problem.
(Further Mr Brechalov gave some examples of violations committed during the sale of municipal property that resulted in major losses for municipal budgets).
We are currently looking into about a hundred cases. You can see the scale of the problem if you consider that there are over 23,000 municipalities in Russia.
We have contacted the Accounts Chamber and the Prosecutor General’s Office. We believe these cases require further investigation. However, we also believe that corresponding amendments should be made to Federal Law No. 178 as soon as possible.
First and foremost, we are referring here to electronic trading, not auctions, where people can quietly agree on prices and sales. We are referring to more transparent procedures, a special website, because now there are several resources and information sometimes gets lost.
We have other proposals as well, so we would like to ask you, Mr President, to issue corresponding instructions to the Government, to draft such amendments to Federal Law No. 178, possibly jointly with the Russian Popular Front, and to approve them as soon as possible. We are talking about large sums of money here, money from municipal budgets.
In conclusion, I would like to report on our initiatives. We will definitely continue working on the wastefulness index. We have singled out other costs from the state, federal and regional budgets and we have set up a working group to monitor the publication of state officials’ tax returns. This process is underway, and we would like to have total control over it because here too there are quite a few sources and information may get lost. We think that the people who believe in our project and in our movement have a right to receive information from a familiar source and to control this information.
Vladimir Putin: I would like to ask you to formulate why you think these amendments are necessary. Mr Govorukhin, please let me see it as soon as it is ready. This is a very good proposal.
Sergei Govorukhin: Certainly.
Alexander Brechalov: We have already formulated it, and discussed it with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service. We believe that we have found common ground, we have shared goals, so we will present the document in the next few days.
Vladimir Putin: Simply give me the document so I can issue the instructions.
Thank you very much.
Co-Chair of the Russian Popular Front Central Staff Lyubov Dukhanina: Mr President, colleagues,
At the December Action Forum, we heard an enormous number of questions on education. We agreed that we would hold a separate forum on this topic. We are now preparing for this forum, seeking answers to those questions jointly with the Popular Front’s regional branches, the education community, teacher associations, parents’ associations, and simultaneously monitoring executive orders; but new questions come up as we go.
One such question concerns the integration of the Crimean and Russian education systems. The Popular Front is actively involved in resolving this problem, jointly with the State Duma, Federation Council and Education Ministry. Issues concerning the end of this school year have already been resolved, we have begun work to develop a regulatory framework, and in several days, we expect to see a draft law on the transition period for Crimea and Sevastopol’s education system.
We have a very important challenge: providing schools with textbooks and equipment. On September 1, for the first time, children in those territories will begin learning according to new federal standards.
Russian standards and Ukrainian standards differ significantly. So it is very important for us to begin systemic work immediately to improve the qualifications of administrative personnel, school principals, deputy principals and teaching staff. It is very important in this situation not to forget about educational content and educational plans for each subject. And naturally, educators are particularly awaiting and paying attention to the history textbooks.
Popular Front activists have begun actively cooperating with kindergartens, schools, and people working in the departments of education. This communication allows our Crimean colleagues to get involved in our nation’s educational system more quickly and for us to share our educational ideas and exchange our best teaching practices.
We plan to present the initial results of the systems’ integration at the education forum, together with colleagues from Sevastopol and Crimea. I suggest that we hold this forum in September. In September, we will also be marking the first anniversary of living under the new law on education. And I think that we will be able to assess how it’s being applied in real life.
If you do not mind, I would like to give the floor to my colleague from Sevastopol.
Co-Chair of the Russian Popular Front Regional Staff (SEVASTOPOL) VIKTOR OGANESYAN: Sevastopol and Crimea are now part of the Russian education space, which we are very happy about. There are an enormous number of problems and issues, but we will deal with everything gradually, step by step.
I would like to talk not about the details or the things we need to resolve today, tomorrow, or the day after, but about the things that are, in our view, the future in matters of teaching and education, specifically in historical education, particularly with regard to history textbooks.
We are very happy that work has begun in Russia to create a common history textbook. We have followed this workcarefully all these years; after all, we never really broke ties with the Russian education space. And personally, I am very familiar with dozens and dozens of Russian history textbooks, and I will say honestly, they are not very good textbooks, to put it mildly.
Granted, Russians can be happy that their children were not studying according to Ukrainian textbooks, which are totally rubbish. For example, they got rid of the term ‘Great Patriotic War’ and replaced it with ‘World War II,’ and nothing at all was written about Sevastopol and its heroic deeds, or maybe just half a line was included.
But that is not what we are discussing now; what we ask for is that the Russian historians, who will be working on this common textbook, do not forget that Sevastopol and Crimea are now Russian regions. They shouldn’t forget the role that Sevastopol and Crimea played in history, in the fate of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and, I suppose, modern Russia. We are very familiar with this part of Sevastopol’s fate; we have never forgotten about the Great Patriotic War.
We know our heroes well, and history cannot be without names and heroes. We know the names of gunners, snipers, brigade commanders, Red Navy sailors, the names of those who, while bleeding in the bunkers, signed their names in blood leaving us their messages that were very simple: defend Sevastopol. And we read those messages very carefully, and we have always carried them in our hearts.
We feel that the examples of Sevastopol and Crimea could be taken to a new level in Russian patriotic education; and to do this, we need a very broad history textbook where Sevastopol and Crimea’s history will be presented fully, fairly and extensively. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Of course. I am certain that this will be done. And naturally, our historians will not forget Crimea in general and Sevastopol in particular. This is something we should use in teaching our youth.
Before the war, in 1938–1939, my father served in Sevastopol’s submarine fleet. During the war, he fought in the Leningrad front, on the ground, but he carried the photographs from that period throughout his entire life; he kept them all his life.
So I think that for many Russians, Sevastopol is a bright example of victory in the broad and most direct sense of the word. I am sure this will be reflected in our textbooks.
Member of The Russian Popular Front Regional Staff (REPUBLIC OF CRIMEA) ANDREI MALGIN: Can I add to my colleague’s comments?
My name is Andrei Malgin, Popular Front in Simferopol, Republic of Crimea. I am a museum director.
I must say: when Crimea joined Russia, it was not just joining the territories and peoples; it was also about joining an entire layer of our common past, common history. First and foremost, this common history does not live in textbooks but in monuments, in certain physical remains of the past.
Unfortunately, during these 23 years, Ukraine had neither the money nor the desire to look after things and sites that are part of our Soviet, imperial, Russian history. And today, the situation in Crimea with regard to cultural facilities, museums and reserves is very sad. We certainly need a comprehensive federal programme. We cannot reviveour museums and reserves using regional resources alone.
And this is the façade, something people will ask about in two or three years, like “What has Russia done for Crimea?” We are ready to take a very active part in this, to leadall of this work. I think the Russian Popular Front and its Crimean branch could serve as that kind of foundation, the base for carrying out that work.
Vladimir Putin: The museums there have very rich collections, dealing with our heroic past, our culture and literature. Of course, we know about the pitiful state of many of them.
We will not talk now about why this happened. Ukraine has its own problems; it even had its own ideology of development or, on the contrary, obliterating some of the common pages of our history. But what is entirely clear is that they need to be revived. You know, yesterday, I was talking with Mr Aksyonov, Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea, about an issue we need to resolve: whether we will leave all this at a regional level, or take it to the federal level.
The truth is, we could do it either way. We will base our decisions first and foremost on your opinion in particular, the opinion of the Crimean people. We will still need to finance it from the federal budget, either directly or through corresponding subsidies to Crimea as a federal constituent entity.
Andrei Malgin: Mr President, perhaps a transition period could be used? For example, a special federal programme will be in effect for a certain period of time, to revive and support our institutions.
Vladimir Putin: We will draw up a federal programme for its development in general, and one of the programme sections will deal with the cultural heritage.
Sergei Govorukhin: I hope the State Duma Committee on Culture will hold an offsite meeting in Crimea in the near future.
Vladimir Putin: Later, in July or August. (Laughter.)
Sergei Govorukhin: I suppose that is what will happen.
Vladimir Putin: Right now, they need to go to Krasnoyarsk: it’s warm there.
Sergei Govorukhin: I would not recommend using the verbs “joining” or “joined” at all, because that is not the case. This was a reunification: Crimea has returned to its Fatherland.
Well, it seems to me that the boring part of the programme was the most interesting. In autumn, sometime in December, we intend to hold a second action forum.
And as for your instructions concerning the Road of Life Memorial Museum [the ice road winter transport route across the frozen Lake Ladoga, which provided the only access to the besieged city of Leningrad], we are working on it. The progress here is slow, but we are moving. There is an idea to hold a Road of Life telethon on May 9 to raise funds for the museum.
Incidentally, Mr Brechalov wanted to say something, right?
Alexander Brechalov: I always have something to say, Mr President, but on a slightly different topic.
Sergei Govorukhin: But you wanted to make some sort of announcement.
Alexander Brechalov: Not an announcement but a suggestion.
Yes, Mr President, I have a suggestion. Russia has good, extensive experience in holding various youth forums, including Seliger, Biryusa, and just a month ago, if anyone is not aware, the World Congress was held in Moscow.
Colleagues, I want to point out the numbers. A month ago, right at the critical period, when our western colleagues and partners were all worrying about sanctions against us… and so on. Well, 7,000 young entrepreneurs visited Moscow from 154 nations. And nobody refused to come – people came from the US, Canada and Germany; and everyone was genuinely thrilled in talking about the climate and the forum.
And in this regard, Mr President, I have a suggestion: in August of this year, to hold in Crimea…
Vladimir Putin: Just as I was saying. (Laughter.)
Alexander Brechalov: To hold the Russian Youth Forum in Crimea; we have already come up with a title: Taurida. We will certainly ensure it has a high-quality agenda and we will definitely hold sporting events. We want to organise a very cool race, a half-marathon in Sevastopol, make it nice and interesting. And we are asking for your support.
Vladimir Putin: That’s great. Of course, it’s a good idea.
Sergei Govorukhin: Honestly, I did not believe that you would find time for us in such difficult days. Thank you very much for this meeting.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Govorukhin, thank you for keeping everything at such a good level, for developing it, for helping do this. I want to say that naturally, the situation is not the easiest in our nation.
But there is nothing more important than our own economic and social well-being. So the work of the Popular Front is the most important, it is what makes up the very essence of our lives. It concerns housing and utilities, emergency and dilapidated housing. I hope to receive your suggestions.
And moreover, I did not say this earlier, but I want to say it now: I would like for you and your colleagues to participate directly in developing these programmes. Not just writing it on paper, for me to impose some sort of resolution and send it, but for you to participate in developing the programmes. This concerns medicine and education. All this makes up the very essence and the foundation of our lives.
Thank you very much for being engaged in this.