President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. Go ahead.
Question: Dozhd TV channel. You spoke about independent television today. It so happened (as a representative of the channel I cannot help asking you) that now our channel is financed only by the viewers, because after that poll that you know about, the one the channel apologised for and later removed from its website, we lost everything: advertising, cable operators and satellites. Inspectors from all sorts of agencies came along and started investigations, as it usually happens – this, unfortunately, is also a Russian tradition. As a result, a private company that used to be very efficient has found itself on the verge of bankruptcy.
Do you think it is fair that this happens after one makes a mistake and then apologises for it and corrects it? Do you see this as a threat to small and medium-size private business? Doesn’t this destroy people’s ambition to do anything creative, be it in technology, the media or any other sphere of activity? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: As for private business, I believe you will agree that any kind of business – high technology, media or any other – should operate within the boundaries of the acting legislation and use the normative base that exists in the country, and if anything is wrong, it should be improved, and this should be stated openly. Moreover, the media can do this, and often do.
What can I say here? If the fact that Dozhd is off-screen has resulted in some investigations and excessive attention on the part of all these oversight agencies, I will do everything possible to relieve you of such excessive attention.
As for advertising, and other people who determine the financial wellbeing of the channel and the business, this is something else. You should address this question to them. I have just answered a similar question during the Direct Line. I believe that we all should have the opportunity to express any point of view. Only this will make it possible to take a balanced decision based on the entire range of attitudes to an issue.
Dozhd is an interesting channel with a good young team, but as you said yourself, they made a mistake. Frankly speaking, this was not just a mistake, but an insult to a large number of our citizens. You have to admit it, which you have done. Now you need to find a way out of the situation. I am sure this is possible. Why not?
Question: Mr President, next month you will be making an official visit to China to take part in the Shanghai Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. What do you expect of this visit to China?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I look forward to meeting my friends. President Xi Jinping and I share not only a good working relationship but a friendship as well, and I say this with confidence. We have things to talk about in a bilateral format, in terms of Russian-Chinese relations, which have reached an unprecedentedly high level in trade and the economy, in cooperation in advanced technologies, c and security, and international affairs.
I said this on numerous occasions, have just said it recently and will repeat now that relations between Russia and China are one of the most important factors of international stability. We are closely cooperating within the framework of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, which was Kazakhstan’s initiative. This is a very important aspect, as you may know, especially now with the withdrawal of the international contingent from Afghanistan. This concerns us directly as it is our region. We will be discussing all of these issues, along with humanitarian contacts between the citizens of our two countries, between our young people. We have programmes to promote language study, to enhance cultural exchange and so forth.
Question: Italian news agency. Starting on July 1, Italy will take over the Council of Europe presidency. Do you expect any changes in the relations between Europe and Russia?
Vladimir Putin: Italy and Russia share more than good relations. Italy is one of our most important trade and economic partners, our traditional partner in Europe. And we believe that Italy will have a certain national consensus on developing relations with Russia. We will, too. We very much value our relations with Italy. Let me remind you that Mr Berlusconi initiated the creation of the Russia-NATO Council. Unfortunately, today these relations are frozen; but nevertheless, it was he who created it. I must say that Mr Letta gave a great deal of attention to developing our relations, as has the new Prime Minister. We see that in spite of the change in government – in spite of the domestic policy battle, which is normal for any civilised nation, including a European one – the attitude toward Russia is nevertheless quite positive and oriented toward partnership. We very much count on Italy to give new momentum to developing relations between Russia and Europe.
Question: Among your presidential colleagues in the West, are there any national leaders you would take along on a recon mission?
Vladimir Putin: A recon mission? You know, that’s not how they work; if they need any kind of information, they don’t need to gather it themselves. They have intelligence services for that.
But typically, these are very decent, highly interesting people; it is not just fascinating to talk and socialise with them, but is very useful as well. These are generally very reliable partners.
But I will repeat something just recently said on Direct Line: they are burdened by certain obligations, particularly if they are members of military and political blocs and are obligated to act within the framework of the intra-bloc order. In essence, these nations voluntarily gave up a part of their sovereignty; that is their choice, or that is how things developed historically. But on a personal level, all of them are decent and reliable individuals.
Question: Today, you spoke at length about Ukraine and said you would very much like to avoid using the parliamentary mandate to use force. Nevertheless, many observers note that tension in Ukraine is escalating. Do you feel the situation could reach a point where you will need to make that decision? What line would need to be crossed for that decision to be made?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I do not even want to talk about it now, because any words said carelessly in this situation and in this area could negatively impact the development of the process itself.
I very much hope that the efforts by the diplomats in Geneva today will yield results and allow our Ukrainian colleagues and friends throughout Ukraine’s entire territory, regardless of where they live, to reach a consensus to ensure the interests of all of Ukraine’s citizens, including, of course, the Russian-speaking and Russian population in southeast Ukraine.
Question: Will the President have a residence in Crimea?
Vladimir Putin: I will not have a residence there for now. I have offered one of the residences there to the Government – there are many of them, over a hundred, nearly 200 various residences. They are in a deplorable state; it’s as though no architect or builder has set foot there in a hundred years.
Question: We all realise that economic growth is slowing. As far as we know, there are two points of view in the Government. The first is to stick to the budgetary rule as set out by the former and current Finance Minister. The second approach is to relax the budgetary rule and overcome economic deceleration by weakening the rule and spending more. What is your personal position: to stick to the budgetary rule and follow [ex-Finance Minister] Kudrin’s path, or listen to the current members of the Cabinet – to spend more and save less?
Vladimir Putin: The proponents of each point of view have a certain logic. Those who favour spending more state that our nation has become bigger. This is true. And it has not grown by just 200,000 or 300,000 people. We have 2.2 million (or 2.3 million) new citizens; that is a serious number. We have expenditures in that territory, including from the federal budget, but we have revenues as well. We will certainly have revenues. All of this must be taken into account.
Moreover, we have additional income related to national currency calibrations and related to additional revenues from oil and gas. They amount to about one trillion rubles. This is serious money, and we need to consider how to use it.
But there are also risks related not only to our economy and not just Crimea. You are well aware that after the US Federal Reserve made decisions to curtail financial mitigation, monetary mitigation, the so-called investors began to withdraw money from developing markets, weakening the national currency exchange rates. I believe the Australian dollar dipped by 11.5 percent, the Russian ruble by 12.5–12.6 percent, the Brazilian real by 12.6 percent, the South African rand by 13.5 percent, and the Turkish lira dipped by 25 percent, while the Argentinian peso fell as much as 34 percent, or even 36 percent. This has reflected on Russia’s economy. As I said, the Russian ruble also dipped.
But the question is, what do we do with these revenues? Given the risks in the global economy – I repeat, not just in the Russian economy – I would not rush to change the budgetary rule, but this decision belongs to the Government of the Russian Federation. Thank you.