Magnitogorsky Metallurg: How do you assess the situation in the Chechen Republic?
Vladimir Putin: The situation is complicated, but in any case this cancerous growth no longer exists on Russian territory, this enclave, which does whatever it likes and commits arbitrary acts and lawlessness. Secondly, we have still a lot to do to finally bring the situation there back to normal. Much of the effort should be directed towards solving economic and social problems. While we will focus on this range of issues, we will continue to deal with what still worries us, namely, manifestations of terrorism. If we have an effective social and economic policy in Chechnya, the federal Government will have an increasing support among local population.
Associated Press: What are your plans regarding Edmond Pope in the light of the decision of the Commission on Pardons?
Vladimir Putin: You know the decision of the Presidential Commission on Pardons. The Commission’s members include some of the most authoritative and highly respected public and cultural figures and, of course, I cannot ignore their opinion. In making this decision, we will take into account the high level of relations at present between the United States and the Russian Federation. It is not our aim to look for pretexts and reasons for worsening the relations between the two countries. The issue will be resolved on that basis. But by law I can only make the decision after the court ruling comes into force, on December 14. We had a talk with President Bill Clinton yesterday and he invariably raises the fate of Mr Pope in our meetings and talks. Yesterday too, the US President expressed concern about his state of health. For my part I promised that pending the final decision on December 14 we are going to do everything to provide the required level and quality of medical service. Mr Pope has been informed of our talk with the US President and was offered medical assistance. He turned it down and said that he doesn’t need it at the moment and would like to avail himself of the assistance of the English-speaking doctors who had treated him earlier. I repeat, under Russian laws the decision cannot be taken before December 14 this year.
Ria Vesti: Do you think that the decision of the State Duma on state symbols may cause a split in Russian society?
Vladimir Putin: I hope that won’t happen. But I believe that such a large country as ours, especially when it is in the midst of a process of reorganisation and transformation, and which has lived without symbols, without insignia, if you like, for 10 years – such a state is not a state in the full sense of the word. Ten years is enough time to solve the problem and to realise that the issue has come to a head. It has to be solved and I think that the State Duma deputies did the right thing by taking that decision. I support their decision.
Interfax: What exactly do you mean when you say that “the Government’s actions should be firm”?
Vladimir Putin: Frankly, when I said that, I was referring to the energy situation, the situation with the supply of central heating and electricity to residential houses and arrears in the payment of wages to public sector employees in some parts of the Far East. Yes, unfortunately, there is a great deal in the sphere of mutual rights and obligations that has yet to be properly regulated. In reality it is a consequence of the unregulated political sphere when one branch of power feels absolutely independent of another and nobody is accountable to anybody for anything. It has to be recognised for what it is, and sloppiness and impunity should be punished by the Government and administrative bodies, including law enforcement bodies. This is one more reminder of the fact that we must continue to improve the political structure of our state, each level of the Government should have the range of obligations with which it is vested by law. By the way, the law contains a qualification of certain types of behaviour and it has such a concept as negligence and so on. So, I think it is the duty of the Government to react accordingly and to guarantee compliance with the laws of the Russian Federation throughout its territory.