Sergey Brilev: The year is drawing to a close. Are you pleased with its results?
Vladimir Putin: To answer that question we have to recall what goals we set ourselves at the beginning of the year, in January.
We faced several tasks. Basically they were as follows.
First, sustaining the positive trends of the Russian economic growth and using that as a basis to improve the well-being of the people and create conditions for positive national development in the medium term.
And if we look at what we have at the end of the year, the results are as follows.
We planned an economic growth of 4%, and it turned out to be 5.5%. The final figures will be known late this year and early next year.
Industrial output has increased by 5.2%, and agriculture has performed even better. In general I would like to congratulate our agricultural workers because this year they set a record of sorts. And I am not speaking about the grain harvest, which is 83.7 million tons this year. We haven’t had such a harvest in years. And if you look at the dynamics, they are even more impressive: three years ago we had 48 million tons, two years ago 55, last year 64.5, that’s about 65; and this year – 83.7, almost 84 million tons. But what is more important is that according to experts (but that will probably need to be verified) the yields per hectare have been the biggest in the whole history of Russia.
Now for the main thing, people’s incomes. The picture is as follows.
Incomes have been growing steadily since last year. Last year they grew by 6% and this year by 6.5%. Average wages, and I stress, average wages, increased by 20–21%.
Let me note from the start that the growth has been less for the military and the public sector employees. In general, our economy employs 60 million people, of whom 10 million are employed in the public sector. Public sector employees had only one 20% increase in January this year, but this year we have been paying back wage arrears for previous years. The federal budget has earmarked twice as much money for that purpose than last year. Early in the year, in January, wage arrears to public sector employees stood at 3.5 billion rubles. They have now dropped to 1.5 billion.
The number of unemployed has dropped significantly from 11.1 to 8.9%, that is, by one and a half million people. In short, the figures are significant.
The Central Bank has increased its gold and currency reserves. The ruble has grown stronger, although we have failed to meet the targeted rate of reducing inflation. It is lower than last year but it falls short of the budgetary target.
All that has apparently brought about a psychological change because we still have a positive birth rate trend. While the demographic situation overall is negative, the birth rate has increased. It shows that the so-called planning horizon has increased for the government, for individual companies and for individuals and families.
Of course, there are a lot of outstanding problems and people’s living standards are still very low, if you look at pensioners, it is still very low. Having said that, the pensions have increased by a record 23% this year. I am giving you real figures because the formal figures are still higher, 40–50%. But the real figure – adjusted for inflation – is a 23% growth of the incomes of pensioners. Even so, living standards remain quite low. But the trend is very positive.
And all this combined gives us grounds for saying that the results of our work (and when I say “our” I mean the whole country) can be considered satisfactory. And one can safely say that the outgoing 2001 was a good year for Russia.
Question (Vladivostok): Good morning, Mr Putin.
I am a teacher at a children’s arts school. I have a question that is critical for our region. The prices of electricity and central heating are soaring. No wages can keep up with these prices. Will this issue be tackled at the government level? Or will we be left at the mercy of RAO UES?
Vladimir Putin: I must tell you that RAO UES is not an alien company for the government. But of course we will not leave a single person, let alone a whole region, at the mercy of a single company, we will never do it. In general, the energy supply of such a territory as Primorye and of the Far East as a whole is a major national problem.
I must say that in the Soviet times there was no sustainable system of heating and electricity supply in the area. You know that the region has to rely to a large extent on imported fuel, expensive fuel oil and coals, which have to be brought either from Yakutia or from other regions of the country. And the power transmission network is not sufficiently developed.
At the same time the Government, above all RAO UES, with government support, intend to implement a series of programmes to develop this area. One of these is the Bureiskaya water-power plant in the Amur Region. It is to be launched in the second quarter of 2003. We will continue to develop the power industry in Kamchatka. A geothermal power plant was launched there recently. And gas development continues. The government debated for a long time whether it should suspend the construction of the power plant in Magadan. It has been decided to go ahead with the construction. It will be launched a little later than the Bureiskaya water-power plant.
All that, plus additional efforts of the government and the companies working in this sphere, must yield a positive result. Unfortunately, that is not enough. We must restructure the whole system of supplying heat and electricity to households, especially in such an important region as the Far East. We must align the prices between consumers and producers of electricity and heating, and build natural, normal economic relations. Of course the complexities of the process must not affect the population and the growth of people’s incomes should outstrip the growth of tariffs and prices.
Question (Vladivostok): Good morning, Mr Putin.
I have a simple question. You keep speaking about reforms. But as an ordinary student, like most of the Primorye region people who have gathered here, I don’t understand what is it all about.
Take, for example, the housing reform, which you often speak about, but on which little seems to be done. What do we see? The cost of housing is growing, but the plumbing in flats is rusty and leaking. Can you explain, Mr President, what this housing reform is all about and what is in it for us?
Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your question. Indeed, little is happening in this sphere, but I must say that reforms haven’t really started. So far there has been just talk about the reform. It is as if somebody who has suffered from a chronic ailment for many years comes to a doctor and says: I want to join the pool of cosmonauts, can you give me a pill because I have to pass my medical checkup tomorrow with flying colours. Such miracles do not happen.
The problems with the housing and utilities sector have been building up for years, and not only in the last 10 years. You are a young man, I don’t consider myself to be an old man myself, but I remember, and the people of my generation remember well a lot of jokes about plumbers in the Soviet times: they either have no nut of the right size, or a pipe would break, and pipes would leak here and there – we all know it. The sector was under-funded for decades. But in the Soviet times, although all this was officially municipal property, in fact it was financed by the central government, because the heads of the so-called planning commissions of local Executive Councils went to Moscow or to the regional capital to lobby for more allocations. And the money then trickled down to house maintenance committees. Everything was in short supply, and there was underfunding, and everything was slowly decaying, but in general kept afloat.
Beginning from the 1990s the whole housing and utilities sphere was truly transferred to the municipalities, and their financial and budgetary resources are way too limited to meet the needs of the housing and utilities sector.
So, a lot remains to be done here. And for starters, we should make sure that the money the government allocates, including the federal budget money, does not go to local monopoly enterprises (it does not matter whether they are private or government-owned, what matters is that they are monopolies), but directly to the people: to you and other owners of housing. When people begin to accumulate money in special personal accounts and create associations of flat owners and themselves order services, then that government money will work much more effectively.
Experts say that 20% less money will be needed than we spend on that sphere today. And another result which is important in this country, whose population is not very wealthy, is this: government assistance will reach the people who need it. And the people with high incomes will pay the full price.
Antonina Rzhanova (Volgograd): My name is Antonina Yemelyanovna Rzhanova. I am a war veteran and I get a pension of 1000 rubles. Help me, please, I saw military action during the war. I was on the frontline and for some reason I only get a pension of a thousand rubles. I have been in Kalmykia, I have been in Poland.
Vladimir Putin: I understand. Thank you for your question. It is strange to hear this because the average pension in the country has exceeded the targets that we set early in the year. In general, I must say (and this is well known) that over the past two years the government has been paying a due share of attention to pensioners, at least to the best of its ability.
I have said that the average pension has increased by about 23%, but the pensions of war veterans and disabled war veterans have increased even more. Let me see, the pension to World War II veterans has increased by 1250 rubles and has reached 3400 rubles. And if for some reason your pension has not been adjusted, that is odd, obviously it is a mistake of the relevant agencies, which should look into it.
I hope that you have left your telephone number with the studio and it will be passed on to us, and I promise you that the problem will be solved.
Question (Novosibirsk): Good morning, Mr Putin. We have been talking a lot about economic growth. But what will happen to fundamental science and will the funding of fundamental research be increased?
Vladimir Putin: I have said it many times and I think it is important to repeat that science and education are more important for us even than energy, than oil and gas because this is what distinguished us from the countries which until recently we described as developing countries. And of course the government must pay due attention to science.
I agree that for many years science has been neglected. However, I would like you to note that over the past two years the government has been meeting all the budgetary targets. On the whole we see – and I talked with the President of the Academy of Sciences about it yesterday and he has confirmed that on the whole the outlays for fundamental and applied science… I know what you are going to tell me: applied science is a separate item. Of course, I think applied science should be the concern of those industrial sectors to which it caters. But fundamental science is the concern of the government.
This year saw a slight growth. Next year financing of fundamental science is to increase by 40–50%. Of course, it will be less in real terms considering the inflation level. But the government has made a decision: this year the money will be spent to increase the salaries of those who work in the sphere of fundamental science and to address the problems connected with the housing and utilities sphere.
And next year, in 2003, will see allocations for the research process proper. We wish we could do it at once, but unfortunately, the budget cannot support everything at once, so we have to solve the problems in this sequence.
Question (Novosibirsk): I am recently retired. I am aware that pensions have been raised. Again, pensions are being recalculated. Won’t we be cheated, as before?
Vladimir Putin: You probably mean the planned pension reform envisaged by the package of laws passed by the State Duma which applies to the paid up part of the pensions.
Let me reassure you. That system will fully apply and cover only those citizens who today are under the age of 30. That category of citizens will be fully covered by that system. The people in the 30–50 age bracket will be covered only partially. And the people aged 50 and older, let alone those who are already retired, will not be affected at all.
The paid up system will function in the following way. Today companies and organisations contribute 28% to the Pension Fund, of which only 2% will go into the accumulated part in 2002. I would like to take advantage of your question to explain it not only to you but to all the other people who are interested. Only 2% will go to the accumulated part. And a person will in the future be able to decide whether to deposit the accumulated part with some fund or to use it in some other way.
The government has assumed that it would bring part of the wages out of the shadow economy because a person will demand that the employer declare his full wage and not pay it “under the table” in an envelope, because the future pension would depend on his wage today. And that is a very important principle.
I repeat, it will be introduced gradually, and as regards current pensioners, pensions will be raised on a quarterly basis in 2002.
Svetlana Serebryakova (Novosibirsk): How long will the Russian economy continue to depend on world oil prices?
Vladimir Putin: You know, Svetlana, I wouldn’t say that the Russian economy is so heavily dependent. What is your major at university?
Svetlana Serebryakova: International relations.
Vladimir Putin: So, it’s a question in your line.
The Russian economy does not depend on oil prices. But it is true that the Russian budget does depend on oil prices. The dependence is considerable because 30–40% of the budget hard currency revenues still come from the sale of our energy on the external market.
Of course, we are all worried whether the government will be able to cope with its social obligations next year if oil and gas prices continue to decline. It would create difficulties for the budget. But I must say that, first, it assumes a minimal price of oil, and is based on the worst-case scenario.
And secondly, and most importantly, and I would like to draw your attention to this as a future international affairs expert – all our efforts this year, involving joint and fairly difficult work with the Parliament – and the Parliament (I should have said it at the very beginning, answering the first question) has been doing its level best this year; I am saying it without a trace of irony because the deputies have been working until 10 or 11 p.m. and sometimes through the night – well, the main thing that has been accomplished during this time is that a whole package of laws has been drafted and passed, including laws in the sphere of the economy or related spheres. That block of laws should create prerequisites for a favourable development of the country in the medium term.
And if that is so, we will see a good and sustainable investment climate beginning from next year. And if that happens then the money accumulated, among others, by our oil and other companies that have been selling commodities for many years, can be redistributed to other sectors of the Russian economy. And in general it may even have a positive effect. For this to happen, I repeat, we must have the kind of state that is not only able to secure that these laws are passed, but to enforce them.
Ivan Rumyantsev (Moscow): My name is Ivan Mikhailovich Rumyantsev. I am retired, I am 71. Beslan Gantamirov has reported in the AiF newspaper the whereabouts of Basayev and Maskhadov in Chechnya. Why aren’t the special services using that information? Or perhaps the special services carrying out the operation in Chechnya don’t want to detain Basayev and Maskhadov?
Vladimir Putin: Now, Ivan Mikhailovich, no one is interested in letting them remain at large except the bandits themselves.
If this were the case one of them wouldn’t have had half of his leg shot off.
As for Gantamirov’s claim you have referred to, you know that he is deputy to the Presidential Envoy to the Southern Federal District and until recently he was the mayor of Grozny, and he controlled the Chechen police to a large extent. So, if he really knew the whereabouts of certain prominent insurgents, and in what house they were staying and had a chance to seize them, he would have done so. Knowing his character, I haven’t the slightest doubt about it.
I think his information is fairly vague. And you have to bear in mind that the places he mentions are not little hamlets with two or three houses. There are several thousand people in these communities. And remember that the insurgents had been preparing for this situation. I have no doubt that they have ensured their safety by digging underground passages and so on.
So, unfortunately, we cannot afford to conduct the special operations called “mopping up” operations in communities where thousands of people live. We cannot use the aviation – including heavy bombers, as we did in Afghanistan. We should not forget that the people who live there are Russian citizens and we must proceed very carefully. But I have no doubt that our special services will get them in the end.
Question (Yekaterinburg): Good morning, Mr Putin.
My name is Alexei. I’d like to ask you a question. As far as I know, you worked in the intelligence for a long time. And I understand that the main efforts of our intelligence were aimed at strengthening the positions of our state in the world political arena to counter the potential enemies. And the United States was thought to be the main potential enemy.
I am very keen to know how you felt when you spent the night at the ranch of George Bush, the American leader.
Vladimir Putin: Alexei, you are right, of course. During the times of the Soviet Union, the United States and the NATO bloc were regarded as the main enemy. The official documents of the organisation with which I worked referred to the United States as “the main enemy”.
But I was not too worried about spending the night at President Bush’s country house. I think he must have known what he was doing if he was hosting a former Soviet foreign intelligence agent.
Besides, I can tell you and I think you know that the incumbent President of the United States is the son of the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, who later became the President of the United States. So, in a way, we were like members of a family and we got along very well.
Question (Yekaterinburg): My husband Leonid and I (my name is Anna) are a young family, recently married, and we both happen to work in the public sector. I am a school teacher and Leonid is in his sixth year in a medical school studying to become a doctor.
I need hardly tell you what a puny income we have. Of course we are grateful to you for gradually raising our pay, but I am sure you agree that something drastic needs to be done to solve the problem.
Leonid: My name is Leonid, my basic salary will be about 700 rubles, so at best, including all the night shifts, I will make about a thousand rubles. And the total family income will be about two or three thousand a month, which, as I’m sure you’re aware, is not a living wage.
I would like to ask you: when will the position of public sector employees change in a cardinal way?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it is a difficult situation. I spoke about it at the very beginning and I would like to repeat it. We could not introduce real and serious wage increases in the public sector until we had repaid the arrears on wages built up over the past years. And as I said, this year the arrears dropped from 3.5 billion rubles to 1.5 billion.
Let us face it: one cannot give promises that are impossible to keep, and then fail to deliver on them or “ferret out” that money from other sectors. At the end of the day, it is destructive for the economy.
We have by and large solved the first task in this sphere. The arrears have in the main been paid up, although not fully, and so we have been planning to start raising wages next year. But having looked at the results of the work this year we concluded (and the deputies made the calculations) that the raises will be considerable: by 40–60%, it’s the real figure, adjusted for inflation. The real figures. All this will be introduced from December 1 this year.
Of course, this is not enough. I think Leonid is absolutely right that it is not enough. You have mentioned two spheres, both of them very important for the state: education and healthcare. These are very similar budget-supported spheres, but they are still different.
I would like to say a couple of words about medical care. While developing private medicine we must preserve free medical services for the overwhelming majority of our citizens because their incomes are very low. The focus will be on insurance based healthcare. Money must not go to a medical facility simply because it exists, but on the quality of the services rendered and the number of patients served. Once the insurance system has enough funds to provide that money effectively follow patients, then the incomes in that sector of healthcare and the incomes of healthcare workers themselves will increase qualitatively.
At present the Government is grappling with two issues in this sphere. On the one hand, it is drafting additional legislation and on the other hand, economic validation is being provided. We are looking for sources of funding to create the necessary start-up capital for the insurance system. It is insufficiently developed today.
Regarding schools. It is a separate topic which is even more important for the state. Insurance has no place here. We can use only direct financing. This is particularly true of the secondary school, more than of higher education. The school is in a difficult situation, just like the housing and utilities sector because it is in the hands of municipal authorities, which don’t have sufficient budget revenues to maintain schools in proper conditions.
Was it Sverdlovsk?
Yekaterina Andreyeva: Yekaterinburg.
Vladimir Putin: I think the Yekaterinburg Region has the only school in Russia which is on strike. And yet Yekaterinburg is a high-revenue region, it is a net contributor to the federal budget. Why does it happen? Because there are certain problems in bringing support from the national and regional level to the municipal level, including support of schools.
I think that problem can and must be solved. And I have prepared a decree, which I am going to sign before the end of the year. It is a very soft decree, but it recommends the heads of the Russian regions to introduce targeted subsidies for schools to maintain their facilities and material resources and the salaries of teachers. The federal budget will help the regions for its part.
Pavel Gamov (Orenburg): My name is Pavel Grigoryevich Gamov, I am a pensioner and I live in Orenburg. I have a question that worries me very much. How do you account for the fact that the courts pass long prison sentences for minor crimes while not using other means of punishment envisaged by the criminal law?
Vladimir Putin: Pavel Grigoryevich, you have touched a sore spot, you put your finger on it. The problem is there: it is a distortion of the government’s crime control policy. The policy is set forth in the Criminal Code and we should see how to change it.
Nothing like it happens in other democratic countries. Minor crimes of course can be punished in ways that do not involve imprisonment. At the same time court rulings regarding people who have committed serious crimes must be enforced. And the state must be consistent. The government has been given this task and we will tackle it.
Yekaterina Andreyeva (reads out a question online): Petrov, an entrepreneur in Moscow, and Andrei Cherkashin, a journalist: are you aware that there is a popular new phrase, “the cover market” and that representatives of the law enforcement bodies are in the top spot in this criminal rating? What is the national government going to do to conquer the most powerful mafia in the land?
Vladimir Putin: I am aware of the problem, and there are no easy solutions. I am sure there are many questions on this topic, which is very close to the topic of corruption. In general, corruption and abuse of power, especially in the law enforcement sphere, is not unique to Russia. It is a scourge of many countries. But in Russia it has acquired a certain scale that the government cannot ignore.
In order to solve this problem the situation in society as a whole must be changed, in economics and in the education sphere. But meaningful administrative decisions are also needed.
One way to tackle this problem is to strengthen the law enforcement agencies and reform the courts. This is the aim of the package of laws on the reform of the judiciary which seeks to strengthen the courts, to make them more independent, on the one hand, and more accountable to society and the government, on the other hand. As you know, the Criminal Procedural Code is due to come into force next year, and under its provisions no citizen can be interrogated even when detained, not arrested, but simply detained, in the absence of a lawyer. So, if beginning from July 1 next year somebody detains you in the street, he has no right to interrogate you in the absence of your lawyer if you demand that a lawyer be present.
Beginning from next year a criminal case cannot be opened without the approval of the Prosecutor’s Office. Up until now the police could open a criminal case with regard to any citizen at its discretion. Now the decision will be taken by the Interior Ministry, by its officials, but only with the consent of the Prosecutor’s Office.
The court system itself has been strengthened. We have introduced the upper age limit for judges, it is 65. Previously there was no age limit. We have introduced a special procedure of bringing judges to account, including bringing criminal charges against them. A procedure of conducting operations with regard to judges has been written down in the law. And so on and so forth.
And what is important, I think – although it is not directly linked with the activities of the Interior Ministry, but still – is the overall strengthening of the rule of law in the country. We have paid particular attention to implementing the decisions of the Constitutional Court. All that is called upon to increase the potential of the state to restore order in that sphere.
Yekaterina Andreyeva (reads out a question online): One more question. Lyudmila Konstantinovna Shchavinskaya, a retiree from St Petersburg: “I am the mother of Captain Third Rank Ilya Vyacheslavovich Shchavinsky, who died when the Kursk submarine sank. As the President, you have kept your promise, the submarine has been lifted. We are proud of you. But tell me, how can the people who tried to talk you out of it look you straight in the eye?” This is the question.
Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank you for this question. I must say that there have been many arguments about the lifting of the submarine. But when I made that decision, I must say that it was not my own decision, it was based on the opinion of scientists with whom I worked directly.
However, those who objected to the lifting, let us be honest, had weighty arguments, because nobody could say with 100% certainty how it would end. So, I wouldn’t be as critical as you sound.
As for the words used in the question about myself, I would like to thank you for these kind words. But I think it is your relatives we should be proud of above all: your sons, husbands, all those who died on the Kursk submarine and all those who continue their service in these harsh conditions and are fulfilling the vital task of ensuring the country’s defense capability.
Question (Murmansk): Good morning, Mr Putin. My name is Sergei. I am a Lieutenant. In your opening remarks you mentioned the salaries of servicemen. Which prompts my question: Do you think that the measures being taken in this area can really raise my living standard at least to a middle class level? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I began my service as a lieutenant in 1975. At the end of 1975 my salary was 180 rubles. Not much, even for those times, but decent. Of course, we should not only raise the salaries of our servicemen to the national average, I think they should be a little higher.
Just yesterday we had a conversation and an argument with some government members on this issue. In general I think that the incomes of servicemen should be a little higher than the incomes of civil servants, at least by 25–30%. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go to achieve such a situation.
Not much has been done for the Army in that way this year. It has to be admitted. This year the government repaid arrears to servicemen on hardship pay that were introduced last year for those who serve in the North or in the Far East. That was all. Part of the reason for that is that the plan of the Armed Forces development took too long to draw up. The development programme and who should be paid how much was to be coordinated with that plan.
Starting this year our plans are as follows: beginning from January 1 the extra pay for service in special conditions will be increased from 50% to 70% of the salary.
Second. We will reintroduce extra pay for commanders of military units. It will cover mainly medium-level commanders from regimental commander down. Generals will also get an increase, but not as much. On average it will be just 10–15%.
And as of July 1 this year there will be a significant raise: by 40–60% in real terms on average. But that will be only the first step towards improving the material well-being of servicemen. The next phase, if everything goes right, and I hope it will, will be a raise of benefits for military rank in 2003. If all that comes through, the average income of a serviceman will be higher than that of a civil servant of a similar level by 30%.
But the main problem today is of course providing servicemen with housing: today we have 90,000 officers and warrant officers who have no apartments of their own. Not enough is being done to tackle the problem. This year, at this moment, only 13,700 or 13,800 servicemen have received their flats. Some additional money was disbursed in December and one more thousand families will get flats. That would bring the total number to 14,700–14,800. Last year only 8000 servicemen got new flats. Beginning from next year the number of people who will get their own flats is to be doubled. We expect that at this rate we will gradually solve the problem.
But I would like to take advantage of your question to draw your attention to some other things. I spoke about raising salaries of servicemen starting from July. (Katya is nervous because I think she wants to read another question. But I will finish answering this question because I know that it is a big worry for servicemen).
Simultaneously, some privileges are to be abolished. But I would like to note that not all of them are abolished, for example, free travel to the place of service and back, during holidays and so on will be retained. But exemptions from taxes and housing and utility rates are to be canceled.
Let me explain that I have instructed the Government to develop and promptly introduce the mechanism that would spread to servicemen the common rule, namely, if you have to pay more than 22% of the total household income for housing and utilities, everything over and above 22% must be subsidised by the state. I want you and all the other officers to know that.
Secondly, retired veterans will retain all their privileges. No privileges they enjoy now are to be abolished. Actually, they are in an advantageous position because they will have their pensions raised as the salaries of servicemen are raised (as you know, the pensions of all the retired servicemen are pegged to their salaries). The pensions will go up and no privileges for veterans will be abolished. Make a note of that. I know that it is a question that worries veterans.
Nikolai Savinykh (Murmansk): My name is Nikolai Mikhailovich Savinykh. I have worked at the Defense Ministry shipyard for thirty years. During the past ten years all financing of the facilities has been cut. They are practically all afloat. And they employ tens of millions of people.
And this is my question: will the Government face the problems of the military-industrial complex, specifically of Defense Ministry enterprises?
Vladimir Putin: Nikolai Mikhailovich, it was probably a slip of the tongue. You said that they were afloat. If they were afloat, that would be fine. I understand that you meant to say that they are all foundering.
Indeed, the defense industry has been in trouble throughout the past decade. And you are absolutely right to draw my attention to this problem. What can you expect if during all this time we haven’t started building a single vessel for the Russian Navy? It is only quite recently that the first new naval vessel in a decade started to be built in St Petersburg.
However, if you work in this sphere surely you will know and feel that the government has changed its attitude to the defense industry during the past two years and has been paying more attention to it. We have repaid almost all our debts to the defense industry, 80% to be more precise. The remaining 20% will be paid up in the first quarter of 2002.
And of course, the defense industry should be developed in accordance with the plans for the Armed Forces development. It took us too long to put our act together and work out a strategy of the development of the armed forces until 2010 and a plan of building the armed forces until 2005. The development of the defense industry has been geared to that plan. The government will increase its outlays for the military industrial complex by 30% in 2002.
Nikolai Mikhailovich, I think you will agree with me that in addition to the defense industry we have doctors, teachers and pensioners. I think this is the maximum of what the government can do in this very important area. But we will try to meet the targets that we set.
Kirill Kleimyonov (reads a question that came over the telephone): Yelena Vitalyevna Krasilnikova from the Kostroma Region asks an unusual question: “Mr Putin, you constantly meet with people and presidents, and are always in the public eye. You fly every day; perhaps you have a double, and if not, when do you rest?”
Vladimir Putin: First, it is not every day that I fly although I do travel a great deal across the country and go abroad frequently. When I have free time I do sports, I try to do sports during my free time. Of course I have no doubles. These are a myth.
Alexander Minnikov: Good morning, my name is Alexander Minnikov. Mr Putin, when did you earn your first money and how did you spend it? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I have already talked about this when I answered the question from an officer in Murmansk. I earned my first money… sorry, I almost got it wrong: my first salary, when I started work with the security and was a Lieutenant, was 180 rubles. But I first earned money when I was a member of a student construction team. We went to the Komi Republic where we cut down trees for a power transmission line to be made, and we built and repaired houses. I earned about a thousand rubles, a fantastic amount at the time. A car cost around 4000 then, I think.
I must confess that I made very poor use of that money. I won’t tell you how.
Stanislav Zatonsky (Rostov-on-Don): Mr Putin, my name is Stanislav Alexandrovich Zatonsky. I am a doctor.
In recent years my colleagues and I have been dealing with a lot of people called “forced migrants”. There are a lot of them. In some parts of our region they outnumber the local population. To say that these people have a lot of problems would be an understatement, and these problems are impossible to solve at the local level. Will these people have a chance to return home and when will they be able to do so?
Vladimir Putin: Stanislav Alexandrovich, it is indeed a very important problem, especially for Southern Russia. Let me cite some figures: over the past years about 8 million people have moved to Russia from the CIS countries. Of these 4 million moved to other countries permanently or went back home, but 4 million people stayed in Russia.
We spend a certain amount of money to address these problems, not too much money, but it is significant for us. We have helped nearly half a million people, 480,000 people, I think, to solve their housing problems. I may be mistaken, but not by much. Of these people 60,000 were given flats and the rest received money which would not buy them a flat, but will help pay part of the cost. Note that we have 90,000 army officers who have no flats, and 60,000 migrants have been able to buy flats in Russia. It is a tangible number even for us.
Unfortunately, this sphere is very poorly regulated. Our legislation is illiberal and confusing. It is too heavily politicised. In general I must say that most industrialised countries solve their demographic problems through the influx of immigrants. They even pursue a policy of attracting immigrants and they have big problems in this field. Because as a rule the people who come don’t speak the language, belong to a different culture and so on.
Honestly, to us these people are a godsend. The citisens of the former Soviet Union who speak Russian and share our mentality and culture and so on, adapt easily. But, let’s face it, we must have an immigration policy that benefits us. We must attract manpower to the places where the country needs it and not to allow everybody to go wherever they want.
I have given instructions to the government and we will try to get this law through the Parliament. Unfortunately, I would like to repeat that the issue is too politicised here. Some of the deputies still insist that all the citizens of the former Soviet Union are simultaneously Russian citizens and should have all the rights. I think the time when we helped refugees is over. Everyone who wanted to move has moved. All those who wanted to stay in the republics where they lived have stayed, with few exceptions.
So, what we need to do is rather than improve the law on refugees, we should work out a body of migration legislation that benefits Russia. And that is what we will do.
Question (Rostov-on-Don): Many people are aware that the Interior Ministry agencies today engage in affairs that are very loosely connected, if at all, with their direct duties. A phrase has been coined, “providing cover” for commercial and even criminal groups. Perhaps there are objective reasons for that: low salaries and the like?
What actions have been planned to ensure that we, the citizens of Russia see police as a force that protects us and can be relied on?
Vladimir Putin: I have already answered that question because I got exactly the same question about the practice of part of the police to provide “cover” for criminals. So I’ll be brief.
Yes, it is a problem, and I am aware of it. It is not something that you can just order out of existence. Obviously, a system of economic, educational, organisational and legal measures is needed. We intend to do all that, including with a view to strengthening the law and order system itself. That is all I would like to say for the moment.
Pavel Tsvetkov (Ust-Kut): My name is Pavel Tsvetkov, I am 10 years old. I am a 5th form student at Secondary School No. 4 in the city of Ust-Kut, in the Irkutsk Region.
I really enjoy school, but now I can’t go there anymore. Our school is frozen out. There haven't been classes for three weeks, and classes have been cancelled indefinitely, so far until January 8. The boiler room does not work, and they cut power supplies for days. The temperature in the classrooms is between zero and 8 degrees centigrade. Teachers say that if the city authorities do not start heating the school we will have to repeat the whole year. Our school is poorly equipped, we have no computer class.
I have a question, Mr Putin: do you think we will really have to repeat a year if it is not our fault that the city authorities do not provide heating for the school? What can we do? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Pasha, I don’t think there is much you can do, especially the students in your school. It is up to the grownups to solve the problem.
A similar question was asked in connection with the housing and utilities sphere in the country as a whole, and especially in some regions. And the first such question, as you understand (surely you watch television) came from the Primorye Region because it experienced many problems in the past years. And today not all the problems have been solved. For you and your parents to understand what is happening in this sphere I should tell you that there are several levels of responsibility: the federal, regional and local.
Of course, schools and heating are officially in the remit of the city authorities. But I am aware that they cannot cope with all these problems. The federal government should have provided the necessary stocks of fuel. In your region and in Primorye, and I can repeat it again, the stocks of fuel now are larger than in any other year. They exceed 100%. I am sure the situation is the same in the Irkutsk Region.
As for pipes bursting in the networks, including in schools, this is most probably because of the irresponsible attitude of the local authorities. I can’t imagine the city head coming to the governor, Boris Govorin, and saying: if you don’t help me the pipes will burst in my city and all the schools will have to be shut down, I doubt that Mr. Govorin would have refused help. Surely he would have helped. So most probably, it is an omission of those grownups who were supposed to ensure that your school functions normally.
I am sure the governor can hear us and he will do everything to get the schools reopened. If for some reason he fails to do it we will be ready to pitch in. I hope you won’t have to repeat your year at school.
Question (Kaliningrad): My name is Luiza. I teach at a higher education institution in Kaliningrad. My colleagues and I are worried about the issue of drug addiction. Drugs are even peddled in schools. But this is not only a problem for Kaliningrad, it is a problem for the whole country.
I would like to know how the Government intends to combat drug trafficking?
Vladimir Putin: Luiza, the problem is much more complex than just fighting drug dealing. Unfortunately, we have become a country without borders, and not in the figurative, but in the direct sense of the word.
There was a time when the situation on the southern borders of Russia was the same as on the border with Finland: barbed wire, a marked border, sniffer dogs and so on and so forth. In the south, which is the most dangerous area, we have nothing of the kind now.
The border between Afghanistan and some republics of the former Soviet Union is “transparent,” to use a vogue word, and in some places it is simply non-existent. And our own borders with these countries, far to the North, if we look at Kazakhstan, are open and undeveloped over thousands of kilometers of wilderness. So, drugs flow direct from Afghanistan through Russian territory to the countries where the drug market is much more attractive than ours.
But in the process, considering what a lucrative business it is, much of the drugs traffic settles in Russia, above all in industrial centres and oil mining regions, that is, where people have the money to pay for the drugs. So, it is an exceedingly difficult task which calls for much effort and a lot of resources, and not only for covering the border, although that is an important area of activity.
By the way, that was one of the reasons why it was important for us to liquidate the hotbeds of drug production and drug trade and crime on the territory of Afghanistan, because it was from there that drugs flowed to Russia and are still flowing, unfortunately.
And besides, organisational and legal measures are necessary. We have a special federal narcotics control programme. We will have to work in two directions. On the one hand, we will strengthen law enforcement which deals with this type of crime. Moreover, I think it is high time to create a specialised federal service to fight drug trafficking. We should strengthen all the other law enforcement agencies and technical units by recruiting personnel and so on.
And the second area of activity has to do with prevention and healthcare: working with drug addicts, preventing drug addiction and treating the sick.
Tatyana Desyuk (the village of Kazache-Malevanyi): Good morning, Mr Putin. My name is Tatyana Alekseyevna Desyuk, I work in the creative arts field
Does the federal government consider bringing gas supplies to small villages? There is a gas pipeline passing nearby, but we have no gas in our homes. So please, pay attention to this issue. The issue is being addressed at the regional level, but that is not enough.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, the problem of energy resources cannot be outside the Government’s purview and outside my purview as the head of state, and that of course includes the problem of gasification.
And in this connection I would like to make this comment. People often say that we sell part of our gas abroad and naturally this prompts the question: we export gas, but what about us? Let us first provide for ourselves. I think, Tatyana Alekseyevna, such thoughts have also occurred to you?
Tatyana Desyuk: Not only to me.
Vladimir Putin: This is what we have at present in this sphere. Just to give you and others a clearer vision of what is happening.
Today to produce 1000 cubic meters of gas and deliver it to the consumer in Russia, Gazprom spends about 420 rubles. I am quoting from memory, but I am almost sure I got it right. And Gazprom sells gas to households and to the industry at an average price of 410 rubles. And it charges households nearly half of what it charges the industry, but on average it works out at 410. So, it costs 420 and it sells at 410, at a loss. Any enterprise, any joint stock company, even the state itself, if it works at a loss, will eventually go bankrupt. If we work towards bankruptcy, we will simply lose the gas industry. That is why we sell part of our gas abroad.
Make a note of this: inside the country the price is an average 410 rubles per 1000 cubic meters, and we sell gas to Europe at 100–110 dollars per 1000 cubic meters. And we sell twice as much domestically than we supply abroad. I think we sell 129 billion abroad and more than 300 billion inside the country. By selling abroad Gazprom recoups its losses inside the country and gets some money for development. This accounts for the need to sell abroad. As for household consumers, that network is constantly growing, perhaps not as fast as we would like to, but it is growing.
I would like to draw your attention to another circumstance. The level of gasification in the Krasnodar Region is twice as high as in other regions of the Russian Federation, although, as we know, the Krasnodar Region is not Siberia. But the gasification policy will continue even in the Krasnodar Region.
If you ask my own opinion, I think we should retain preferential norms of consumption and preferential prices for households as long as possible. While we should gradually level off the prices for industry, being the biggest gas producer in the world, considering the low incomes in the country, we should preserve low gas prices for households for as long as possible. And we will do it.
As for your village I cannot tell you with 100% certainty, but I know there are plans to continue gasification of the Krasnodar Region, and before we go off the air, I will ask my aides to get me a reference or put it on the computer display. I think I will be able to tell you exactly when you will get gas supplies within five or seven minutes.
Valentina Vilova (the village of Yegorlykskaya): Valentina Petrovna Vilova, Yegorlykskaya village, Rostov Region.
Mr Putin, I have the following question. You know that we have millions of homeless children, who do not go to school. What does the future hold in store for them? What is the government doing to address the issue? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Valentina Petrovna, it is indeed a very important and complicated problem. There are many homeless children, and this is particularly visible in big cities, such as Moscow and big cities in southern Russia. It is most noticeable there. I am aware of it.
What is the crux of the problem? While after the October 1917 Revolution and after the Civil War there were many children left without parents, today, unfortunately, many children have parents but they are neglected. And another part of the problem is that many homeless children come to our cities from other CIS countries, from the former republics of the Soviet Union, and they too have living parents.
So, the problem cannot be tackled in the same way as in the 1920s. We need above all to develop a system to strengthen the family, to promote a healthy way of life and so on. But of course the problem of getting children off the streets needs to be tackled urgently. One part of the Children of Russia programme deals with that problem, but apparently that is not enough. So I recently gave an express directive to the government to work out a system of measures to address that complicated and very sensitive issue. On behalf of the government, Valentina Matviyenko will be personally in charge of the issue.
Lyubov Sergeyeva (Manturovo): Lyubov Mikhailovna Sergeyeva.
I am a teacher at a boarding-school. As public sector employees, we hardly ever get our salaries on time. I am raising two children alone. One of my children is disabled from birth. Because there are no doctors specialising in my child’s condition we have to go to clinics in different cities: Kostroma, Yaroslavl, or Moscow. The child needs a lot of medicines to treat the main disease and the associated conditions.
Mr Putin, I think there are families for which a delayed wage payment is a tragedy. My wage is about 800 rubles. I get another 660 rubles as a benefit for the child. Mr Putin, we do not live, we struggle to survive.
When will the state show concern for such families? Without the assistance of the state such families won’t be able to survive.
Vladimir Putin: I understand your question. Lyubov Mikhailovna, of course the situation is hard. I have sympathy for you. That is why we have done everything to repay the arrears to public sector employees this year and to prevent new arrears building up. The federal budget allocated twice as much money to support the regional budgets on these matters in the current year and it intends to continue this policy.
I don’t think you have ever paid attention to such a specialised area of work as interbudgetary relations. But all our efforts, all the recent efforts of the government consisted in redistributing part of the revenues of the so-called net contributors to the federal budget in favour of depressed regions, or, to put it more mildly, regions which do not have enough revenues even to pay wages. The majority of public sector employees must have felt the difference, although I do not rule out that there may be delays of wages in some regions.
I assure you that we will build up our efforts to boost the budget revenue and will do everything to make payments regular.
As for disabled children, their benefits will be raised by January 1, 2002. I can tell you that for Category II child disability it will be raised to 900 rubles. So, if you now get 600 rubles for your child, you will be getting 300 rubles more.
Sergey Brilev (asks a question online): Are there plans to move the country’s capital from Moscow to St Petersburg? A question from Ilya Yevgenyevich Sorokin.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, there are no such plans. I don’t think St Petersburg needs it. At the same time, supporting such a large city as St Petersburg is a problem. The city finds it hard to pay its way. I think it would be unfair to put all the blame on the governor. The palaces and parks of St Petersburg belong to the whole Russian people. So the Federation should help to support the city and its museums.
I don’t think we have been doing it well enough. But let me formulate my direct answer to your question about transferring the capital. In many countries some central government bodies are not located in the capitals. For example, in Germany the Central Bank is in Frankfurt and not in Berlin. And it was not in Bonn when Bonn was the capital. The court, I think, is located in Karlsruhe and so on. And in many other countries, in France for example, the central bodies of government are scattered.
First, it provides a measure of decentralisation and brings certain government bodies closer to the territories, and second, the presence of central government bodies increases business activity, gives a boost to the real estate market and so on. In other words, the side effects are very good.
I think if we put our minds to it and introduce this practice in our country, without any revolutions, not only with regard to St Petersburg, but also some other big cities, such as Nizhny Novgorod, that would be a sound approach.
Sergei Brilev (asks a question online): Sergei Anatolyevich Timofeyev, civil servant, Riga; Andrei Anatolyevich Gulov from Tashkent: “Is Russia going to defend the rights and interests of Russians in the Baltics, Central Asia and other parts of the former USSR in reality and not only in words?”
Vladimir Putin: I don’t know whether you have noticed it or not, but I would have thought that the Government and especially the Foreign Ministry have recently taken a much more active stand in protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking population, and especially the citizens of the Russian Federation who live abroad, first and foremost in the CIS countries.
There are many examples but I don’t want to dwell on them. There are some specific issues connected with financing. That is first of all maintaining a certain level and sending the right amount of newspapers, magazines, books and various publications, but especially textbooks, and promoting the status of the Russian language. All this is being done.
If you feel that not enough is being done I can assure you that we will increase our efforts in this area – there is no doubt about it.
Yekaterina Andreyeva: We continue to get questions online. If time permits we will put more of them to Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin: By the way, pardon me, if we are still on the previous question, we have a very interesting example in Europe, which I am sure we should all use. I am addressing the questioners and those who are interested in hearing my answer.
As you know, in Macedonia, under the pressure of the European Community and the OSCE, they decided that the Albanian population, which accounts for, I think, 20% in Southern Macedonia, should be represented in the same proportions in the bodies of Government, including the military and security agencies, and that includes the police.
I think we have to admit that if it is a fair rule, then we have grounds for spreading it to the Russians, including the Russians who live in the Baltics. In Riga 40% of the population are Russian-speaking people. And they can just as well demand that the same rule apply to them.
Sergei Brilev: By the way, Askar Akayev in Kyrgizia is today signing a law that will grant official status to the Russian language.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know. I have already sent a letter of thanks to Askar Akayev. I think it is a very important step in the right direction.
Dekabrina Kogotkova (Kazan): Dekabrina Borisovna Kogotkova, pensioner. I have a question: oil prices are falling. Will it affect our pensions and our wages?
Thank you and a Happy New Year to you.
Vladimir Putin: Dekabrina Borisovna, let me tell you that we will do everything so that it does not affect you. I am almost 100% sure we will succeed. I have already answered a similar question, but let me say it again.
Our budget is calculated proceeding from the worst-case scenario in the world commodity markets, including markets of oil and gas. So, honestly, it does not scare us all that much, although if the price falls very sharply and remains low for a long time we will have some problems with our budget, but we will meet our obligations to the population.
I have already said it and I repeat that in 2002 pensions will be raised every quarter and we will stick to it.
Iskander Muflikhanov (Kazan): Good morning, Mr Putin. My name is Iskander Muflikhanov and I am a student at the Polymers Institute, State Technological University.
We are concerned about the issue of Afghanistan. Some of my friends are already serving in the army, and I have reached the draft age myself. And we are worried that Russians will have to fight in Afghanistan. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: No, Iskander, you needn’t worry on that score.
As regards Afghanistan, we have very clear aims. They are as follows: we don’t want there to be facilities for producing drugs, which are then brought to us; we want there to be no training camps for terrorists in Afghanistan, who then are sent here; we want Afghanistan to be a neutral and friendly state. That is all we want. And that is the aim of our policy.
We have backed the efforts of the international community in the fight against terrorism which originates on Afghan territory, and we are rendering humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan. If you follow the media coverage, our activities meet with support among the Afghans and our actions are becoming ever more popular.
Let me note that both our and foreign experts note our effective actions in this field. We will continue in the same way. There is no question of sending troops to Afghanistan. That will not happen.
Suleiman Zaripov (Kazan): Suleiman Zaripov, teacher at a religious school.
What is your attitude to Muslims?
Vladimir Putin: Suleiman, Russia is a unique place on the planet because Islam and Christianity have coexisted here in harmony for centuries. There is no other such place in the world in which Muslims and Christians do not only coexist but live in harmony. There is no other such place and of course we must cherish it.
Secondly, I would like to stress that most Christians here are Orthodox Christians, that is Eastern Christianity and we have much in common even with Islam.
You know, when the President of Egypt was here on a state visit and we were sitting in the reception hall the walls have various pictures with episodes from the Bible and I started telling him: “I am sorry, but that’s the reception hall we have: all the stories are from the Bible.” And I started explaining every picture to him. And he said to me: “You don’t have to explain it to me, all this is in the Koran too.” And he began commenting on the pictures on the Kremlin walls.
In short, I would like to tell you that Islam is a world religion, a traditional Russian religion and it deserves state support. We will adhere to this policy. And I am sure, considering your occupation, and your work in personnel training, we will definitely seek to unite and bring together our peoples for the good of our state. So I wish you success.
Yevgeny Pitanov (Saratov Region): I would like to ask you this question: Russia is historically an agricultural country. Is it the Government’s policy to seek to revive agriculture to a point where it becomes a world supplier of farm produce by developing private farming in our country? This is our historical niche, after all. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Yevgeny Frolovich, I must say that this year farmers have done a great job. Agricultural output in the country increased by 6%, more than industrial output. Grain harvesting has grown at a very fast pace. Let me repeat these figures: 48 million tons three years ago, 50–55 two years ago, 64.5 last year, and 83.7 million this year. Yet even that is not the main thing. Experts believe – though it needs to be checked – that the yields per hectare have been the highest in the whole history of Russia.
These results were achieved not only because of the good weather, although it is important for agriculture. The Government’s policy has been more meaningful this year. It involved several administrative measures, timely supply of fuel and lubricants to rural areas during the sowing and harvesting season and, also very important, easier access to credits. I don’t know if you are aware of it, but I can tell you that this year a rule was introduced whereby successful agricultural enterprises will receive government subsidies when repaying loans to banks. The government will subsidise part of the interest rate. That is direct subsidising of agriculture. All that combined to produce such a positive result.
This year, for the first time in many years, we can afford to export about 5 million tons. If we continue to perform in this way I am sure that Russia will become a significant exporter of food. And I must repeat that we will sustain the trend this year, increasing the area under crops. This year the increase was considerable.
In general I would like to reassure our farmers also in connection with our plans to access the WTO. It need not prevent us from developing our agriculture; on the contrary, it may even help us to break into the food markets. Thank you.
Andrei Sobolevsky (St Petersburg): The recent months have seen a rapprochement between the two great powers – Russia and the United States. We are helping each other in the fight against international terrorism.
What, in your opinion, is the future of our relations with Washington and will they be affected by the US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: You have asked an important question, Andrei, because, first, the United States is one of the leading world powers and our most important trade and economic partner. The volume of our mutual trade is very important to us. It is our number one partner. Germany is in second place, followed by Ukraine. I am sorry, Germany comes first, then Ukraine and then the United States.
I assure you that Russia will do nothing to mar our relations. But I would like to emphasize that we will certainly uphold our national interests. In general I should say that such an interest on the part of the United States leadership could be discerned of late. We do not welcome the withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty, we think it is a mistake, as I already said in my official statement. At the same time I would like to point out the following.
I think the decision – the US leadership knows this better, it is only my hunch – that it is not connected only with Russia. In my opinion, it is part of the new positioning of the United States in the world. It is a new stage in the change of the United States foreign policy, withdrawal from the agreements sealed in international covenants and treaties. In general, the fact of US withdrawal cannot influence our relations because it does not pose a direct threat to our national security. But the quality of future relations depends not only on the Russian, but also on the American side. Everything that has been done of late makes us confident that the relations between our countries will develop positively.
Irina Melikhova (St Petersburg): Irina Lvovna Melikhova, head of a school museum.
A reform of the judiciary is underway. First, it would be interesting to know when its results will reach us, the ordinary people. And I have some doubts: court proceedings are getting more and more complicated. I mean only civil cases now. It is impossible to do without defense lawyers. My question is, perhaps the court reform should somehow simplify court procedures so that one doesn’t have to seek the services of lawyers because not everyone can afford them? Ordinary people cannot afford lawyers.
Sergei Brilev: Thank you, Irina Lvovna.
Vladimir Putin: Irina Lvovna, I think we can proceed in two directions. First, we should allow our citizens – those who can and want to do it – to use the services of a lawyer as soon as they face some problems with the state. If today one can demand a lawyer from the moment of arrest, I think from July 1 next year one will have the right to demand to see a lawyer at the moment of detention. Nobody will have the right to interrogate you even at detention without a lawyer, as of July 1. You have the right to demand the presence of a lawyer.
Another point to be borne in mind is that more and more laws should be self-implementing. By the way, that is one way of fighting corruption. If we have self-implementing laws then we won’t have to go to bureaucrats or lawyers: the law says clearly what a citizen has the right to demand from the state.
And finally, we should improve not only the court procedure, but the court culture as a whole, the legal culture. Like in other complicated issues, I doubt that there are easy answers, but if we act consistently in all the areas I have mentioned, we can hope to succeed.
Zinaida Romashevskaya (Moscow): Good morning, Mr Putin. I am a pensioner, my name is Zinaida Pavlovna Romashevskaya. I would like to ask you, how to bring alcoholism under control? Gorbachev had started to do something, but in the end it turned out to be even worse than before.
Vladimir Putin: Zinaida Pavlovna, you have asked a perennial Russian question. But it is important not only for our country. It is an illusion that we are the heaviest drinkers in the world. The biggest consumers of pure alcohol in Europe are in Scandinavia. In terms of pure alcohol consumed per capita we are behind France. But it need not be cause for celebration. The level and degree of alcoholism among the population are appalling. And I understand your concern.
To solve the problem one has to proceed, as often in such cases, in several directions at once. The worst way is prohibition. This was the path the Government took during the times of Mikhail Gorbachev. I don’t know who invented it all, but clearly the effort was counterproductive. And we must take into account and bear in mind that negative experience.
In general, there is no room here for populist moves. In order to divert people from the bottle, a whole system must be created. First, one must improve the well-being of the people and stimulate interests so that a person could pursue these interests and so that the spiritual needs are matched by financial resources. There needs to be a system of educational measures. People must have somewhere to go and something to do. In general, a person has to feel he has a future. Then he will seek to achieve his goals and will give up drinking. Only all these actions together will yield a positive result.
Anatoly Lyubimov (Moscow): Good morning, Mr Putin. My name is Anatoly Lyubimov. I am a businessman in the sphere of repair and maintenance of cars.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on the approaching New Year. And I have a question that is truly of concern to the whole vast army of our motorists: your attitude to GAI and the problems connected with that structure.
Vladimir Putin: There is no such organisation.
Anatoly Lyubimov: OK. Call it GIBDD.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, there is an organisation called GIBDD. It’s a bit of a tongue-twister and in general I don’t see why they renamed it. Nobody can offer a credible explanation to this day. But it is an important outfit all the same. It is essential for the country, for the state. It is essential for ensuring road safety, for preventing injuries and deaths among both drivers and pedestrians, and it is important from the point of view of the national economy because the flow of transport and everything connected with it depends on that organisation. And as you know, transportation accounts for a substantial part of the price of practically any product.
But I detect a hidden message in your question and as far as I see the message is that many people are unhappy about the way the former GAI performs. Unfortunately, people still face bribery and extortion. Do I understand you correctly?
By and large, I have to admit that this is true. Of course, it is true of practically any country. But the scale in this country is intolerable. What needs to be done to get rid of this negative phenomenon in the activities of our law enforcement agencies? Of course they should be paid higher salary, but on the other hand, conditions should be created to rule out bribe-taking. To this end there needs to be the proper equipment, traffic police should be forbidden to stop vehicles for no apparent reason, new administrative rules should be introduced that would make these rules binding for the policeman and prevent him from abusing his office.
Just recently the Administrative Code was passed and it will come into force on July 1 next year. Under the Code traffic police will be forbidden to receive cash as fines for traffic offenses. Today I think a fine of up to 100 rubles can be paid to the traffic policeman on the spot. Well, the Administrative Code forbids collecting any fines on the spot.
And another important thing that matters very much for any driver: Police will be forbidden to take away your driver’s license. Today many people reach into their purses readily and pay these minor bribes because they are threatened with suspension of their license. Under the new Administrative Code taking away one’s driving license will be forbidden.
But there is one more important element, and that is the general state of society. When a driver is pulled over by a traffic policeman and the first thing he does is take out his wallet and produce a 100-dollar bill and say: “I will be driving on my way back in half an hour and I’ll be speeding again, and you won’t stop me any more” that creates a corresponding atmosphere. The task you have mentioned should be tackled by all of us together…
Irina Yushkova (Bezvodnoye): Irina Alexandrovna Yushkova, school teacher, the village of Bezvodnoye, Nizhny Novgorod Region.
Good morning, Mr Putin.
Vladimir Putin: Good morning, Irina Alexandrovna.
Irina Yushkova: I would like you to pay more attention to teenagers. We never seem to have time for them, and yet they are our future and I shudder when I think about that future. Drug addiction has reached rural areas. Perhaps it is high time to think about spirituality. We would very much like you to introduce religious and moral education, Bible perhaps as an optional discipline, in the school curriculum, or something similar. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Irina Alexandrovna, I have already had such a question. I don’t know if you had a chance to hear my answer. I mean the question about drug addiction.
The question of drug addiction is complicated and involves a number of circumstances, including the lack of protected southern borders from where the main flow of narcotics comes. It also has some other components. But there is no doubt about the importance of the issue. And what is particularly disappointing is that it is a problem that affects young people, teenagers. And it is connected with another problem, another epidemic, the epidemic of AIDS. We have no right to forget about it. Not least, of course, it is connected with the problem of moral and ethical education.
As for teaching religion or other related subjects, under the law the church is separated from the state. So, as regards having electives or some other form of studies, one can think and discuss that… It depends on the specific situation and on the wishes of the parents, I think. But it is right that we should pay more attention to moral education at the school level, and we must think about it.
Let us say that it was not so much a question but, like in the previous case, an identification of a problem, of a challenge which faces all of us.
Question (Moscow): Good morning. My name is Andrei Borisovich.
I must say that I personally very much like everything that the Russian President is doing for the country. At long last our country has a worthy President. I understand that the President has inherited a dire legacy. That legacy gives rise to a lot of questions and today we see that more than half a million questions have been sent in. My question is very simple: how will you be able to answer all these questions and will such a presidential hotline be open in the future?
Vladimir Putin: Andrei Borisovich, I must tell you that when we were preparing this event there were some members of my staff who, frankly, tried to talk me out of having this meeting in such a format.
Indeed, the head of state has never conversed with the population in the form of such a dialogue. And indeed, we knew that there are a lot more problems than solutions today and people could spring all sorts of questions. But I believe that, knowing the need for a dialogue and that this is an acceptable form of communication with the people, the head of state is duty-bound to communicate with his people, listen to and hear them, and there should be feedback. I often go to the regions and I see that people have such a need.
I must tell you that it is just as important to me as to those who ask these questions in order to feel what is happening and understand what people’s worries are. And I must say that the analysis of the incoming information shows that priorities are changing: the priorities of yesterday and the day before yesterday were of one kind and today they are changing.
Of course, I won’t be able to answer all the questions: there are more than half a million of them. When the meeting was announced, 300,000 telephone calls were received every day. So, it is hard to answer all the questions. But I would like to thank all those who are taking part because it provides a good sociological base which will be processed 100% and will be taken into account in our work.
As for this format of communication, I’ll try to see to it that this is not the last such event…
Pavel Zelinsky (Kaliningrad): Good morning, Mr Putin. My name is Pavel Zelinsky. And I am a student at the Ship Mechanics Department at the Baltic State Academy.
I have a question about the Kaliningrad Region. There are rumours circulating that the region may be given away to repay debts because huge loans from German banks were incurred by the previous regional administration, and some say that these rumours are not groundless.
Vladimir Putin: That’s a very unusual question. To those who would like events to develop in this direction I would like to show a sign of three fingers folded in a certain way into the camera, but my upbringing forbids me to do it.
It’s an absolutely impossible thing, there is no point in discussing it. The issue is just not on the agenda. It’s unimaginable. It’s the first time I hear about it.
But the Kaliningrad Region does face problems and they may worsen in connection with the upcoming accession of Lithuania and Poland to the European community which will turn Kaliningrad into an enclave in the middle of the European Union.
I must say that we are pursuing a very active dialogue with Lithuania and Poland. We have just had a visit by the Polish Prime Minister, and he fully agreed with me, as does President Aleksander Kwasniewski, with whom we are developing a very good personal relationship, that this is a matter above all for our states, and also for the European Union as a whole. We would like this problem – the problem of free movement of Russian citizens living in Kaliningrad – to be solved together with the European Union and our neighbours before 2004. A working group will be set up on a bilateral and also on a multilateral basis with the European Union. We will work on that problem and I hope we will solve it.
But there are other more important problems in Kaliningrad: above all the state of the economy and of living standards. It is a major subject in its own right and I don’t want to go into it now, but I assure you that we are attentive to that issue too.
Question (the village of Kazache-Malevany): Good morning, Mr Putin.
Why sell ploughland in the Kuban region? We cannot afford to buy it, we till it and we won’t be able to buy it and we don’t want these lands to be bought by oligarchs, tycoons or foreigners who come to our country.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, the question of land has always been very sensitive and remains sensitive in Russia. Like you, I don’t want the issue to be solved in a way that does not meet the interests of the Russian people in general and the people who live in the Kuban region in particular.
I would just like to make an observation and share some memories. First, I must tell you that it is unlikely that anyone will put our soil in a bag and take it away. I find it hard to imagine. And you know, even liberalisation of the economy – and I am speaking about industry, not agriculture – has failed to attract the required level of foreign investments in the Russian economy. As to accumulated investment, I mean direct private foreign investment they make up only about 30 billion – it’s just nothing for the Russian economy. Only on Sakhalin Shell and Mobil companies are going to invest up to 30 billion, 12–15 billion in direct investment, but the total accumulated over 10 years will be 30 billion. Can you imagine that there will be a rush to buy our land and invest in this land? And if they do invest, great, at least they will pay taxes.
But that is not the main thing. In the mid-1990s the first President of Russia passed a number of decrees which effectively legalised privatisation of land and agricultural land in particular. Let me tell you that 63% of arable land in Russia has been privatised. But it has been privatised in a barbaric way because the decrees I mentioned had been issued, the doors for privatisation had been opened, but no one bothered to determine the legal procedure for land privatisation. The Land Code, which has been adopted recently, deals mainly with industrial land, land on which industrial facilities are based. That accounts for just 2% of the total lands in Russia. But the same Code, and I think you are not aware of that, the same Code introduces a ban on the privatisation of agricultural land, and the ban will apply until such time as the procedure of privatisation is sealed in a law.
Whether or not we need such a procedure is a separate topic, which we must solve through dialogue with the population, especially the rural population.
The process of privatisation in itself need not breed any fears. But there are other problems of which I will say more in a moment. You know that private ownership of land does not exist in its absolute form anywhere. Take any West European country. Private ownership of land there is encumbered by many conditions. For example, one cannot change the nature of the use of land for several years: three, four, five. We can write “ten years”.
Second. The state always has the right of first refusal, that is, if the owner resells the land the state has prior right to buy it.
Third: there are other restrictions on the use of even agricultural land. Take, for example, forests. I think, if I am not mistaken, they have a rule in Germany that even a private owner of a forest has no right to cut down a single tree without the permission of corresponding government authorities.
Our problem is of a very different kind. The authorities in our country, unfortunately, are feeble, and the state has grown weak. It is unable to enforce the decisions that have been put into law. That is why, incidentally, I have harped on the need to strengthen the vertical power structure, to strengthen the state and so on. When the state grows stronger, on the one hand, and when we all find a way of solving the issue of agricultural land that is acceptable to agricultural workers, only then will we come to grips with this question.
Yekaterina Andreyeva: We have some information for the people of your village. While we were talking they brought this information to Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: It’s about gasification. I am sorry, I forgot your name… A woman living in the village was asking it. You are…
Tatyana Desyuk: Tatyana Alexeyevna.
Vladimir Putin: Tatyana Alexeyevna: they have brought me a reference from Gazprom. And I am happy to inform you that the level of gasification is 76.4%, and gasification in the Krasnodar Region is 83.2%, higher than the country’s average. I was right. Throughout the period of gasification 188 branch pipelines of a total length of 1,271 km have been built and launched in the Krasnodar Region. Six more branch pipelines are under construction. Gasification of the Kazache-Malevany village will be completed in January 2002.
TATYANA DESYUK. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: You are welcome.
Yekaterina Andreyeva: Mr Putin, when we were preparing for this programme I saw you put aside some questions. What are they?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, these are some of the questions that have come over the telephone. I thought they were interesting. I simply waited for these questions to be put via the Internet or live. But they were not. So thank you. We still have a little time for me to read them.
This is the first question: “Graduates in which fields, in the President’s opinion, will the country need in the next 10 years?”
I wouldn’t like to singe out any specific areas of activity and occupations. We need all kinds of professionals. I would like to say that we will need truly knowledgeable professionals, dedicated to their work, people who put their soul into it. And I would advise Ksenia Nikitina, an 11th-year school student who asked this question to choose that kind of activity.
We have already had questions about corruption…
Question: “Please increase pensions to pensioners who are over 80 who have the minimum pension.”
And another question of the same kind: “My mother is 92, she has worked at a collective farm” and so on. Her pension is very small.
I can tell you about pensions for people over 80 and those with Category I disability. Next year the pension will be 1,110 rubles, that is, regardless of seniority and other factors, it will go up to 1,110 rubles beginning from January 1, 2002.
We’ve just had this one, migrants from the CIS, homeless children, we have had such a question too.
Here is another question: “Will a government programme be developed in aid of young families, in particular no interest loans for buying housing? That would increase the birthrate.”
I have issued instructions to Gosstroi and some other agencies to work out a programme. In 2003 the Government should earmark corresponding sums from the budget to finance loans to young families. After the birth of the first child one part of the credit will be written off, and after the birth of the second child another part will be written off. That way, I think, it could make a difference to the birthrate in the country. I hope that the regions will actively join the programme.
Here are some questions about private farming. By the way, we’ve had a question from a farmer. And I don’t think I have answered it fully. I’ll take advantage of the question that I have here on paper: “There are attempts to revive collective farms, but private farmers are more efficient. How does the President feel about private farming? Should it be the main or a secondary form?”
The question is asked by Mikhail Ivanovich Bubentsov, a private farmer from the Ryazan Region.
At one point we formed 280,000 private farms. Only 25,000 large farms were formed, that is, 10 times less. Now we have 260,000 private farmers. I must say that farmers account for 3% of marketable agricultural output. At the same time, the Government has passed a decision whereby 8% of leasing and credit assets should be made available to the farmers.
I would like you to note the following: they produce 3% of the output, but they should get 8% of leasing and credit assets. I can foresee the objections from the farmers who hear me. They will say that these loans are hard to come by. Let me say that it is possible in practice. The problem arises at the local level. This is not the Government’s policy. The Government’s policy is that the farmers should get 8% of the above assets.
And there is one more question. It may be a mistake to read out that question, let alone try to solve it. I foresee that the ladies and gentlemen and colleagues…
Yekaterina Andreyeva: You have intrigued us. I am all ears.
Vladimir Putin: …that Katya and Sergei would criticise me, quite fairly, I think, but I cannot help reading it because our meeting is taking place on the eve of the New Year.
It’s a call from a child. His name is Vanya. He writes: “Dear Mr President. I am seven. We are in trouble. Our house has burned down and we have nowhere to live. I live with my grandmother and we have to rent a flat. I seldom see my mother. She has to work a lot. I miss her very much.”
I have no legitimate right to solve the problem immediately. But I am sure that there are some kind people in the world, we have many charitable organisations and funds. And I have reason to believe, Vanya, that you and your family will get help. A Happy New Year to you. Thank you.
Sergey Brilev: And a New Year question. We are entering a kind of symmetric year: two, zero, zero, two, 2002. It is thought to be a lucky number. Will it be a happy year for the country?
Vladimir Putin: I think if I were to answer it in a general way, our task is to preserve all the positive things we have achieved this year. To consolidate the positive trends, first of all in the economy. And to promote everything we look forward to in the medium term perspective, as I have said. We should make sure that the laws passed this year work and produce an effect. As a friend of mine has said: “Russia fulfilled its plan for revolutions during the last century.” I hope that in the 21st century there will be no revolutions, there will be a positive, progressive and confident movement. And if next year we make another small, but tangible step towards raising people’s living standards I will consider the task of the next year to have been fulfilled.