Vladimir Putin: Unfortunately, the Kaliningrad Region is becoming – has already become – an enclave outside the Russian Federation. And this is a major problem for all of us.
At the same time any problem, if approached in a systemic and logical way and without fuss, can be turned from a “minus” into a “plus”. From my information, 90% of young people in the region have already visited the countries that are neighbours of the Kaliningrad Region: Poland, Lithuania and Germany. Oddly enough, fewer of them have visited Russia.
Come to think of it, there is nothing odd about it considering the problems with transport. So, the main challenge facing us today is to develop the infrastructure: energy, transportation and communications. I am sure you will have questions about that, and I will try to answer them.
For the moment I would just like to say that in my opinion we should work together with you to turn the Kaliningrad Region into a model of cooperation between Russia and the enlarging Europe.
I think I should tell you that this is not only our goal. It is practically everyone’s goal, I have very good and friendly relations with all the heads of European Union countries, and this is the goal of practically all the leaders of European Union countries. Unfortunately there are many problems down the road that concern not only our partners in Europe, although there, too, we often face problems whose origin we find it hard to understand. There is a lot of red tape everywhere. But on the whole, there is the good will to solve the problems that arise. But there are some technical complexities and some of them are our responsibility. We must admit it openly and frankly and we must tackle our problems.
I am sure you understand the words “Schengen zone”. You all know very well what it is. For decades the European countries have been developing certain rules and conditions of life within the community of European states. Of course, if we are to enjoy these conditions we must create the necessary conditions at home. Unfortunately, we are a unique country in the world because we have virtually no southern borders, they are porous. Our southern borders, without exaggeration, are unprotected. We have enough border troops in some places in the West, for example on the border with Finland we have to this day a border strip with barbed wire. Frankly, I doubt very much that crowds of violent Finns are going to attack St Petersburg or the Leningrad Region. I am from those parts myself and I know the situation there. They come over at weekends, they are nice guys, they like to drink vodka, and they do it with relish. But that is about the extent of the problem.
But in the south, as we know, there are problems galore. There are many more problems there. There we have the main route of drug trafficking from Afghanistan. By the way, the route passes across the territory of our country and, for instance, 90% of all the hard drugs in Britain originate in Afghanistan. These drugs pass through our territory. So, that is the first problem that lies on the surface and that we must confront. We must regulate our relations with our neighbours. And we must do it in a good-neighbourly spirit with an eye to the level of relations that we aim to achieve.
We have made early steps in that direction. As you know, we have signed a treaty on readmission with Lithuania. Under the treaty we pledge to readmit back to our territory the illegal migrants who reach the European countries via the territory of the Russian Federation.
We have signed a treaty with Lithuania on the state border, on the division of the continental shelf and so on. We should do it with the other countries with which we previously did not have such problems. In general, one has to admit that there are many technical issues that both our side and their side have to sort out.
I repeat: both sides have the good will. But unfortunately I am sure that many disappointments and problems are in store for us in that area. We have yet to solve the problems connected with cargo transit, we have some outstanding problems connected with the transit of servicemen, and some other frictions. We will work on all that.
As for the development of the Kaliningrad Region, as I have said, we must concentrate on energy, transport and communications. You know that the implementation of the law on the free economic zone here leaves much to be desired. The government is drafting a new law. I have just talked by phone with the Prime Minister and he has confirmed that the government expects to complete the draft by next autumn. At least the law on the Kaliningrad Region. And the government is planning to submit it to the Duma.
I am not prepared to discuss the parameters of that law because it is still in the works. But in any case what I have said about infrastructure and the special conditions must be taken into account in the case of Kaliningrad. So, speaking about special economic zones we will above all have Kaliningrad in mind.
I hope that as a result of all this the region will become attractive, will develop rapidly and perhaps will be one of the first regions for whose people the benefits of Russia developing towards further integration with the European Union, with our partners and neighbours here in Europe, would become very real, especially in the economic field. As you know, one of the key tasks here is creating a common economic space with European countries, above all with the European Union. Another task is to eventually abolish travel visas between us. This is our plan for hopefully the near-term historical perspective. It does not mean that it will happen tomorrow. It will take years. But I hope that these goals will be achieved.
Question: My first question is one of clarification. Did I understand you correctly that the federal centre will help Kaliningrad to celebrate its 750th anniversary? I ask because I was in St Petersburg in February and again in July, and I saw a great difference.
Vladimir Putin: As regards the 750th anniversary, you have rightly pointed out that if I have mentioned it myself I believe that one should not be secretive or hide anything. It is a serious event and I see nothing to be shy about or to shy away from. We know the history of Koenigsberg, we know the history of Kaliningrad. Everybody knows it well. I assure you that no one except a few crackpots somewhere, is thinking in terms of bringing the situation back to 1937 with the Danzig Corridor and so on and so forth. That is not the future for Europe. Wise people in our country and in Europe are all very well aware of it. The future lies elsewhere. It lies in unification. And when Europe becomes truly united and big, and there is a common economic space and freedom of movement, then all that will recede into the past. All the problems that still worry some people will become a thing of the past. Proceeding from that I believe that we should not hush up that event. And I think there is every chance for us to join our European neighbours in making it an absolutely dignified and a very positive event, an event that does not divide, but unites the peoples of Europe. I think that should be the keynote of the event.
Question: What do you see as the spearhead economic sector in the Kaliningrad Region?
Vladimir Putin: As regards the priorities of various sectors of the economy, I would like to see Russia as a whole developing in a substantially different way. At present we have a somewhat lop-sided development of the energy sector, whereas we need to develop the manufacturing industries, we need to develop new technologies. We need to develop the so-called new economy based on information technologies, on the technologies for which there will be demand in the whole world. The future belongs to them and if this is to become a reality the Government and the State Duma must take some serious and meaningful steps. Structural changes must be made in the tax policy: the taxes must encourage the development of manufacturing sectors and new technology sectors. So far this has not been the case. It is only now that first steps are being made. The overall VAT is being reduced and, on the other hand, the tax on the mining of minerals is being increased. And that is only the first modest step. We should continue moving in that direction to encourage those who have financial resources to spare to invest in priority sectors.
Judging from the record of the last 2–2.5 years the Kaliningrad Region has been doing fairly well, slightly better than the country on average. I may be mistaken, but the regional product has been growing in Kaliningrad at the rate of 10%, considerably faster than in the rest of the country. Engineering, the light industry and manufacturing have developed the fastest. And of course, you have to build on what has been achieved here.
That said, there are certain constraints and we have just discussed them in detail with the Governor. Energy, of course, is holding things back. So far there is not enough energy capacity. Supplies of fuel must be increased: gas, coal, and fuel oil. The regional government would like above all to increase supply of gas to the economy and to the households. Such plans are on the table. We have agreed that a special meeting on the issue will be held in Moscow with Deputy Prime Minister. That would be my answer.
Question: How do you see the solution to the problem of the travel of CIS citizens to the Kaliningrad Region in connection with the enlargement of the European Union, because as far as I know the current negotiations concern only Russian citizens?
Vladimir Putin: As you know, I am the President of the Russian Federation, and I am not in a position to answer questions about how the relations between our neighbours, our CIS allies, and the European Union countries are developing. But I know that the problem is there: many people in the Kaliningrad Region have relatives in Belarus and Ukraine, and for them of course it is a problem. We are ready to help our colleagues from these countries, Belarus and Ukraine, we are ready to assist them in their efforts to solve the problems of transit to these countries, but at present the easiest way is to travel via Russia. As you know, Aeroflot has just decided to launch a shuttle service between Kaliningrad and Moscow. Four flights a day by two types of airliners: TU-134 and TU-154. There will be only a small number of business-class seats, where the tickets will be fairly expensive, but most of the seats will be economy class and a return ticket will cost less than a thousand roubles, just slightly more than a single ticket in a sleeping railway car. As far as I know, a single sleeping car ticket costs 850 roubles. And by air it will be 955 roubles for a return ticket.
In addition, we will develop the ferry service. A passenger ferry is already operating. I know that it is still expensive, but another ferry line is to be launched by 2005. It will be a passenger-and-cargo railway ferry between Kaliningrad and St Petersburg, which may later be extended to Germany. We will also develop land transport. The Russian Transport Ministry and our Polish colleagues have signed an agreement yesterday or today on the construction of a road leading westward. One more border crossing point is to be opened there by 2005. Of course, we should do something about Sovetsk, because the bridge there is old and crumbling. We should consider setting up another crossing point on the border with Lithuania, that would be near Sovetsk, I think.
Vladimir Putin: I am sure that all this will be done, hopefully on schedule. But transit to the CIS countries, is of course, a problem and its solution only partly depends on us.
Question: Is there support at the federal and international level for the strategy of developing the Kaliningrad Region as a region of cooperation between Russia and the expanding European Union? If so, what role can small and medium-sized enterprises play in that process?
Vladimir Putin: The answer to the first part of the question is yes. Unfortunately, small and medium-sized businesses are not doing very well in Russia. This has something to do with tradition, a tenacious tradition for the state to control everything. All the bosses want to have the right to issue licenses and permits, sign papers and receive payment for this under the table. That is a traditional Russian scourge, which became many times worse during the Soviet period because in a planned economy everything was decided by the state, the state was responsible for everything and everybody had come to take it for granted. But in reality this is not a productive way to go about things. And it is the main obstacle to the development of small and medium-sized business.
The state must be removed from the economy where its presence is unjustified. This is the main road for the development of small and medium-sized business.
By the way, it also implies the creation of economic conditions for combating corruption. If we achieve results in that area, then small and medium-sized businesses, which today, unfortunately, exist mostly in Moscow and St Petersburg, whereas in the rest of the country they are in an embryonic state, will develop everywhere. If small and medium-sized companies come to account for a third, and, better still, half of the GDP or more, then we will consider our aim to have been achieved. Then there will be no need for prodding, especially in such a place as Kaliningrad, and integration with the colleagues from the neighbouring countries will occur in a natural way. We will work towards that end.
Question: How do you account for the fact that although the region is an enclave and there is control over the movement of people and vehicles, the situation in the region as regards drug trafficking and car theft is unsatisfactory?
Vladimir Putin: It is the fact that it is a transit region that explains the character of the crime sphere. It is not surprising.
Voice: Because there is poor control.
Vladimir Putin: There is poor control because while thousands of people write the laws, millions think about how to get around the laws. And they often succeed. The enclave and transit position explains a great deal. And it explains the nature of the prevalent types of crimes. As for car theft and drug trafficking, do you know where there are the most drugs? In places like yours, which are transit areas, or in places where people have more money, oddly enough, Siberia is one such place. Drugs reach the places where they find a market.
As you know, this is one of the biggest problems today in Western Europe, and in Russia it has become a key national security problem. This is no exaggeration. This is because we have open borders in the south and because the services that should control these types of crime are not yet doing a proper job. You know probably that just recently we established a special Federal Anti-Narcotics Service, a service to combat drug trafficking. I must say that not a single European country has such a big service with such a large number of personnel. And I very much hope that it will soon be up and running, doing its job efficiently.
Question: Do you think that the country needs a national philosophy and should the state be governed by a philosopher?
Vladimir Putin: I see the tree of knowledge over there, as I understand. Berdyayev is at the top and Marx is at the foundation: a philosopher and economist is at the foundation. But even he did not govern a state.
I think that a single state ideology, if that is what you have in mind, is a sign of a totalitarian state. Any country that aspires to develop effectively and to be competitive in the world today must have a contest of opinions. And there can be no contest of opinions if there is only one opinion. So I believe that the main achievement of recent years is precisely that the country has become free. The previous administration has been often and sometimes rightly criticised and reviled, but I must say that we should be grateful to it on at least one count: the country has got a taste of democracy despite all the negative things that were happening during the transitional period. In fact there were many negatives. And still the fact that we have become a free country and that people have become free, the fact that they have no ideological fear of the state is a great achievement.
So my answer to you is that I don’t believe we should have one dominant ideology and philosophy. The state may certainly be headed by a philosopher, but only if he has the broad views that I have mentioned.
Question: I would like to take you back to the same old question of transit across Lithuania. You see, students often have to travel to Russia, especially history students, who need to work with archives. We are interested in transit to St Petersburg. You have already told us about Moscow. If I have a Russian internal (not external) passport and buy a ticket to St Petersburg, will I reach St Petersburg? It’s a simple question. Can I travel without an external passport?
Vladimir Putin: Since they started selling train tickets under the new arrangement, about 15,000 tickets have been sold and only one or two people have been refused. Frankly, I do not see any problems there. We believe that the problems that worried you have been solved, we have agreed with the European Union and with our Lithuanian partners that a Russian citizen who lives in Kaliningrad or some other place comes to the booking office, buys a ticket, shows his internal, not external, national passport and that is that. The only thing is that he or she has to fill a form in the train. I don’t think that is much of a problem. Such data are indeed conveyed to the Lithuanian side. Lithuania has the right to know who is travelling through its territory, that is natural and one has to accept that. If they are undesirable people with a criminal record or the like, then we ourselves are interested in identifying such people. And we will judge each such case on its merits. I have told you that out of the 15,000 tickets sold, only a couple of people have been turned back.
Yes, there have been problems with children, and we have agreed with that. As for children who have not yet received passports, the Interior Ministry has decided that the photographs of the children and their data could be pasted in their parents’ passports and these passports would be valid travel documents. One can travel with the Soviet passports that are still in effect in Russia because by no means everyone has exchanged these passports and documents for Russian documents. All this suggests that it will not be a problem.
Question: After the Second World War containers with chemical weapons were sunk in the Baltic Sea. Scientists say that these containers are now in bad condition. If chemical weapons leak into the sea, it will be a global environmental disaster.
I understand that this is a problem not only for the Russian Federation, but for all the Baltic countries. But still, what is the Russian Federation doing to address the problem? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it is a problem and it is connected not only with that particular issue. In fact there are many more such dumping sites in the Baltic basin and there are some in the seas to the north of the Baltic basin. Scientists are constantly monitoring what is happening there. So far there is no threat of environmental disaster. But since the problem exists, it must be solved. We are negotiating it with our colleagues and I hope a decision will be found. So far no concrete agreements have emerged, but negotiations are underway. I think we will find a solution acceptable to all, just like on Kaliningrad transit, because this is definitely an issue that concerns everyone.
Question: There is growing stratification of society. For example, the celebration of the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg developed into a festival for VIPs. Don’t you think it may lead to a social upheaval? And the second question. A year and a half ago you said that Ludwig Erhard is one of your favourite economists. Which elements of his doctrine are you ready to put into practice?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding social stratification and the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg. I understand that you are against the celebration of the 750th anniversary of Kaliningrad? Speaking about the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg I would like to say the following. First, it is a myth that it was a festival for VIPs. Because these VIPs, for example, did not even visit the Russian Museum. Until recently the Russian Museum had 29,000 square meters of exhibition space. We handed over to the museum three big palaces in the city centre. And what is more, we have restored them by investing tens of millions of dollars. The Russian Museum is today one of the largest museums in Europe. Its exhibition floor space is now over 100,000 square meters. And, by the way, this is all about promoting Russian art.
In the city at large 30 facilities have been opened which will cater not only to the people of St Petersburg, but of all Russia, mainly in the cultural and educational sphere. One such facility is the National Library founded, among others, by Valentina Matviyenko when she was still an enthusiastic young member of the Young Communist League. Its construction was only completed by the 300th anniversary of the city. But for the jubilee, chances are that we would still be building it.
We have built an excellent railway terminal, easily one of the best in Europe, by investing 9 billion roubles – 4 billion in the train station and 5 billion in railway tracks, approach lines and so on. Many events were staged in the city for the ordinary people. And the VIPs you have mentioned spent only a day and a half in the city.
I think the fact that the heads of state and government from Europe, North America, Japan, China and India had attended the celebrations was also important for all of us. Because, let me be frank with you, in recent years we have been bowing our heads lower and lower feeling that we had nothing good left to show for us. All the time there were disasters, explosions, terrorist attacks, financial crashes and so on. I am very grateful to my colleagues and friends, the heads of the leading states of the world and Europe who have come to our country to give us moral support. They have highlighted the role of the Russian Federation in the world by showing respect for our country. I think that is a positive thing.
As for the second part of your question and Erhard… You know what times Erhard lived in. What he did then was good for Germany in those historical conditions and the system of economic relations, considering the state of the German economy and considering the Marshall Plan that the United States implemented for Western Europe, in the first place for the FRG. We live in a different world. We have no good uncle to spoon-feed us. But the main principles underlying the so-called “German miracle” are, of course, relevant to this day. These are the principles of a free market economy, the principles of getting rid of unjustified meddling of the state in economic matters, and macroeconomic stability. And of course we embrace all these things today.
Let me remind you that the Russian budget has reported a steady surplus for three and a half years in a row. We duly pay our foreign debts. This year we are paying over $17 billion without any external refinancing. In other words, we do not borrow money to pay back old debts. The Central Bank of the Russian Federation increases its gold and currency reserves by half a billion dollars every week, so that I can hardly keep track of the recent figures. At present the gold and currency reserves of the Central Bank stand at a record $65 billion. We intend to proceed in the same way. I think if things continue in this way we stand a good chance if not to repeat Germany’s experience, because nothing in the world can be repeated, then at least to develop as successfully as Europe was developing after the war. That was what I said in my Address, setting the target of doubling the country’s GDP in 10 years. I will remind you that to achieve that we must increase our GDP by 7.2% every year. In the past three years it has grown by an average 6%. And it has grown by 7.2% in the last five months. So it is a challenging but not an impossible task.
Question: I have a question about the mass media. I think our TV channels are too full of meaningless advertising and all sorts of programmes about greed and lust for gain. Children watch all this. So how can we complain about poor moral values of our youth? What can be done to rectify that situation?
Vladimir Putin: The topic is constantly raised, and wherever and whoever I meet with, I am always asked this question. I must say that I am surprised that such a question comes from this audience because as a rule these questions are asked by labour and armed forces veterans. And if students are becoming fed up with it, it really means that this is a serious problem, and I agree that it exists. It is important not to overdo it because the restrictions that you have mentioned – and what you referred to amounts to censorship – is not the best way. That way one could easily muzzle the free press, which is one of the attributes of a democratic society. And we cannot effectively develop the country without developing real democracy.
As for abuses, I agree with you. But it is very hard to strike a balance. I think we should be talking about the need for the press to impose its own limits on the spread of such information. The Press Ministry and the media officials are currently drafting a law. And the law will contain provisions on self-imposed restrictions aimed at protecting morality, above all in the electronic media.
Of course, it is a very important question. I agree with you and it is a no joking matter. We have a habit of emulating Western standards. But look, they have no pornography on national television channels. Try to show it on public channels. Nobody will allow you to do it. Here, unfortunately, it happens. It indicates the low standards of those who design these programmes. It is thought to be an easy way to make money and lure audiences. The meaningless advertising you have mentioned is actually not meaningless for those who advertise. It is simply brazen exploitation of government resources, and brazen exploitation of the population.
The government must react to this. But, I repeat, it should follow the “do no harm” principle. It should not result in a suppression of press freedom. It is a delicate issue and society must solve it very delicately and without undue haste. I hope that the proposals that have been tabled by the members of the information community will mark the first step towards normalising the situation in that sphere.
Question: What do you think about the recognition of our higher education degrees abroad?
Vladimir Putin: That’s a very interesting and important question. If we speak about gradual integration with Europe, the creation of a common economic space, free movement of people, abolition of visas, then of course the question of standardisation of education becomes very important. We are sure that the standard of training in this country matches the European standards. The question is mutual recognition of degrees and various documents related to education. There is the so-called Bologna process. A decision on mutual recognition of education documents in Europe has been taken in Bologna. We have joined that work, we have agreed with France, as a first step in that direction, on mutual recognition of post-graduate academic degrees. There is now an agreement between France and Russia on mutual recognition of post-graduate academic degrees. But that is only a first step. We are negotiating with Italy and Germany. We have started discussing that topic at the European Commission. I think we will come to an agreement with our partners on that key problem.
Question: I have a question about the armed operation in Iraq, which started with the aim of disarming that country. But in his latest statement George Bush said that no nuclear weapons have been found, but that they are determined to find them. And we are debarred from that process. How can one talk about an objective assessment? And was the use of force justified?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the use of force. We assume that the problem could have been solved by political and diplomatic means. Not all the possibilities for solving that problem had been exhausted.
Secondly, as regards weapons of mass destruction. It is true, that the main pretext for launching the operation was the search for weapons of mass destruction. You know, we have always said, in fact I said it just yesterday at a news conference in London, that Russia, like many other members of the international community, believed that Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction. We did not know it for sure, and we still don’t know it. But we thought that Iraq might have the weapons. Our concern over this issue has not diminished. Because if one assumes that it had weapons it means that it still has them. The question is where is it? The question is who controls it and in whose hands can these weapons fall tomorrow? Who may use them and how? That is a very serious question. And we should put it to each other not in order to provoke internal political squabbling in our partner countries, not in order to insult or mock each other, but so that we could sleep calmly. We are working actively with our partners, with Britain, the US, Germany and France. We are working actively to solve that problem. We want to close the so-called disarmament dossier. I imagine that it will take some time. But it cannot be closed until we are satisfied that such a threat does not exist. We must work persistently together no matter how much time it will take.
I must tell you that I don’t know that the US President said what you quoted him as saying. But I agree with him. If there were weapons one must look for them.
As for objectivity, to close this problem, I am more in agreement with you there and I believe that only United Nations inspectors can be objective.
Question: Train service to Germany was supposed to be opened by May, but it hasn’t been. How will that problem be addressed?
Vladimir Putin: Frankly, I do not know about that specific train. But I must say that the German leadership takes a very favourable stand with regard to links with Kaliningrad. And as far as I see that has nothing to do with political posturing. People are ready to work with us as equals and they understand the problems of the citizens of Kaliningrad. So much for the western destination. But we have to deal with a similar issue with regard to travel between Kaliningrad and Russia to the east. By approximately 2005 we are to launch a high speed through train to Moscow or Petersburg and back. We are conducting active negotiations on the issue with Lithuanian partners and with the European Commission.
Question: You know that many Russians have remained in the CIS countries. Why has Russia forgotten them? Why do Germany and Israel reach out to their former countrymen?
Vladimir Putin: They are reaching out to some of our own, too…
Question: And why doesn’t Russia help migrants to settle down on Russian soil? Doesn’t it need them?
Vladimir Putin: After the disintegration of the USSR about 25 million of our countrymen have found themselves outside the territory of the Russian state today. That is of course a huge problem. Millions of people have moved to Russia. We have a support programme in place. Admittedly, it is small-scale and not very effective. The only reason is the limited economic potential of the state. Note the figure of 25 million. I assure you that not a single state in the world, no matter how rich, can resettle such a large number of people. That is impossible.
Secondly, of course, we must create favourable conditions for those who want to move to Russia for permanent residence. The only question that arises is that all these processes must be transparent and must not provide room for abuses. Unfortunately, lack of proper regulations in this sphere has in recent years led to abuses, to breaking the law and has been a spawning ground for crime in this sphere. There have been many problems. The law on migration and citizenship has been passed. After it came into effect it turned out that it imposed very harsh restrictions, so amendments to that law have been prepared. They will be introduced very soon. I think that is right.
We must create conditions to enable people to come to Russia for permanent residence without particular problems, but under government control. We must not create problems for those who have lived here for many years but have not for various reasons obtained citizenship, including reasons beyond their control. We will do it and we will support those who intend to come here. Only that policy can be described as meaningful, which ensures that the country gets labour resources in accordance with its own interests.
I have said that many of our partners encourage not only their former citizens to come to their countries on grounds of nationality. They do it in accordance with their own interests and the tasks that these countries face. Canada for example, is committed to admitting into the country a number of immigrants that equals 10% of the country’s population every year. Each embassy has an expert in charge of selecting candidates. But he knows whom to select. He has a quota and a target, like we had in the Soviet times. He has to select workers of a certain age, as a rule, young and healthy people. And moreover, they are sent to certain designated regions in the country. That is what I call a meaningful policy. As the Prime Minister told me, the Foreign Ministry has failed to meet the quotas. But that’s their problem, we have a different kind of problem.
The only thing on which I do not agree with you is that we should try to attract people on the basis of nationality. First, Russia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Second, the nationality, religion or skin colour are not important for us. When a person comes to a country the problem lies elsewhere – in becoming assimilated into the cultural and linguistic environment in which he or she finds himself.
Western Europe has very real problems with that because the people who come from Central Africa, illegal immigrants, even from North Africa, find it hard to become assimilated. The same is true of Spain, Italy and France. And yet every week you see barges bringing thousands of illegal immigrants. We do not have such problems, especially with CIS citizens, because as a rule they are Russian-speaking people and they have been steeped in Russian culture. They find it easy to blend in our cultural environment, and that is the main thing. It is our great advantage. Of course, we should be more active and we should use this advantage to develop our country and our economy.
Question: I have heard about offshore oil development in the Baltic. How clean is that production environmentally and is there any programme in place to clean up the aftermath of accidents and oil slicks?
Vladimir Putin: It is always a matter of choice: what should be developed and what has the biggest future for each particular region. The development of nuclear energy in this or that region often gives rise to sharp discussions. And then, after spirited debates and clarifications the majority of people come to the conclusion that it may after all be the best solution. A solution of the energy problems if we want to preserve jobs, develop the economy and live better. Everybody wants to live well. This is not something to be afraid of. What is necessary is to keep everything under control, not to conceal anything, everything should be transparent and accessible for experts not only from this country, but from abroad.
As regards possible offshore oil extraction in the Baltic, I confess that I am not aware of such plans. And I don’t know what companies are going to work there. But if such plans exist, a decision cannot be taken without consultations with the Kaliningrad Region administration, which must be absolutely clear on what the Kaliningrad Region needs or does not need. As regards modern oil extraction technologies, I can tell you that we can well share our experience with our foreign partners.
For example, there were many questions asked and fears expressed when we built port facilities in the city of Primorsk in the Gulf of Finland. But as I understand now, and indeed it was no secret then, the environmental concerns were raised mainly by those who were concerned about competition. Our Finnish friends wanted their own capacities to be loaded first of all. But we have built a port that meets the highest environmental standards. You can take my word for it, there are no other such port facilities on the Baltic.
As for oil production, and we are talking about the transhipment of petroleum products, if you look at the technologies of oil production used by a Russian company in the Caspian you will see that no other country has such technologies. The best and the most environment-friendly technologies are used. So, both theoretically and technically, oil production in such regions as the Baltic is possible without damage to the environment of the region. It is already being done. As for the specific plan you have mentioned, I simply have not heard about it. But I think I have answered your question anyway.
Question: I would like to compliment you on your sense of humour, you have a very keen sense of humour. Are you going to crack a lot of jokes during your forthcoming presidential campaign?
Vladimir Putin: Perhaps we should pass on to the next question… The election campaign has not been announced yet. And if you had a chance to hear my talk with journalists some time ago at a news conference in Moscow… I wouldn’t like to see a premature start. Not because I am afraid of anything, I simply don’t want the executive branch to become too preoccupied with political squabbling. We have governing bodies whose duty it is to attend to these matters. Let them do their job. The executive branch must work and ensure the normal functioning of the state institutions, the presidential structures and the government. When the time comes I will officially launch the election campaign. There will be a campaign plan, although I must say that if it happens I don’t, honestly, intend to go on the stump, to beat my breast and make too many jokes and advertise myself. I think it is up to the people to decide whether I deserve to be elected for a second term because I have worked for four years and I think the country’s citizens must make their choice based on the results of my work.