Question: The parliamentary elections will take place in a little over a week. On Sunday, December 7, Russians will elect a new State Duma. What do you expect from the new parliament?
Vladimir Putin: Before answering your question, I would like to thank the current Duma deputies for their work over the last four years. I think few would dispute that over these last four years a lot more has been done, in terms of legislation, at any rate, than over the new Russia’s previous years. This was made possible through having achieved a certain balance of political forces in the Duma.
I do not agree at all with those who say that our political life has gone into some kind of stagnation. What kind of stagnation can we be talking about if parliamentary debates were sometimes so heated that fistfights broke out? Of course, I do not approve of such behaviour, but it does give an indication of just how intense the political battles can be.
But the current Duma did nevertheless manage to avoid the fruitless political debates and excessive and futile confrontation and battles between clans that we saw over previous years in Parliament, in the media and among the executive authorities.
I would like to thank the deputies for their constructive and hard work, and I hope to see the same from the new State Duma that will be elected on December 7.
Question: Mr Putin, you attended just one party congress – that of United Russia. There, you made your political preferences quite clear. But why exactly do you support this party?
Vladimir Putin: My duty as head of state is to work with all the different political forces, and that is what I do. And I must say that I have very positive relations with them. I meet regularly with the rank and file members of parties, with party leaders and with the leaders of the political movements and parties in the State Duma. These meetings are open in the way we discuss different issues, and their outcomes are reflected, not always but very often, in decisions made and instructions to the Government and other state institutions, and they also find their reflection in the bills we discuss and the laws we pass.
Concerning United Russia, I can tell you that I am not a member of this party, but this is the political force that I have been able to rely on over these last four years and that has consistently supported me.
I am absolutely convinced that, talking about the balance of political forces that was achieved in the Duma and that has enabled the current Parliament to attain certain results in its work, this positive balance was achieved in part thanks to the positions of the centrist parties, above all, United Russia.
You know, life and happiness are things that we live in the present, and we would all like to make decisions that would have a positive impact on our lives here and now, but it is a lot harder to take the responsible decisions needed to develop our country in the long term. Most of the laws that Parliament passed, however, are aimed precisely at the long term.
United Russia has shown itself capable of rising above a certain level of populism and not letting itself slip into populist mode, and has proven its ability to take responsible decisions and take on responsibility. I really did come to the United Russia congress solely to thank them for their work, and I think that this was my right.
Question: Mr Putin, the date for the presidential elections will soon be officially announced. You still have not said whether you intend to run in the election. Do you intend to be a candidate in these elections?
Vladimir Putin: The presidential election will be a major political event in 2004. The biggest domestic political event of this year is the parliamentary elections on December 7, in just a week and a half, and you know, a lot depends on what the makeup of the new State Duma will look like.
If the Duma proves able to function, then the President and Parliament will be able to get a lot of work done together. But if the Duma gets caught up in infighting and the deputies spend their time preening for the TV cameras and speaking words that sound good but are of no use to their voters, then the President will be tied down and unable to act.
That is why I think it so important and fundamental to concentrate today on the parliamentary elections. I will not even appeal to our citizens, to the citizens of Russia, to come and vote. I would just like to ask them to believe me when I say that their votes will decide how the country is to develop.
We can’t let ourselves be guided by the commonly held view that one person’s vote can’t make any difference. Of course, one single vote does not decide anything much, but if you come and vote for the political leader or political party that you like and trust, and if there are hundreds of thousands or millions of others like yourself, then this political force will not only gain the legal right to take part in the country’s life and influence the way it develops, but, more importantly, it will also gain the moral right to do so. Alternatively, it may not gain that right, and that is also an important result.
I would like to say a few words in particular to the country’s young people. People often say that our young people are apolitical. I don’t agree. I think that young people are often guided by a different reasoning. They think that there will still be plenty of chances to take part in other elections. And this is true, but these will be other elections, and in four years time the country itself will have changed, because the deputies elected on December 7 will change Russia in some way or another, change it through their activities, their policies and the decisions they make.
There are some things you cannot entrust to others. There are some things you have to do yourself. I hope that young people will understand what I am saying and will support it. And I hope that December 7, parliamentary election day, will see a high turnout of voters, the citizens of Russia.