Vladimir Putin: Good evening.
Before answering questions from journalists, which I will do with pleasure, I would first like to address the people of this country. I would like to thank everyone who came to the polling stations today and cast their vote in the presidential election.
I would like to thank everyone without exception, both those who voted for the incumbent President, that is, for myself, and those who voted for other candidates. All votes are important, even if the candidate you voted for will not become president. All votes are important because they provide the authorities, including myself, with vital information that we need in order to take into account the opinions and views of other candidates who received voters’ support, no matter what the number of votes they received.
I would, of course, also like to thank those who supported me in the election and those who for whatever reason did not come and vote, but who sympathised. The result is entirely satisfactory, and we can already say that now.
I am very grateful for this because this support is an important resource and source of confidence.
Thank you very much.
I think that those who gave their support made a choice not only in favour of the positive changes that have taken place in the country over recent years, and not only in favour of the still small but nonetheless positive steps that have been taken. There has been progress in the economy over recent years in the form of stable, high growth, and we have stabilised the social situation and have definitely made the state stronger. But I think that it is not so much these modest achievements that brought us today’s result as the fact that people have seen the determination and effort with which we, including myself, have worked over these last years.
In this respect I want to assure you and promise you that this pace will continue over the next four years and that I will do everything within my power to ensure that the Government keeps working just as hard.
I promise you that the democratic achievements of our people are guaranteed and can be assured of protection. And we will not stop here, but will continue to build up and strengthen a multi-party system in the country, develop civil society and make every effort to ensure freedom of the press. At the same time, we will create a society in which state officials and assorted phrase-mongers cannot use state interests and democratic rhetoric as cover for filling their own pockets.
We will do all we can to ensure stable economic growth. But I want to emphasise that this economic and social stability we have been talking about so much of late is not an end into itself. Rather, it is a prerequisite for achieving our principal aim – that of making our people more prosperous.
What we have achieved over these last years is not yet prosperity but is only its first little shoots. Of course, we must nurture these shoots, and we must use the stability we have achieved as a foundation for taking further steps towards bringing about prosperity for our people. We must now take the next steps in the economy and in the social sphere, and this we will most certainly do.
Finally, on the international stage we shall strive to ensure Russia’s national interests, but in no case will we seek confrontation or resort to aggressive means of defending our interests. We will defend our country’s interests in a spirit of flexibility and partnership, and we will strive to find compromise solutions that are acceptable for us and for our partners. We will make every effort to ensure favourable external conditions for Russia’s development.
That is all I wanted to say for now. Now I am ready to answer your questions.
Question: Mr Putin, comparing today’s election and the election four years ago, is there any difference for you?
Vladimir Putin: Of course there is a difference. You no doubt realise yourself that the second election is almost always harder than the first because the authorities bear responsibility for everything. In the public’s eyes, the authorities are guilty even when it is not they who are to blame but objective circumstances. So running in an election a second time is always more difficult. The fact that today’s result is a lot higher than the result four years ago is a source of satisfaction, of course, but it also boosts our confidence about what we have been doing over these last four years and gives more assurance for the next four years.
Last time, the election took place after I had been Prime Minister for four months and then acting President for three months. Over that time, the most I could do was identify the main problems in our development as I saw them and set out the basic guidelines for getting our country moving forward. I think that then people voted going mainly on their intuition, trusting me and trusting their intuition after my short time in the top two state posts. Now, four years later, we have not just repeated that election result but have bettered it. I think that this is recognition, or rather, a positive assessment of what we have done over the last four years, and this means a great deal to me.
Question: There was some concern about potentially low voter turnout. How do you assess voters’ participation today?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t know who was so concerned. This talk of low voter turnout, the way I see it, was a deliberate attempt to influence voters precisely so as to lower the turnout. But the surveys, the opinion polls, all suggested that voter turnout would be reasonably high. I think that you can criticise the authorities, disagree with them and debate with them, accuse them of anything, but what you absolutely cannot do is sabotage the political processes in the country. Not only is this harmful, it is dangerous. In my address to our citizens before the election took place, I said how terrible a thought it would be if the country, and especially as complex a country as Russia, a country going through a turning point in its development, found itself without functioning state power at the highest level. This would lead to chaos. Everyone would suffer and this would be an unacceptable situation. This is not political struggle but sabotage. I think that the fact that voters did not let themselves be influenced by these attempts at sabotage is a sign of their maturity.
Question: Tomorrow is your first working day after the election. What are you going to do?
Vladimir Putin: Work. It’s the first working day, and on working days I work. We might get started a bit later tomorrow, given that a lot of us will be ending their working day late tonight or began working a lot earlier than usual today. But there will be a routine meeting with the Government tomorrow, as has become tradition over the past years, and several meetings with colleagues from various ministries, from government and security organisations, and a number of telephone conversations with colleagues who have already said they want to talk and discuss bilateral issues. I imagine this is also to do with the election result, and that colleagues no doubt want to offer their congratulations. In any case, several such phone conversations are planned for tomorrow.
Question: Mr Putin, as far as I understand, after voting you met with boxers. Why did you decide to go and meet with them?
Vladimir Putin: As you know, I recently met with members of the country’s Olympic team, and some of them invited me to their training sessions. The boxers were the first who invited me to come and see them train. To be honest, I was curious to go and see what kind of conditions these sportsmen, who have achieved some excellent results, train in. At the last European Championship they won nine of the competition’s eleven gold medals, and this was the second time they had such a result. In the last World Championship, which took place here in Russia, in Perm, I think, they also won nine out of 12 gold medals. Then, they thought they were just lucky, but this time they got the confirmation that there is a lot more than just luck to their achievements. They are the strongest team in Europe. I enjoyed the time I spent with them, they are great people and very set on victory. I think that our country has excellent chances of doing well in boxing at the Olympic Games.
Question: Allow me to congratulate you on your victory. My question is, what will be your foreign policy priorities?
Vladimir Putin: I just said before that the main objective of our foreign policy is not to pursue some kind of imperial ambitions, but to ensure favourable external conditions for Russia’s development. This is only natural. We will follow a multi-vector foreign policy and will work with the United States, with the European Union and with individual European countries. We will also work with our Asian partners, with China, with India and with the Asia-Pacific countries.
Geographically, Russia is both a European and an Asian country. We have always kept this in mind in our foreign policy and everything we have done so far has helped us work towards the development of goals we have set for ourselves. Now we have a new Foreign Minister who has good experience of work at the United Nations, and I hope that we can use his experience and the positive work done over the last years by the previous Foreign Minister, who will now head the Security Council, to make Russia’s foreign policy a tool we can use effectively.
Question: Mr Putin, what are the reform priorities on the domestic front?
Vladimir Putin: Above all, strengthening democratic institutions, developing a real multi-party system with parties of federal importance that have real weight in the regions so that the regions can act through these parties to influence the highest authorities and state power in Russia as a whole. That is the main priority.
I think that if we achieve this goal then we will have quite a balanced political system in Russia. We have to create the conditions for parties of different convictions to develop so that all voices are heard on the political stage – through large parties and smaller parties. And, as I have already said, we must make a lot more effort to strengthen and develop civil society. If we can do this, then we will have a lot firmer foundation on which to build a modern economy.
Question: It’s said that preparations for the next election begin immediately following the last election. Do you have any idea who you would like to see as your successor and when the selection process might begin?
Vladimir Putin: The selection process began a long time ago, four years ago. I have an idea of what sort of person the candidate should be. It should be someone decent and honest who wants to serve the people and who has the necessary professional and personal qualities to do so. There are enough such people in this country.
Question: Mr Putin, how do you explain your higher score in this election compared to the last election?
Vladimir Putin: I think that I have worked hard and honestly over these last years. When I took office four years ago I pledged to work honestly, and I can assure you that in this, at least, I have kept my word. I think that people have seen this, and I am grateful to those who have appreciated it and who voted for me today.
Question: The head of your campaign headquarters, Dmitry Kozak, said a little earlier that during the first term in office the president can’t do everything he wants to because he has to think about getting re-elected, and only during the second term can he really work for posterity, as it were. Do you agree with this view, and are you ready now to work for posterity? And also, did you find this campaign boring?
Vladimir Putin: I didn’t find this campaign boring because I was hard at work, and when you’re busy with work, you’re never bored. Also, the result of this election means something to me. This is not just empty talk. You probably will have noticed that I did not have any special election campaign. Maybe if I had really campaigned the result could have been even higher. But I deliberately chose not to do this. I wanted to see how people react to work rather than to campaign stunts and slogans. So I decided not to change the way I have worked over these last four years just for this election campaign. The result did mean something to me and I am, of course, happy with the outcome.
As for whether I am ready to work for posterity, no, I am not. I don’t think it is necessary. You can’t let yourself get carried away by pie-in-the-sky ideas that no one understands. You have to work for real people living today, for our children and grandchildren who will live tomorrow and after tomorrow. You always have to keep your feet firmly rooted in reality.
Answering one of your colleagues’ questions recently, I said, and I thought this up myself, though maybe someone else also said it at some point, but it seems to me that I came up with it, that the art of politics lies in finding the golden mean between the necessary and the possible. Stability, which we have also just talked about, is something that we value today, but it is really just a prerequisite for development, and the aim of development is to make our people more prosperous. To achieve this goal, we must take responsible steps towards modernising our economy and social sphere. But we must proceed carefully so as not to cause damage and not undermine peoples’ confidence in what we are doing. If we lose the trust of the public, then nothing will be possible in the future.
So we will modernise the country and we will act decisively, but we will attempt to explain every step we take so that people understand what we are doing and why, and what objectives we are pursuing when we undertake transformations in the economy or the social sphere. I am sure that some people will not agree and some people will oppose our plans, but what we will work towards is that everyone at least understands what is happening. If we can create this kind of dialogue with society, then I think we really will be able to achieve a lot through peoples’ support and understanding.
But I repeat that I think it would be a mistake to let myself be guided by some kind of theoretical considerations about my future place in history.
Do you have another question? Go ahead.
Response: I just wanted to clarify that, as I understand it, what is meant by the idea of working for posterity is, for example, the President deciding to make some unpopular decisions.
Vladimir Putin: I just said that if we take decisions seen as unpopular, above all in the social sphere, then it will be the Government’s responsibility to explain these decisions, why they are being taken and what they aim at achieving. This will have to be done through broad public debate that makes it possible to hear all the different points of view, because it’s better to work things through carefully and not act in haste.
Question: Can you clarify your priorities for your new term in office?
Vladimir Putin: I’ve already spoken a lot about this, but I can say something more now. The main priority is to ensure economic growth, and I hope that we will achieve this. I will go into this in more detail, perhaps even this week. We have to take further steps to improve our tax system and we also have to take action to restructure the natural monopolies. We have only just passed the basic laws concerning the railways and the electricity sector. Now we have to take the next steps.
Coming back to the previous question, I want to emphasise once more that we have to act carefully because we would have to pay a high price for mistakes, but we do need to act and we will. In the social sphere we need to focus particularly on developing the pension system and taking clear steps towards providing better quality services in the health and education sectors. Of course, we also have other goals, but the areas I just mentioned are all major priorities.
Question: Mr Putin, did you have Gazprom in mind when you mentioned reforming the natural monopolies?
Vladimir Putin: I was not talking about reforming the next monopolies in line, but about continuing reforming what is already in the process of reform. As for Gazprom, it is a company that in many ways is one of the pillars of our economic growth. We all know full well that our domestic household and industrial consumers pay less than the cost price for gas, and that Gazprom contributes a lot to boosting economic growth in other sectors. This is something we should not forget.
If we were to suddenly introduce market rules overnight, we would have to start selling our gas to domestic consumers for the same price that consumers in Western Europe pay for it — $110 per 1,000 cubic metres. This is something we can’t do. And so long as we can’t do it, we have to look after Gazprom. But that does not mean nothing should be changed and that we won’t take any steps at all. At the least we have to create a gas market within the country and we must ensure that independent producers have access to the pipelines. True, they have to understand that this does not mean they will have free access to export markets. What we absolutely must do with regard to Gazprom is ensure that its shareholding system is transparent.
Question: Could you set out the main principles for relations between the authorities and the business community over the next four years?
Vladimir Putin: Stability, transparency and legality.
Question: Are there plans to reorganise the Presidential Executive Office?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, there are such plans.
Question: Can you give some details?
Vladimir Putin: Not today.
Vladimir Putin: I think some time over the next 10 days.
Question: When do you think it will be possible to assess how the newly reorganised Government is working and how the new team is doing?
Vladimir Putin: It will already be possible to start rating the Government’s work this Monday. You should begin immediately. There’s no time for sleeping. The moment the new appointees were confirmed in the posts, they started getting paid. If you’re getting paid, then what you are being paid for has to be taken into account.
Question: What do you think of the statements made by Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice regarding the election here in Russia?
Vladimir Putin: For a start, I have very good relations with them. And we know what the domestic political situation is like in the United States. We know how the balance of political forces there is shaping up. I think that their statements have a lot to do with the domestic political situation there.
Second, we listen to all criticism. We don’t just ignore it, we analyse it. If we find that there is something worth thinking about in the criticism that comes our way, then we don’t just take note of it, we draw appropriate conclusions.
Finally, I think that no one should imagine that just because they criticise others they themselves are above all criticism. We have a proverb here, which you no doubt know – some people see a mote in their neighbour’s eye but fail to see a beam in their own. Many countries with developed democracies also have problems with running their democratic system, including during elections. We were all taken aback four years ago at the way the electoral system in the United States ran into problems. So, I hope that in criticising us, they [Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice] will also draw some conclusions for themselves and work to improve their own democratic procedures. But overall, I think it is useful if we, as friends, draw each other’s attention to shortcomings and oversights, because I think this will not lead to confrontation, but rather, will help us improve our democratic systems and our election procedures.
Question: Were you able at all to follow your opponents’ election campaigns? They had a lot of criticism for you. Do you think there were some grounds to their criticism and did you learn anything new for yourself?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I was unable to follow so closely everything that went on during this campaign, the debates and so on, not because I didn’t care about it but simply because I was busy, but much of what was said during the debates had a lot of truth to it. We all want a better life. We all want to be healthy and prosperous. The question is how to achieve this? And it is always harder for the incumbents in an election because there is always something to criticise them for. Those doing the criticising, meanwhile, are harder to criticise because they haven’t done anything yet which could earn them criticism. But I do want to say that all my opponents in this election are worthy people, in my opinion, clever people with a lot of determination and a good awareness of the country’s problems, and they drew the attention of the public and the authorities to these problems. I think that this election campaign has been useful for all of us.
Question: Mr Putin, people have begun to start tentatively talking about a successor. Do you ever think about what you would like to do once these four years end and you find yourself without a job?
Vladimir Putin: I haven’t even begun these next four years’ work and you’re already sending me into retirement.
Of course I sometimes think about this, but at the moment I have to focus on planning the work for the next four years, work out the next steps to take without slowing down the pace we set during the last four years. This means also ensuring that the Presidential Executive Office and the Government keep up the pace. That’s what I have to think about now. The eighth year, of course, will not be an easy year. I am fully aware of this, and we all have to think about this. But I think that the better the results we achieve together over these next four years, the easier it will be for everyone, for the country. Then maybe 2008 will be a politically tense year for us, but it won’t present us with problems that could threaten our very political system and our statehood, problems that we would not be able to resolve. The more success we have working together, and I emphasise this, over the next four years, the easier it will be for us to cope with the political battles likely to come up in 2008.
Let’s take the last question.
Question: Mr Putin, your opponents often criticised you for not taking part in the TV election debates. What is your response?
Vladimir Putin: It’s of no interest for me. I think that it didn’t make sense for me, as incumbent President, to take part in the debates because everything I could have said and done I should have said and done over the past four years. I already knew exactly what my opponents wanted to say and I think it would have just been a senseless game of concessions or a game in which one of the players already knows the final score. I think we were justified in choosing the tactic for this campaign. Yes, I could have pulled off various campaign stunts and used the debates to put on a show. But even people far removed from politics instinctively feel a lot of things. Over these past four years, ordinary people who don’t even take any daily interest in politics have been able to see and understand what is happening in the country and what they can expect over the coming years. I think that this is the main thing, and the election result confirms that people are reacting, and that their reaction is positive.
Thank you very much.