Question: Are you going to follow how orders are implemented after the Hot Line?
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely. First of all, all of this will be clustered, a maximum number of questions must be recapitulated. This massive amount of information – and there is a lot of it, almost two million questions – will help to see the most pressing problems that worry our citizens.
Accordingly, we – and I – am going to give orders to both the Presidential Executive Office and the government. They will be of general character. But we shall also try to find certain particularly acute, painful problems that regard either a given person or given organisations, take them out of the common pool, and react to these problems as well. Even though this is no easy task.
Question: Today you answered questions from Kondopoga. I would like to ask what is your evaluation of the scale of the tragedy that happened there and the various parties’ actions?
Vladimir Putin: When people are killed then the situation automatically becomes the tragedy of tragedies – the greatest tragedy. And this is true even if we are only referring to one human life. Every human life is invaluable. But what happened in Kondopoga is also a signal that reminds us of the trouble in certain spheres, namely in the economic and social spheres. I have already said a great deal about this. This trouble is linked to procedures in produce markets, in retail trade, migration processes, and to one of the most acute and difficult problems, namely corruption, especially at the local level in the sphere of law enforcement and in bureaucracy.
People do not feel protected. And this is the reason that such outbreaks occur. But this in no way means that we must protect the instigators. We cannot allow ourselves to do such a thing. We must react definitively and effectively to this. This is such a painful signal that society is giving us that there must be a reaction.
Question: What are your general impressions of the dialogue? Are there questions that you preferred over others, that stand out, or that you consider important or unexpected?
Vladimir Putin: My general impression is that this was a business exchange. And the audience’s mood was very business-like. There were no or rather there were only a minimum number of what diplomats like to call alarmist questions, questions that reflect a profound problem in a given sphere. This is the first thing. And second, today’s dialogue reflects real processes that are taking place in the economic and social spheres.
Question: Vladimir Vladimirovich, you promised to name the person who could head the country after you in due time.
Are you still planning to name a candidate who could be a worthy continuator of your time in office or would you prefer that certain politicians from the so-called power party, the authorities from the centre, struggle amongst themselves until the process of natural selection takes its course and the strongest wins? How are you going to proceed?
Vladimir Putin: I think that that the people of the Russian Federation have to determine who is the strongest, the citizens of Russia in the broadest sense of the term. And they shall do so in elections that must take place in 2008 as it is stipulated in the law and in the Constitution. I never said that I will name names and, in any case, I would not be ready to do so now. But I said that I know what kind of person this will be. They are a citizen of the Russian Federation, over 35 years old, who has lived for x number of years in Russia. But just like any other citizen of Russia I will certainly reserve my right to vote and to choose, and I do not consider that I must constrain my right to express my opinion in the media. The time will come when I shall talk about this.
Question: Can you please say whether you find it disconcerting that people barely asked you even one political question? In other words, people are not asking about political parties. They didn’t even ask you about a successor. It seems to me that this reflects a phenomenon linked to the fact that in Russia the political process is a personalised one? In other words, you represent politics for them. Does this not frighten you?
Vladimir Putin: That is partly true but it is for precisely this reason that I am always trying to explain my position on the 2008 problem. Changing heads of state is a difficult and important step in any state’s life. For our country this is a particularly important and difficult issue because our political system is still a developing one. We all love our country and I fully relate to this. In general I am happy that today my life is so closely connected to Russia’s life. But precisely because of this fact I can not permit myself – and I think everyone will understand this – to allow Russia’s destiny to depend on any one person’s destiny. Even if I am that person.