Question: Vladimir Vladimirovich, what do you think of Krasnaya Polyana? What changes have you noticed?
President Vladimir Putin: A lot has been built here. The ski-lifts are good, really excellent, I’d say. They’ve made good ski runs. Looking around, I noticed a lot of fine-looking new apartment buildings, not just state-owned buildings, but private ones too. It seems to me that the number of people doing winter sports here is increasing. Kids, how many of you are there in your school?
Children: 60 people.
Vladimir Putin: There we go – 60 people. This probably isn’t the only school, is it? Are there any others?
Children: This is the only winter sports school.
Vladimir Putin: It’s the only one here in Krasnaya Polyana, but there are probably others elsewhere.
Question: What are Sochi’s chances of hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics?
Vladimir Putin: Sport is always about competition, and it’s always full of surprises, so we can be sure that the Olympic Games will be interesting, and as for who will win the right to host the Games, time will tell – we will have to wait and see. We are up against worthy competitors – our friends in Korea and in Austria – and they really are our friends, we go there often, visit each other. I am sure that they will also be doing all they can to win this bid to host the Olympics. Their candidate cities are also good places, cities worthy to host the Olympics, but Sochi is better.
Question: Do you think that your coming here to Krasnaya Polyana has boosted Sochi’s chances of winning?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think it makes a big difference. The main thing is that we all stay focused on development and that we work to develop our own resorts, develop our economy and give people the opportunity and conditions for recreation and leisure.
Question: How important is it to introduce visa-free entry for tourists if we want to develop this resort region?
Vladimir Putin: Visa-free travel is good not just for tourists but for everyone. If we believe that Europe should be a continent without borders, visa-free travel for all should be our goal. But this issue of requiring or not requiring visas is always settled on a reciprocal basis. We are willing to abolish visas tomorrow if need be, but our partners in Europe are not yet ready to do this. We are moving together in the right direction, however. The State Duma recently ratified the agreement we have with the European Union on simplified visa procedures between Russia and the EU, and the EU parliament ratified it just yesterday. If we continue working in this direction we will attain our final objective of visa-free travel for all.
Question: Do you think that Krasnaya Polyana will be able to compete with ski resorts such as St. Moritz, Davos, or Courchevel?
Vladimir Putin: We need to keep an objective view on things. St Moritz, Davos, Courchevel and other ski resorts have been developing for more than 100 years now. Our goals are different. We have a better climate here than in many of the European ski resorts and we have the chance now to develop this resort based on completely new, cutting-edge technology. So, we should be setting our sights even higher.
Question: Will the resort still be accessible to ordinary people once all these ambitious development plans have been carried out?
Vladimir Putin: Of course it will be, and this is why every step is being taken to ensure that millions of people will be able to use and enjoy it.
Gazprom is developing the resort, and, like any commercial company it wants to make a return on its investment. As for state investment, it should, of course, go hand in hand with preferential conditions for some groups of the population, above all, for children.
Question: How will you protect the environment here?
Vladimir Putin: This is a very important issue. We have established good contacts with environmental protection organisations, both Russian and international. I think it would be a big mistake not to take into account the opinions of environmental organisations. Everyone in the Government who is involved in this work is directly in contact with Russian and international environmental organisations. We must ensure that no damage is done to the region’s natural environment, because it truly is our treasure. We need to strike a balance between the interests of those who want to develop and take part in winter sports and recreation, and environmental protection. By working together with the environmental protection organisations, we will ensure that we find this balance.
Question: There is clear demand for winter sports in Russia. Will our bid to host the Olympics boost winter sports in our country, and does the fate of Krasnaya Polyana depend on this bid?
Vladimir Putin: We will develop a ski resort here whether Sochi is chosen or not. We need this resort regardless of whether or not we host the Olympics because we have few such places to offer our fellow citizens. Sochi is an ideal choice because it offers the sea and wonderful mountains all in one place. It is all close by. Our plans lay out a good basis for Sochi’s development over the next few years because this is a city that can, in any case, become a year-round resort region. Millions of people could come here for holidays and leisure in summer and in winter. As far as the Olympic Games go, Sochi is an ideal venue because it has a mild climate. We have other potential venues in the north and east of the country, but the combination of more or less developed infrastructure, a mild climate and such excellent conditions for winter sports can probably be found only here really, in Sochi. I think that everyone living here is probably happy at the prospect of seeing real development get underway.