Question: You have said you were not indifferent to who would be State Duma Speaker. Now, you are so late to meet us. Does it mean that you have been holding consultations?
Vladimir Putin: It is certainly important who will be State Duma Speaker. I have talked just now to several bloc leaders, but the final choice will be up to State Duma members. They, and they alone, have the opportunity and the right of the final say. We hope the Speaker will be a person who will work well with executive authorities.
Question: What is your position on corporate profits in foreign currency to be ceded to the state on a compulsory basis, and about the prospects of the State Duma approving the decision?
Vladimir Putin: I worry whenever people say that something must be ceded to the state. I worry because the government will pursue moderate liberal policies. When we refer to state involvement in the economy, we mean that it is a state’s duty to create a positive investment climate in this country. This means the state must, and will, strengthen the institutions of state authority that establish and support market mechanisms: law and arbitration courts, and anti-monopoly tools. They must serve the community as a whole rather than particular individuals and groups. They really need strengthening, and the state will do it.
As for compulsory exchange of foreign currency profits, this issue is not on the government’s agenda, although we are aware there is no country in the world that would tolerate its exporters operating in any currency but national. That is natural and understandable.
We, however, must stay just where we are, which means that such decisions cannot be passed in one fell swoop. If we do consider them, we will not hurry, we will work calmly and with great care. But today the issue is not on the government agenda.
Question: Some people think if you become president, you will establish a dictatorship in Russia. Could you comment on that, please?
Vladimir Putin: First, I can say I am still far from becoming president – I am only acting president. We Russians have many sayings about such situations, all very apt, and much to the point. “Don’t say hop before you jump,” is one of them.
Second, I suspect that the very people who have been warning about the onset of dictatorship in reality dream about it – but there is no way for them to make their dream come true in Russia as it is now. Too late!
Question: What do you think about present-day Russian-Georgian relations? Will bilateral issues come up for discussion as CIS heads of state meet at the summit towards the end of January?
Putin: Some say there is a cold spell in our relations. I don’t believe that. We are just working through routine issues. As for visa regulations and related questions, they are on the agenda. We expect the summit to strengthen contacts within the former Soviet area. The Georgian president and I have agreed to hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit framework. I look forward to that meeting. Eduard Shevardnadze enjoys deserved respect in Russia. We hope our meeting will bring tangible results, and help to step up Russian-Georgian interstate contacts. I don’t quite see how two neighbouring countries can decide on their policies without consideration for the past, present and future. That is something to think about. I am sure the Georgian president and I will arrive at decisions that will be beneficial for both our countries. Thank you.