Vladimir Putin: Good evening, or rather, good morning. As Acting President I can already say it is a good morning. Because I had asked voters to come to the polling stations and we can now report that it has happened. That is the main thing. I repeat, I am very satisfied with the fact. And we will know the final election returns of the candidates and the outcome of the elections a little later.
Question: Could you share your impressions? What is your tentative assessment of the results of the elections?
Vladimir Putin: I think that the experts who were predicting the results, one must hand it to them, seem to have got it right. It remains to be seen what the final result will be. I think that what we have read in the pages of broadsheet newspapers reflects the reality.
Question: From your information, have the militants in Chechnya managed to disrupt the elections in some places? And in general what is the situation there tonight?
Vladimir Putin: It is already clear that they have failed. That’s for sure. You know, I think that for all of us – for the Chechen Republic and for the rest of Russia – it was a matter of principle that the people of the Chechen Republic should have an opportunity to vote in electing the new Russian President and to actually do so. And that has happened. One can only regret that in spite of our repeated invitations, foreign observers did not go there. But on the positive side, representatives of international organisations together with Alexander Veshnyakov visited the Chechen Republic and looked at the preparations for the elections. In my opinion (I spoke about it today when I went to the polling station and I would like to repeat it), it is important even from a practical point of view that having voted for the future President people now have the right to demand that he deliver – not ask him, not raise some issues tentatively, but demand. They can demand attention to the republic. I think, whoever is elected President of Russia, because some citizens of the republic have voted for him, will have to take on certain obligations with regard to that part of Russia. And the third point. The very fact that the people in the republic have voted in the election of the Russian President shows that the overwhelming majority of the Chechen people see their republic as part of the Russian Federation. That is of critical importance and it cannot but give us a sense of joy.
Speaking about the problem of Chechnya in general, I would also like to note that an effective anti-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus would have been impossible without the consolidation of society. Consolidation was achieved through the efforts of various people who are prominent and respected in society, including [head of the Fatherland – All Russia movement] Yevgeny Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and leader of the Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov. One might criticise them on some points, but they never once lapsed into a position of opposing the interests of the state.
Question: If you win the election, can other presidential candidates be brought into the executive branch of government?
Vladimir Putin: I can say that there will be no smiles and graces…
…The people who will be invited to join the executive branch… should contribute to the achievement of the common goal. I will have to talk with them and find out whether they are ready to work on the programme the Government will propose.
Question: Mr Putin, many people have voted for the Communist Party’s candidate. How do you account for that?
Vladimir Putin: It means that many people in Russia are unhappy with the current state of affairs. The Communists do not have too many opportunities or too much access to the media, especially the electronic media. Nevertheless, a lot of people regularly vote for them. It shows that the Government’s policy should be more balanced, should address the reality in Russia and should be aimed at raising the living standards of the ordinary people. The rank-and-file Russians should become aware of the advantages of the policy pursued by the Government, and then there will be no need to oppose the Communists as a party. One should not fight against the Communists, one should fight to win over the people who vote. I think that can be achieved.
Question: Mr Putin, is a first-round victory important for you?
Vladimir Putin: I see absolutely no difference. I don’t know who thought up and promoted the idea. Can you name a country in which there was a first-round victory in recent elections? I for one can’t think of any such country. If there is a first-round victory, even by a half-percentage point, I think whoever wins will be greatly indebted to the population. But come to think of it, it does not matter whether it is in the first or second round. If it is a first-round victory, it imposes an even greater moral obligation.
I never thought I would ever take part in elections…
…I thought it was absolutely immoral to hand out promises right and left, knowing that certain promises could not be kept. I am glad that my election campaign was run in such a way that I was spared the need to mislead huge masses of the people.
Question: Mr Putin, a very short human interest question. You must be tired, or have you managed to get some rest as you intended to?
Vladimir Putin: I got some rest like I planned. I went out to the countryside, and I was pleased to meet with people. Very good people: open-hearted and absolutely ingenuous, real hard workers…