Voice: A lot of rumours are circulating, for example, one rumour has it that the Kaliningrad Region is going to be sold to offset foreign debts.
Vladimir Putin: You can set your heart at rest – we do not sell our lands and never will. Secondly, we are paying off all our debts. This year, as you know, sees the peak of debt payments, we have to pay over $17 billion. We have no problem paying that sum.
In previous years there was a lot of talk about an imminent payment crisis in 2003. Nobody is speaking about it any more because everyone – at least the experts – are well aware that the country has solved that problem. Our foreign debt to GDP ratio is becoming better than in many other countries, including developed countries.
So in that sense Russia is behaving like a civilised state, and we are even emerging as donors to many international organisations in order to benefit from our participation and political influence and to make gains in some other areas.
But the problem you have mentioned does not exist. The problem of the debt burden is there, but we are tackling it. And we are doing it without external refinancing, that is, without borrowing to pay old debts. We solve that problem through economic growth.
Secondly, you know that the problem of transit between Kaliningrad and mainland Russia has attracted much attention. Technologically there may be some snags to be dealt with, but in principle agreement has been reached with Lithuania and the European Union. So I have no doubt that it will be a good model for Russia to solve all the issues with the European Union connected with the travel of citizens to the Schengen zone.
There are no fears that Kaliningrad will be forgotten. And besides, we have the Baltic Fleet base in Kaliningrad. It will stay there. I am planning to take part in naval exercises on the Baltic very soon. So Kaliningrad will not be forgotten under any circumstances.
* * *
Voice: As you have said, the situation in Chechnya is serious. But we believe that we have conducted the census there successfully…
Vladimir Putin: You have not just done a good job, you have done an excellent job. In fact, many have been surprised. Because the size of the population in Chechnya has exceeded all expectations, both ours and I think those of the republic’s leaders. Nobody had expected that so many people have returned and so many people live there.
That is particularly important for Chechnya, because it faces the challenge of restoring its economy and the housing sector. And we need to know the real figures in order to make plans. So, you have done an invaluable service to your republic and I am not just grateful to you, I am sure that the republic’s leaders are grateful to you. In fact, you have done it for the benefit of your own people.
To tackle the problems facing people today that information was vital for the whole country, and especially for Chechnya. And I hope that very soon, in the autumn, people will start getting compensation for their lost housing. The relevant decisions have been taken. And the decision in fact is based on the census. We had to know whom we should pay and where these people are.
I would like to note that it is unprecedented in Russia. We have carried out large-scale relief operations after natural disasters in Lensk and in some other regions, but nothing on quite the same scale has been carried out in the south of the country, in Chechnya. People will have an equivalent of more than $350 million remitted to their accounts. That is unprecedented. And I hope that, partly due to the work that you have done, real payments can start flowing, as we have promised some time ago. We are determined to do it.