President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear colleagues,
We continue the tradition of meeting with our leading parties represented in the parliament. Today I am meeting with members of the Communist Party.
The agenda is wide open, as Mr Zyuganov [leader of the Communist Party] agreed when we spoke. So I don't have anything earth shattering to announce. First and foremost I would of course like to thank our colleagues in the Communist Party for their active involvement in the foreign policy area. The Communist Party is the opposition party and it is very critical concerning many aspects of modern life: both its political aspects and the performance of public institutions. Nevertheless in my opinion it is very important that we coordinate our efforts to further the foreign policy interests of our country and ensure its security. This is done in a range of areas. Here we have had almost no disagreements in formulating a coherent and unified position for the benefit of our nation. I have consulted from time to time with Mr Zyuganov on this subject and we are in touch with each other on a regular basis. I am in touch with other colleagues as well. So in my opinion this is an extremely important aspect of our cooperation.
Concerning other issues, of course there are subjects on which we don't see eye to eye. In particular, there is the question of how to deal with the current crisis. The Communist Party has its own view of the situation. No doubt that is a good thing, because if we all saw things the same way then the results of our respective efforts would be the same. It is to be expected that there are points of view that differ from those of the President and the Government Cabinet concerning how our economic life should develop, how to get out of this crisis. Especially since some of your suggestions concerning war veterans, or how certain social issues might be addressed, are in so many ways similar to my own feelings, I am naturally ready to discuss your proposals on these issues, because only by engaging in such discussions can we come up with reasonable solutions. We have done this sort of thing before, and I would like to see it continue.
There are a number of policy initiatives, a number of policy decisions that also have to go through the crucible of the State Duma. The various parliamentary parties and factions have different views on these, including the Communist Party; however, I would also like to thank you for your participation in the critical discussion of these initiatives. In my view this has ultimately helped the Duma to come up with measures that are more precise, more sound, and more interesting.
By the way, I would like to inform you that today I will be signing the law On Guarantees of Equal Coverage of the Activities of Parliamentary Parties on State Television and Radio Channels. The State Duma worked on this and I know that the Communist Party had its own position on it as well. Nevertheless, I believe that this law will be an important guarantee of the presence of opposition forces and parties in the electronic media. This is an important area in which we have been working.
Actually, that is probably all I want to say to launch our conversation. Now of course the floor is yours, Mr Zyuganov. As the leader you go first.
Dmitry Medvedev (in response to the statement by Gennady Zyuganov, Leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation): I would like to say just a few words about some of the important topics that you brought up. Everything you talked about is important, and you made many essential points regarding issues that are highly relevant in our country today, but I would like to focus on just a few of them.
A word about your anti-crisis programme. I have received documents from you in the past, and if you give me anything today, you can rest assured that I will read it very thoroughly. By the way, I read the memo you sent me on crises very carefully; it was interesting and quite well-prepared. This might sound surprising to some, but it was one of the best-written documents I have read for some time regarding crises, so I can see that your analysts are working hard.
Now, regarding your thoughts on the federal pool of high-potential managers, or the talent pool. This is indeed an issue that I am now working on. I think it very important, and we should note that in Soviet times, this issue received a great deal of attention, although those days, the approach to selecting personnel was based on a somewhat different set of principles. But I don’t think that we should disregard it entirely, and today, we should use a multimodal approach. Still, this is a very important challenge for our country, regardless of anyone’s political background. Our talent pool includes members of the Communist Party, which is good; it also includes people in high positions, and several governors. I feel that this provides a more accurate representation of our country’s political life, and promotes competition between different approaches. We all live in one and the same country, with the same set of economic problems, but we can use very different models to address those problems. This kind of competitive atmosphere will ultimately lead us to the best results.
Next, let’s talk about the fight against corruption. First, I would like to thank you for your support of relevant legislative initiatives. Clearly, we are only just beginning our fight, and nobody has been dizzy with success, because we do not yet have much success. Still, we do have at the moment the things we were aiming for. We were aiming to create proper legislative norms to combat corruption, and that was done for the first time in the twenty years of modern Russia. The legal framework has now been created, due in part to your help. I feel that it is critically important for the anticorruption laws to be enforced right now. Even if they do not go into effect everywhere immediately, our law enforcement officers should learn to apply these laws, while civil servants should come to fully understand their responsibilities. Naturally, those who are unable to control their greed will be replaced. We all are well aware that corruption is wide spread throughout civil service. I am not referring only to corruption at the highest levels, which is commonly derided. I am talking about all levels of civil service, including municipal and local levels. Unfortunately, corruption is present everywhere, and so it is to be fought everywhere.
Now, a word about state owned corporations. I agree with you on this point. As I already said long ago, state owned corporations and other state-supported entities must conduct themselves in a decent manner within our current economic setting. If they receive government funds, they must use them properly, rather than trying to resolve their own corporate or personal problems.
Employees at government funded entities are not civil servants from a legal standpoint, but many of their salaries are paid with government money, therefore they are on government payroll, while not on government service. Thus, in the given financial situation, their salaries must not be exorbitant and those officers who failed to timely restrict their appetites for personal incomes must return the money. I have already signalled this approach, and even signed a relevant instruction which is at the moment being followed by the state owned corporations, including the one that you mentioned.
Next, regarding the crisis. I think that everyone present here will touch on this issue. Clearly, nobody likes it, regardless of their party identification. This crisis is a splinter in everyone’s foot and most importantly, it has hit average citizens harder than anyone, ruining their plans for the future.
I am not going to propose any kind of general remedies. Right now, the world community is trying to jointly resolve this problem. I think that this is the best way to go, and at the last G20 summit in London, all the world leaders were really working together. It was quite a sight to behold, when the leaders of such different countries sat together at the same table and discussed strategies for getting out of the crisis.
I think that we must use a similar approach within our own country. We can disagree on programmes and formulas, we can criticise the work of various ministers, and that is absolutely fine; I think that this can even be beneficial from time to time, to keep civil servants alert and responsive. But nevertheless, we sill need a certain measure of cooperation in implementing economic solutions, so joint efforts are welcome.
You used a word which, in my view, is particularly relevant. That word is “fairness.” The crisis has demonstrated how unfair global economic relations really are; the same can also be said of some of our domestic policies. We must consider changing certain objectives. This is the right thing to do, not because we had chosen bad objectives before, but because things change, and this crisis has demonstrated that the economic formulas which worked well twenty or thirty years ago do not work all the time. And here, you are right in saying that we need to stop, look back, and seek out compromises, or perhaps find new solutions. In any case, I would like to tell you that the government is open to this. The priorities you spoke about are certainly important, and not just for the Communist Party. In regard to energy for example, it is true that without the energy sector, we cannot have any real development in our country.
Right now, I am not interested in evaluating the decisions that were made earlier. In any event, if we are unable to properly jumpstart the work of power generating companies and maintain our energy distribution networks, then we will be unable to develop, so perhaps we should think about modifying certain approaches in this field.
Agriculture is a strategic priority in the development of our country, as you often state. Over one third of our people live in the rural areas and have the scheme of life that neither the Kremlin nor the State Duma can change overnight. So we all must work carefully to help rural people live, advance, and find their way out of the crisis. To be fair, the government has been helping our agricultural sector. Recently, certain financial assistance has been provided to farmers and agricultural companies and more favourable regulations for their operation have been implemented. These steps, by the way, have already had a positive impact on certain indices.
I communicate regularly with governors who say that the lowest drop in output has been in the agricultural sector. Obviously, the crisis has affected various sectors, such as metallurgy, for example. Clearly, this is not a problem that comes from within our nation; when the global market collapses, our metallurgy is affected very negatively. The raw materials market is also affected, and we can see what has happened to the price of oil, gas, etc. But we really do have a fairly good opportunity to turn current problems around in favour of our agriculture. In order to achieve this, we just have to refrain from reducing our investments, and help agriculture grow. This really is important.
And finally, the last, but not least, of the issues you brought up: demographic policy. I agree with you on this point as well; this is a key issue in the development of our nation. There have been different population estimates for the years to come, and 130 million is a rather pessimistic estimate. We have the Demographic Policy Concept that I worked on some time ago, while I was still in the Cabinet, but that Concept was based on a different set of figures. In any event, though, the current trend is very disheartening. The demographic decline can either halt or continue downward. Indeed, the very survival of our state depends on how well we are able to resolve these problems. The measures we have implemented are improving the demographic situation to some degree, but they are not the absolute remedies, so we will need to come up with new ideas and actively promote development in Siberia and the Far East, because if we all crowd together in the European part of Russia, then our future will be gloomy indeed.
Dmitry Medvedev (in response to the statement by Ivan Melnikov, First Deputy Chairman of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and Deputy Speaker of the State Duma): First, I would like to express once again my gratitude for your support of the position of the Russian Federation and the position of the President in certain crisis situations, such as the war in the Caucasus. You are right when you say that many different forces have come to our aid, including a significant number of left-wing forces, it's true. And in this sense it is good that you made your voice heard because the situation really was difficult: they tried to get us in a vice and threatened various sanctions. They even sought to expel us from an organisation that we didn't belong to. But as experience has shown none of this happened in the end; instead, now we're invited to take part in all sorts of initiatives and asked why exactly we don't want to. Let me add here that of course your contribution in this whole process has also been important.
Now, with respect to the distortion of certain ideas and the media. First I think that even the law that I signed today is certainly not ideal. Let's see how it is applied, and if the points you've raised seem obvious, I am just fine to amend it accordingly. It's obvious that this law hasn't been devised solely in the interests of a single political force because, as you rightly said, as far as the ruling party is concerned it would be perfectly happy to carry on without such a law. Here I'm not talking so much about the current ruling party, but about ruling parties in general. We are fully aware that during the Soviet period they lived without such a law and everything worked fine. But this law is aimed at ensuring that the interests of the opposition are observed. That is absolutely clear.
Now with respect to live coverage of the State Duma or of the Parliament. We tried this at one point and I can't say that it was all that interesting. I have to agree with those television people who said that their time is limited, that it was expensive, and that they're in a difficult position now because of the crisis. But when you were talking about the Internet, I began to think: well, why not do it that way?
Reply: Absolutely, why not?
Dmitry Medvedev: In any event we know that in six or seven years there won't be any difference between the Internet and TV, and to position a camera that could broadcast live TV over the Internet would be very easy. I think that is bound to happen. Those who are interested would be happy to watch, including the debates between MPs from different political parties. So I support this.
It will need to be done. I think it's a very good, constructive idea and it will certainly attract a number of discerning consumers. But at the same time we don't want to dump this on everyone immediately, because we know that when it comes to normal television, then as you point out this would have to be one of the federal channels, and that would be a bit different. By the way, half the country already uses the Internet to get their information. This means that in effect this channel will be available to half of the audience. And this means not only young people but people who are already in middle age, and many older people will be interested in this.
And there's another thing you said that I completely agree with. You said that we should not be unipolar in international relations or inside the country. First, that is absolutely true. A society that has no poles obviously has no way to develop. There's no need to point out other states that are examples of this. We know what happened in the absence of political competition in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately in the long run this is not the most flattering image for the fate of our Motherland. And therefore I think it is essential that all parties participate in the debate. If a party chooses not to [participate], it's not clear just what they stand for. We have to think about the form of these debates. We have to think about how to prepare for all of this, because all the same we need proper debates in line with the general principles of a life lived according to a contemporary understanding of culture. Nevertheless, I believe that it is in principle a good thing and I am ready to support it.
Dmitry Medvedev (in response to the statement by Vladimir Kashin, Deputy Chairman of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, and Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Ecology): Of course in agriculture there are a large number of problems. It so happens that I really was obliged to get involved in this issue. I am not complaining about it — I am very pleased to do it. Because if, despite my roots that you have mentioned, I was unable to actually be in touch with this at some point, I would simply be unable to understand some of the very difficult and momentous processes taking place in our country. We need to deal with the problems that exist in agriculture, problems that didn't come into being yesterday and that unfortunately won't disappear tomorrow.
With regard to competition with the European Union: here I have nothing in particular to add because really the situation that has evolved is very difficult for our agriculture. The level of state subsidies that exists in a number of countries, notably in the European Union, makes it impossible for our farmers to compete with them in any sort of normal way, not only in foreign markets, which would be completely understandable, but in our domestic market as well. And this is a big problem that we must think about in the near future, because there are a whole range of responses that we can make at the national level, including protectionist measures in relation to our own agricultural market. On the other hand, we have to live up to our own commitments.
Well, let us turn to the last item on the agrarian agenda that you mentioned. I am aware of the Soviet figures and current ones. But in this particular case I don't think it's completely fair to compare those two sets of figures. Why? Because agriculture in the Soviet era was different. Frankly it also was far from ideal, as you know, since we all lived in the Soviet Union and worked in different places. Agriculture was not the strongest sector of our former country. We had other areas that we developed on a large scale. Agriculture was not one of them. Nevertheless, we did invest there quite extensively. Some of that investment was justified and some of it quite frankly made no sense.
Now we have another situation. But what's the use of talking about it? Well, we still have to take into account the programme of agricultural development that we've adopted. Not only must it continue because it's been budgeted for a number of years into the future, but we need to support it with additional investment. And this I believe very strongly. Of course right now we probably cannot set aside the funds for this that it deserves. But the total investment must not be reduced; it should be increased, in the same way that loans should be increased, because for me it was very important that at some point our land-owners and large farms (these were generally more or less okay), our farmers and even individual producers be ready to accept these loans. In essence they believed that the state would treat them in a normal, civilised manner, and that it would not jack up the rates at which it was willing to make loans. And many of them profited by this, including by loans given under the auspices of the national projects of which you spoke. Here loans were offered for developing villages, and this must not stop because without these loans the villages will suffocate. In general terms here we have to admit there are no real beginnings or ends. That said, it is a problem that has to be dealt with now.
Now with regard to journalists who file biased stories. As head of state, as someone who has spent his whole life working with the law, all I can say is that these cases should be dealt with by the courts.
If you believe that a journalist is disseminating defamatory information, whether he's doing it because he's been told to or for whatever reason, we all have recourse to legal action. And incidentally our judicial system sometimes does provide good results, despite all its imperfections. We are not completely satisfied with it, but it is a brand new system, and in my opinion it has made considerable strides recently. We must take such cases to court. Because if we try to resolve them in some other way, we are just going to take a huge step backwards, because turning it over to the Central Committee or the Presidential Executive Office will not produce the desired results. We have to establish a judicial culture that encourages journalists to take responsibility. I don't have an actual person in mind – I'm speaking in general terms – although of course journalists have a right to speak their minds, as long as what they say corresponds to objective truth.