President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: This is a good tradition we now have, these consultations with political parties, with the major players on our political stage. Today it is the turn of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). I was just looking at the memo provided to this meeting (I somehow hadn't realised this fact before) and it turns out that the Liberal Democratic Party is modern Russia's oldest party. Our country is very young and its oldest party is the LDPR, twenty years old this year, so I congratulate your entire party, Mr Zhirinovsky, and you as leader of the party.
There is another figure that shows how important the party is: members of the LDPR are present in the legislatures of half the Russian regions. This means that the party is active not only in the political centre of the nation, but also in the regions, that it has its own political niche, electorate and supporters – and that is a very good thing.
We have been quite actively involved in coordinating our efforts on a variety of issues. We regularly speak with Mr Zhirinovsky and with other colleagues. As a rule, on major issues such as Russia's foreign policy we have no disagreements but are actually in full accord. And I would like to thank the party for supporting Russia's initiatives in the international arena and for defending the nation's interests in many different regions and in different situations.
We have been working together on improving the political system and talking about economic issues. In these respects, there are differences between us, which is no doubt good, since the LDPR is a party which is now in the minority and therefore part of the opposition, and this determines its political role.
Nevertheless, we always try to find common ground on the most difficult issues, including those related to the economy and the political system.
So as always at these meetings, the agenda is wide open, as we agreed. First I would like to give the floor to the leader of the party and then to those who wish to speak.
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There is a law guaranteeing equal coverage of the activities of parliamentary parties in the electronic media. I have already spoken on this issue during the meetings with the other parties, and now I’d like to say exactly the same thing to you. This law is not carved in stone: we’ve only just adopted it so we probably will be changing it somewhat. It is not like: “No, here’s the deal, you’ve been allotted 15 minutes at 3 o’clock in the morning, sit down and don’t make a peep.” That is not going to happen. But we can keep track of things and see what needs to be changed. I agree that the real effect of these interventions is determined not only by the number of minutes but also by the time slot in which those minutes are allotted.
I believe that as far as this topic is concerned we will continue our discussions when the law comes into effect, and I absolutely do not exclude the possibility of making amendments. Let's see how it works. Because you are of course right in what you say: this law is first and foremost a law for opposition parties. Because the party in power – now it’s United Russia – has it easier for obvious reasons: it is highly visible, it has all sorts of chances to talk about what it’s doing. That’s why this law is in your interests and why we need to see how it is going to work.
There is another issue that you raised that I have also discussed: the minimum requirement, the barrier or the percentage required for the election of deputies to the State Duma. I have already spoken on this topic and will say the same thing to you. I do not think this is a once and for all situation. 7 percent, 5 percent, 3 percent – do you recall why we made the decision we did? To ensure that we set up our party system so that the main political players were represented in the State Duma, and so that these political players could become major political forces in our society. I believe that with this law we have accomplished this to a certain extent. But that does not mean that this rule will continue to be observed for some absolutely unlimited time, at least in my opinion. We can think more about this, we can discuss it. In point of fact of course there are disadvantages and advantages in returning to the lower percentage as a minimum entrance requirement. But let me say again, this has not been decided once and for all. It is a political question about what works best for creating the political structure of our society – it can be discussed.
I agree that with respect to the various security concerns it is necessary and imperative that we engage with these and that we do it actively. As you know, we have been involved in making the energy sector more secure and have recently put forward a number of suggestions. There are other areas where it may be a little easier to make progress: for example, in food security we could trade more actively with the CIS countries. That said, this applies less during a period of crisis, because now more than ever we need to help our own producers. Nevertheless, even in a period of crisis it is better to supply markets that need help with products from the CIS countries. At the request of some of my colleagues we have recently started to check and have realised the following: they often do put meat in storage, and not only meat, from abroad. And I’m not talking now about its quality, although I am sure that it is certainly no better, and for this reason our closest partners are shut out. The reasons are clear: somebody just gives someone some money and the opportunity to supply products or food from abroad, from non-CIS countries, which products are perhaps no better than what we would get from our neighbours.
Let’s talk about water security. Of course this issue is much more complicated, every state has its own position here, it’s a very sensitive issue. You know how hard it is to get our partners to agree on this issue. All I want to say is that we are ready to help them work out an agreement on this issue, because they are feeling aggrieved and there has been a very serious misunderstanding. But the challenge is to create some sort of framework for an accord, because we are just as interested in a dependable water supply to Central Asia as our partners are. Especially because part of their water comes from the Russian Federation.
There are other important topics on which we have to make some progress but which now of course are perhaps more difficult to deal with, in particular the question of a single currency. I have spoken about this on a number of occasions. We will continue our efforts in this regard without fail. And I think that we are now closer to establishing a larger number of regional reserve currencies than ever before. What do I mean by that? Before the crisis, the idea that more or less prevailed was that we needed three or four global currencies to ensure the overall financial and economic balance, namely the dollar, the euro, the pound sterling, the yen, and that was it.
Now it is clear that even these four currencies are not up to the task, that we need regional reserves. The ruble is an absolutely perfect candidate for this purpose. Of course the question is how attractive the ruble would be to people. It’s not a question of imposing the ruble on our partners. They have to say: “You know, we would like to trade in rubles.” And by the way this is already happening. Our partners such as Belarus and Kazakhstan and some other countries are saying: “Yes, we would like to carry out a significant part of these transactions in rubles,” which is in fact what has happened. The stronger the ruble gets, the sooner we can start to trade energy resources in rubles and not in dollars or some other foreign currency, and the easier it will be to move on the idea of the ruble as a reserve currency. We will continue these consultations with our closest partners without fail.
As to the work being done by the Government Cabinet on the CIS. I agree that we haven’t done enough. And this is a long-standing problem, it hasn’t just come up recently. Some time ago at my initiative we created a special agency to deal with CIS affairs [the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation], and it is only now getting up to speed. I won’t say how I think it’s doing, but in any event it seems to me that such a coordinating body is needed.
And I agree wholeheartedly that working for the CIS countries should be prestigious and profitable, because otherwise we will not be able to hire enough diplomatic officers and personnel for the embassies from among those qualified. I'm not sure that we can agree to the proposal that you made, that we should pay them more than those who work in, say, Europe. For what reason? In Europe the cost of living is much higher. We know that to live a normal life a Russian diplomat needs more there than, for example, in the countries of Central Asia. But I agree 100 percent with the suggestion that in their terms of service they must be treated equally in other ways, including certain benefits.
There is another thing to which I would like to draw your attention, something that I also talked about during a recent meeting with the head of the Agency for CIS Affairs. We need to make sure that our embassies are fully staffed. Because if you look at the embassies of our partners in the international community (to put it formally), they have hundreds of diplomats, while we often have a very limited contingent. We cannot cut corners here, and we have to be absolutely sure that the number of Russia’s representatives – and we are crucial partners in these countries – stays at a decent level.
I also think that inter-regional cooperation is very important. Traditionally, we really have had very good relations with many nations and this remains the case today. For example, every year with Kazakhstan we hold a forum, a full-fledged meeting attended by governors from all the adjacent border regions. And as of last year we agreed with the President of Kazakhstan that inter-regional cooperation is in fact becoming global regional cooperation; that is, it is not only visible in the border regions, but in all the regions that make up our countries. There are negative examples as well. We once enjoyed very close, very elaborate cooperation with the Ukrainian regions. Since the change of power in Ukraine, this cooperation has been stymied. And our governors have told me plainly that on the other side of the border the governors said: “You know, we understand what is needed but we’ve been told in no uncertain terms not to make a move, because we are pursuing another vector of development, in a westerly direction.” This is very sad and I hope that the situation will change.
The last very important thing involves educational services. Here I agree 100 percent that we really must actively teach students from CIS countries and export educational services in the broadest sense of the word. I mean teaching the students directly, using educational technology for distance learning, encouraging online education and providing support for talented youth. If I can speak frankly, if possible we want to convince the people who have decided, let’s say, to work in Russia, to stay in our country, because we need an inflow of people who resemble us, with whom we can function in the same language environment, and whose lives are defined by the same parameters as ours – all this is very important.
I am not sure that these are the real figures – I don’t think that it is 5,000 people now, including private universities and so on. But this is hardly comparable to the Soviet era, although then the challenges and goals were slightly different, as you know. And we are certainly interested in ensuring that educational quotas increase, but it is a question of money.
This is what I believe we should do. These quotas have to be paid not only out of the budget, but also by commercial organisations, because it is in their interests as well that we attract competent professionals, some of them of course from the CIS countries. Let them take part in the build-up of these numbers as well.