President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues,
Although I think summer is the time to take a break, there’s a saying in our country that an agreement is worth more than money. We agreed to meet regularly, and so, despite the holiday period, I proposed that we meet here in Sochi so as to keep up the pace of our contacts, exchange information and discuss and share views on the issues most relevant today to our country’s life and the development of our political and party system.
I want to start by informing you that I have just signed two letters submitting presidential draft laws for examination. One of them concerns the initiative I put forward a few weeks ago, namely the proposal to change the age limit from which citizens of our country can run as candidates in municipal elections.
If you recall, I proposed to introduce a common national age requirement – 18 years of age – so that we would not end up with, to quote the classics, “Kaluga law, Ryazan law and so on”. We need a common national law giving citizens the right to stand for election to local self-government bodies, including such important ones as the local representative assemblies.
I propose setting the age requirement at 18. If you support this idea I think it would be a step in the right direction for developing democracy in our country.
The second document concerns procedures for decisions on the use of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces beyond the country’s borders. The motivation for these provisions stems from the events that took place a year ago. I think that decisions of this kind must be made in accordance with absolutely clear and precise regulations. Of course, the last thing we want is a repeat of last year’s situation, but nevertheless, we do need to establish a clear legal framework for acting in these kinds of circumstances.
A year has passed now, and it is a sad anniversary that we mark. But we need to look back at these events and their implications regardless. Seeing that we are here in the Caucasus, I propose discussing the lessons of that crisis, of Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia and the overall international consequences. What happened then is something we should never forget.
I think we could also discuss economic, social and political issues, in general, take a look at whatever matters you think fitting. The mountain air will be a help.
I want to say just a few words, and then we will continue our discussion.
I suggest that we discuss everything you mentioned: the problems related to our budget revenues, including additional income, if we can derive it through improved efficiency of our economy. I have nothing to object to what [leader of the United Russia political party and speaker of the State Duma] Mr Gryzlov said regarding our timber sector, as the situation is outrageous, and has been this way for quite some time, and yet, we continue to export round logs instead of developing our processing capacity.
This also depends greatly on the position of our neighbours. We hold talks with them on the subject, and I believe these talks need to be intensified. Tomorrow, President of Finland Tarja Halonen will be visiting us. We also need to discuss these matters with our Chinese colleagues, simply because we are interested in processing timber within Russia, rather than exporting cheap material.
Overall, we need to examine ways to increase our income and minimise expenditures on items that are not of principal significance to our people. This is indeed our task during this difficult period, as we have to pass a very tight budget.
I think we should also look into improving the political system and all related issues. In any case, what [leader of A Just Russia party and speaker of the Federation Council] Mr Mironov said about local self-governance in federal cities [Moscow and St Petersburg] is clearly a relevant issue.
We will soon be holding elections in these cities. They will be held under the current regulations, but in the future, I believe we should think about introducing certain amendments. I do not have a ready-made solution at hand, but it is quite clear that elections in federal cities are distinct from elections for local self-governance in small settlements or villages as the scale is entirely different.
If we compare the municipal districts in these federal cities to other places, we can see that they have greater populations than some regional capitals or even entire federal entities where some 50 or 60 thousand people live. Therefore, the municipal districts with a population of 200 to 300 thousand people require some sort of different regulations. Let’s discuss this.
As for the other issues, I completely agree with what you mentioned regarding corruption. Clearly, we absolutely cannot stop our efforts in fighting this problem. The issue of declaring income is now resolved, while the issue of declaring expenditures is one that requires some very scrupulous analysis, because it has both advantages and disadvantages.
We really shouldn’t try to regulate too much; at the very least, we should not request all citizens to declare their expenditures – this is a separate issue. It is one of those measures where we need to thoroughly consider the drawbacks before making any decisions.
As for expenditure declarations by civil servants, such approach is somewhat clearer, because these are individuals who are subject to greater monitoring, in accordance with the laws. In any event, this topic is open to discussion, and I suggest that we share views on this subject as well.
I fully agree that we must give greater attention to the situation in agriculture. This year’s harvest will be smaller, as was pointed out by [leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and chairman of the State Duma communist faction] Mr Zyuganov. I am not sure whether or not it will suffer a 25 percent decrease, but in any case, it will be smaller because of the draught. We must try to do everything in our power to keep it as plentiful as possible. We must try to keep as much grain as we can for meeting the demand in our own nation and for exports, because, as we have already discussed, Russia is step by step becoming a major grain-exporting country. This is good for our nation.
Mr Zyuganov also mentioned fuel prices for agriculture sector, and I will certainly look into the information you gave me. I have some different information stating that fuel costs have been fixed for the harvest time, as reported to me by members of the Cabinet. If nevertheless the fuel prices are rising, then I will request an additional report on this topic and we will try to take certain steps, because the government has assured me that fuel prices would remain stable.
I also want to say just a few words regarding National Final School Exam (EGE), because nearly all of our colleagues brought it up. The results are in, and they are varied. This was the first time that this exam was given to all graduating high school students throughout the country. Not everything went smoothly. We have questions to a number of regions, where we saw some completely unbelievable results. I think it is clear to all of us that this was no accident – it was the result of some kind of planned action. This is a disadvantage. But can we fix this? I have no doubt that we can.
What are the positives? Let’s pose this question to the high school graduates, who had an easier time getting accepted into universities. I spoke about this recently. Exams are always nerve-wracking. All of us have applied to universities, and we remember how difficult that experience was.
Throughout the world, this process works somewhat differently. How does it work? First, a large number of students enter universities, some surplus number; next, they are further screened based on the results from their first semester.
Even those who have demonstrated their inability to do well in their studies nevertheless have the opportunity to experience an initial university education. Thus, if universities are able to process such an initially high number of students, I feel that this would be good, because we would be able to evaluate the situation more objectively.
And here is another issue: as far as corruption is concerned, I agree with what was said by [leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and deputy speaker of the State Duma] Mr Zhirinovsky. After all, corruption in education may require separate analysis, but at least, there is no longer bribery in getting accepted into universities. Before, this was a key area of corruption. We know very well what was happening: there were lists of privileged enrolees drafted by rectors, deans, etc., and people would pay to be on such lists and to be accepted by a university. This was happening before, but not any longer.
Thus, it would be best if we can design a system which will allow the best students to study at universities, but we need a somewhat different scope. Universities are quite capable of determining for themselves which students are ready to pursue their studies, and which ones are not. At the same time, we should not have a completely sterile overall situation.
There are some universities that continued to hold their own entrance exams this year. At some of these schools, the use of their own examinations should probably be maintained, since they are very competitive, with an enormous number of applicants each year. If we try to apply the system of letting anyone in during the first semester, we could cause problems. Furthermore, these particular universities clearly have higher standards for their students, and this should be taken into account.
In any case, the results are controversial. In my view, there are some very positive elements, as well as others that raise concerns. Overall, I am certain that we must continue to look into this issue, so I support the idea of setting a special commission to analyse all the advantages and disadvantages. This is entirely normal. If you feel that this commission should report to the President, I will not object – they can work and then report back to me.
And finally, Mr Zhirinovsky spoke about large-scale mega-projects. Clearly, this is important even during an economic crisis.
In recent years, we have put a lot of things in greater order, and have improved the performance of many government institutions. It is very good that we took the government, which was disorganised and paralysed, and pulled it together. But we need forward momentum, and I feel that we do not yet have it. We essentially remain in the same place, a fact demonstrated very clearly by the crisis.
With normal prices in the market, we grew at a rate that was basically normal for an economy as large as Russia’s. But as soon as the crisis occurred, we collapsed, more severely than many other nations. Why? Because we had not changed the structure of our economy.
We have a raw materials-based economy, and it relies on extracting huge volumes of subsoil resources and subsequently exporting them. As soon as market situation changes dramatically, our budgetary revenues drop. We cannot continue developing this way – this direction is a dead end. The crisis has put us in the position of needing to make a decision on restructuring our entire economy; otherwise, our economy has no future. These are big, serious topics.
Colleagues, you also spoke about other issues. Incidentally, we have gathered today in the same place where we will be holding the Olympics. You can see with your own eyes what has and hasn’t been done, and what still needs to be done, because this requires enormous efforts – this is a challenge that we have taken on, and which we are all working on. It is a matter of national prestige and ultimately, a matter of providing millions of our people with better living conditions and better conditions for practicing sports. Thus, I suggest that you observe what is happening here, at least from a distance.