The media forum is organised by the Russian Popular Front and focuses on topical issues in regional life, the development of independent Russian journalism, and international issues. The forum participants include journalists from all around Russia, bloggers, heads of federal media outlets, and the heads of relevant government ministries and agencies.
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Excerpts from transcript of the III Truth and Justice regional and local media forum
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends and colleagues. It is a great pleasure to be here once again with you.
This forum is a unique event that brings together representatives of local and regional media outlets from all around the country. It is symbolic that you are meeting in St Petersburg. Why do I say this? Because Leningrad-St Petersburg used to be called the city of three revolutions. I hope that your efforts will not bring about a fourth revolution, but rather the contrary.
Through your active, honest and open work, you will help us to achieve a natural, correct and fair balance of interests in our society, and at the same time, you will do all you can to ensure that officials at all levels and ordinary people respect our laws on government bodies and public administration, and that the law enforcement agencies remain neutral and perform their professional duties with honour.
I know that you have presented awards to 300 of your colleagues for their journalistic work. I know that each of the reports and articles distinguished, and the many others that did not receive awards, represent the concrete results of your efforts to improve people’s lives in the housing sector, medical care, organisation of procurement contracts and tenders and other areas.
I looked through the information documents before coming here, and I see that this is all specific and much-needed work that is important for our country and our people.
It is very important that you are working with the Russian Popular Front because this cooperation will certainly raise the effectiveness of both the Russian Popular Front’s efforts and the work of journalists, as the Russian Popular Front has possibilities for contact with the federal authorities and the President, and you have direct contact with people at the grassroots level.
In this respect, let me say that your work and the role and function you perform entail tremendous responsibility and involve a big burden. It is one thing to sit at the summit and survey everything from on high, after all, and quite another thing to work directly with the people, get a feel for what is going on, and most important of all, take responsibility for your words and actions.
Let me say again, you have a wonderful and honourable job, but also a difficult and highly responsible one. Let us discuss the things on your minds now. You have been working for three days now and I imagine that many different issues have been raised at the various discussions. I would like to hear your proposals regarding your work and the various areas of our life and our economy. As in the previous years, I will do everything I can to respond to your proposals as best I can.
Let us begin.
Alikber Abdulgamidov: Good afternoon Mr President. I am Alik Abdulgamidov, a journalist and member of the regional headquarters in Dagestan.
Nearly 17 years ago, in the Botlikh district, when federal troops and local militia forces eliminated the terrorist groups that had invaded Dagestan, you promised me an interview and said that it would take place after the next big success, a victory over terrorists. I think the time has come now. I am referring to the events in Syria – the successful operations of Russian forces there.
First of all, I would like to ask a question about international politics. There has been a turnaround in Syria thanks to the Russian Aerospace Forces’ effective operations. The situation has changed and Russia’s active support has helped to liberate hundreds of settlements, and most importantly, it has liberated the symbolic city of Palmyra, a cultural jewel and world cultural treasure.
The Syrian people are thanking you personally, and Russia, for this help. However, these events have gone largely ignored by foreign media outlets. In your view, why are ‘our Western partners’ as you refer to them, ignoring Russia’s latest success in the fight against international terrorism?
Vladimir Putin: It is still too early to talk about a fundamental turnaround in Syria, but it is clear that we have carried out our mission with success. Our mission was above all to bolster Syria’s statehood and support the legitimate government.
Incidentally, if you followed the events, this is precisely what I spoke about back at the General Assembly session that marked the UN’s 70th anniversary. I said that if we want to stop the flow of refugees into Europe, for example, if we want people to want and be able to live in their home country and not flee abroad, we need to restore statehood where it had been lost. I was referring above all to Libya. We need to support and strengthen statehood in the countries where it still exists, and here, I am referring to Syria.
In this respect, our Armed Forces, and not just our Aerospace Forces, and I will say this again, have certainly been up to the task. Syria’s statehood has been strengthened. The government bodies and armed forces there are stronger now. Note that after the bulk of our forces withdrew, Syria’s government forces continued their active offensive and, with our support, are liberating more and more towns. Incidentally, no one disputes that this current action really is directed only against terrorist organisations such as ISIS. This is something that we, our American partners, and the Europeans all recognise. Everyone recognises it.
Why is this being passed over in silence? This is for logical reasons. First, they spoke of the need to isolate Russia following the events in Crimea, for example; then it became clear that this would not be possible, and with the start of the operations in Syria, it became absolutely clear that this kind of destructive action against our country is simply not possible. However, they would rather keep silent about this if possible and avoid talking about it if they can.
At the same time, our active efforts in combatting international terrorism have gone some way to improve our relations with the leading powers in this important for us all area of cooperation in fighting international terrorism. We have set up an information exchange centre with the United States, we also hold regular consultations, and I want to emphasise that we have established effective measures to monitor the ceasefire. This work continues.
The most important thing now is to organise efforts to find a political settlement, and here too, we continue regular consultations. Therefore, no matter how much someone might wish to do so, it is not possible to lessen the importance of our efforts in the fight against terrorism, and it is not possible to pass over these events in silence. This is simply not possible. The desire does exist. Everyone has their job to do. Your job is to bring information to public light, and their job is to lessen the significance of events or pass them over in silence, and not give their viewers, listeners and readers the full picture. This is an exercise in futility, as lawyers would say. Life goes on and we are not worried about this. It is the result that counts.
Margarita Morozova: Good afternoon Mr President, colleagues. I am a journalist and an expert of the Public Monitoring Centre for Environmental and Forest Protection Issues. This centre was set up a year ago at your initiative.
Over this year, the centre has done a lot of work, and we have two achievements we can be proud of. First are the two draft laws that we prepared. The first is now close to completion and we are preparing to submit it to the State Duma for consideration. It was broadly discussed at the Baikal Environmental Forum that we held in Irkutsk at the start of this year. The draft law concerns tightening control over logging and toughening liability for improperly carried out forest regeneration.
Today, I would like to talk about the ‘green shield’, the plans to create a ‘green shield’ of forests in Moscow Region, 70 kilometres from Moscow. This will make it possible to prevent unlawful forest destruction, reduce the amount of construction, and protect water conservation zones. Moscow Region is currently one of the most problematic regions in terms of noncompliance with environmental rules and regulations. An appropriate law was drafted and submitted to the State Duma, but it has been there for a long time now and has not even passed the first reading. We have the impression that lobbyists are at work here.
I would like to ask for your help. Why do I get this impression? We received a negative evaluation from the State-Legal Directorate and the Russian Federation Government. Given the importance of this draft law and the importance of the environment, we ask you to look into this situation. People not only in Moscow and Moscow Region are expecting this draft law, but in other regions as well. It was discussed at the Baikal forum too, and it was very important for our people, and especially for the big cities.
In addition, with 2017 coming up, the Year of the Environment, we sincerely hope that the next elections will bring into the State Duma people who will lobby above all the interests of our people and our nature, rather than businesses and industry. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Business and industry are, naturally, closely linked to the people in the positive sense of the word, as both industry and business create the foundation of our economic well-being and provide conditions for the development of the social sphere, our defence capability, and so on, and create jobs. However, you are absolutely correct in that all Russian people without exception have a vested interest in the preservation of the environment and forests, one of our principal assets. In this respect, your activity, I am certain, evokes and will continue to evoke a response and support in the hearts of all Russian citizens.
A large number of people work in the timber industry (it is also very important for our economy). It is an important part, an important component of our economy. This is also related to jobs and wages. However, without any doubt, the state should regulate this kind of activity and prevent abuses at any cost.
I move about the country a great deal in cars, airplanes, and helicopters and indeed I often see a picture that catches one's eye and arouses serious concern. What is this picture? Vast empty spaces around large population centres, above all, cities with a population of over 1 million people. It is easier and cheaper to procure timber there. However, this does not always correspond to the interests of the entire country, the entire state, of all our people, and is often in conflict with people’s interests.
We know there are a lot of problems in the [Russian] Far East. I can see with my own eyes that these problems are proliferating in Karelia, the Leningrad Region, the Moscow Region, the Novgorod Region and other regions in the European part of the country. If this goes on, there will be absolutely no forests left around large cities. This issue requires additional, special attention from the public (thanks to the Russian Popular Front, you have become involved in this) and the legislative and executive bodies of power. I promise that we will revisit this problem without fail. I will see where this law is and why it is stuck, kept on the back burner.
Konstantin Tkachenko: Good afternoon Mr President. My name is Konstantin Tkachenko. I have a news blog called Kremlin_Russian. It has more than half-a-million followers and we provide daily coverage of news that has to do with you.
We have all heard about the news leak, the so-called ‘Panama Papers’, which mention the musician Roldugin, your friend. A large number of my followers have bombarded me with questions on this affair. I would like to take this opportunity to reply to my followers, and to ask for your comments on this matter. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: What can I say and where should I start? Your colleague from Dagestan already started with Syria. However, in fact, we should have started not with Syria, but with the early 1990s. I will try to keep things brief.
When this country was in great difficulties and lay in ruins, the situation actually quite suited everyone. It suited them to send us potatoes and other humanitarian aid and to dictate to us what they thought best for Russia, using our country in their own interests. There were also sober-minded and decent people in Europe and the United States who warned against treating Russia this way and spoke of the need to respect Russia’s interests. They said, “Russia is still getting to its feet and it would be better if we follow a balanced policy of respect for its interests”. However, the ruling circles in the main countries did not heed these words. If you recall, everything started with Yugoslavia, when the Western press rained blows on First President of Russia Boris Yeltsin when he said very frankly that Russia opposes airstrikes against Belgrade and military operations against Yugoslavia.
It continued from there. Problems arose in Ukraine and a coup took place. Crimea’s residents expressed their desire for reunification with Russia. I do not have time to go into all the details of our position on the events in southeast Ukraine, and this is not the moment for this. There are other, minor developments too, our decision not to extradite Mr Snowden, for example. Some of our partners see all of these things as irritants in our relations. They are used to holding a monopoly on the international stage and do not want have to make way for anyone else.
The recent events in Syria showed Russia’s ability to deal with problems not only near our borders but also far from them. However, this is not the most important thing for them. Not even the fact that despite all our problems today, our economy has become more independent, self-reliant and self-sufficient, although we are still dependent on oil and gas, and so on, but nevertheless, our economy today is almost double what it was in the early 2000s. We have almost doubled the volume of our economy. The capabilities of our armed forces have increased immeasurably, as is evidenced by the Syria case.
However, what worries our opponents the most is not even this, but the unity and cohesion of the Russian nation, of the multiethnic Russian people. In this connection, attempts are made to weaken us from within, make us more acquiescent and make us toe their line. What is the easiest way of doing this? It is to spread distrust for the ruling authorities and the bodies of power within society and to set people against each other. This was brilliantly used during the tragic years of World War I, when the country was simply brought to the point of disintegration. Today, this an exercise in futility.
All of you here are specialists, journalists, right? You know what an information product is. Now, there has been this offshore holding controversy. Your humble servant is not there; there is nothing to talk about. However, the assignment is still there and they have to work. What did they do? They manufactured an information product. They found some of my friends and acquaintances – I will talk about them shortly – and they fiddled around and knocked something together. I saw these pictures. There are many, many people in the background – it is impossible to understand who they are, and there is a close-up photo of your humble servant in the foreground. Now, this is being promoted.
There is this friend of the Russian president, and they say he has done something, probably something corruption-related. In fact, there is no corruption involved at all. Besides, we now know from WikiLeaks that officials and state agencies in the United States are behind all this. Some senior US officials have directly apologised for the way they sometimes publicly insult us, but not because they feel ashamed, I believe, but because they are smarter than those responsible for these actions. The problem is that when officials from say the State Department or the US administration make insolent statements of this sort, they mark themselves as parties concerned. This is not good for them in terms of achieving their ultimate goal, but it is good for us, because it shows us who is behind all this.
Now, concerning Sergei Roldugin, he is not simply a musician, but holds the title of National Artist of Russia and is an outstanding musician, one of the best in the country, I think. He was a jury member of the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He started his career here in Leningrad, in St Petersburg, working under Mravinsky. He worked with Gergiev for a long time and was rector of St Petersburg Conservatory. He is a very creative person. You might have noticed that many creative people in Russia, every other one, perhaps, have a go at business, and as far as I know, Sergei Roldugin also did. What kind of business did he get into? He is a minority shareholder in one of our companies and makes some money out of it, but not billions of dollars of course. That is nonsense. The reality is nothing of the sort. He makes a bit of money out of it. The interesting thing is that I am proud of people like Sergei Roldugin, proud to count him among my friends, and proud of him in general.
He has spent nearly all of the money he has earned buying musical instruments abroad and bringing them back to Russia. These are expensive instruments. We always welcome it when someone does something of this sort, but he goes even further. I know that for several months now he has been busy transferring these musical instruments to state institutions’ ownership. For many years now, he has been quietly organising concerts and promoting Russian culture abroad, and essentially paying for this out of his own pocket. The more such people we have, the better. I am proud to have friends like him.
Ilya Lochkanov: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Ilya Lochkanov and I am from Belgorod. What interests me is the following question. A nuclear security summit recently took place in Washington, and many countries attended, but Russia did not – neither you, nor any Russian representative. Were you invited to take part? Why did things happen this way? My second question is more personal: Could you describe the Russia of your dreams? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Let us start with the more important question, the second one. Russia should be an independent, strong, effective, modern and future-focused country. It should be a country in which it is comfortable, agreeable and prestigious to live.
As for your other question, whether I was invited or not, yes, I was invited, and my colleague invited me personally. Frankly speaking, I was not opposed to the idea of taking part, but our experts in the nuclear field and the Foreign Ministry did not recommend it for the following reasons.
First, as it became clear, this was an event ‘amongst ourselves’, a primarily American event. Normally, events of this sort and level take place on a consensus basis, with the possibility of taking part in drafting the final resolutions. In this case, however, it was all divided into five groups, I believe, and they proposed that we take part in only one. This meant that our representatives could make their contribution to the final decisions only in one area. In other words, we would not have been able to take part in drafting any overall documents that might have been adopted. However, a big nuclear power like Russia cannot take part in an event such as this and not have the possibility to influence the drafting of the final resolutions. We said so directly and frankly to our partners some time ago now.
The other circumstance is that back in the early 2000s, the Americans and we agreed on destroying weapons-grade plutonium. This agreement covered surplus weapons-grade plutonium produced at US enterprises and at ours. This is the highly enriched fissile material that is used to make nuclear weapons. Each side had 34 tonnes. We signed this agreement and settled on the procedures for the material’s destruction, agreed that this would be done on an industrial basis, which required the construction of special facilities. Russia fulfilled its obligations in this regard and built these facilities, but our American partners did not.
Moreover, only recently, they announced that they plan to dispose of their accumulated highly enriched nuclear fuel by using a method other than what we agreed on when we signed the corresponding agreement, but by diluting and storing it in certain containers. This means that they preserve what is known as the breakout potential, in other words it can be retrieved, reprocessed and converted into weapons-grade plutonium again. This is not what we agreed on. Now we will have to think about what to do about this and how to respond to this. By all indications, this will also be an irritant, which will provoke a corresponding reaction and a search for new offshores. However, our partners should understand that jokes aside, all their efforts to promote information products aimed against Russia are one thing, but serious issues, especially with regard to nuclear arms, are quite a different matter and one should be able to meet one’s obligations.
Now, they said at one time that they will shut down Guantanamo. So what, have they? No. There are still people walking around in shackles there. It is just like the Middle Ages. And all the so-called human rights organisations have swallowed their tongues; everyone keeps mum. All right, this is related to the humanitarian aspect; it concerns several dozen people. This is also very bad. It is difficult to imagine that this is possible in today’s world: people are in custody without charge or trial. This is simply inconceivable. Can you imagine something like this happening in this country? It is simply incredible. All right, this concerns several dozen people. Now, this one, however, is a global issue, a nuclear security issue.
There are also other things that we believe our partners have failed to resolve and implement. So if we (as we can establish a constructive dialogue in certain other areas, say, in fighting terrorism in Syria) manage to carry on this work, extremely important not only for the United States and Russia but as well as, without any exaggeration, for the entire world, we will, of course, not only be ready for this work; we are ready for it now; we want to continue it and we will see it through to the end, but on an equal basis.
Vladimir Putin: (answering a question about Crimea’s agro-industrial sector) I agree that we need to develop local production. You have listed a number of companies that all belong to the agro-industrial sector. We simply need to pay more attention to how we plan to spend the very significant funds earmarked for Crimea’s development. This comes to hundreds of billions of rubles. True, this money is earmarked primarily for infrastructure development, but this is not the only area, and there are also funds for supporting the real sector of the economy, including, and not in last place, the agriculture.
To be fair, we should note that many businesses got a second wind in Crimea, especially shipbuilding and some other sectors. Agriculture has probably not ended up in the easiest situation for a number of reasons. The limited electricity supply was one reason. Incidentally, the third section of the energy bridge will begin operation in a few days’ time. Soon afterwards, in May, I think, the fourth section will be launched. In this respect, we really are doing everything we can to replace the energy that used to come from Ukraine. Later, as you know and I have said, additional capacity will be built in 2017–2018 to exceed current demand. This will create opportunities for developing the real sector of the economy, including agriculture.
However, we can already start reflecting on how to make best use of the money and resources the federal government is allocating to Crimea to develop the real sector, including agriculture. The important thing is that businesses should be competitive in comparison with big Russian companies.
However, Crimea should have its own production capacity for covering local demand, Crimea’s own needs. Perhaps it could be an additional draw for the region if people know, when they come from elsewhere in Russia to holiday in Crimea, that the region has high-quality local products. We will certainly look into this. I will talk with the Agriculture Minister and with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who are responsible for these matters. Thank you for drawing my attention to this issue.
Maria Bozunova: Good afternoon. This is such an emotional moment – to see the President for the first time. Dreams come true. I came from a very small town, from the Urals, Sverdlovsk Region. I am a newspaper editor. We did not have a single cinema for 20 years and had to go to a large regional centre a hundred kilometres away. This is no longer the case and we can go to the cinema in our own town. 2016 is truly the Year of Russian Cinema and there are plenty of films and TV series. The broadcast schedule is packed with all these products.
I have a question for you but not as a top official, but just as a man, even though not quite a regular one. What films does the Russian President watch? What films could he recommend for the younger generation? Do you often manage to see films, something new?
Vladimir Putin: I do not often go to the cinema, I must admit. However, you spoke about an issue that is very important and not in the context of my preferences but in terms of film distribution. We lost obvious advantages in national film distribution, which we had in Soviet times. Cinemas practically ceased to exist in scarcely populated areas. This is very sad. All of us, primarily the Government and the regional authorities, should do a lot to restore this network. The existing network is private for the most part and their owners certainly prefer to purchase foreign produce for less and sell it for more. This is a bad situation and we must redress it by all means.
Several years ago, Fyodor Bondarchuk tried to carry out a number of projects. Although he is an artistic figure himself and his main job is to make films, he tried to do business as well and to help people promote national films in small towns. He complained and cursed all the time because it was very difficult to overcome certain barriers, including administrative ones.
Nevertheless, this task exists and we must resolve it and move ahead. Speaking about our film industry and the promotion of our films on the domestic market, we lag behind some European countries. We are worse off than Poland, not to mention France although it is also yielding positions to US producers. However, we must think about this and move forward by all means. I am urging you and all of your colleagues to pay more attention to this and promote domestic films.
As for my personal preferences, I like good films. We have very many patriotic movies devoted to our heroes of the Great Patriotic War. I am referring to old Soviet films. Classics are very well represented. Take Bondarchuk, but the Senior one, who shot “War and Peace.” This is a masterpiece. I am pleased to note that foreign filmmakers are turning to our classics. I believe the British version of “War and Peace” was released quite recently – several months ago. I saw it as well and I liked it. I believe they managed to grasp the Russian soul, the epoch and the depth of Tolstoy’s thoughts. The directors and actors did a very good, interesting job.
Stanislav Govorukhin makes wonderful films. We were raised on them and we can watch them endlessly. You should choose what you like. You know, I think that the most important thing in art in general and in cinematic art is kindness and love, love in the broadest sense of this word. This is what one should be guided by.
Anastasia Temmo: Good afternoon, Mr President. I’m from Veliky Novgorod. I’m Anastasia Temmo. We have already spoken about import substitution and I’d like to ask you a question related to the same subject, but from a different angle. The process has been launched, but, say, to put it on track and ensure that it moves along at a good pace — this does not depend only on the situation in the agricultural sector. There is a problem here and it seems to me that its resolution hinges on political will.
What is it? There are indeed many enterprises in this country that manufacture sophisticated products in terms of their technical characteristics, i.e., all kinds of equipment. This is software, cooling stations for servers and various complex systems. They are really competitive compared to Western manufacturers. The trouble is that our manufacturers have absolutely no priority over Western manufacturers. This is indeed the case. In other words, there is the brainpower…
Vladimir Putin: This is not so.
Anastasia Temmo: This is what people have to deal with, so I’m saying this.
Vladimir Putin: They do.
Anastasia Temmo: There is brainpower, but when all is said and done, there is no priority.
Vladimir Putin: There is. You know, I’ll put it bluntly…
Anastasia Temmo: I’m sorry, but can I make my point, Mr President, please?
Vladimir Putin: Sure. Sorry.
Anastasia Temmo: How can the situation be rectified, in my opinion? I believe legislation is needed that should give various companies the priority right to use our own, Russian products, especially if this concerns public companies or quasi-public companies, such as Gazprom or Rosneft, where the Russian Federation holds a stake. Do you think this initiative is worth supporting?
Vladimir Putin: I do. This is being introduced and such tools exist. One of them is very simple. It is known to manufacturers. If, in the framework of the state procurement system, foreign and Russian goods are available on the market, the contracting authority should buy Russian goods even if their price is 15 percent higher. This is real support. The only question is that if we ban all imports, we will bring about a situation where the quality and price of our goods will not be up to international standards, and this will affect the consumer.
In the final count, this will hurt our economic development, but, of course, preferences should be provided at a certain stage. They are already in place. Our state-controlled companies, our large so-called infrastructure monopolies – you’ve named them – have already been directed to follow this approach. What’s more, they have already been told this and we will continue to promote and consolidate this trend, but very carefully, so as not to disturb the balance between the interests of manufacturers and the interests of consumers.
Question: I simply dreamed about asking this question. Yesterday, at the Russian Popular Front platform, we were discussing information warfare. However, at some stage, it was suggested that we do not have a national idea in the country. A guest from Germany was there – here he is, and he was surprised to hear that. I felt a little embarrassed. Well, not a little. It simply broke my heart. We are not Americans and it takes more than a car on an installment plan or a mortgage to make us happy; we need something bigger than that.
Vladimir Putin: This is true.
Remark: I have a proposal. If something is created I definitely want to take part in it. The question is: What is our national idea? I am asking you to explain it to us. Journalists did not understand this. Neither did I.
Vladimir Putin: Is our German friend here?
Remark in German.
Vladimir Putin: I have been misunderstood, our guest says. Please go on.
Remark in German.
Vladimir Putin (translates): I was greatly surprised to hear a Russian representative say that we have no national values.
Remark in German.
Vladimir Putin (translates): If I as a foreigner look at Russia, it is absolutely clear to me what they are talking about: human rights, peace, national interests, family values and religious values. I was surprised that a Russian representative asked about national values.
Remark: Danke schön! Vielen Dank!
Vladimir Putin: Nichts zu danken! Das ist eine Freude fur mich!
Let me add something. I believe that our respected guest has aptly summed up the essence of universal human values, and this is also relevant for Russia. I will only add this: What is very important for Russia, for a Russian person (and you have just put this correctly, if indirectly) is a sense of patriotism, a sense of national identity, something that certain European countries are losing, much to their regret.
We have this inside us. Our love for our Motherland is in our hearts. I am going to make a very important point now. Patriotism is a fundamental component of our national consciousness, one of our values and ideas. Remember the words of Dmitry Likhachev, a wonderful scholar and humanist of the 20th century. He said that patriotism fundamentally differs from nationalism. Nationalism is hatred for other nations while patriotism is love for one’s Motherland.
Thank you very much for our joint work.