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Question: What about Donbass? Russia’s response to shelling is weak; Zelensky has not decide anything and passports are a half-hearted issue…
Vladimir Putin: As for resolving the Donbass problem, I have already spoken about this. I just talked about this, but I can say it again: this problem cannot be resolved properly without a direct dialogue and without the implementation of the Minsk agreements by the Ukrainian authorities.
As for passports, understandably there are queues for Russian passports. We will grant citizenship to those who want it.
As for other Ukrainian citizens that would like to receive citizenship, I talked about this as well. We will grant it to them and improve the system for granting citizenship under a simplified procedure.
Question: Why is Russia’s response to the increasing shelling so weak, as if nothing is happening?
Vladimir Putin: This is not a matter of weakness or strength. The bottom line is that we want to give the new Ukrainian leadership a chance to get on track to resolve this rather than make things worse.
Question: Can you please tell us if you think it is time for Russia to admit its responsibility for the crash of the Malaysian Boeing, the downing of MH17?
And one more question, Mr President. This is the 30th anniversary of the downfall of the Berlin Wall when Moscow’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe started to collapse and which was followed by the disintegration of a great power – the USSR. Do you think Russia is again a super power 30 years later?
Vladimir Putin: First, regarding the Boeing. Russia has never dodged its responsibility if it is responsible for something. We find absolutely unacceptable what we saw and what was presented as evidence of Russia’s guilt.
We think there is no evidence at all there. Everything that was presented does not prove anything. We have our own version and we have submitted it, but regrettably nobody wants to listen to us.
Until there is real dialogue, we will not find a correct answer to the questions that remain open, that are linked with the tragedy of the plane and the death of people, over which we are certainly mourning and of course consider such actions unacceptable.
And it is still necessary to repeat what we said: who allowed flights over an area of hostilities? Was it Russia? No. Where were the fighters planes and where is the absolute proof that the militia men or someone else fired the weapon?
There are a lot of questions and nobody is answering them. They have simply made a choice once and for all and have appointed the guilty – and that’s it. This approach to the investigation does not suit us.
As for the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Is Russia a great power? We are not seeking this status because this would imply certain elements of imposing our influence on other countries and entire regions.
We do not want to return to how it was in the Soviet Union, when it imposed a way of life and political system on its neighbours, including countries in Eastern Europe.
This is counterproductive, too costly and has no historical prospects. You cannot make other nations live by your rules.
It appears that the sad experience of the Soviet Union is not considered by some of our partners in the West. They are making the same mistakes and falling into the same trap, assuming that they are empires and constructing their policy accordingly.
Question: Starting this year, our correspondents have reported at least three deaths of Russian servicemen in Syria, which have not been reported by the Russian Defence Ministry. Sorry for reading it out, I am nervous.
Since the beginning of war in Syria, Russia has not acknowledged the deaths of employees of a private military contractor linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin. Last year, our correspondents met with the families of several [Russian] citizens killed there. Their families and friends insist that they be granted the status of combat participants, even if posthumously.
Tells us, Mr President, what is the problem with honouring and acknowledging people who fought in the interests of their country?
Vladimir Putin: Look, as for the private companies, including the private security companies under which the people you have mentioned were operating – this is not the Russian state, and they are not engaged in combat.
Fortunately or unfortunately, these are issues of an economic nature, related to economic activity, oil production and exploring oilfields – that is what we are talking about here.
Of course, we acknowledge that people risk their lives even when addressing these social and economic tasks and problems. Overall, this is also a contribution to fighting terrorism as they are reclaiming these fields from ISIS. But this has nothing to do with the Russian state or the Russian army, so we do not comment on this.
Question: We have a colleague in prison – Kirill Vyshinsky has been behind bars in Ukraine for a year. Considering that your meeting with Vladimir Zelensky is apparently postponed indefinitely, would it be possible to get Kirill back home before your meeting? Say, if we sent Oleg Sentsov to Ukraine, and those sailors, anyone, let everyone go, and then Kirill and these people would walk free as soon as this summer.
Vladimir Putin: We are thinking about it, we have not forgotten.
Question: May I ask a question about defrauded stakeholders of shared construction projects?
You said earlier this month that within two years, the very concept of a defrauded stakeholder should disappear in Russia. Unfortunately, I am one of them, and I would like to ask you something using my case as example.
I have a very difficult situation: the developer went bankrupt, and there is no new investor, because no one wants to invest. A lot of money is needed, and there is no financing from the Government.
So I am not sure that in two years I will stop being a defrauded stakeholder. Could you tell us what actions, you think, will and can be taken to fulfil your task?
Vladimir Putin: Indeed this is easier said than done. But this duty lies not only with the Federation, but largely with the regions of the Russian Federation.
First of all, we need to identify all the equity construction investors who need support, to understand exactly which projects they had invested in and how much damage each incurred. This work is in progress. At the same time, work is underway to provide these people with housing, and the regional and federal budgets are involved.
We are doing it, investing the necessary resources, and we will definitely complete it. Where is the project you invested in, in which region?
Remark: I am a stakeholder in the Novokosino 2 residential complex in Reutov, Moscow Region.
Vladimir Putin: In the Moscow Region, the problem is really quite acute, although I have given instructions to the regional governors, and compliance is monitored at the federal level, so that each stakeholder’s problems are finally resolved.
What I meant when I said there would be no such thing as defrauded stakeholders in two years is that we are gradually getting rid of the shared construction system, in which a significant part of the risks are shouldered by future apartment owners, such as you. You know about it.
I have already said many times, and I will use this opportunity, especially because there were no such questions during Direct Line today – they were not asked on air. But this is something people are concerned about, so I will use this opportunity since you asked.
We shift responsibility from citizens to financial organisations, bolstering these financial organisations with insurance mechanisms from the budget, first and foremost, from the federal budget.
The Central Bank has introduced an entire support system for those financial institutions which will be maintaining the so-called escrow accounts and only after the housing is commissioned, money from these escrow accounts, the citizens’ money, will be sent to developers.
Yes, this might lead, and unfortunately it has already led, to some reduction in housing construction. We had a peak of 85 million, now it is below 80, but this is inevitable.
We must move to a new system of financing housing construction, make it modern and civilised. This is exactly what I spoke about. Well, maybe not in two years, maybe in three years, but, in any case, we must do this in the upcoming years.
Remark: But I do not fall under the system, for instance.
Vladimir Putin: Why? Your issue, like the issue of other housing equity holders, must be addressed. If, of course, you are not just an equity holder, but engaged in business, if you bought not one but five, six, ten apartments and are going to do business, this is another thing. If you really bought housing for yourself, your issue must be addressed. I will talk to Andrei Vorobyov (Moscow Region Governor). Reutov, right?
Question: In a little while you will go to meet with, as you call him, your friend, Shinzo Abe. Could you please speak about what you expect from this visit, as not only a number of meetings are expected to take place, but the closing of the Cross Year of Russia and Japan. Should we expect any surprises like you stepping onto the judo mats or visiting hot springs?
Vladimir Putin: These are not the most important surprises in interstate relations – like stepping onto the judo mat or visiting hot springs – but this is also important and interesting and creates a certain atmosphere.
What do I expect from this meeting? The continuation of dialogue. I am sure that Shinzo, like all of us, wants full normalisation of relations and the conclusion of a peace treaty. It seems like we are almost there, very close, but often there are issues that arise and suddenly postpone the final resolution of this issue.
But what is absolutely clear, and I spoke about it many times: both the Japanese side represented by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russia wants a final normalisation of our relations. Both the Japanese and the Russian people are interested in it and will be striving for this.
Thank you very much.