Earlier that day, the head of state took part in the ceremony to launch the first line of the Austrian Lasselsberger Group’s Cemix plant for the production of dry construction mixes in the Abzelilovsky District of Bashkortostan.
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Excerpts from the transcript of the meeting with Cemix plant workers and builders
President of Russia Vladimir Putin (answering a question about the importance of blue-collar jobs and the invitation to attend the final of the WorldSkills national championship in Ufa this year): It has long been customary in Russia to refer to the working class as our leading political force. It was a Soviet cliche, but in fact it is the truth. Only the essence of blue-collar jobs is changing. I am sure you know this even better than I do.
There are different training programmes for workers, there are specialists of different levels, and they have different tasks. But overall, what is the trend? The trend is that blue-collar jobs are becoming more demanding. A modern worker can hardly function effectively without some engineering skills.
Today’s workers deal with artificial intelligence and big data, and use unmanned vehicles. Their work is becoming more difficult, but also more interesting. And of course, WorldSkills, a movement we have joined only recently, has become a good impetus for development in blue-collar training, which is an extremely important area. And again, this is all the more important because in the modern world, the success of the entire economy depends on well-trained and educated people at every level of production, so the demand for such personnel is extremely high.
But I would like to mention one more important point concerning WorldSkills. I would say, WorldSkills, among other things, is the reason why the demand, and also the respect for blue-collar professions has grown significantly. Look, about 60 percent of school graduates consider enrolling at technical schools and colleges to learn vocational skills. As many as 60 percent. This says a lot, and it is very important.
I really do hope that the event you have planned will be held at the highest level. Bashkortostan is capable of preparing and conducting such an event. Incidentally, in terms of the number of participants and the number of competencies that will be presented during this national competition, the event in Bashkortostan will be even superior to the world championship, which was recently held in Kazan. It will be a great event. I do not know if I will be able to visit, but I always follow this with great interest, I really do, so I will try to find the time. Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: (answering the question if the Government plans to reduce the impact of negative industrial inflation on business and on industry in general) Yes, of course it does.
First, I will say a few words about why this is happening. There are both objective and subjective reasons. And even subjective reasons are actually an offshoot of objective ones. The first objective reason is the pandemic, of course, and it concerns the entire world, not just Russia. After the slump in production, and industry going through a long and difficult period, many countries began to apply various measures to stimulate economic growth. The largest economies have not come up with a better option than printing more money and injecting it into the economy.
In developed economies, recovery is faster than in developing ones, but it goes faster precisely because their central banks actually provide funding to industry. In the United States, if I remember correctly, this figure is up to 15 percent. This leads to inflation. Also in the United States … Why am I talking about them? Not because I want to spite them, not at all, but because it is one of the largest economies in the world, and everything that happens there affects the global economy, too.
Anyway, their planned inflation, well not planned, but the target inflation was 2 percent; now it is 5.5, and is moving towards 6. This is a lot for an economy like the United States. And it influences the global economy.
Roughly the same thing is happening in Europe, in the European Union countries. What does inflation mean? It means a rise in prices. That triggers a response from specific industries, including the metals industry. Prices for metallurgy products have grown on world markets. Since we have an open economy, our metal producers, are naturally trying to extract the maximum profit from the global market situation. They are exporting their products. This leads to a shortage in the domestic market and, accordingly, sends the prices up. This is actually a pattern that specialists are perfectly familiar with. I am not giving away any secrets; this is what is really happening.
Can we – or should we – take any restrictive measures, domestically? We can and we should, and this is exactly what we are doing. The Government has introduced higher export duties on metals, and the resulting additional funds are to be directed to the construction industry, including building materials, that is, the money is flowing into another industry.
Also, next year, from January 1 I think, the mineral extraction tax will be raised, and it applies to metallurgy. Therefore, the Government has outlined a number of systemwide measures to contain domestic prices. This is a purely economic measure; it is not excessively administrative or anything. I think this should have an overall positive effect on the economy. In my opinion, this has already had some positive effect.
Guzel Yanberdina: Mr President, we have been watching our athletes’ achievements at the Olympic Games every day, even though they are not competing under the Russian Federation’s flag. We are proud of athletes from Bashkortostan who become champions. We got used to hearing Tchaikovsky's music, but their victories make us feel better.
Vladimir Putin: Let the world get exposed to Russian classics. This is a good thing.
Guzel Yanberdina: Yes, it is. Mr President, my question is, when will our anthem be played at the Olympics? By the way, do you think Ufa could claim the title of an Olympic capital?
Vladimir Putin: As for our anthem, our flag, and such, I believe that the ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport was politically motivated to a certain extent.
Why? Because when it comes to doping – this has been the international practice so far – it always referred to the attitude of a specific athlete, a particular athlete or their coach and the degree of their guilt was determined. Guilt is always individual. Here, for some reason, the court decided otherwise, although doping incidents happen in many countries. In cycling, people are often caught in hotels with this doping, and on the tracks, different things happen, and in all countries. In this case, unfortunately, the sports officials seemed unable to withstand the political pressure.
On the other hand, this did not affect the quality of our athletes’ performance. I think our athletes and their performance are the best possible proof that any attempts to politicise sport are insignificant, senseless, or even harmful, and eventually futile.
We are talking about the absence of the Russian flag. Yes, it would have been better with the flag, but we can see the Russian Olympic Committee badge on their uniforms, with the Russian tricolour. So what? They seem to like Tchaikovsky's music more than Aleksandrov's music there. All right, let them listen to Tchaikovsky's music. However, I repeat once again, I believe that decision was clearly political.
As for the future, these restrictions will be in effect until the end of 2022. I think that after that, any attempts to restrict or somehow spite Russia in the sports field will end. Then we can raise the question of hosting major international competitions.
I think international sports organisations, including the International Olympic Committee, are interested in Russia being among the participants and contenders at top international competitions, because we have shown in the most brilliant way that we can do it at the highest level. In this sense, Bashkortostan, can certainly bid to host competitions of the highest level.
As far as I know, Bashkortostan is going to host the Junior World Championship soon, in wrestling, I think. I am sure the region will show it is capable of holding such events at a high level.
Azalia Yagudina: As many as 40 percent of Bashkortostan’s population live in rural areas, where the standard of living is lower compared to life in big cities. To improve their quality of life, we need to build and repair schools, sports and fitness centres, healthcare centres, social and cultural facilities. For example, we have the Country Doctor and Country Coach programmes, where new coaches and doctors are entitled to financial incentives for working in rural areas.
Mr President, will there be federal support or a programme for this? How can people’s living standards be improved in rural areas?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, but, first of all, you just mentioned these programmes, which are up and running and will continue. The federal Government will continue to support people who live and work in rural areas under these programmes. I very much hope that the regional authorities will also do their part of the job.
One of the most important components is providing housing for various specialists, teachers, doctors and medical workers in general. Housing is a very important matter, but as far as the federal Government is concerned, it provides support in this area. We have programmes in various areas, primarily, to support social development in rural areas. Overall, we provide significant support for rural development and production, over 300 billion annually, and this year it is higher than last year.
There are separate programmes, too. For example, support for rural schools and clubs.
The Culture national programme includes specific projects for the construction and renovation of rural clubs. By the way, Bashkortostan has listed its needs, and Bashkortostan's application is for 300 million rubles, as far as I know. So, this work to support Bashkortostan's rural residents will definitely continue.
The same goes for schools. This is a separate topic, a separate area. We will continue to renovate schools and build new ones in rural areas. The Government is now working on a programme for the major repairs and construction of new schools. This year, I asked them to increase the number of schools to be renovated.
Unfortunately, 10 percent of schools are in need of major repairs, and, unfortunately, some school buildings are even dilapidated. All this will be fixed, including rural schools. The same goes for libraries.
Vladimir Putin (answering a question about measures to support small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, the IT segment, and support for electronics manufacturers): As we were fighting the economic impact, the negative impact of the pandemic, we adopted a whole range of support measures for small and medium-sized businesses. I probably do not need to list them all now, as you are well aware of them. All of those measures were in one way or another focused on preserving jobs, which is the most important thing. We even linked employers’ entitlement to support directly to their ability to keep people onboard. You probably know this too, so I do not need to list everything.
As for the IT industry, we generally support this area of activity as one of our priorities. Suffice it to mention the lowering of the tax burden, which is also well known – the move was unprecedented in this sector.
As for the present day, since the pandemic situation is still quite difficult and has negative consequences for enterprises, especially small and medium-sized businesses, the Government considers it possible and is implementing support plans, for example, for regional companies that have to suspend operations for epidemiological reasons by decision of the regional heads. Such companies are entitled to 0.5 minimum wage per employee for the downtime period. And I want to tell you that the Government is constantly thinking, analysing the situation, analysing what is happening in real life and trying to make appropriate adjustments.
You mentioned support for computer programming. This is the most important segment, the fundamental one. This is what we are proud of and what we also lack because many of our programmers work for leading Western companies. They certainly should be working here, so we must create the right conditions for them, and we are trying to do so. But every IT segment deserves support. We will definitely do this.
But we also need to revive our microelectronics. This is no longer about small and medium-sized businesses – it concerns large enterprises that could provide the necessary level of products for the domestic economy and industry, including the defence industry, and operate effectively in foreign markets. But these are, of course, separate plans and separate issues.
(During the meeting, Vladimir Putin also answered questions about the development of small aircraft, free connection to gas grids of houses located near inter-city gas pipelines, support for beekeeping, which is a traditional branch of agriculture in Bashkortostan, the extension of the concessional retail lending programme and the concessional mortgage programme for individual housing construction.)