Excerpts from transcript of meeting with National Research Nuclear University (MEPhI) students 2014-01-22 15:00:00 Moscow President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, everyone, The main reason for this meeting is to congratulate you on the upcoming holiday. As one would write in official documents, I want to congratulate you and in your person all of Russia’s students. I wish you the very best in your studies and your future careers. I must say that it is really interesting to have this chance to be here at MEPhI. This university is a legendary place, and that is no exaggeration. No matter how one may criticise the Soviet-era leaders, and there are certainly reasons to do so, but one can’t deny their ability to identify priorities and focus financial and administrative resources on the main development goals. That this university was established here in Moscow in 1942, before the Battle of Stalingrad had even taken place yet, is really quite amazing. This university built up its strength so well that it became a real centre for forging the personnel for our nuclear industry, for both the military and civilian components what’s more. And there’s no question that the university produces brilliant specialists. I looked through the international ratings. Their results are partly based on the number of publications and how often they are cited of course. But for a long time in the nuclear industry it was simply not possible to get any citations because some work was totally confidential in nature, and this is still the case in this sector even today. But the achievements of your predecessors and today’s specialists make it possible to say without any doubt at all that this university’s specialists are absolute leaders, world leaders in a whole number of areas of research on fundamental particles, the atom and all related fields. You know better than I exactly what all the terms are here, since this is your area of work. But what I can see clearer are the results of your present and future colleagues, in other words, you yourselves. It is already clear that in many areas we are ahead of others working in this field in other countries. It was no coincidence that MEPhI was one of the first universities to be given the status of research university. Our own ratings make it one of the country’s top universities, after Moscow State University and St Petersburg State University. This shows that much was accomplished over past years, and it also shows that the level of teaching, research, and skills and knowledge gained has not dropped but on the contrary, continues to increase and reach ever-greater heights. This is cause for me to once more wish you success and hope that you will make full use of the immense potential that was built up over the past years. I want to assure you that the country is following very closely – those who know what is involved at any rate – the nuclear industry’s successes, whether in the civilian or military sectors. You will unquestionably have a big part to play in helping to ensure our country’s energy security and defence capability. I congratulate you on the holiday and wish you success. I understand that we have student representatives from other Moscow universities. We do not meet often — just once a year on this matter. So if there are any questions or suggestions, I’m listening. Let’s discuss any point of view, any position. If I can, I will answer your questions. Question: Hello, Mr President! My name is Gennady Baryshev. I am a graduate student at the physical engineering department and the coordinator of the Rosatom student club. I want to ask you a question. On the one hand, Rosatom is currently seeing a trend toward the development of engineering; a large-scale engineering project Proryv is being implemented. On the other hand, there is the task of long-term research and technology forecasting and predictions. Please tell us, do you see some kind of opportunity for using our leading universities, such as MEPhI, as a springboard for the implementation of such directions – the forecasting or foresight of major, cutting-edge engineering projects in the future? Their forecasting, organisation, the organisation of research and, more specifically, the management of such projects. Vladimir Putin: I just spoke about this, and you yourself are well aware that your sector and your university are linked to civil manufacturing and research, as well as defence research and manufacturing. Just two days ago (maybe somebody saw it, I think it was shown in the media), I visited the so-called Advanced Research Fund platform. But it is mostly related to the defence industry, so everything there has a half-closed status. Still, even there, we talked about how we need to focus intellectual resources in breakthrough areas, to understand what constitutes a breakthrough area. But since it mainly deals directly with defence, we created it as a separate platform; most of the people there are very young people; they are basically yesterday’s graduate students and postgraduates. As for civilian issues, naturally, the nation’s leading universities can and should serve as such basic platforms. MEPhI is certainly one of them. And we will proceed in that direction. I’m sure you know about the creation of the Russian Research Fund, whose work is intended to provide additional grant-based support for the most promising areas of work by young researchers and graduate students – both for individual and group research projects. In this respect, we will try to create some fundamental platforms. MEPhI can certainly be one of them. I see that there are people in military uniforms here. Do you have a question? Question: My name is Artem Bekerev. I am a third-year cybernetics student. I am also studying in the military department. I want to ask (a lot of funding is being currently allocated toward the defence industry), what are the most promising areas of development – which industries? Vladimir Putin: In military science or military industry? I will try to answer. I will talk about the main directions that pertain to ensuring the nation’s defence capacity. As it applies to this audience, today’s location, I must first and foremost name the nuclear triad. As you know, Russia and the United States are the only two nations in the world that possess the so-called nuclear triad – in other words, nuclear arms, located in three environments: on land, under water, and in the air. The other nuclear powers do not have such triads. My personal position is that at some point, humanity must renounce nuclear arms. But for now, we are far from this, in the sense that other nations aside from Russia have nuclear arms as well – and many of them – and they are not going to renounce this means of armed combat. Such a step by the Russian Federation would be very strange in these conditions, and could lead to some fairly serious, grave consequences for our nation and our people. So one key area is the development of the armed weapons complex of our nuclear industry. The second thing we must do is develop our communication and reconnaissance system (not agent reconnaissance but, first and foremost, technological). This has to do with the development of space technology. Without modern space technology, it is impossible to ensure the nation’s defence capacity. One key direction is the development of precision weapons. You have probably heard, we talk a lot about GLONASS (the Americans have GPS and we have created GLONASS). There are no other systems like it in the world – global positioning systems. This has to do with national economic potential, but I suppose you know this as well: without the precise signal provided by GPS or GLONASS, it is practically impossible to use and develop modern precision weapons systems. So this is another key area of development in the field of defence. And, of course, we cannot forget the Air Force (aviation), we cannot forget submarines and surface vessels. In this respect, practical and fundamental research in areas that initially appear unrelated to defence is exceedingly important. For example, materials science. Without modern materials, it is simply impossible to imagine the development of modern combat equipment. That same high-precision weaponry I spoke about or, for example, hypersound. Modern hypersound missile systems are impossible to imagine without modern materials. This is absolutely impossible to do without first resolving fundamental challenges, such as those related to how this material reacts when heated as missile systems move through the atmosphere or when they enter the atmosphere. So I want to tell you that there is much for you to do. <…> Vladimir Putin: (answering a question about the possible devaluation of the ruble). Yesterday, I met with Governor of the Central Bank, Ms Nabiullina, and she did not tell me anything like that. Reply: So we do not need to fear anything? Vladimir Putin: You should never fear anything in general. As soon as you begin to fear something, your hands start shaking, your aim will be off, and for nuclear specialists, that can have truly dire consequences. So we should not be afraid, but we should always assess the situation we find ourselves in judiciously. If you are interested in the nation’s finance and banking system, we currently have 970 banks – just under a thousand. And for our economy, of course, this is a very large number of financial institutions. The German economy is comparable to ours in size – not in income per capita, but overall volume (and we have achieved fifth place globally in terms of economic volume) – but they have, I believe, 251 banks. What does this mean? It means that some of the financial institutions must increase their capital and their resources, their assets, in order to feel confident, stable, and must fight for the quality of their loan portfolio. And the Central Bank, in turn, must react swiftly to financial institutions’ problems and make corresponding decisions. This is not related to any sort of mythical interests in the financial sector or Russia’s economy, but first and foremost, depositors’ interests, so that depositors do not ultimately end up with nothing. There is a well-known rule that lets the investors determine the quality of a financial institution. There is an average interest rate in the financial system that banks provide to their clients, for example, for deposits. If the rate is very different from other financial institutions, you must look into it carefully. What does it mean? It usually means that the bank wants to attract depositors’ money at any cost, and usually, this is because of some sort of difficulties faced by the institution. So the Central Bank of the Russian Federation must fulfil its function as an auditor and regulator professionally. As for the national currency rate, as of today, the Central Bank steps in in terms of regulation only when the floating rate goes beyond the set ceiling or bottom-line levels. And the freer the Russian currency is, the better, ultimately. Why? Because this will force the economy itself to react more effectively and swiftly to the processes occurring within it. Up until today, the Central Bank has been handling this function quite successfully. I think it will continue to do so in the future. Concerning the consequences for our economy if the exchange rate is undervalued or overvalued, the export-oriented sectors of Russia’s economy want the ruble to be weaker, because they sell at higher prices and then receive proceeds in another currency, change that currency into rubles to pay their staff here, and buy equipment, materials and raw commodities in Russia using rubles. And this is advantageous for them. Non-export-oriented production is not very interested in the currency value decreases. So we always need to have a healthy balance. I repeat again, up until now, the Central Bank and the Government of the Russian Federation, the economic bloc, have been successful in finding and maintaining this balance using budgetary tools. I hope that this will continue. Question: Hello, Mr President. I am Nikita Danchenko, a second-year student of the management and economics of high technology department. Last summer I was at Alabino [a military test ground in the Moscow Region], where I practically took a course at the local army club and had a chance to see tank biathlon. It was all very interesting and exciting. But I have a question: why do they show this so often on TV? I watched it four times. Now I know that there will be many such military games; new projects are appearing for biathlon on larger military machines. My question is what is the purpose of all this? Is it to demonstrate our military might, or, after that scare that there will be a war in 2030, this is designed to show we are strong enough? That is my question. What for? Vladimir Putin: Who told you there would be a war? Remark: Mr Zhirinovsky [Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] often said that war is imminent. (Laughter) Vladimir Putin: You should take this up with Mr Zhirinovsky in detail, he is very communicative. Remark: All right. Vladimir Putin: I have no such information, but I will ask him too, because he might know something we don’t. However, to prevent war we have to develop our Armed Forces. This is exactly why, I presume, they are demonstrating our capability on TV. Besides, this is done primarily to attract talented young people, full of energy, like you and your colleagues here, to the Armed Forces, to show that the Armed Forces are developing and are fitted out with new equipment and that this kind of work is honourable and interesting. This is why it is done. We are not brandishing arms; this opens up doors to further cooperation. I can tell you that representatives of the armed forces of several countries expressed interest in these ‘tank biathlon’ competitions. Remark: Can you say which countries specifically? This is very interesting. Vladimir Putin: European countries, and the United States. They were not merely interested; they wanted to take part too. Remark: In the news, they said that representatives of Germany and the US were somewhat alarmed after they saw our tank biathlon, and asked what this was for. Vladimir Putin: They don’t have to do it if they don’t need it. We are not forcing them. But many show an interest, and, as I said, some have even sent requests to our Defence Ministry asking to participate. We will be very happy to have them. We are cooperating with NATO states, with Asian states, we hold joint military exercises, and we sell a lot of weaponry. We are second after the United States in terms of arms sales on the world market. This is yet another way of promoting our specialised produce. I see this as a positive development. Remark: Thank you. Vladimir Putin: Our sales on the world market have grown manifold. I will not give you any numbers now not to mislead you, but the fact that we rank second in sales after the United States is a good index. I would like to stress that we are selling innovative break-through products, which give us a chance to earn money for the production facilities and to channel part of that money into the development of new types of armaments. Besides, it has always been this way here that part of what we develop in the military sphere gradually finds its way into commercial civilian production. Question: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am a second-year student of the experimental and theoretical physics department. Vladimir Putin: Make sure you don’t ask questions from your area of study, please. Question: No, it is something else. I come from the town of Snezhinsk, in the Urals. Here is my question. A lot of attention now is focused on the research centre created on the initiative of Dmitry Medvedev, the Skolkovo Foundation, and other similar large associations. Would such science cities as Snezhinsk, Sarov, and the Novosibirsk Akademgorodok continue to receive support? Will they not be left out? Why the question? Because in my hometown, for instance, the number of healthcare workers is going down, which is a shame; doctors are leaving. Can talented young people, as you said, return to Snezhinsk and work in conditions similar to those in Skolkovo? Vladimir Putin: This is a very timely question that people often ask. I will not go into detail. I do not know what is going on in healthcare over there, I will find out, of course. If there is a problem with healthcare in Snezhinsk, this is a separate issue that can be resolved, particularly because we are paying ever more attention to developing this sector, raising doctors’ and paramedics’ salaries, though not in the same way everywhere. This, by the way, may be the reason for people to move to areas where salaries have already gone up; experts, as it usually happens, are looking for places where they can best use their skills. Nevertheless, we will have to look into the situation with health care there. As for science cities created back in Soviet times, Snezhinsk, which you mentioned, is not the only one. There are others, conducting research in rocket science, in nuclear power. This is undoubtedly something we will continue to support. The fact that Mr Medvedev, when he was President, and now as Prime Minister, supports this new project – we have to create something new in this breakthrough area. This is not the first time I hear this question, and not only from students, but also from scholars who are concerned about a certain imbalance: “Those people get it all, while we do not get our fair share.” This, of course, is a funding issue. I believe that as we increase budget funding for scientific research in general we will make sure we avoid such an imbalance. Meanwhile the science cities that have made a truly enormous contribution to the development of science, to enhancing the country’s defence capacity, will definitely continue to exist, will receive support and will develop. There is no doubt about it. Question: Mr President, I am Timur Abdullayev, second-year student of the physics and technology department. Vladimir Putin: All second-year students. Are there any other years here? Timur Abdullayev: I represent our university’s wrestling sports group. On behalf of all the wrestlers of our university, I would like to invite you to the Space Conquerors international tournament, hosted by our university. We are happy to see you here and have prepared a demonstration by our wrestlers. Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. How long have you been training? Timur Abdullayev: I was in the Greco-Roman wrestling for seven years, and now I have been practicing sambo for two years. I am a Master of Sport in Greco-Roman wrestling and I am a Candidate Master of Sport in sambo. Vladimir Putin: That’s great. Congratulations. What about your results? Where did you get the qualifications for the Master’s title? Apart from training, you need to win competitions. Timur Abdullayev: At the Viktor Shevchenko national tournament. Vladimir Putin: Where was that? Timur Abdullayev: In Tver Region. Vladimir Putin: What do you prefer: Greco-Roman wrestling or sambo? Timur Abdullayev: I prefer Greco-Roman, I suppose because I practiced it longer. Vladimir Putin: Then why did you give it up? Timur Abdullayev: I decided not to get my higher education as an athlete. I want to be an engineer. Vladimir Putin: Don’t they have Greko-Roman here at the university? Timur Abdullaev: No, they don’t. Vladimir Putin: But they do have sambo? Timur Abdullaev: Yes. Vladimir Putin: Good. This is also good. I wish you success. We’ll see the demonstration if we have time. Is the gym not far from here? Timur Abdullaev: Yes, it is close by. Vladimir Putin: Fine. Question: Hello, Mr President! I am a fourth-year student at the physical engineering department. Universities throughout the world serve as leaders of technology commercialisation by creating startups. But we do not have this yet in Russia. Vladimir Putin: Sure we do. Why do you say that? Question: Is Russia planning any support measures for universities to create startups? Vladimir Putin: We will ask the Minister to tell us about startups. Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov: In 2009, we adopted a law according to which universities not only have the right to create small businesses, but also include their intellectual property rights in their authorised capital. Several hundred companies have been established since then. These are mainly created by the universities, although research organisations are also now getting actively involved in this process. We have a system of grants intended to support such enterprises – grants both for individual researchers, including university and graduate students who are creating them, and for the enterprises themselves. In other words, there is a system of funds – for example, venture capital funds – that are investing capital in these companies if they see prospects for growth and development. So this system has been created; but naturally, it will take years, or maybe even decades, for these enterprises to grow and begin to make significant contributions to the economic development of whole industries. Still, this system is currently being created in our country. National Research Nuclear University Rector Mikhail Strikhanov: MEPhI has 23 enterprises. Dmitry Livanov: 23 enterprises at MEPhI. Vladimir Putin: Mr Livanov has commented on these enterprises, and I have already mentioned the Russian Research Fund. It is also directing significant efforts essentially toward supporting startups – both in the medium-term and in the long-term, i.e., three to five years or five to ten years. And mega-projects, which I am sure you also know about, are also basically startups. Yes, the commission selects the most promising areas of research. It selects both Russian and foreign researchers who, in the commission’s opinion, can achieve the greatest results. But they are also essentially starting from zero; they are also startups. And the Advanced Research Fund in the defence industry, which I mentioned at the very beginning of our meeting, also deals almost entirely with startups. In other words, we will certainly support this area using a variety of instruments. Question: Hello, Mr President. My name is Adam, I’m a third-year student in experimental nuclear physics. I am also studying at the military department. I have two questions. The first concerns the defence industry, since I am a serviceman. Ten years ago, Russia’s service members were treated differently than today. Right now, I’m studying in the military department, and I’ll tell you honestly, studying there is great. We have a shooting range, we have everything we want. We have equipment, and everything is new. This is a major plus. And we have guaranteed jobs. Every soldier gets a salary of several thousand dollars, a flat – everything is provided. Vladimir Putin: Are you serving NATO or Russia? (Laughter.) You should count in rubles, or else you might upset the Central Bank. Question: Very well. We have good salaries and the laws adopted by the Government five years ago, which are now fully implemented or being finalised. Here is my first question. By 2020, three trillion rubles will be invested in modernising the Armed Forces. Yet only 70% of the Russian army’s weapons will be modernised. Vladimir Putin: You know, this is a global average indicator for the world’s leading armies. So naturally, we will continue to improve this, but overall, when that level is reached – 70% of new and most up-to-date equipment, while 30% remains to be replaced – overall, that situation is normal. Still, we will gradually move forward. You just mentioned the three trillion rubles being allocated toward modernising the defence industry. You and I understand that in order to create new models of weaponry or new, modern equipment (and we are allocating another 20 trillion for this purpose), we need new machine tools, equipment, new technology and new personnel – incidentally, very much like the people in this hall. But it is certainly not an end process; it’s just a strong start. This is a very important issue; I will tell you why it is so complex. We believe that the development will continue, and not based only on the defence order from the state and the Government of the Russian Federation. I believe that by the time when a significant proportion of defence enterprises are modernised, these organisations will be able to participate actively in civilian industries and the civilian economy as well. They will not lose their sense of purpose after fulfilling this enormous state order; they will find a way to be competitive in both the Russian and global markets for modern technology, thanks in part to this cutting-edge, advanced equipment. So naturally, we will continue to work and all of this will promote further improvement and modernisation of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces. This is not an easy task; even achieving a 70 to 30 ratio is a major challenge. In previous years, our ratio of expenditures in the Armed Forces was 20% toward development and 80% toward maintenance; later, thankfully, it transitioned to 30–70, and then 50–50. But this redistribution of resources channelled toward innovation and development is a very difficult and sometimes painful process. Nevertheless, we are gradually moving toward the necessary goal. What’s most important is to achieve these objectives. Naturally, we will continue moving toward improvement and modernisation. <…> Question: Good afternoon. My name is Oksana, I am a fifth-year student at the department of high-tech management and economics. I have a question on supporting young researchers. This topic is currently under a lot of discussion; however, the Presidential Prize is not awarded to young researchers working in classified sectors. They cannot have international publications, they have many limitations, but they also cannot receive sufficient benefits for their merits and achievements in their sector. Vladimir Putin: This is the first time I’m hearing this. It is a very serious issue. Some time ago, I suggested implementing a special system of grant support for experts and researchers who are already working in relevant defence sectors. This would essentially result in additional earnings for experts in key areas for ensuring Russia’s defence capability. Support through Presidential grants for university and graduate students should be paid out in the amount of 7,000 or 14,000 rubles in addition to their regular earnings. If, for whatever reason, this does not apply to graduate or senior university students working on classified projects, it is an oversight. Thank you very much for pointing this out. We will fix it. Reply: Thank you very much. Vladimir Putin: I want to once again congratulate you on the upcoming holiday. I wish you all the very best. Goodbye, everyone. Thank you very much for your questions.