Seliger 2014 National Youth Forum 2014-08-29 17:00:00 Seliger, Tver Region Vladimir Putin is visiting the Seliger 2014 10th National Youth Forum. The Forum’s current participants, gathering under the name of the Knowledge Generation, include postgraduates and young teachers from around Russia in the fields of history, political science, sociology, philosophy and economics. The President’s discussions with Forum participants cover current issues in Russia’s political and economic life and international affairs. * * * Excerpts from transcript of meeting with Seliger 2014 Forum participants Moderator Ksenia Razuvayeva: Mr President, we are happy to welcome you to the Seliger Youth Forum’s fifth session. This year, the Seliger Forum is celebrating its tenth anniversary. This session, where everyone was looking forward to your visit, is quite unusual, perhaps even the most unusual so far over this decade. Here today we have 800 teachers from Russia’s top universities. They work in philosophy, economics, political science and sociology. They are our country’s future and our intellectual elite. The floor is yours. We were looking forward very much to your visit and we are very pleased to see you. President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends, Thank you for your words of welcome. It is even a little daunting to meet with such an audience because… well, you understand what I mean. (Laughter). The fields in which you work are areas that arouse interest in the past, present and future all at once. It is not easy to talk with professionals who know the answer to questions such as whether philosophy is a science or an art. Not everyone would be able to say, but philosophers can probably tell us and will perhaps share the answer with us today. It is an even harder task to speak with historians who can analyse everything that has happened in our country’s past and the world’s past, look back in retrospective and look too at where we are going and what we need to do to make our road forward as effective as possible, so as to reach the goals that we have set. Sociology is another matter altogether. They know everything. And they certainly know it better than anyone else. But let me say that this is indeed a very interesting group that has gathered here. I think we will have the chance to discuss issues and exchange views on our country’s development and its place in the world. Of course I am not only happy to answer your questions, but would be interested to hear your views too. This is extremely important because this is a rare opportunity to meet with people like yourselves in such number and format and be able to have a frank and open discussion. Let me end my remarks here. I propose that we move on to the discussion itself. Alexei Makarenko: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Alexei Makarenko and I represent the International Graduate School of Management at the St Petersburg State Polytechnic University. Even though our forum has an education focus, we are actively following current events in the world, and many of the current events concern Ukraine of course. In particular, there was your meeting with President Poroshenko in Minsk, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement about the plans to send another humanitarian convoy. There was also the news about the local militia’s plans to continue their humanitarian-military operation, and there was your recent appeal to the militia to open a humanitarian corridor in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. There have also been a number of media reports that Western countries might hold discussions on possible further sanctions, and then there have been reports that a group of Russian servicemen was detained on Ukrainian territory. In this context, could you please give your view of the current situation and say something about how it is likely to develop? Vladimir Putin: Let’s start with the question of our servicemen. I have already said that we have had cases of Ukrainian servicemen ending up on Russian territory, and in far greater number too. In one case there were 450 people, and in another case there were 60. Just recently there were another 60 servicemen with their arms. There were cases when they ended up on our territory and said that they had got lost – in their armoured vehicles and with their weapons. This is the truth in fact. I am serious here. I believe that they did get lost because there is no demarcated border there. If military operations are underway or our servicemen are patrolling the border, this is entirely possible. I think that this matter is therefore a technical one. Mr Poroshenko and I discussed this issue, and he assured me that the Russian servicemen would be handed back to Russia, just as we have handed over Ukrainian servicemen and continue to do so. What’s more, we provided them with medical assistance, treated them in our hospitals, and so there is every reason to believe that both sides will behave in proper fashion in this matter. As for the situation overall, it is far more serious of course. To repeat what I have already said about what happened, President Yanukovych postponed the signing of an economic agreement with the European Union because he believed that the document still needed substantial additional work. Our Western partners, with the support of fairly radically inclined and nationalist-leaning groups, carried out a coup d’état there. No matter what anyone says, we all understand what happened. There are no fools among us. We all saw the symbolic pies handed out on the Maidan. This information and political support, what does it mean? This was a case of the United States and European countries getting fully involved in a change of power, an anti-constitutional change of power carried out by force, and the part of the country that does not accept this change is being suppressed with brute military force and the use of planes, artillery, multiple launch rocket systems and tanks. If this is what today’s European values are about, then I am more than disappointed. What happened next? We had numerous discussions with the Ukrainian leadership, the US leadership and the European countries about the need for an immediate end to this fratricidal war and the start of negotiations. What did the Ukrainian government propose three or four weeks ago after all? Unilaterally it all sounded so fine: “We have ended military operations.” But then the very next thing they say is that the ceasefire will last for seven days and whoever does not lay down their arms will be destroyed. Is this the road to negotiations? This is an ultimatum. Of course the people who had taken up arms could not agree to these conditions. After all, they took up arms so as to defend themselves and their lives and dignity. The military operations then resumed once more and what do we have today? The Ukrainian army has surrounded small towns and big cities and are firing directly at residential areas in order to destroy infrastructure and crush the will to resist and so on. Sad as it is to say, but this reminds me of the events of World War II, when the Nazi troops surrounded our towns, in particular Leningrad – you are from St Petersburg, yes? – and fired directly on the towns and their people. On Nevsky Prospekt, as you know, you can still see the sign “Citizens! Take care: this side of the street is most dangerous in artillery attacks.” This is the point things have come to. This is terrible! This is a catastrophe! I can therefore understand the militia in southeast Ukraine, in Donbass and Lugansk, for attempting to defend themselves. Why do they call their operation a military-humanitarian operation? What are they trying to do today? They are trying to push back artillery and multiple launch rocket systems from the big towns so that they won’t be able to kill people. But what do we hear in response from our Western partners? We are told that they do not have the right to do this. They are supposed to let themselves suffer, let themselves be killed, and then they will be considered good guys? We need to sit down at the negotiating table. It has become clear to me now that our partners’ position amounts to saying that yes, we do need to begin negotiations, but first we need to let the Ukrainian government shoot for a while, and then they might be able to swiftly bring some order there. But it is time to realise that this is not going to work, and we need to make the Ukrainian authorities start negotiations of real substance, negotiations of substance. Not just talk about the technical issues, which are important too of course, as they deal with humanitarian matters such as prisoner exchanges, as they call it, and other issues too. There need to be negotiations of substance. [Foreign Minister] Lavrov was here, and the diplomats love this term. Negotiations need to work out in substance what rights the people in Donbass, Lugansk and the entire southeast of Ukraine will have. Their lawful rights and interests must be formulated and guaranteed within the framework of modern civilised rules. These are the issues that need to be discussed. From there I am sure it will be relatively easy to settle matters concerning the border, guaranteeing security and so on. But the problem is that they do not really want to talk. Now concerning my appeal about the humanitarian corridor, I saw in the news reports above all, and also from the reports of our special services what is happening. I saw the reactions of mothers and wives of these Ukrainian servicemen who are surrounded. This is a tragedy for them too. This was why I appealed to the Donbass militia to open a humanitarian corridor so that people could leave. Many of them have been there for several days without food or water. They have run out of ammunition. They should be given the chance to leave. The latest news is that the Ukrainian military commanders and the leadership have decided not to let them leave this encirclement and are making attempts to push back the militia forces and fight their way out. I think this is a colossal mistake that will lead to much loss of life. This is terrible. Now, on the substance. This is an immense tragedy, this conflict in Ukraine. There are historians here, and people with their own views on our country’s history might argue with me, but I think that the Russian and Ukrainian peoples are practically one single people, no matter what others might say. Correct me of course if you want, but just listen first. There was no Russian people as such back then. There were Slavic tribes. Some say there were 16, others 32, people have different figures for these tribes, Slavs, Drevlians and so on. And with the baptism of Rus, Vladimir was himself first baptised in Chersonesus, and this makes Crimea a holy place for us too, and he then came to Kiev and had the whole of Rus baptised. It was after this that the Russian nation began to take shape, but it was multi-ethnic right from the start. People living in what is Ukraine today all called themselves ‘Russian’. Yes, there was Galicia, the territories in the west, close to Western Europe, and it was natural that they developed particular relations with the Catholic world and their neighbours through the intermingling of languages and cultures. But they should not impose their views on their entire Ukrainian people. My point is that I think that what is happening in Ukraine today is an immense common tragedy for us all. And we need to do everything possible to end this tragedy as soon as possible. <…> Vladimir Putin: On the matter of the Arctic, this is a crucially important region for Russia. Our country is the world’s biggest in terms of size. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was truly vast, Russia remains the biggest country in terms of territory, but more than 70 percent of our territory is located in the Far North. This is something we need to remember. The Arctic is a particular region not just for its harsh climate but also in the opportunities it holds. Lomonosov said in his time that Russia would grow through Siberia and this is exactly what is happening, but the Arctic is certainly set to develop too. This is not just because the region holds enormous reserves of mineral wealth, reserves big enough for the entire planet – I’m talking about gas, oil and metals – but it is also an exceptionally convenient region for developing transport infrastructure. We have begun reviving the Northern Sea Route. You have no doubt read about this many times and probably discuss it with your students. This route will be a powerful competitor for the existing transport routes and could cut freight transport costs for business. The Arctic plays a very important part for us in terms of guaranteeing our security too. It is regrettably the case that the United States’ attack submarines are concentrated in that area, not far from the Norwegian coast, and the missiles they carry would reach Moscow within 15–16 minutes, just to remind you. But we have our navy there and quite a big part of our submarine fleet. It is quite easy today to track submarines, but if they go under the Arctic ice this makes them invisible and this is a big problem for the people trying to track them. In short, we have this concentration of interests in the Arctic. Of course we must give more attention to developing the Arctic and strengthening our position there. You might have noticed that we are already doing this. This concerns our plans to build a fleet of nuclear icebreakers too, and our plans to return to some territories, including islands, return in the economic sense and maintain a military presence too. I hope that you saw the news recently about our military group that landed in the region. They are there for peaceful purposes but they are a military group and this is our territory. We will redevelop the entire military infrastructure there and the Emergency Situations Ministry infrastructure. We are doing this also because we need to ensure safe shipping and keep the trade routes secure, and not because we plan to fight a war with anyone or seek conflict. Many view our activeness with caution and concern. We have said on numerous occasions that we will act solely within the framework of international law. We have always acted this way and will continue to do so. Other countries also have many interests there. We will take these interests into account and seek acceptable compromises, at the same time defending our own interests of course. On the question of territorial and administrative divisions and organising work in these regions, we have a federal state in which all territories are part of the Russian Federation constituent entities, which have particular powers with regard to these territories’ management. The federal authorities have some powers too, and the regional and local authorities have powers. In individual cases requiring particular attention, we will set up… Incidentally, in some countries, despite having a federal system, some territories are under direct federal jurisdiction. This practice exists, this is true. All in all, there is nothing to stop us from doing this too, but we have no such plans at the present. We have organised several regional ministries responsible for developing particular territories. We have ministries for the Far East, the North Caucasus, and Crimea and Sevastopol. We have to see how this will work and what it gives in practice. Now that everything is already up and running, some specialists say that it would be better if every ministry had deputies directly appointed to deal with this or that territory. They say that this might be a more effective system. This is because we have the ministry set up specifically for developing the particular region, but they still have to come to the Finance Ministry, Economic Development Ministry and so on. But it is too early to make any hasty conclusions and we need to see how this will work for the different regions concerned. Furthermore, there are social issues or issues concerning the use of natural resources that must have the approval of the people living in the region concerned. There are environmental issues for example, respect for environmental standards in mining and extraction operations, including hydrocarbon production in these northern regions. These activities and this work must be carried out in such a way that does not upset the natural way of life, the economic life and traditional forms of life and work that have taken shape among the local people over centuries. But I am not sure that all of this can be regulated in all its subtle nuances from Moscow. Yevgeny Chernov: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Yevgeny Chernov from the Volga Management Institute in Saratov, and have a PhD in political science. We devoted our first days here in Seliger to politics. Our political system has undergone some substantial transformations over the last 2.5 years, including the new law on elections to the State Duma and the return to direct elections of regional governors. Mr President, would you say that now the political system’s foundations have been laid and we can expect only small changes from here? Vladimir Putin: Have the political system’s foundations been laid? Who can say? Let me explain. Practice is the only true criteria and we now have to see how all that we have developed works in real life. Time will tell if what we have established is in keeping with our country’s and society’s current level of development. I think that the main supports have been built though. Russia is a very unique country in some ways. We made our nobles grow long beards, then made them shave them off, then made them grow them long again, then cut them off again. Why do we do this? It’s the same with the economy. If you look around, when individual countries’ economies or the global economy goes into crisis, the level of state regulation increases and people say that this is necessary, and that the state needs to take this or take that. As soon as the economy recovers from the crisis, people say that state regulation is just a set of shackles, puts chains on the economy and stops it from moving ahead. They say the market is self-regulating. And so then you got this liberal movement that did indeed help to speed up development, but crisis phenomena build up even faster and are inevitable, and so some amount of state regulation is then needed again. It is the same too in the way society and the state are organised. We cannot rely only on our past experience of course. We do need to keep hold of our traditional values, but they must not prevent us from moving forward. We need to look at the situation in society, the circumstances of the moment. During the Soviet years for example, for all the criticism of that period there was a time when the economy did grow very fast and the country strengthened rapidly. Whatever people might say about the number of victims in World War II and the Great Patriotic War, we did win in the end. We can criticise the commanders and Stalin all we like, but can anyone say with certainty that a different approach would have enabled us to win? No one denies that Stalin was a tyrant and that we had the labour camps and the personality cult, but we need to be able to look at issues from every angle. It became clear that our development had reached a stage when rule by one party, the Communist Party in this case, did not reflect the level of our society’s development and was preventing the country from moving further. This in large part was what led to the Soviet Union’s collapse and to the unravelling of its economy and political system. Now we have a multiparty system. People criticise it of course and say that we have no real opposition. But I completely disagree here. We have a genuine multiparty system. We have different parties in the parliament and they compete quite intensely in election campaigns when they think they have a chance. Look at the election campaign in 2012. Was it just a sort of game? Not at all. Any unbiased observer could see that there was a fierce fight between the parties. Then the election took place, and as often happens, with the election over, people know there’s no sense fighting further on that front, so the fight moves to other areas. We now have these four parliamentary parties that have developed and taken shape. They have their own views on economic development, social issues, and on the country in general. We have liberalised party activity in general. I think we have around 70 non-parliamentary parties registered. Many of them took part in the elections last year, in gubernatorial elections and elections to regional legislative assemblies. Not all of them were able to field candidates. But this year there will be even more gubernatorial elections. Last year, there were six or eight, I think, while this year there will be 30, and practically all the parties will be fielding candidates. Yes, we were obliged to introduce some rules that act as a kind of filter for deciding which political parties can take part in political life. But this kind of system exists practically everywhere, just take a look at any European country. Otherwise it is impossible for people to make head or tail of all these huge numbers of parties with all these candidates. You end up with enormous lists, and voters come and cannot even read it all in one go. And so parties need to either be known from earlier elections, known to the voters, or collect a certain number of signatures from voters. There are other mechanisms too. I think therefore that overall we have laid the foundations of our modern political system. But this does not mean that they are set in cement and cannot change to keep up with life. Life sets us new challenges and forces us to respond. And we can and will respond of course. But in modern society this needs to happen through direct contact with the public, which modern information technology makes it possible to do. You know that we have introduced the idea for example of using the internet for putting forward legislative initiatives. We will continue to introduce and make wider use of these kinds of instruments. <…> Yekaterina Mityagina: Hello, Mr President. I am from the Vyatka State Humanities University in Kirov. Recently, it’s been very fashionable to conduct various polls and ratings. We have been here for seven days now, many of us are sociologists, and so we took it onto ourselves to do a small study on mentions of you by speakers who spoke to us here –positive and negative mentions. And the results of our small study are as follows. The greatest number of times you were mentioned by a single speaker was six. Combined, all speakers mentioned you in their speeches over 40 times. It is immediately clear that all these mentions were positive. We did not hear any criticism of you from speakers at the forum. Vladimir Putin: You just said, and I even wrote it down: “There were positive and negative mentions.” And then you said that there weren’t any negative ones. So were there or weren’t there? Yekaterina Mityagina: Mr President, that was the initial goal. In other words, as objective sociologists, we must take into account both positive and negative mentions. But unfortunately, until today, we were not able to… or rather, fortunately. Vladimir Putin: This was an omission by the authorities. These mentions should have been balanced. It’s an omission from the organisers. Yekaterina Mityagina: Mr President, in this regard, we have a question from Kirov, Novosibirsk and Kaliningrad, i.e., researchers from these cities worked on this study. The question is, how do you feel about ratings overall, how do you feel about your high approval ratings today, the Russian and global ratings? Are you afraid of such ratings? And how do you feel about the results of our modest sociological study? Thank you. Vladimir Putin: Russia is a nation that is not afraid of anything. But it always analyses everything happening within and around it objectively and sets up its work accordingly. This is fully true of any citizen of our nation, and it is true for me. You know, people who do the work I do must certainly be aware of their ratings and take them into account, but they should never use them as a benchmark. And I have never used them as one. What are the main criteria that allow for achieving success? A person must be truly convinced of his right cause, of the work he is doing. If it is something that is not yet rated positively in the public consciousness, the goal is not to fall in line with the common point of view; instead, the goal is to honestly and openly explain what he or she is doing. That is extremely important; if people see that the head of a region, city or state believes in what he is doing, if he is honest and open, then I assure you, I have seen this many times, people begin to trust and support him. This is extremely important. And even if this is not reflected in the mid-term ratings, so long as there are no mistakes, so long as we are moving in the right direction, then the right and principled position always pays off; people understand and support this. That is how I try to work. Timur Vishnevsky: Hello, Mr President. We have a question from Tatarstan, from Kazan. My name is Timur Vishnevsky, and I come from the Kazan (Volga) Federal University. My question is as follows. You certainly know that the Republic of Tatarstan is home to ethnic Tatars and Russians. I come from a mixed Russian-Tatar family. So I have a question about a sore point, so to speak. The Republic of Tatarstan is, as far as I know, the last ethnic republic in Russia where the institution of presidency has been maintained. So how is it that some Russian citizens have one President, the President of the Russian Federation, while others have two Presidents: the President of the Russian Federation and the President of the Republic of Tatarstan? My question is, do you believe a single presidency institution be established soon in our nation? And how do you view the future of Russia’s federal structure? Thank you. Vladimir Putin: As far as the nation’s federal structure is concerned, I have already partially answered this question when we discussed the problems in the Arctic. I feel that the federal structure is a very important and essential component in our statehood because it allows us to better take into account the interests of all of the nation’s citizens, regardless of where they live, to take into account their ethnic, historical, religious and cultural diversity. That is precisely why Russia’s regions have fairly significant powers, particularly in the areas I just mentioned. Incidentally, for some reason, I don’t know why, our Ukrainian partners are very afraid of federalisation. That is their choice; naturally, we will not meddle under any circumstances. There are plenty of countries in the world with federal system of governance: Russia, the US, Brazil, Germany… The point is to give an opportunity to live a full-fledged life to people living in various territories, who have significant distinctions in the areas I mentioned. I feel that we must strengthen federalism in our nation. As for Tatarstan and the fact that that the highest public office in the federal constituent territory is called “President,” this does not in any way affect Tatarstan’s status as a full-fledged Russian federal constituent entity. According to our legislation, it is up to the region to decide how to build this system and how to call its top official. I must admit that both the former President of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiyev, and the current President, are statesmen in the highest and most direct sense of the word and full-fledged citizens of the Russian Federation – indeed, not just citizens, but Russian patriots. And I hope that we all felt this during the events in Crimea, when the incumbent President of Tatarstan went to Crimea many times, met with Crimean Tatar representatives and spoke about how life works in the Russian Federation for one of its majority peoples – the Tatars. After all, in Tatarstan, I believe you have less than three million Tatars – somewhere between 2.5 and three million – and another 2.5 to three million more live in other regions of the Russian Federation. And our goal is to make all people, regardless of where they live or what their ethnicity may be, feel themselves to be full-fledged citizens of Russia and have the same rights. But again, there are also certain distinctions and they must be taken into account when developing federalism. The title of the highest official is, first and foremost, your business – the business of Russian citizens who live in the Republic of Tatarstan. <…> Vladimir Putin: (responding to a question about transferring the capital of Russia to Siberia) There are certain symbols in the lives and history of our people that serve to unite us. Moscow is one such symbol. But that does not mean we need to concentrate all central resources in Moscow. Take, for example, our German neighbours, whose constitutional court is located in Karlsruhe – in fact, their entire judicial system is there, I think. That is the same thing we are doing now; we have moved the Constitutional Court to St Petersburg and are planning to move the Supreme Court there as well, which we have merged with the Higher Arbitration Court. I feel it is possible and right to transfer certain central federal agencies to Siberia. For example, Krasnoyarsk is, in my view, a good place for this because it is the geographical centre of our nation. It is approximately equidistant to Moscow and Vladivostok. Now, with Crimea, our geographical centre will shift somewhat, but that’s a small detail. It is a major city with over a million inhabitants, well-developed infrastructure, a good airport, beautiful nature and great people. We should think along those lines. Why have some of the major Russian companies settled in Moscow? Let them operate in the regions as well. This will increase revenues for regional and local budgets. It’s just that they got attached to Moscow, following a tradition that evolved, and it’s fairly hard to squeeze them out of the Moscow streets. But we will gradually work in that direction, I promise you. Now with regard to the nationally oriented opposition, whether there is one. Yes, of course there is. I spoke about the parliamentary parties. Remember the fierce competition during the 2012 presidential campaign? I already spoke about it. It was tough and absolutely uncompromising, and sometimes even somewhat indecent, I think, but nevertheless. And the way people united around the events in Crimea, when everyone felt and understood that we are right. We must restore historic justice that was disrupted with the transfer – I want to stress this – the unlawful transfer of Crimea to Ukraine. Why was it unlawful? Because even under Soviet laws, there had to be a resolution by the republics’ supreme councils. This was not done; everything was decided through presidiums. But that’s not even the point; the main point is that we had to protect our compatriots who live there. Now, I think, it is clear to everyone – when we look at the events in Donbass, Lugansk and Odessa – it is now clear to everyone what would have happened to Crimea, if we had not taken corresponding measures to ensure that people could freely express their will. We did not annex it, we did not seize it, we gave people the opportunity to express themselves and make a decision and we treated that decision with respect. I feel we protected them. And all this has truly greatly united us, including the opposition parties that are fairly critical of the authorities in power, critically assessing the actions of the authorities with regard to politics and the economy. So we have a nationally oriented opposition. We also have the so-called non-systemic opposition, but it is also not a single whole and it features different people: people who are patriotic and people who feel differently. Regardless of how hurtful it might be to hear, perhaps, even to some of this audience, people who hold leftist views, but in the First World War, the Bolsheviks wished to see their Fatherland defeated. And while the heroic Russian soldiers and officers shed their blood on the fronts in World War I, some were shaking Russia from within and shook it to the point that Russia as a state collapsed and declared itself defeated by a country that had lost the war. It is nonsense, it is absurd, but it happened! This was a complete betrayal of national interests! We have such people in our nation today as well. Well, what can we do? Unfortunately, no nation can avoid it. But nevertheless, I feel that the basic foundations of our state’s viability will never let such people into leading positions in the government. Anna Sazonova: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Anna Sazonova, my colleagues and I represent the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. Vladimir Putin: The one named after Patrice Lumumba? Anna Sazonova: Yes, it has a different name now. Everybody is talking about nationalism in Ukraine nowadays. However, we are concerned about a different situation, namely the growth of nationalistic sentiments in Kazakhstan, in the south of that country in particular. In our view the acting President, Mr Nazarbayev is the main restraining factor here. An adequate perception by Kazakhs of Russian political rhetoric is also an issue. This is obvious from the internet, from the activities of public organisations and in personal conversations. Our question is should we expect developments in Kazakhstan to follow the Ukrainian scenario should Mr Nazarbayev leave his post? Is there any strategy designed to prevent this? We have some proposals; we would like to join this work, if possible. What are the prospects for Eurasian integration? And on a personal note, I would like to say you look well, this cardigan suits you very well. Thank you. Vladimir Putin: So this is a cardigan? (Laughs) Ok. Thank you for the compliment. Here is what I can say about Kazakhstan. It is our closest strategic ally and partner. First, President Nazarbayev is alive and well, and, thank god, has no intention of resigning; however, being the wise and experienced leader that he is, he is always concerned about the future of his country. As for some individual comments on the internet and some discussions with citizens of Kazakhstan – naturally, people are different and they may express different views. In population that country is about ten times smaller than Russia, its population is about 15 million, but by European standards this is a large country. However, I am convinced that a vast majority of the citizens of Kazakhstan favour stronger ties with Russia. We see this and we know it. As you may know, Mr Nazarbayev is a very wise leader, I believe he is the wisest on the post-Soviet space, and he would never go against the will of his people. He can feel what his people expect of him. Therefore, everything that has been done lately – largely due to his talent of an organiser and his political expertise – is all in the interests of Kazakhstan as a state. I already said that he has performed a unique feat: he has created a state on a territory where there has never been a state. The Kazakhs never had a state of their own, and he created it. In this sense, he is a unique person on the post-Soviet space and in Kazakhstan. However, I would like to repeat, that this is not about him, but about the sentiments of the people, of the vast majority of society. So now, we are working to create the Customs Union, the Common Economic Space and the Eurasian Union – which, by the way, was his idea. I have to admit that he was the one who came up with the idea, not I. And we are helping; we got involved in this effort and are bringing it to a logical close. Philosophers know where this idea of a Eurasian union came from and how it developed, who supported it in Russia. The Kazakhs picked it up proceeding from the understanding that it is good for their economy, it helps them stay within the so-called ‘greater Russian world’, which is part of world civilisation, it is good for the development of their industry, of advanced technologies and so forth. I am convinced that this will continue in the same vein for the mid- and long historical term. <…> Vladimir Putin: (responding to a question about the development of regional higher education institutions) First, regarding the general idea of setting up such institutions in our country and whether there are any prospects for establishing higher education institutions outside of large cities, in remote areas. You know, I would like to begin with an example from medicine (I will get back to education). When we had to make a decision regarding the creation of high-tech medical centres across the country, I heard many people express the fear that this was practically impossible because we did not have enough qualified experts, and those who were qualified would not move to remote areas, while without them the project would never work. I am very happy now that I did not listen to those of my colleagues who had such views. We have developed a network of perinatal centres and advanced medical centres across the entire territory of the Russian Federation. You know, it was a thrill to watch the people who work there because they truly were top grade experts, who easily moved from big cities, and many even returned from abroad. Why? Firstly, because these centres have world-class top-of-the-range equipment, secondly, because these centres offer an opportunity to grow both professionally and administratively, which is not easy in the traditional centres: when the spot is occupied, frankly speaking, it is not easy to make a career. However, the most important thing is that they became accessible to the people who live in those remote areas, as well as to those in the neighbouring regions, because most of these centres cover several regions. I see this as a success. We are trying to do the same as we develop the network of federal and research universities in various parts of the Russian Federation. Your university is obviously a regional one, not federal, but when such networks are created — be it medical or educational – they serve to raise the overall standards of medicine or education, as the case may be. Besides, such large regions of the Russian Federation as Nizhny Novgorod have every opportunity – intellectual, educational, historical and even financial – to develop such a system. It should of course comply with the overall level of education that exists now and that will be developed across the Russian Federation, at the leading universities. I think this is possible. However, we have to be reasonable here. I am not ready to assess your university in any way, I did not even know it existed, but I am certain that at least in the larger regions of the Russian Federation this is possible and could be a success. Question: Good afternoon, Mr President. First I would like to apologise to the organisers of this event, but none of my colleagues from the Kazan delegation would ever forgive me if I did not convey to you the respect of Tatarstan (applause). There, you can hear it. My question has to do with the United Nations Organisation. We all know that the idea to create the UN appeared after World War II. Countries of the anti-Hitler coalition decided that to maintain peace and accord in Russia and the world they needed an organisation that would take up issues of international law and so forth. However, in the past 20–30 years there have been numerous cases showing that the organisation is not working. For instance, we have the so-called humanitarian interventions by the USA and western states. The bombing of Yugoslavia, the war in Iraq that took many lives. Of course, there are also positive examples, like Mali, where they seem to have found a solution. In this connection, I would like to ask: do you think it necessary to reorganise the United Nations now that a new multi-polar world has appeared with its specific challenges? Do you think Russia should make the first steps in this direction? Thank you. Vladimir Putin: This is a fundamental question pertaining to the current state of international relations and their development and to international law. Yes, the UN was created based on the outcomes of World War II and reflected the balance of forces that existed then. Now this balance has changed significantly, and continues to do so because we live in a turbulent and changing world. Regarding the efficiency of the UN now. Was it more efficient when it was only set up and the ‘Cold War’ began? Back then, they used to call Gromyko [USSR Foreign Minister in 1957–1985] ‘Mr No’ because he always said ‘No’. Why did he do so? Because the Soviet Union had its own ideas regarding what met its interests, what was fair or unfair. I can say that present-day critics of the former Soviet leaders are not always right when they say that the Soviet Union was guided in its decisions only by ideology. This was not always the case. On many occasions the Soviet leaders were guided by the geopolitical interests of Russia and the Soviet Union. What do we see today? The ideological component has gone from our relations, but the competition has not slackened a bit, often it is even fiercer than it used to be. Geopolitics have always been at the basis of the interests of any state, and remain so. True, as you say, the UN is not always effective. Take, for instance, Yugoslavia or Iraq, which you have mentioned. Yes, we were against the use of force, say, in Iraq, just like France and Germany were. It was a unique situation when such countries as France and Germany joined us in opposing the United States. This alone means a lot. While today’s European leaders are far from showing their independence, this does not mean the tendency is not there. In any case, the tendency for independence, for sovereignty, for asserting one’s rights is growing and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, not all our colleagues in the West can see this. However, decisions made outside the framework of the United Nations are usually doomed to failure. Look, you mentioned Iraq, and say, Libya. What is going on there? We used to have a joke that whatever we try to make, we always end up with a Kalashnikov. Right now I am getting the impression that whatever the Americans do – they get Libya and Iraq every time. When issues are being resolved unilaterally, this does not last long. At the same time, it is difficult to achieve a consensus within the UN because frequently we have a collision of opposing views and positions; however, this is the only way to achieving long-term solutions. Why? Because if we have a balanced decision supported by all the main participants in international affairs, then everyone starts making an effort to implement it in the best possible way, and stability evolves. Are the United Nations always effective? Maybe not always. You have just repeated a cliché our western partners used to bring up say, during the Iraq crisis. Back then, they also said, “The UN is not working, and it is not what it used to be and so forth, we need to replace it with other organisations, like NATO, for instance.” I already said how efficient, or rather how inefficient unilateral decisions end up to be. However, I completely disagree with the notion that the UN is inefficient. One simply has to know how to use the mechanisms and tools it offers, to respect the other point of view and strive for a consensus. Would the United Nations Organisation become more efficient if it served the interests of a single state, in this case the USA or its allies? In that case, we would not need it at all. That is when it would completely lose its intended purpose. Should we develop it? Of course, we should. Such countries as India with its billion-strong population are coming to the fore in global politics; I would also say that the Federal Republic of Germany is not the same country that came out of World War II carrying the tragic load that Hitler imposed on the German people. Today some are still trying to hold Germans responsible for what Hitler had done. We should not forget what happened and draw conclusions; however, the German people should not be held responsible for whatever Hitler had done for thousands of years on, because an attempt to do so after World War I actually led to the second war. Thus, we have the Federal Republic of Germany, and Brazil, which has confidently come to the forefront of world politics, and India, which I have already mentioned, and some African countries, like the South African Republic – all wish to take up their rightful place among the Security Council permanent members. I believe we should move toward reform on two main conditions. First – this should be a result of a broad consensus, that is, a vast majority of states involved in international relations should agree with the proposed reform scenario. The second compulsory condition is to maintain the fundamental principles of UN efficiency; in particular, the prerogatives and rights of its Security Council. It alone can make decisions regarding war and peace, sanctions and especially the use of force. These decisions should be mandatory for all Security Council members. The mechanisms should not be washed out; otherwise, it will turn into the League of Nations, which, as we know, ceased to exist prior to World War I. Vladimir Nelyub: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Vladimir Nelyub, a young lecturer and Director of the Engineering Centre at the Bauman Moscow State Technical University. Mr President, in 2009 here at Seliger you launched our project Composites of Russia. In the five years, we have managed to create a powerful Engineering Centre at Bauman University, which unites leading designers, technologists and structural analysts. Apart from experienced scholars, we also have young lecturers on our staff, as well as students, many of whom are here now. Recently, the Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov spoke about the composites industry and how important it is. It is very important, especially in terms of replacing imported goods, because it is no secret that we have stopped receiving certain materials and technologies for our defence industry. One of the main tasks of our Centre is to replace certain imported goods. Naturally, composite materials help increase the gross domestic product as well. We would appreciate your continued support for our project Composites of Russia and would like you to visit Bauman University to launch a new stage of our Engineering Centre. We managed to get very good equipment thanks to the composites programme you initiated. We have managed to attract the best experts and to create modern technologies. We love you and look forward to seeing you at Bauman University. We would also like to give you this composite globe that we made together with our students. It has an inscription that reads “To our favourite President from Bauman University.” Please allow me to give it to you. Vladimir Putin: Thank you. The love is mutual – we love you and your University. What you are doing there is great. When does the centre open? We will open it when I come? Fine. Only do not sit there waiting for me, get working, and we can organise the opening ceremony any time. Thank you. Viktor Shchastlivy: I am Viktor Shchastlivy from the regional public organisation Strong Active Young Disabled People. I would like to say that a lot is being done now for the disabled: rehabilitation facilities, an accessible environment is being developed. Seliger has also become accessible. Thank you. Vladimir Putin: I knew it: he will begin with something nice, and then will say ‘But…’. Go ahead. Viktor Schastliviy: However, disabled people spend most of their time at home, they do not go out, and they mainly maintain a consumerist approach, in the sense that everybody owes them, while they do not appreciate everything that is being done for them. My suggestion is to treat them as partners, not as the receiving side, to communicate with them in a somewhat different way, as partners. With this in mind, we are holding workshops in Moscow and Moscow Region, and in Sochi for school and university students and volunteers, teaching them to understand what disability is all about. We have been testing this programme with Moscow psychologists for 18 months already, and we have good results. Inclusive education is being introduced, so we are a sort of testing ground, where kids can practice on us, where they can ask the ‘wrong’ questions and we openly share our own experience with them. Therefore, when disabled kids come to a regular school they are accepted as equals because the other kids have no fear, they have already mixed with such kids. The main thing is that we become their friends. We have a proposal to launch some sort of special training at schools that would be conducted by disabled teachers, not just regular ones, but those who have the experience. This would be more productive. Vladimir Putin: Do not worry. It is OK, you can raise your hand later, when you remember, and carry on. Meanwhile I would like to focus on two things. The first part is a critical view, the second – completely positive. You said the disabled people are sitting at home thinking everybody owes them something, and that this is wrong. I am not so sure. The thing is that a developed society, and developed in a spiritual sense, not only materially, should understand that if part of its members – a significant part – has found itself in a difficult situation, these are the disabled people, all of society should help them. Of course, dependency is never good, but society needs to understand that it has certain obligations towards disabled people. This is one thing. I would like to say I think your idea is very good. I do not think it is all that easy and simple, and not only in the sense that there are limitations in having disabled people work as teachers, as lecturers. Apart from being disabled, they should have some special training, which is not that simple. Say, you have been trained, and some other people too. However, the only way out is to train people for this work. Nevertheless, I think it is a very good idea. What I really liked was the wonderful words you used; I do not even know how to describe them, when you said ‘let the kids practice on us’. This is very similar to when doctors test some vaccine on themselves, and they are not afraid because they are doing it for the sake of others. Thank you very much. Sergei Rukavishnikov: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Sergei Rukavishnikov and I am from Moscow. You were in Tushino [in Moscow] recently, at an opening event there. Could you share your impressions? Vladimir Putin: It’s fantastic, just great! It’s one of the best, if not the best, stadiums in Europe today, that’s for sure. Spartak and its fans deserve this stadium. My only big hope is – and here I appeal to Spartak’s fans and fans of other clubs – that we need to be worthy of our country’s great culture, never let ourselves slide into a fantasy world and never lose sight of the fact that football, just like any other sport, is a cause for celebration. We must make it our aim to enjoy football, be part of this celebration, and let everyone who loves football and loves sport be part of it too. This includes young children, women, and people with disabilities. We need to offer everyone a positive environment. Our fans know how to do this, and so I ask them to make this their priority and give it their support. Sergei Rukavishnikov: Continuing on this subject, I have one small question. The Olympics were really great. Now we have the Football World Cup planned in 2018. But in the current political situation, is there a risk that we might have the right to host the competition taken from us? Vladimir Putin: I hope not. FIFA has already said that football and sport in general are outside politics. I think this is the only correct line to take. What is important for Russia is not just to host this championship, but to use it as an opportunity to develop our sports and transport infrastructure. We already have plans for the 11 cities that were selected. This is all a rather complicated situation in terms of financing. We re-examined this matter just a few days ago. I want to thank FIFA and FIFA President Mr Blatter personally for taking the decision to allow us to reduce the number of seats at the stadiums from 45,000 to 35,000. This lowers the construction costs. They are not doing this just for our benefit, but above all because, after analysing the situation at the World Cup in Brazil, they saw that not all of the stadiums in every city were full even during the World Cup matches, and then there is also the risk that once the event is over, the stadiums, while they won’t be empty, will not be used to full capacity. After looking at the situation in Brazil, FIFA concluded that it is possible to reduce the number of seats at some stadiums, not at the venues that will host the opening and closing, and in any case, we do not need to make any changes there as Luzhniki already has 81,000 seats and is one of the world’s biggest stadiums. But reductions could be made at other stadiums currently under construction. The number of seats at these venues could be lowered from 45,000 to 35,000 say. As I said, we discussed this just recently at a Government meeting and decided not to reduce the number of host cities selected for the 2018 World Cup. Roman Smagin: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Roman Smagin from Novosibirsk Teacher Training University. It’s no secret to anyone that history tends to repeat itself. Historical events seem to unfold according to a cyclical theory. Over these last two years we have remembered and celebrated the historic choices that Russia made at important moments for our country’s destiny, such as in 1612, 1812, and 1914. In this context, I want to ask you what view you take of the cyclical nature of history as we can see it in Russia. Also, I want to ask you about your view of historical memory, how it helps us, how it can help to preserve Russia’s political influence on the international stage, contribute to our society’s development, and not let Russia be drawn into a new open global conflict. Thank you. Vladimir Putin: Historical memory is a very important part of our culture, history and present. Of course, we must draw on our historical experience and historical memory as we look towards the future. I can therefore say straight away that Russia is certainly not about to let itself be drawn into any large-scale conflicts. We do not want this and will not let this happen. Naturally, we need to be ready to respond to any aggression against Russia. Our partners, no matter what the situation in their countries and the foreign policy ideas they follow, always need to be aware that it is better not to enter into any potential armed conflict against us. Fortunately though, I don’t think anyone has the intention today of trying to start a large-scale conflict against Russia. Let me remind you that Russia is one of the world’s biggest nuclear powers. These are not just words – this is the reality. What’s more, we are strengthening our nuclear deterrent capability and developing our armed forces. They have become more compact and effective and are becoming more modern in terms of the weapons at their disposal. We are continuing this work to build up our potential and will keep doing so, not in order to threaten anyone, but so as to be able to feel safe, ensure our security and be able to carry out our economic and social development plans. As far as cycles are concerned, yes, I think that the world’s development does go in cycles. This has pretty much been proven as far as the economy is concerned. There are economists here and they can no doubt explain it better than I can, but there are various cycles in the economy, small waves, large waves and so on, and any country’s development depends on the state of the economy. This is why economic growth and the transition from one technological level to another always have an impact on people’s lives and prosperity and on the social and political situation. Just look, for example, at the way demand is growing in the European countries, and how hard it is to keep up with this constantly growing demand even at today’s level of technological development. This is a sign that there is a need for something else, that we must compensate somewhere for what we are not managing to achieve with the help of foreign policy and defence policy. I hope very much that not just Russia’s historical memory but that all of humanity will prompt us to search for peaceful solutions to the various conflicts that are currently unfolding and that will arise in the future. We support political dialogue and the search for compromise. Ivan Gugnyuk: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Ivan Gugnyuk, from Saratov State Academy of Law. First, I would like to thank you for everything you are doing for us. Today, ours will be a generation of knowledge and I believe this is greatly due to your efforts. Thank you very much. Second, I would like to thank you for not letting down our fraternal Slavic people, we are very happy you were the one to do this, and the nation supports you completely. I believe everyone here supports you – I am referring to Crimea now. My question has to do with a different subject. Most of the people present at this meeting are involved in education: lecturers and postgraduate students. We know that a new law recently came into effect that makes postgraduate studies a kind of third level of education. This somewhat devalues the research component of postgraduate studies, making it merely another stage in one’s education. In this connection, we have noted that the number of students admitted to full-time postgraduate studies is decreasing. I would like to ask if there is a tendency to cut down on postgraduate studies, or maybe on researchers in the humanities. Vladimir Putin: I am afraid I will not be able to give a proper answer to your question. However, I would like to say (I already mentioned this) that in personnel training we have to proceed from demand on the labour market in the broadest sense. Therefore, we need to see how many engineers we are going to need. Incidentally, we had certain resolutions dealing with engineering that have still not been implemented by the Government. My colleagues and I will have to get back to this. As for the humanities, we have always attached great importance to these studies, and I believe that to a large extent herein lies the strength of our society, our nation and our state. You cannot be an educated person and not know your own country, its history – I believe that even for people specialising in engineering this is a sign of some lop-sidedness and an inability to achieve anything even in their narrow sphere of learning. How can one achieve success, say, in nuclear engineering, be it military or civil, or in rocket or airplane building, again both military or civil, if you do not know who you are doing it for? History, philosophy and culture make up a seemingly subtle but very important humanitarian component. We do not plan to make any cuts here, to save budget funds. We are only guided by the notion of feasibility, by the numbers of experts we may need, but that should not lead to a deficit. Frankly speaking, I have not noticed anything of the kind. In my view – or rather, this is a fact – we are increasing the number of state-funded places at universities, both undergraduate and postgraduate. This is obvious when you look at the numbers. I will have another look, but if what you say is true, if there is a decrease in the number of postgraduate students, specifically in the humanities’ departments, this needs to be addressed. Artem MALKHASYAN: Hello, Mr President. My name is Artem Malkhasyan, I represent the Kutafin Moscow State Law University. My question concerns the agro-industrial complex. We took retaliatory measures pertaining to ensuring our food security. At the same time, we have some problems in this area, particularly, in the legal sphere. Agricultural law is not taught as a subject to our students, and soon, there will be a collapse of professionals in that area. It remains to be seen whom we will use when we need to protect our interests in the WTO within the agriculture sector. And another matter. We now have the responsibility of improving legislation in food security and passing new laws – in particular, perhaps, on food and nutrition security, which is essential. What will be the result of passing this new legislation? First of all, it will mean attracting investments and the emergence of new players in developing our agriculture – not just foreign ones, but Russian players as well. And second, it will give a full-fledged response to the WTO, because this is still a point at issue. Thank you very much. Vladimir Putin: Please, your question again. Artem Malkhasyan: The question is that it’s imperative to resolve the issue of improving our legislation. This question must be raised as soon as possible in order to fully cement the mechanism that… You just gave a push for Russian production, but there is no mechanism to implement it. It is imperative to improve the legislation. Vladimir Putin: So yours is not a question but a suggestion. The suggestion is worded and formed in absolutely the right way; we will certainly be working on this. Thank you for drawing attention to this matter. I will tell you honestly, I was not thinking about it from the angle that you just presented. But we will certainly consider it and I will instruct the Presidential Executive Office and the Cabinet to work on this matter. Indeed, the question of food security is very relevant for any nation, including Russia. What is currently happening in this area is a blessing in disguise. Why? Because there are certain things we should have done a long time ago: for example, ensuring the profitability of transporting our fish products from the Far East to the European part of our nation or supporting agriculture. But, of course, improving the regulatory framework is no less important. What you just said about the fact that we could lose a whole generation of trained specialists in this field is alarming. We will certainly look into this. Question: Hello, Mr President! My name is Kirill, I come from Taurida National University in Simferopol. I actually have a few questions. The first is probably somewhat abstract. Currently, the western community considers Crimea a kind of grey area and still does not recognise it as part of Russia. And this causes many day-to-day difficulties in business and elsewhere. So I would like to know whether there are any forecasts about when full recognition might occur. Or, what can we, as residents, or the local government, do to help accelerate this process? Vladimir Putin: As far as Crimea is concerned, we have discussed this at length and I think that if one were to choose between what is happening in Donbass and how people in Crimea are living, a man of sense would choose the current state of affairs in Crimea. I am not even talking about the spiritual breakthrough that Crimean residents experienced and still feel with regard to re-joining Russia – for which, incidentally, we are very grateful to the Crimean people, because they demonstrated the true meaning of patriotism. But this does not mean there are no day-to-day issues. The problem of recognition – I think it will be resolved slowly and tediously. And it seems strange to me, because what happened with Serbia and Kosovo speaks to the fact that when there is political will and desire, the decisions like the ones made in Kosovo or in Crimea are very easily recognised. As you recall, Kosovo itself declared its state independence as a result of a decision made by parliament; that was it. They didn’t even have any kind of referendum. But what happened in Crimea, what did you do? You first passed a parliamentary decision on independence, and then made a decision on joining Russia on the basis of the referendum that was held. This is a much more democratic approach to determining one’s future. Who can refuse a people’s right to self-determination? And when I speak with my western colleagues about this matter, there is no answer to this – believe me, there is no answer, and there can be no answer – because we acted in full accordance with international law… incidentally, in accordance with the United Nations Charter, which directly stipulates the right to self-determination, which is stated as the goal of the United Nations. Moreover, we based everything we were doing on the will of the people living in Crimea. But indeed, in this regard, there was a whole range of day-to-day problems: technical, economic, and financial ones. Our goal is to minimise them, reduce them to zero, and then create priority development territories in Crimea. Can we do that? Of course we can. You know, we have made a decision that when it comes to the social sector, public workers’ salaries and senior citizens’ pensions, Crimean residents should be at the average Russian level. This concerns social benefits, including, as I already said, the maternal capital. Before, it used to be that people who became Russian citizens received everything that was due to Russian citizens, regardless of where they lived before and what they received before. But that concerned individual people. In this instance, we are talking about millions. Nevertheless, the Government of the Russian Federation has made the decision that we will not change anything in this regard and all Crimean residents who have the right to maternal capital will receive it. We will develop the financial sector, whether anybody likes it or not; we will encourage financial institutions to work there and create new jobs. And I am confident, I am absolutely confident that rather than becoming a subsidised territory, Crimea will become a federal constituent entity that generates the necessary revenues for its own development and make its corresponding contribution to the federal budget. And moreover, Crimea will certainly return to its function as Russia’s national health resort. We will be working in many different directions. I already spoke about this; a programme worth 700 billion rubles [$19 billion] was recently developed for Crimea. We will certainly implement everything. Perhaps even more, in the sense that Crimea’s culture is in need of direct support from the federal budget. This is not just true for Crimea itself, but for the entire nation as well, because Crimea is inextricably tied to the history of the Russian Federation – I am referring to the artists and writers who lived there, as well as statesmen. All of this not only highlights the inherent bond between Crimea and Russia, but also gives Crimea a certain status. And we will certainly continue moving in that direction. Yelena Tereshchenko: Good afternoon. I am Yelena Tereshchenko, I am from Seversk Technological Institute of the National Research Nuclear University (MEPhI) in Tomsk Region. The issue has been raised here regarding Russia’s right to its own history and its identity. Very important here as a unifying factor is spirituality. Therefore, could you please say what you think about the introduction of a theology chair at universities? Thank you. Vladimir Putin: Even now, theology receives significant attention; there are special higher education institutions where they train clergy. In secular educational institutions, this is, of course, possible, but it is definitely the prerogative of the institution itself. If they think the experts they train need more knowledge in this area, they could do it. However, people study theology when they want to dedicate their lives to God, when they want to be priests at either Orthodox churches or Islamic prayer houses. There is a lot we need to do to develop the system of training clergy for Russian Islam. It has a specific nature, this eastern Islam, Russian Islam one might call it. However, I am not sure this should be done at secular educational institutions. I do not have an answer yet. Question: Mr President, my name is Amira, I represent the Republic of Daghestan. I would like to begin by thanking you on behalf of my grandmother. She is a Crimean Tatar, and you gave us the opportunity to return to the land of our ancestors. In this connection, I would like to ask if the older generation would have the opportunity to return to their homeland. Naturally, there is no such thing as a free lunch, but will they be able to get some tiny land plot, maybe at some special reduced rates? This is my first question. My second question is this: as you know, I represent the Republic of Daghestan. How do you see the development of the agro-industrial complex in view of the recently introduced sanctions? Our young people are very patriotically minded, but they have no way of using their skills. Take, for instance, my project Environmentally Safe Produce. We need support for innovative projects in agriculture, a single plant for a start where we can work regardless of the pay that will be fixed for us. Thank you very much. Vladimir Putin: Regardless of pay is hardly possible. As for the agro-industrial complex, we already said this, and I fully agree with you that it requires even more attention. However, I can assure you that an amazing amount has been done in the agro-industrial complex lately. In the past few years, poultry production grew by 83 percent, that of pork went up by 38 percent. We are slightly lagging in beef production because the production cycle is somewhat longer – 8 to 12 years – however, it is also funded properly. This primarily means low-interest loans, subsidies and so forth – an entire action plan. This is funding per hectare, though it is still insufficient. So what is happening today with these mutual ‘stings’ that we exchange primarily with the Europeans, and the limitations we introduced on the import of foods from Europe, the opening up of our market for our own agricultural producers creates better conditions for competition and development. Do you know why? Because agricultural per hectare subsidies in the European Union are six times greater than in Russia. Six times! Naturally, it is hard to compete. Naturally, our agricultural producers are having a hard time. They are now, and it was even worse in the past. In this sense, our decision to limit export to our markets undoubtedly spells support for local producers. While greater investment is limited by budget restraints. Nevertheless, the government is now considering increasing aid to agricultural producers, because closing the market to competition is not enough, we also need to create opportunities to develop production locally. I cannot say right now, what the allocations will be, because we are currently working on the budget. The day before, I met with the Finance Minister, and we spoke with Mr Medvedev. Actually, he and I talk about it every day – we discussed it yesterday too. Therefore, I cannot say anything specific now, but I agree with you that we need to develop agriculture, and we shall, in Daghestan as well. Daghestan is a unique place. I would like to remind you that Derbent is the oldest city on the territory of the Russian Federation. I developed a special affection for Daghestan back in 2000 when I visited and saw your countrymen heroically defend Russia’s interests and the interests of their small motherland. I was amazed by it, and I still am. The culture and literature of Daghestan are also unique for this country. This is what makes Russia so strong – its numerous sources of creativity and power. Regarding the possibility of moving to Crimea, this is for you to decide. Citizens of the Russian Federation have the right to move to any part of the country and live there unrestricted. We are now developing a programme to support Crimean Tatars, because, frankly speaking, little was done in this regard in previous years. As you may know, we have accepted the Crimean Tatar language as one of the three national languages of Crimea alongside Russian and Ukrainian, but this is not enough. We have to provide material support for the social sphere, we need to develop the villages inhabited by Crimean Tatars, we need to develop the infrastructure, including transportation, and the social services, we need pre-school facilities, hospitals, clinics and so forth. We are developing programmes and funds will be allocated. I can tell you frankly, since we agreed to be frank here, that due to budget restraints, we will be allocating funds first and foremost to support whatever we already have there, to bring it back to life. If we meet with a flow of migrants, it will be difficult for us to implement these programmes efficiently and properly. Suppose, we allocate a certain amount and we know the number of people living in a certain place. However, if that number doubles the funding will not be enough. Will we be able to give additional funding? I am not sure, because we are planning at least three years ahead. At the same time, we cannot and will not stop people from moving. I do not know at this point whether they will be able to become part of those programmes. We do not have a final solution yet, though we maintain direct dialogue with Crimean Tatars and I hope that in its course we will develop solutions acceptable to all. Let us finish up. There, “Need help!” What kind of help? Question: Good afternoon. In 2007, I sent a query to the Defence Ministry archives. I wanted to shed some light on the past of my late grandfather. He said he never took part in the war, that he was at some exercises, while the Defence Ministry wrote he fought in the war and even received an order. However, he was already dead by 2007. Therefore, we requested a duplicate, but they said duplicates are given only to living applicants. Today you said such words as Victory in the Great Patriotic War and symbol. For our family his contribution to the Victory is a symbol. I wrote an appeal. Could you please sign the document giving permission to issue the duplicate to us? Thank you. Vladimir Putin: Of course, I will. If somebody tells me after this passionate outburst that our young people have no basic feelings of patriotism, I would never believe them. Gadis Ibragimov: My name is Gadis Ibragimov. Part of my question was already asked by my colleague and compatriot. If you allow, my question will have four parts. The first is gratitude. The second is a direct question. The third is a suggestion. And the fourth is a small gift, a souvenir. Vladimir Putin: Please. A dagger, I suppose? Gadis Ibragimov: No. You know, in 1999, my instructor gave you a sheepskin hat; I would not bring a dagger here, but I also come from Dagestan. And so, Mr President, thank you very much for, how shall I put it, admonishing Mr Zhirinosvksy – I simply cannot refrain from commenting on it – for his fascist statements with regard to Dagestani people and the North Caucasus overall. I want to say that I was able to speak with him at this forum and he did not understand anything. He understood absolutely nothing! He continues to think in exactly the same way as before and, most importantly, continues to think that if, God forbid, the number of Dagestanis increases, then we will begin to foster some sort of separatist sentiments. Based on this, I want to say that just a few days ago, the Russian team won the world championship in the tank biathlon and it was headed by Dagestani crew commander Khalikov. Anyway, what’s important is that he is a Dagestani, Marat Khalikov. Now I’ll move on to the questions. I have had the chance to speak with several friends from Ukraine and other countries. They feel that the former President of Ukraine was entirely a Russian henchman and that overall, Russia created problems for itself when it instated such a corrupt individual, who was essentially caught embezzling, and the West simply stirred people up against the President’s corruption. What do you think of this? Now, on to the third part of my question. This is a suggestion. You have several years left to serve as President. Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your trust! Gadis Ibragimov: I have a suggestion for you. Would you look into the possibility of heading the Republic of Dagestan after your presidential term expires? Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Gadis Ibragimov: I hope that with you, we will enter the ranks of republics that contribute to the federal budget and I am also prepared to run your election campaign. (Laughter.) But if it happens… Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I don’t know if I will be able to handle the Moscow bureaucracy. (Laughter.) Gadis Ibragimov: But if it happens that you as a political figure will be needed in higher positions, would you consider taking a tried and tested approach, such as in, say, the Chechen Republic: a young, energetic leader is successfully developing the Chechen Republic. Perhaps the same can be done in Dagestan? Perhaps that young leader is currently in Seliger and perhaps he is currently asking you a question? (Laughter.) Vladimir Putin: It is no accident that he is wrapped in the Dagestani flag. It’s a hint. Gadis Ibragimov: If you are interested, I can give you my contact information. Vladimir Putin: That’s the spirit! Gadis Ibragimov: Finally, here’s is a gift, a souvenir. May I give it to you? Vladimir Putin: Please. Gadis Ibragimov: This is how we lived for centuries and how we continue to live. Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I will let you in on a little – it’s not even a secret, just a story. There is nothing special here, I will tell you about it as it has to do with former president Viktor Yanukovych. We did not push or thrust Yanukovych anywhere. I want you to know, and for Russia to know, and for everyone in Ukraine to know: nothing of the sort ever happened. Russia always supports the acting authorities. We are not like some of our partners. Maybe, in this regard, they are even being more pragmatic, they are always putting their eggs into multiple baskets. Moreover (the Americans do this), even if a government somewhere is loyal to them, they always work with the opposition. Always! And they even set it against the current government a bit, so that even if that government is loyal, it will stay even more loyal, and to show that yes, we have someone else to work with. I suppose that’s a pragmatic position. And I see that it was used for centuries by Britain as well. This Anglo-Saxon approach migrated to the United States and is used by them today. Regardless of how they might respond to me (they will certainly respond and discuss it now), I have an inner conviction that that’s how it works. But in Russia, especially in the post-Soviet space, we cannot do that. Things are different here, it’s as simple as that. And naturally, we always rely on the current government and always support it. This does not mean that we are indifferent or even antagonistic towards the opposition. No, we treat everyone equally, but we cooperate with the government in power. That was true during Kuchma’s presidency as well. And when his presidential term expired, I asked him directly: “Mr Kuchma, who should Russia support in the next presidential election?” And he told me: “Yanukovych.” I had some doubts as to whether Kuchma felt certain about Yanukovych’s candidacy, and I asked him about it during the final preparations for the presidential election campaign. He told me: “That’s it, it’s decided, a decision has been made; we will support and promote Yanukovych, and I am asking you and Russia to support him through information resources and support him politically.” And that is what we did. Later, when they made a complete mess of the third round, I cannot call it anything else, I was certainly surprised. I asked Mr Kuchma again, “What is going on? Are you supporting him or not?” Yanukovych was not able to use his result in the elections. After all, he won in the second round. All this turned into a fairly sharp political struggle. Mr Yushchenko, who became President, and Ms Timoshenko, who became Prime Minister, apparently didn’t have great success either, since Yanukovich won in the next election. Incidentally, I always ask: “So why didn’t you sign an association agreement with the European Union back then? Who was in your way? All the power was in your hands.” But the fact is that they did not do it. The question is: why not? I suspect they did not do it because it is fairly dangerous socioeconomically, because the consequences could be quite grave for Ukraine’s economy and, therefore, for Ukraine’s social sphere and politics. But we have never pushed through any candidate, we do not do it and we will not do it, and this is true regarding Yanukovych as well. This was exclusively the choice of the Ukrainian people and the logic of internal political processes. Incidentally, we would have cooperated fully with Yushchenko, who is considered a pro-western politician, and Timoshenko, who has that same image. As you know, even when Ms Timoshenko found herself in jail, our position was quite clearly stated. I said and felt that it is unacceptable to use a policy of criminal prosecution in politics. Those developments were damaging for Russian-Ukrainian relations; we did not feel there was anything criminal in her signing gas contracts with Russia. Incidentally, her fellow party members, who were present when this contract was signed, including the current Energy Minister, Mr Prodan, for some reason today do not want to comply with the documents that they themselves signed, but that’s a separate issue. Let’s talk about demographics; there is a proposal on boosting the birth rate, which is interesting. Go ahead. Maxim Kozhukharov: I am Maxim Kozhukharov from Maikop. Mr President, I have a request for you; it is not a question, it is a request. I have been working in demographics for quite a long time and I’ve written a programme for boosting the birth rate in Russia. Vladimir Putin: What is your request? Maxim Kozhukharov: I will tell you. Vladimir Putin: Do you have children of your own? Maxim Kozhukharov: Just listen, you’ll find it interesting. Vladimir Putin: All right. Maxim Kozhukharov: For example, one of the programme’s ideas is to create a special parental component in Russia’s pension system. The radical difference in this component from, say, an insurance or cumulative pension is that its amount will not be calculated based on insurance premiums paid to the Pension Fund, but on the basis of how many children an individual has adopted, brought to life or raised until a certain age. This way, we will increase the birth rate. I will not go into a lengthy explanation because the others here will think I’m taking too much time. Here is my request. I am asking you to help me be accepted into one of the upcoming Russian Popular Front meetings so that I can show and tell you about this programme – and not just you – thoroughly, fully and in the right format. And I do not just want to come on my own; I want to invite experts and representatives from the parental community. We will tell you about it together. Vladimir Putin: Very well. That’s quite serious, this is an exceedingly important topic and it is a highly important objective to ensure the birth rates we have achieved recently. As you recall, when we formulated and began implementing the maternity capital programme, as well as several other components in our overall programme to increase the birth rate, there were many sceptics. They said that all the money will be wasted and it won’t work. But it worked. Our fertility is at a rate we haven’t seen in the last 20–30 years. Child mortality has dropped, as has maternal mortality. These are all very good indicators. But we need to maintain our pace, and if possible, increase those rates. And any ideas that are brought up in this area will certainly be looked into seriously. You said that a corresponding fund must be created. The well-known rhetorical question immediately comes up: “Where will we get the money?” But I repeat again, all suggestions will be examined very seriously. So I invite you to the next Russian Popular Front meeting and we will certainly give you and the experts whose opinions you rely on the opportunity to speak. Unfortunately – don’t be mad at me, we could stay here like this until morning – but we need to wrap up. I want to thank all of you and wish everyone professional success and personal happiness. Thank you very much.