Meeting with Federal Assembly leaders 2017-12-25 20:10:00 The Kremlin, Moscow Vladimir Putin held a traditional meeting with the leaders of the Federation Council and the State Duma, as well as relevant committees of both chambers of the Russian parliament. The participants summed up the results of the parliament’s performance in 2017 and discussed urgent matters concerning law-making and priority tasks for next year. * * * Transcript of the meeting with leaders of the Federation Council and the State Duma President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Matviyenko, Mr Volodin, colleagues, I am very pleased to see you at the close of this year. We made a tradition to have such meetings at the end of each year. They allow us to sum up what has been done. Both chambers of the Federal Assembly have carried out a lot of work, an enormous amount of work, on law making in support of the state’s activities. They have made very important and sometimes vital decisions in the economic, social and foreign policy as well as security areas. Of course, the work on the budget for 2018 and two subsequent years has been the most important and productive part of your activities as usual. I would like to thank you all for this joint work. I also consider important and would like to thank you for the prompt response to the proposals on demographic matters. Indeed, broader use of family maternity capital and all measures to support Russian families where the first, second, or third child is born and easy mortgages with Government subsidies of interest rates over six percent concern hundreds of thousands and even millions of our citizens. These are extremely important decisions. I would like to thank you once again for properly finalising your work on them and adopting them in a short span of time. Both chambers are conducting large-scale international activities. They are similar to public diplomacy because you are dealing with your colleagues who have been also elected by the people in their countries. This is very important. It is also important that these contacts continue despite certain restrictions, including restrictions linked with the activities of representative government bodies. For our part, we are not going to restrict anything. We are ready and open to such contacts and we will work with all our colleagues who want to work together with us. Completing my brief opening remarks, since we are meeting at the close of another year, I would naturally like to wish you all a happy New Year and all the very best. Ms Matviyenko, please. Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko: Mr President, first, I would like to thank you on behalf of all Federation Council members for your attention to our work and for such meetings as this one, which, as you said, have become a good pre-New Year tradition. Together with the Russian people, we have worked hard and long in order to celebrate the New Year in a good mood. It should be said that there are solid reasons for our positive mood. Here are some of them. The country has weathered a very hard period of crisis and foreign restrictions. Ultimately, we have entered the growth and development trajectory, thereby showing the world that the system created in new Russia is stress resistant, has a large margin of safety and is therefore viable. The outgoing year has vividly demonstrated that Russia’s political weight and prestige on the international stage have grown dramatically. All attempts to drive Russia into isolation have failed. There are many examples of this. I will only provide the one that concerns parliamentary activity: the 137th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), which was held in St Petersburg, was the largest in IPU’s 128-year-long history with delegates from 160 countries and over 90 speakers. It looked like our colleagues demonstrated their respect for Russia and the Russian President, thus showing their support for Russia. Mr President, thank you for attending that event, which has enhanced its status enormously. Many attendees recall your direct contacts with members of the national delegations after the opening ceremony. I would also like to point out the global political importance of the victorious conclusion of the military operations to rout terrorists in Syria and the withdrawal of Russian military personnel from that country. Practice has shown that we were right, that your decision to launch a large-scale counterterrorism operation was the only correct option. Mr President, you assumed the political responsibility by making that decision, and all our expectations have materialised. Russia has emerged the winner in this situation, and today we are proud of our combat-ready army and our soldiers and officers who did their duty courageously. And we are very happy that they have returned home in time for the New Year holidays and that they have been welcomed as they deserved, that is, as heroes. The Putin Demographic Package, as the media has dubbed it, is certainly great news for almost every family. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the measures that you have put forward. It is also wonderful that the Decade of Childhood National Project begins with decisions of this kind. As the parliamentary chamber that represents the regions, the Federation Council will closely monitor the implementation of these proposals across the country, and building on the measures you have announced, we will also promote measures on the regional level. All families in Russia can now be more optimistic about their future and plan on having children with confidence, knowing that the state will be there to offer generous support. Mr President, what matters even more is that you announced in the last days of the year your intention to run in the upcoming presidential election. I think that upon hearing this, the entire country heaved a sigh of relief and said, “At last!” I also think that this did not happen only in Russia. Most importantly, this eased the tension that had been building in the run-up to your decision. Not only did the Federation Council exercise its constitutional powers by setting the date for the presidential election, but it also contributed proactively to the legislative process. At the initiative of Federation Council members, we adopted a number of laws designed to ensure fair, competitive and trusted elections. I believe that the changes and novelties that we have introduced were a major step in the development of a depoliticised, impartial and quality election monitoring system. I would also like to briefly highlight a number of other matters. As in any federative state, inter-budgetary relations and the financial sustainability of the regions are a priority for the Federation Council. You, Mr President, as well as the Government, have been paying close attention to these matters in recent years. The overall situation has been improving. We have conducted an inventory of our regional powers and their financial situation. In addition, a number of serious or even, should I say, unprecedented measures were taken to ensure balanced regional budgets. You have also made a timely decision to restructure debt on budget loans, which enabled regional budgets to channel more than 400 billion rubles into delivering on social policy priorities. On the other hand, we need to move forward next year, towards a fairer redistribution of the tax revenue in favour of the regions and in accordance with their powers, or we will need to redistribute the expenditure authority. For example, the Federation Council has proposed considering the possibility of moving the power to buy medicines for orphan disease patients to the federal level. We have 17,000 such patients, some 9,000 of whom are children. Firstly, the people are not to blame for living in the poor regions and hence not always being able to receive the medicines they need on time. Secondly, a centralised system of purchasing medicines will help save budgetary funds and ensure strict accounting and control of such patients. Mr President, I ask you to support this idea and, in general, the upgrading of inter-budgetary relations, which will strengthen the federal system. In fact, the concept of inter-budgetary relations that was adopted in the 1990s no longer meets the new realities and challenges. The Finance Ministry, the Accounts Chamber, the State Duma and the Federation Council have been working together on a new concept of inter-budgetary relations. It is our strong desire to liberate the regions from their strict dependence on the federal budget and to give them an opportunity to find more sources for replenishing their budgets under federal control, of course. Therefore, we ask you to support next year the preliminary work we have already done. One more thing: your demographic initiatives have an important element, that is, support for children’s outpatient clinics. I would like to ask you to extend it also to children’s hospitals. The situation at children’s hospitals is very difficult: 16 percent of them need comprehensive renovation or major repairs, or should be demolished. A large number of outpatient clinics – I do not want to cite the figures, which I have at my disposal, so as not upset anyone – are working in leased or converted premises. Some children’s hospitals do not have running water or central heating. This is an issue of regional priorities and the responsibility of regional administrations. I would like to ask you to support this proposal and to instruct the Government to explore the possibility of including not only outpatient clinics, but also children’s hospitals in your initiative. Mr President, in 2018, the Federal Assembly will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. This is an opportunity for us to look back at the path travelled by our country and the Federal Assembly, the State Duma and Federation Council, as well as an opportunity to set plans for the future taking into consideration the instructions that you have and will issue to the Federal Assembly. Colleagues, on behalf of the Federation Council, I would like to wish you a Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas, and I would like to wish you, Mr President, only one thing: the very best of luck and good luck and once again good luck as in my opinion I think that you might need it. (Applause.) Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Mr Volodin, you have the floor. State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin: Mr President, colleagues, My colleagues from the State Duma and I have returned today from a trip abroad. We represented the Russian Federation at an international conference on security in Central Asia, also attended by parliamentarians from Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Of course, all the participants in the conference shared a single concern, which is the need to combat terrorism entrenched in Afghanistan. It gets substantial resources from drug trafficking. Neighbouring Pakistan and Iran believe that since the arrival of the US-led joint forces, areas under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan expanded thousands of times, and the number of drug laboratories surged dozens of times. This is a matter of concern not just for these countries, but also for Russia, since we understand that Europe-bound drug trafficking routes go through our neighbouring countries, and even the Russian Federation. We spoke of drug trafficking and terrorism being closely intertwined, since the proceeds from drug trafficking are a source of financing terrorist activities, among other things. In that respect, the countries that took part in this conference have serious concerns. In terms of positive cooperation — the Chinese, the Iranians, and we have initially said this — all have spoken of the positive experience that the world has in tackling terrorism and ISIS, which could have become a terrorist state. I would like to pass on to you the gratitude of our colleagues in other countries because they believe it to be your personal achievement. If you had not taken this stance at a very difficult time there would be no Syria but there would be a terrorist state. Everyone was on the same page here. For that reason, I would like to express gratitude on behalf of our colleagues as well, because the world has appreciated it. Still, if we do not continue with this fight, it is clear that the terrorists may spread to other countries and the threat may emerge in a different region, a different country. I would like to highlight again the positive experience that we have never had before of several nations taking part in a settlement process. In this context, the Russian military force was called back after fulfilling its mission and preserving its bases in territories where the threat may potentially re-emerge so that the Russian forces could come back. Many countries understand it, especially at the level of parliaments. Mr President, last week we concluded our last session of the year. The State Duma has finished its work. In a very short period, the autumn session being the shortest, we passed 230 draft laws. If we look at the period since the parliamentary elections just over a year ago, we have passed 656 bills. During the first meeting between you and the newly elected chamber, attended by committee chairs, we talked about the need for better quality law-making, which will, of course, contribute to the efficiency of law implementation. One of the tasks we considered necessary to achieve was to sort out all the accumulated draft laws: going back to 1994 there were 2,020 of them, they are several decades old and conclusions for many of them are obsolete. However, in accordance with the Constitution, we have to review them. In case we manage to sort out these draft laws, there will be more time for the current agenda as well as the work to prevent problems and create an environment to address today’s issues. Therefore, it was important to do this efficiently. We can summarise interim results today, considering that we were doing this all year: as of now, 74.7 percent of these draft laws were reviewed. I have to say, that about 14–15 percent of them have been adopted, which means that not all of them have lost their edge, they remain topical despite being rather old. In this connection, I would like to speak about the current, priority agenda. One of the key priorities is the implementation of the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. In accordance with the address that we had to implement this year, we had to adopt 97 laws; 74 of them were supposed to be passed this year and 23 laws in 2018. Mr President, summarising the results, we can say that we passed 74 laws this year; 21 of them are legislative initiatives of deputies and 43 were initiated by the Government. We had a lot of complicated discussions but managed to find solutions that will help us implement the Presidential Address in full this year. Based on the experience gained, we would like to ask you to assist in distributing it on a range of other matters that need more efficient passage through the State Duma, but at the same time require the entire discussion procedure: hearings and expert assessments that are usually especially important when headline-making laws are passed. I am referring to your decisions that have recently been made public during a meeting of the Presidential Council for Strategic Development and Priority Projects and concerned the financing of housing construction and protection of investors. If we were able to follow up on the decisions that were stated and approved at the Council meeting the way we do the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly and to us, State Duma deputies, we would be able to begin discussing them with the Government and the interested parties now, and then implement them without bureaucratic procedures that usually take months. In some cases, there will be deputies’ initiatives if we have common approaches on this agenda, or governmental draft laws, but we definitely could save some time here. This is important because sometimes years pass between the decision and its implementation, and then we postpone them further because the regulatory acts are not ready yet. We have improved the situation with regulatory acts somewhat, given the regulations adopted by us and in the Government, so we can synchronise them and reach agreement as the Government prepares draft regulatory acts by the third reading. However, if we take on the core issues voiced by the President and adopted by the Presidential boards, citizens will receive the solution much faster and there will be less time between the decision and its realisation. We understand that it would require a change in procedure and may mean additional work for deputies, but actually, it is what deputies want because it is based on this initiative. Another widely discussed issue mentioned here is your initiative related to the support of business and protection of entrepreneurs – the return of capital to Russia. We support this decision and want to take part in its implementation in order to pass relevant laws as soon as possible and to provide businesses with the opportunity to work here, in Russia, and feel safe and have development guarantees as the presidential initiative requires. You mentioned the need for a discussion and further decision-making related to tax reform. We have started this work. The Committee on Budget and Taxes is coordinating it in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance and the Federal Tax Service, but, most importantly, with representatives from civil society and business communities. We also want this work to be carried out well before the adoption of any laws so that society would be better informed, and we could submit our proposals if final decisions were to be made, because this would only serve to improve the quality of the decisions made. Mr President, I want to fully support Ms Matviyenko, who said the main words, that with your decision to run for president we received not only hope, but also the future, because there are things in the past that can be appreciated, things that can be appreciated in the present, and in this case we can talk about the future which is extremely important for our country. Because the country is facing an enormous number of challenges, we must be strong, and only then can we be competitive, we will get there but it is necessary to have a strong President. We have such a President. Clearly, the State Duma is a chamber structured on a political basis, and there are parties represented in it. By the way, we have been working during the past 12 months or so based on the decision that was adopted here at a meeting with the leaders of political parties represented in the Duma on your initiative, when we decided that 50 percent of the committees will be headed by representatives of opposition parties, and 50 percent by United Russia. We see eye to eye and understand each other when it comes to making major decisions, when the matter is about our country, or the challenges that the entire country is faced with. We have arguments, we have discussions, so I think my colleagues will forgive me for my position, because they may have a different view, but what Ms Matviyenko said now and what I support is the position of our citizens, and it is important that you are also aware of this position. Happy New Year, Mr President. I wish you happiness and good health in the new year. I think that the fact that we have resolved at least some of the tasks that you set before the lower house, will be a good New Year's present. Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Mr Klishas, you have the floor. Chair of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building Andrey Klishas: Mr President, Allow me to say a few words about the timeliness of adopting by-laws. In May 2013, the Federal Law on Parliamentary Control came into force, in accordance with which the Federal Assembly chambers control the timeliness of adoption by the Government of by-laws that are necessary for implementing federal laws. Unfortunately, the number of by-laws that were not adopted in time is still quite large. When we were summing up the results for the third quarter of 2017, there were more than 400 of them. For example, the law of 2013 provided for the adoption of an order by the Transport Ministry establishing requirements for making aircraft easily accessible for people with disabilities. The law has been in effect for four years now, but the order has not been adopted yet. There are, of course, objective difficulties in this matter. For example, in connection with the transfer of authority on migration to the Interior Ministry, it was necessary to pass a large number of by-laws, and the Federation Council repeatedly discussed this issue. Much has been done, but not all the necessary by-laws have been adopted. Notably, the Ministry of Justice was much more effective in this area, although there are also a number of questions regarding its work. When the Federation Council considers socially significant laws, we recommend that the Government submit draft by-laws at the same time (Mr Volodin just mentioned this) so that by the third reading in the State Duma and the Federation Council we could already see how many by-laws are coming our way. There have been positive developments as well, such as the law on luggage, which we reviewed. We looked at all the regulations already alongside amendments to aviation rules, which allowed us to ensure that citizens’ rights are observed and at the same time create legal prerequisites for reducing the prices of air tickets. Thus, the consideration of laws in combination with the basic regulatory requirements of by-laws should be one of the main areas of focus to improve the quality of legal regulation. In this regard, we absolutely agree with our colleagues from the State Duma. On December 8, at a meeting of the Federation Council Speaker with state secretaries of federal agencies it was proposed to create a special electronic base for developing by-laws. We suppose that after a law is signed by the President, the Government should publish there the list of by-laws required for the implementation of the law, that is, to make the process transparent. During the preparations of these draft laws, all ongoing processes that are related to their development and adoption should be published. The introduction of such an electronic base would help systematise control over the preparations of by-laws. In this context, Mr President, I would like to ask you to issue relevant instructions to the Government to develop such a base and make it operational. The Federation Council pays special attention to by-laws that are necessary for the implementation of laws on defending our national interests. The Law on Media as Foreign Agents has come into force. It is a response measure to the unfriendly moves that were taken, first of all, by the United States towards the Russian media. The register of such media is being held by the Justice Ministry. Our colleagues from the State Duma and we have developed and submitted two more draft laws that stipulate a series of new laws related to the media as foreign agents. For instance, those requiring the registration of a Russian legal entity, special markings of distributed news items, the possibility to limit access to the information resource in case of violation of the rules of material distribution, and administrative liability. These changes are introduced in the interests of informing Russian citizens about foreign states that distribute information. Mr President, it is a socially important matter. We need regulatory acts to implement it, therefore we ask you to assist and issue relevant instructions to the Government in order to develop and adopt them as soon as possible. Thank you very much, and Happy New Year to everybody. Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Mr Burmatov, you have the floor. Head of the State Duma Committee on Ecology and Environmental Protection Vladimir Burmatov: Mr President, Not so long ago, just a few days ago, the State Duma has completed its work on a very important law. The subject of this law is a highly socially sensitive issue that concerns each and every Russian citizen: the issue of waste management. And now, separate waste collection, which was a key aspect of this issue, has been legitimised in Russia. We have solved this problem on your instructions, which you issued to three ministries: the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities and the Ministry of Economic Development. Unfortunately, we did not see the necessary mechanism in the document submitted to the State Duma. There were several guidelines, but no clear-cut solution. That is why we decided to fully re-draft the document. Last Friday, it was finally adopted in the third reading. We managed to find the necessary solution once we separated the terms “waste collection” and “waste accumulation”. We have abolished licenses for waste accumulation, thus creating the incentive that you talked about when you assigned this task to us: to introduce this activity, which has been already implemented all around the world, for businesses and for people in Russia. And we have eliminated numerous administrative barriers that impeded the introduction of this system. This was not the only problem we have solved. We have also implemented several other initiatives, which are, I believe, of public importance: I am talking about territorial waste treatment schemes, which include creating landfills, waste incineration plants and so forth. Now such decisions are only taken after public hearings held on a mandatory basis in order to avoid a public backlash, which often fairly and naturally appears in response to poorly considered decisions of local governments. Now we have delegated these responsibilities to the regions, so that we will not have the situation that we had until recently, when the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had to approve at the federal level all territorial schemes, the location of every rubbish bin in every town. We have now delegated this task to the regions; therefore, they will be the ones responsible for the adopted schemes. We are hoping that before 2020 we will hold all public hearings to discuss the existing territorial waste treatment schemes, so that they are approved by our citizens, thus relieving public tension in the regions. Another important decision in this sphere was adopted last week concerning the specifics of distributing the environmental fee funds. Frankly, we criticised the Environment Ministry and their plans for disbursing the environmental fee. We were absolutely not happy with this, and came up with what I believe are more fitting arrangements, and 20 regions received these funds. We went even further to make sure that these funds are used for waste management rather than other unrelated spheres. As we were dealing with these issues, we found a number of blank spots in the legislation, which we would like to address in 2018. For example, medical waste amounts to 2 million tonnes a year by the most conservative estimates. No one even counted it, that is, there are no official statistics, whereas medical waste is contaminated waste, including pathological and radioactive waste, which represents the first class of danger, but is not regulated in any way. There are no regulations governing who removes this waste and where it is buried. At best, someone just takes it to a landfill and dumps it there (radioactive or contaminated waste, with serious infections). However, most often, they are not allowed to use landfills, and what they do is dump it in a ravine or just a wooded area. We plan to deal with licensing, accounting, and neutralising this waste in 2018 and we will need your support. Construction and demolition waste is another painful subject, because the pace of construction in some regions will pick up sizably, and demolition rates will be off the charts. According to our analysis, the debris are taken to the same landfills for solid municipal waste, dumped there, and then literally buried in the ground. However, some of that can and should be recycled, such as sand, crushed stone, cement, etc. We also plan to engage in regulating this sphere, just like the sphere of industrial waste, including the creation of administrative incentives, not just economic ones. Of the 5 billion tonnes of waste produced annually, approximately 90 percent, if not more, is industrial waste. Again, no one counted it, because enterprises keep it on their off-balance accounts. The regions do not see it, it is not accounted for in the territorial schemes, and we also want to address this subject, because these industrial sites are nothing short of a Klondike… There are companies that are willing to do this as a business, whereas some businesses are just sitting on these things like a dog in the manger. Bulky household waste is an issue that directly concerns people, what with all these piles of dumped fridges, TV sets, couches and the like in our courtyards that make them look ugly in the literal sense of the word. It is still not even clear what type of waste they are, so we are determined to start regulating this area, as this is a very sensitive social issue. We will also think about establishing liability as we would like to have liability depend on the gravity of violation and, regrettably, this is criminal liability. Article 247 of the Criminal Code, which covers these issues, is not properly applied. We have started analysing the law enforcement practices and we will complete this work in the first quarter. But it is absolutely clear that we will have to expand the scope of this article and the area of its implementation by law enforcement agencies. Such are our plans. Most importantly, each decision, if it is carefully considered and correct and if it takes into account what the expert community and our people say to this effect, will be beneficial for the people and the benefits will be tangible. Therefore, we ask for your support support us and we count on it. Vladimir Putin: Thank you. With your permission, I will just make a few comments on what our colleagues spoke about earlier, lest it is forgotten. Let us begin with what the last speaker said. It is an extremely important task. The Year of the Environment is over but, of course, work to preserve the environment will never stop. I will not go over everything you said. Absolutely all of those things are extremely important, be it waste separation or waste disposal – everything you mentioned. As for territorial schemes, I would like to speak about them in more detail and say that your approach is correct. There should be no schemes that do not provide for people’s direct participation. No doubt, coordinating a territorial scheme with the people is a complicated process but it is the only right way. People must understand what is happening, where and why and only then this will be accepted and will function. As for bulky household waste, say, TV sets, fridges and other large domestic appliances, we must consider the issue. I do not mean that we should immediately introduce something. Of course, we must think how we can avoid putting an additional burden on the economy and manufacturers; however, our car industry has introduced a car scrappage scheme that allows it to create industrial clusters for the disposal and recycling of unwanted cars. This is what we should think about but without rushing to take a decision and without any commotion. It is a very important area, I fully agree with this and I am ready to provide every support. Another important matter concerns the timely adoption of by-laws. This is an old problem. It is strange that it is still on the current agenda, considering what you have said. This is strange because the Government adopted a decision several years ago now, under which by-laws were to be prepared simultaneously with the drafting of laws. It appears that this is not being done though. We will need to discuss this issue with the Government. As for the law on foreign agents, we did not intend and do not restrict the freedom of our citizens. Of course, this law should be improved. We must do this so as to adjust the law towards achieving its stated goal, that is, to preclude any direct foreign interference in our internal political life or foreign interference through the financing of agencies operating in Russia. Actually, this is the stated goal of the law. If there are any wrinkles or unsettled matters, we need to take a closer look at them. At the same time, we see that the actions we did not take have been taken in a great power across the ocean, where Russian media outlets have been ordered to register as foreign agents, and where the regulation of foreign agents’ activity is much stricter than stipulated in our own law. In this context – this is not a decision, only a thought – we must not restrict the freedom of the internet, but we do need to look at how some companies work on the internet and in social networks as well as how much they are involved in our internal political life. In addition to this, we will need to analyse their behaviour now and during the presidential election campaign. Do you remember the ballyhoo raised about the advertising time RT and Sputnik bought in the United States? It turned out the amount was tiny, only several basis points. What is the situation in Russia? How many foreign agents are working here? I am not urging anyone to take hasty decisions. This is not something that needs to be done immediately or before the elections. We need to see what is going on, to analyse the situation, and only then make a decision, provided we decide that any decision is really necessary. Now a few other points. Regarding centralised purchasing of medicine for orphan diseases: as you know, generally the purchasing of a large share of such medicines takes place at the federal level, and when the purchasing is done regionally, the funding is still provided from the federal budget. The funding from the federal budget is transferred on time and in full – that is a fact, I have checked it myself. Yet it is true that there is a shortage of medicines. What is the main problem here? We must increase the funding, and this is already envisaged to a certain degree. It We can transfer it to the regions or take it back to the federal level, but the issue will remain unsolved if we do not increase the funding. We need to see if we need to transfer anything from there or not, or just allocate more money from the federal budget. Regarding children’s hospitals: you raised the issue of working not only with children’s outpatient clinics, but with children’s hospitals as well. Ms Matviyenko, I have already spoken about this, at the beginning, here in this hall. I said that I am talking about children’s outpatient clinics and the clinical departments of children’s hospitals. We mean hospitals, too; it has been envisaged from the beginning. Valentina Matviyenko: You are talking about outpatient clinics at the hospitals and I am talking about profile hospitals, children’s in-patient facilities… Vladimir Putin: We will see. Valentina Matviyenko: Mr President, in-patient facilities are in very bad condition. Vladimir Putin: We will check them both. To tell the truth, I thought that you meant children’s hospitals too. Mr Volodin said earlier that the lower chamber is comprised of representatives of political parties, which created factions. This is natural; this is global practice. Here is what I would like to point out in this connection. We have the presidential election coming. The lower and the upper chambers, as well as the Government, should not concentrate only on the current political calendar. They must address essential issues of the country’s life. Of course, we must approve the necessary regulations that the country is waiting for and is in need of. Therefore, I ask you not to plunge into political competition and never to forget about your main job: legislative activity. Regarding the demographics. We have taken all the necessary decisions, passed all the necessary laws, and now we need to monitor how they work in real life. We need to monitor law enforcement practice, and on the basis of this analysis we must decide together whether we need to introduce new measures or amend the existing ones. This is highly important, considering that the upper house represents the federal regions of Russia, and the lower house does too, since State Duma deputies always work directly with their voters – which is why I ask you to pay closer attention to this issue when working with people directly. Now, regarding what Mr Volodin just mentioned, the terrorist threat, namely the one emanating from Afghanistan. The situation has deteriorated in the period that the coalition forces, primarily the US forces, have been present there. It really has, that is a fact. And it continues to deteriorate, but if it was not for the US forces, it would probably have gotten even worse. Our relations with the United States are complicated, but we have to be objective when approaching this matter, and that is the way it is. Even though there are Taliban forces based along almost the entire length of the border between Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, we simply have to keep that in mind. Today I spoke with the President of Turkmenistan, and he reminded me of his plans to build a pipeline system that will run through the territory of Afghanistan further to its neighbours, Pakistan and India. He is inviting us to participate in the construction. All in all, some of the projects there are being implemented, and quite successfully, too, including by Turkmenistan. We have to see to what extent such projects are being implemented, of course. But there are positive signals like this. However, there are some alarming signals too – ISIS forces have appeared in Afghanistan and are already fighting the Taliban. This is another factor that is making the situation worse. You mentioned Syria. There is no longer any need really for using the Armed Forces there. I will not repeat myself any more, you are aware of my assessments. We have two bases there, and we will, of course, continue to fight terrorism there, including in Syria, and to deliver pinpoint strikes, if this should be necessary. To reiterate, we may do so, but not as it was until now with such a wide use of all the components of our Armed Forces. Hence the withdrawal, since there is no longer any need for such large amounts of equipment or personnel. At least, for the time being. Another important matter. Mr Volodin mentioned our actions related to returning capital from abroad. Recently, as you may be aware, I had a meeting with our business people. We discussed the need to improve the regulatory framework for the so-called CFCs – controlled foreign companies, that is, companies that are actually owned by our citizens, and our citizens are the ultimate beneficiaries. We discussed it. I have two more proposals, which I have not yet publicly spoken about. The first is to extend the amnesty period for the capital, bearing in mind the external constraints, which are not becoming smaller, but, on the contrary, appear to have a tendency to be increasing. This is my first proposal. The second proposal is to relieve business people who close their businesses abroad and transfer them to Russia, from paying the 13-percent tax. Overall, this can be an additional incentive, which, first of all, makes things easier, and secondly, is an incentive for transferring capital back to Russia. We will continue to work towards this end. Thank you very much again for your cooperation. Before we talk any more in this informal manner, I can see that Vladimir Kondratyev has got to his feet and is trying to creep away. Mr Kondratyev, please stay with us. Vladimir Kondratyev is one of the founders of electronic media in Russia, he turned 70 yesterday. Happy birthday, Mr Kondratyev!