24 june 2010

Vladimir Putin meets with the families of miners and rescue workers who were killed in the Novokuznetsk mine blasts


Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon once again. We met with many of those present - at least, with certain people - during my previous visit to the city. I said it then and will say it again: it is obvious that nothing can make up for this tragic loss and no one can ever replace a loved one. But I also want to say again that we will make every effort to provide you with emotional support so that you do not feel alone, as well as with the maximum financial aid.

As you know, unfortunately, work is still underway in the mine to extinguish the fire. People are working in very difficult conditions, and I do not want to rush the people who are putting their lives at risk. Emergency crews are working manually there due to certain restrictions on using equipment, and this is physically demanding work.

The reason why I am meeting with you again is that at our first meeting I learned many things that were completely new to me, honestly. I do not know whether you are aware of that or not, but I did my best to respond to all this in a proper way, particularly to the issue of investigating the tragic accident and taking actions against those responsible for it; their guilt will be determined by investigators. I hope it will be carried out in this way, but I am not talking about pursuits or witch-hunts occurring. The investigating bodies are not going to label anyone guilty. We are going to make every effort to have an objective investigation. I said it then and will say it again: this applies both to the causes of the accident and the responsibility of certain officials in case their guilt is proven by investigation.

Last but not least, I would like to mention the issue of social and financial assistance, and I want to speak with you about its size and the ways it is being managed, including issues of bureaucracy. This also concerns payments and the settlement of housing issues, as well as providing support for the education and future of children who have lost their fathers. I am also speaking of loan payments to the families who had taken loans prior to the accident and have now found themselves in a difficult situation after losing the family's breadwinner. Let's discuss each and every issue that you consider important to raise at this meeting.

Olga Kabanova: Do I dare?

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Olga Kabanova: Probably, I should first thank all those people who have helped us and have not forgotten us. They have paid off all the loans my husband and I took out.

Vladimir Putin: Did you borrow the money to buy a flat?

Olga Kabanova: No, we took a loan for a car.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Olga Kabanova: Yes, the debt was paid off and we are grateful to Mr Tuleyev for that.

Aman Tuleyev: We have fulfilled your instructions. You raised the issue and this is what Olga is talking about. We have paid off everything - loans for cars and mortgages...

Vladimir Putin: I didn't raise the issue. It was the wives who raised it. During our conversation they bluntly asked what they were supposed to do about their loans.

Aman Tuleyev: We paid for them from the budget. I decided not to bargain about it and I think this was right because, as Olga says, nobody was planning on this; we all lived with a view to the future. So, we've done this.

Olga Kabanova: Yes. The wives of the rescue workers - I'm talking on their behalf and it's a pity they are not here - but we want to clear up one moment. We heard from the media that the wives of miners and rescue workers will not be left without support and that compensation will come from three sources: the federal budget from the government reserve, the budget of the Kemerovo Region, and the Raspadskaya mine itself.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, the shareholders, the owners of the mine.

Olga Kabanova: Yes, the owners of the mine plus the payments that the Raspadskaya mine has to make by law.

Vladimir Putin: This should not come from the mine but from the federal budget as well.

Olga Kabanova: The federal budget? The women, wives of rescue workers, asked me to say that not all of these payments have been fully...

Vladimir Putin: What payments are you talking about? Who was supposed to get them?

Olga Kabanova: Payments from the regional budget.

Aman Tuleyev: There was one article. I can explain this right away. A woman wrote this, I don't remember her name. Every year we sign an agreement with the owners and warn them: we tell them, if something happens, here we are, the regional administration, and here's a million roubles you must pay above all the other payments.

Vladimir Putin: From the owner?

Aman Tuleyev: This million came from the owner. Nobody paid before...

Vladimir Putin: I know.

Aman Tuleyev: I must tell you Mr. Putin that emotions are running very high. There are families where miners died before. They didn't get this million roubles. But here we're compelled... And people also realised that besides the million from the owners - it says it right there, in the article - they would get a million from the government. But we don't have enough in our budget for that... Something's not right...

Olga Kabanova: You see, we'd still like to clear this up...

Vladimir Putin: Ms Kabanova, this is what we planned for material support. First, after a number of tragedies, primarily terrorist attacks such as the Nevsky Express, etc., we decided to increase assistance to the bereaved families to one million roubles. I considered it appropriate and fair to extend this benefit to the families of deceased miners, which is not required by law. By decision of the government, we used money from the reserve fund, independent of current law.

Moreover, even before the tragedy at the Raspadskaya mine, it was actually agreed that in the event of such serious consequences the shareholders, that is, the owners would also pay a million. This is how the second million came about. As for the regional budget, it was used to pay off loans and provide housing and rehabilitation to children, the injured themselves or members of their families. To my knowledge, about 60 billion roubles have been used for these purposes. This can be easily verified, and the Finance Ministry will check with the governors.

Olga Kabanova: I'd still like to make a point that the newspaper Konsomolskaya Pravda should not stir up people's emotions...

Vladimir Putin: To be honest, I try not to read them...

Olga Kabanova: But we are reading them...

Vladimir Putin: Let me say this again. First, there is a million from the federal budget...

Aman Tuleyev: This is the first time that...

Vladimir Putin: Just a sec. Second, there is a million from the owners. Third, the regional government will help repay loans, improve housing conditions and pay for people's rest and rehabilitation. Fourth, the families of the dead will receive salaries in line with the existing legislation. This sum amounts to about 700,000 to 800,000 roubles.

Aman Tuleyev: Before this accident, God forbid, there have been no payments like this in the history of the Kuznetsk Basin or Russia.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Tuleyev, this is such a tragedy...

Aman Tuleyev: I understand...

Vladimir Putin: This is the first point.

The second is that it is difficult to do something in hindsight, and the general rule is that the law is not retroactive. But I'd like you to bear in mind, Mr Tuleyev, that the families of the miners who died earlier should not be forgotten, either.

Aman Tuleyev: We are not forgetting them, but dealing with them is difficult, because they are different people: some of them understand, others don't.

Vladimir Putin: No matter who they are, you should work with them and help them. And how can they not be difficult after they have been though such a tragedy?

Olga Kabanova: Mr Tuleyev, you understand that nobody will bring back our husbands. If only our husbands were alive, then there would be no such issues. Do you understand?

Aman Tuleyev: I understand. But we must focus on children.

Vladimir Putin: No, wait a second, Mr Tuleyev! We have to focus on everything. Women need help; children need help. I've mentioned four sources and I expect them all to work.

Olga Kabanova: They have all worked.

Vladimir Putin: That's the most important thing.

Olga Kabanova: The payments have been made in full.

Vladimir Putin: That's the most important thing. That's what I wanted to hear.

Yekaterina Ogorodnikova: Mr Putin, may I ask you something?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please go ahead.

Yekaterina Ogorodnikova: First, thank you for paying attention to us, for not forgetting us. All payments have been made, indeed. The protocol sent by the commission has been implemented in full. I'd simply like to talk to you about the future. Miners are working in the mines and will do so in the future, and everything will be the same, as you understand. I'd like to not talk about big disasters, but about smaller accidents in which one or two people die. The difference in payment for a death in a big disaster and a small accident is huge, you know.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Yelena Ogorodnikova: I'd like to ask you - you have the power to do this - to change the law, because these miners are no different; they have their families and wives who will be left, God forbid, but still...

Vladimir Putin: Yes, you're absolutely right. I'll be frank with you. Despite direct instructions and support from myself and the government, such issues are not easy to resolve.

However, changes to the existing life and health insurance legislation for workers working in high-risk jobs, miners above all, have been submitted to the State Duma and passed the first reading. This makes the owners, mine owners in this case, liable for safety procedures and, if something happens, for the welfare of the injured and the bereaved families.

There were attempts to prevent these changes from being passed. About a year ago I spoke with miners about pension legislation. Almost immediately I proposed a change to the current legislation increasing pensions, but we were only able to get it through the State Duma after a year. However, the changes have been passed. But let me assure you that the second issue that you have raised - about liability insurance - will be resolved. Let me repeat that these legislative changes have already passed through the first reading.

Yekaterina Ogorodnikova: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You're welcome.

Yelena Maltseva: Mr Putin, thank you for your understanding and support. I have one more question. Some women have second families and children from previous marriages. Why should these children be ignored? Why do we have to prove now that they were dependents? Why? They are all children...

Vladimir Putin: This law has certain restrictions. If these children are dependents, this of course must be proven.

Yelena Maltseva: But they lived with the family! How else can this be proven?

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean by saying they lived with the family?

Yelena Maltseva: Look, suppose...

Vladimir Putin: ...this is a second marriage.

Yelena Maltseva: ...yes, a second marriage.

Vladimir Putin: Is it an official second marriage?

Yelena Maltseva: Yes, it is an official second marriage. The children lived with us. They simply have not been adopted.

Vladimir Putin: These are children from your first marriage?

Yelena Maltseva: Yes, I have children from my first marriage.

Vladimir Putin: And they lived together with you?

Yelena Maltseva: Yes, they lived together with us.

Vladimir Putin: Oh, I see.

Yelena Maltseva: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Let's review this case. What's the problem? The problem is that the legislators assume that if your first spouse, with whom you divorced, is safe and sound, he can bear responsibility for his children.

Yelena Maltseva: No, this is not our case.

Vladimir Putin: I got you. We'll set this right.

Yelena Maltseva: I have another such question, Mr Putin. My youngest child is studying in Osinniki at the College of Mining and Technology. The director there is Vladimirov, who, as they say, collects fees. He demands that the kids pay for their diplomas. How is this possible? Is this legal? My son has to pass the state exams and we have to pay 1,500 roubles for a diploma. How is this? Our children's studies are paid for by the federal budget. He, Vladimirov, said to the students - it was all, of course, verbally stated and there is no written order and he is not subordinate to anyone, as there are no laws for him - if they didn't pay him the money, then no one would pass the exams. On Saturday, the last state exam will take place and we're hoping for a miracle.

Vladimir Putin: I see. There are probably such people in every country, those who think that the laws don't apply to them. We will work on this Vladimirov.

Yelena Maltseva: A commission came from Moscow this year and he got off with a slap on the wrist, but this is not the first year it's happened.

Vladimir Putin: I understand. We'll work on this.

Yelena Maltseva: And another thing, Mr Putin, I have a question about dilapidated housing. It would be great to speed up this issue a little.

Vladimir Putin: You know that the issue is not a simple one. You must surely know that we never relocated such a large number of people out of dilapidated housing before. In some towns and cities, housing was not repaired for some 60 to 70 years. We began the first ever large-scale replacement of dilapidated housing three years ago. When did we adopt the first resolution? In 2006, I think?

Aman Tuleyev: In 2002, you assigned us this task. In 2002, a total of one billion roubles were allocated for dilapidated housing in all of Russia, and this year, as per your executive order, our region alone is receiving three billion roubles, so it's progressing. Those who have been relocated are satisfied and those who remain - well, we need to work faster.

Vladimir Putin: You probably saw that I went there and met with people, visited these barracks where people live...

Aman Tuleyev: In Novokuznetsk.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, in Novokuznetsk, and then I travelled around, looking at the new buildings and new flats to which people had been relocated. Generally, according to the law, this is the responsibility of the regional authorities. But we understand that the regional authorities cannot manage to do this work alone, and we started to allocate money from the federal budget in unprecedented amounts.

Despite the crisis, we retained the institution for solving this problem. We call it the Housing and Communal Services Fund, and we put enormous amounts of money into it - 245 billion roubles. And we continue to add to it; we added to it this year and will do so next year. We will hold on to this programme, but we can't expand it very quickly because we have already expanded it so many times. And now it's practically impossible for us to do this, or else we would need to freeze some of the other projects that the government is working on. But, it will be continued this year and the next.

You heard what Mr Tuleyev said - that this year more than three billion roubles will be allocated to the Kemerovo Region, which is one of the largest allocations in the country. We will continue with this.

Aman Tuleyev: So far this year, somewhere around 15,000 families have been relocated from the barracks.

Vladimir Putin: And how many relocations were there last year?

Aman Tuleyev: From 13,500 to13,600 families.

Yelena Maltseva: I'll tell you right now that this housing was 66% worn out by 1989, and by 1999, it had become a serious hazard.

Vladimir Putin: Please understand how this works, Mrs Maltseva! We allocate the money, and the region has to decide which buildings need to be demolished and who needs to be relocated. This is not for us to decide. We allocate money to the region, and the region decides on the priority and who is to relocate. But I will repeat this for you - we will continue this work; in any case, we will allocate this money.

Yelena Maltseva: Thank you.

Aman Tuleyev: It's shifted a lot already. But everyone wants everything done in one day! But what can you do?

Vladimir Putin: That's clear. But I'll tell you honestly, I understand these people, because I myself lived almost ...

Aman Tuleyev: But you visited these barracks...

Vladimir Putin: I didn't live in such barracks, but I can imagine what it's like.

Olga Korotenko: Mr Putin, on behalf of our family, we would also like to express our profound gratitude to you and Mr Tuleyev, as well as the Kemerovo authorities, the regional council of Osinniki, the municipality of Osinniki, the social services and social workers. Our family received all due attention. You can call and approach them at any time - no problem with that.

The only thing is that we still have a problem - my mother-in-law, who lives in the Tashtagol District, was given an apartment in Osinniki, but the house there, which is also mostly worn out, needs to be sold. At first, they wanted to have it deemed unfit for habitation, but then they changed their minds for some reason. And then they declared it unfit for habitation after all. And here's the problem: the authorities of the Tashtagol District are dragging their feet for some reason. We have already found an alternative flat and need to file the paperwork as soon as possible. And just today I contacted the authorities and they promised to help, but...

Aman Tuleyev: The issue is resolved. Write to me about it, but the issue is resolved. I say this in front of the prime minister - that's it, it's no longer an issue.

Vladimir Putin: I was just about to say that.

Aman Tuleyev: That's it, it's a done deal.

Vladimir Putin: I think this building is really only worth a kopeck.

Olga Korotenko: You see, they charge 5,000 roubles for the value assessment alone, but excuse me, that's the same as the price of the place.

Aman Tuleyev: No need! We will take it upon ourselves and arrange the relocation, and that's it. That's it, the issue is resolved.

Vladimir Putin: Of course. Take it down and use it for scrap wood.

Olga Korotenko: And regarding my son's college admission, my son was in the army when the disaster happened, and he had literally two weeks left to serve. Now, he has to go to college, but he did not take the Unified State Exam when he was studying. Now we are doing all that we can for this and we hope that everything will turn out alright.

Vladimir Putin: Where has he applied to?

Olga Korotenko: To the school of Law and Economics, and we hope that everything will go smoothly.

Vladimir Putin: But is this under control? Are you in contact with the authorities?

Olga Korotenko: Yes, the authorities are keeping everything under control.

Vladimir Putin: Thank god.

Olga Korotenko: I am grateful to everybody.

Vladimir Putin: That's what we agreed on; you remember, at the meeting, I raised this very issue...

Olga Korotenko: ... and I contacted the unit and the mine rescue brigade several times, asking for help, but at least nobody has refused me yet.

Vladimir Putin: Thank god. We were just saying that the authorities should have direct, immediate contact with everyone who needs help.

Olga Korotenko: I even contacted them at the weekend and was able to reach them in the evenings without any problem.

Vladimir Putin: I'm very glad.

Olga Korotenko: I shouldn't complain.

Vladimir Putin: I'm very glad to hear it. Go ahead.

Yelena Lasunova: Mr Putin! I join Mrs Korotenko in thanking you. It's Mezhdurechensk. Our utilities have been connected and are working perfectly. All of the material assistance has been provided... What I want to talk about is not material but moral support. Excuse me. We are widows and we will be in pain until our dying day. But we also have women who are not wives anymore, but who are not yet widows. So on their behalf, I would like to ask that they not be ignored and they be allowed to bury their husbands.

Aman Tuleyev: This is the 23 families?

Yelena Lasunova: Yes. We are now very close with each other, we socialised before, when our husbands were still alive, but now, of course, grief has brought us together so much. And so, looking at them, they have it even tougher because they're in limbo... We have more or less overcome our grief in order to... Generally speaking, you've already mentioned it, Mr Putin, with regard to work on the mine, it's difficult and it's understandable. I hope that they don't abandon us, so that they will do everything and leave no stone unturned.

Vladimir Putin: Mrs Lasunova! Don't doubt that we will do this, and please explain to the women that we will do everything in order to fulfil the obligations to our miners. I am sure that my colleagues will do everything to make this happen. I want to say this again and I'm sure that your friends understand this, that we don't want any more victims. We need to do everything to avoid additional casualties. You and I know that miners are working there today, including people you surely know. They're working...

Aman Tuleyev: They're all working.

Vladimir Putin: They're working in the most difficult and, unfortunately, dangerous conditions. The fire is still burning. They can't extinguish the fire. Everything possible is being done. And I'll say it again: everything is being done by hand because you can't use equipment in there. If you turn the equipment on and pump in additional air, the danger increases significantly.

Of course, we will do everything necessary to put an end to this story and be sure of the status of those who remain there. Here, you understand, we need to choose our words carefully. It is clear that if the fire is still burning, there is little hope.

Nevertheless, I said it last time and I'll say it again - in these cases, your loved ones and relatives, you and I will hope to the very last for a miracle.

As for social issues, all of the funds have been transferred and are in the region. You know that: the families of the missing miners will be paid an average salary plus payments from the federal budget. I'll say it again - everything concerning these millions, they're all here, it is now the region's responsibility. As soon as the necessary formalities are completed, families will receive everything.

There are formalities stipulated by law, as I've already mentioned. But we will surely resolve all these difficulties and all these legal problems. No difficulties will arise for these 23 families, I assure you. But there is also the issue of moral support. It is the topic of the moment, I understand. And as far as I can see, for the time being, these families do not want to collect these millions until the fate of their loved ones is certain. But they should know that we have everything ready, we're all ready to do everything, but we need to find out what happened to them. We will do everything to achieve this result, so that the fate of these men, these miners, will be clear.

Aman Tuleyev: Mr Putin, you gave the assignment - I'm saying this within the inner circle - to change the mode of operation at the Raspadskaya mine, and so we changed everything. We could have carried out the work differently. But we had a meeting, and Mr Putin said, "No, you work until 11 p.m." You understand, right? We could take another approach, but we are approaching the sixth and seventh layers. There are still difficulties, but all of the miners are already working on this.

Although we could work in a different way in order to restore the mine. And until we get back on top, we're all in the same boat - you and I both - it's not finished and we're connected right here. And how is it? One man has to walk four kilometres in a respirator, with a board on his back. He gets there and now it's four kilometres back. But he's exhausted! Like the Chinese, they follow one right after another, day and night. How they can bear it, Mr Putin, I dare not even imagine! What a horrible physical strain. But there's no other way, everything has to be done manually.

Vladimir Putin: Well, in general, Mr Tuleyev was saying what I was thinking. The operations are structured so that we will determine the fate of the 23 miners first of all, and then restore the mine. I think that this is right, because, of course, restoring the mine is important since thousands of people work there.

Aman Tuleyev: Three...

Vladimir Putin: Three and a half. But first we need to fulfil our moral obligations to the 23 families.

Olga Kabanova: I understand that the mine will be re-opened, even given the danger that has existed since 1982.

Vladimir Putin: Experts say that it can be restored, but it will be restored only if proposals for its restoration are approved by experts.

Olga Kabanova: There's another issue that worries me - the death of my husband and the other rescue workers, the 19 rescuers that did not come out and went on a search. I can't find anyone to answer this question and unfortunately no one around is answering this question: everyone says that the investigation is underway and that science will explain how the explosion happened...

Vladimir Putin: What's your question, Mrs Kabanova?

Olga Kabanova: Why did the second explosion happen?

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, the experts - independent ones, not only ones that work at the mine or those who are associated with the local government, but independent experts, including those from Moscow - still cannot answer that question.

I asked experts an even more pointed question: why were the rescuers sent in at all, if the conditions in the mine were not reliably determined? The answer is simple - the rules of mining rescue operations make clear that after a fire, after an explosion, all sensors are destroyed. They simply cease to exist and the only thing that can be done is to take the measurements personally. Unfortunately, that's the way it is...

Olga Kabanova: These 19 people - they went down to rescue people.

Aman Tuleyev: Consciously.

Olga Kabanova: Yes, they did not go down there to measure anything.

Vladimir Putin: Now, they went down to measure and to rescue.

Aman Tuleyev: That too. How can you rescue if you don't measure?

Olga Kabanova: No, we were told that they had gone to rescue people.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, yes. Work there goes like this: they enter, they descend, they have gauges, they measure the gas concentration, report back to the surface and then move on. They report again and start moving again.

Olga Kabanova: Nine sections descended. Six sections returned, our three sections did not...

Vladimir Putin: Because what happened...

Olga Kabanova: We think the risk was unjustified.

Vladimir Putin: This is exactly what the investigation should determine.

Aman Tuleyev: But this is the highest commission in the country, the investigation team is working on the prime minister's instructions.

Yelena Maltsteva: There was an explosion in the same mine on January 23. An investigation was ordered. Where are the results of that investigation? Why was the fact that it was not a safe mine not dealt with? Our men went there knowing what they could face.

Aman Tuleyev: We will sort things out, and not only here. We are again looking at the Ulyanovskaya coal pit and then, if you remember, there was the Kostromovskaya coalmine... So on the prime minister's instructions... there is simply no investigative body higher than this one.

Vladimir Putin: Yelena Maltseva is right. One must determine the degree of danger and whether the risk was justified. I repeat: the Prosecutor General's investigation team is on this, the coalmine managers are telling me that they are showing too much zeal and are hindering the restoration of the mine. My view is that they work according to the law. They will continue at this pace. So we will follow this through and find out the causes. I repeat, I said it last time and I would like to repeat it: nobody has any intention to cover up for anybody. The picture will be objective. We will show it to you. As for the consequences...

Yelena Maltseva: Yes, but where are the results of the investigation started after January 23? How did our Prosecutor's Office work?

Vladimir Putin: On that occasion it was your Prosecutor's Office and here we have a team from the Prosecutor General's Office of Russia. In fact, the case is under the personal review of the Prosecutor General and his First Deputy who is the head of the Investigation Committee. I am sure they will carry this work through to the end. We shall see.

Aman Tuleyev: It is a crucial question for everyone: the mine was thought to be almost the best in the world. What about the other mines? Other mines are inferior compared to this one. We must know the cause of the explosion. Other mines...

Vladimir Putin: I have already said it. I don't know if you have heard this: I personally looked at all the documents on Raspadskaya and on the industry as a whole. In the past several years the outlay on safety increased many times over, by nine times, but during the same period output increased even more. This means that perhaps the money invested in safety was not sufficient, given the production volume.

Yelena Maltseva: Was the money invested?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, it was. The money was invested. But the volume of output was great. And what does that mean? It means that the area being mined has increased and the safety situation changes. Was that amount sufficient? A nine-fold increase is a massive increase. That is true. But was it enough considering the increased output - that is another question. So, there can only be one answer (I have already given it to Yekaterina Aleksandrovna). There should be civil legal responsibility formulated in advance. The mine owners must know their material liability in the event of tragic consequences. Then perhaps they will change their attitude. But I repeat: the situation here at Raspadskaya was much better than at other mines. Yelena Maltseva: Most explosions occur in spring. Can supervision be toughened?

Vladimir Putin: Yes it can. We will do just that.

Yelena Maltseva: All the explosions happen in spring, take any big mine...

Voice: February-March, February-March.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. So the thing is that...

Yelena Maltseva: May, April...

Vladimir Putin: Control should be toughened not only in February and March, but throughout the year. We will resume Rostekhnadzor's authority to shut down a mine, suspend operations or suspend mine officials pending a court ruling or until the identified shortcomings are eliminated.

There is yet another danger - and I have to speak about it and we all are aware of it - corruption among the inspecting agencies. If they act like the head of the school, and ask for money on the one hand, and constantly threaten to shut down the mine on the other, that is no good. A certain mechanism must be put in place: I have suggested that such decisions be taken jointly with the representatives of the employees, with the trade unions and with the mine administration in order to ensure that objective measurements are taken in the mine (the gas concentration, etc). Well, and all the other procedures, they are fairly...

Aman Tuleyev: Ms Maltseva, let us be honest, you remember the explosion at Yesaulskaya. The usual thing, a spark from a cable. Two years passed and it transpired that actually a drug addict had lit a fire... But we did not put the blame on them.

Next. It is no secret that all the bodies recovered had cigarettes, lighters, matches and so on. I owe you an apology, Mr Putin I told them: "Shut up and keep mum" so as to avoid the usual situation when people are looking in the wrong place. But this is a fact. That is why it is important for me personally to know the cause of the second explosion. We are following this course. And we forbid people to discuss things to avoid speculation. Everything should be weighed together.

Yelena Maltseva: They should toughen control at mines so that people can't smuggle in cigarettes...

Aman Tuleyev: How do you go about toughening control? You cannot check them for smoking or drugs under the law.

Yelena Maltseva: Oh, yes, you can. This is hazardous production. Sack them.

Aman Tuleyev: Yes, we are introducing such measures. I repeat: it is only now, after the prime minister's directives, that we have got answers to these questions. Previously this was forbidden.

Yelena Maltseva: My husband did not drink and did not smoke. So what?

Aman Tuleyev: That's right. That was your husband, and another man used drugs and set fire to drugs inside the mine.

Yelena Maltseva: Why was he allowed into the mine in the first place?

Aman Tuleyev: This is the law because this is about human rights. He says: "You cannot search me or frisk me."

Olga Kabanova: What do you mean by "this is the law"? I personally do not understand it.

Aman Tuleyev: I do.

Vladimir Putin: Wait a bit. I'll tell you. When employment contracts are signed labour conditions are laid down in agreements between the trade unions and employers in an industry. The trade unions have always objected to total control over the miners who go down into the pit because they thought it violated their rights. And this was also the attitude among the workers.

By the way, when I conducted the conference call (I don't know if you watched it or not) I said that only the miners themselves could put things in order. They should do it of their own accord, and not under pressure so that nobody could accuse anyone of introducing tough additional measures.

Unfortunately, such incidents have been recorded: drug abuse in the mine shaft and smoking. When I talked with some miners - not all of them, but some of them - their answer was: you must be mad, I can't go without a smoke for five hours.

I just didn't want to mention it, but it is a problem too.

Olga Kabanova: I think in any case this is the employers' duty.

Aman Tuleyev: Let me tell you, Olga: the city...

Olga Kabanova: I'm sorry, let me finish.

Vladimir Putin: Let her finish: go on.

Aman Tuleyev: It is a hot topic.

Olga Kabanova: Things are all right at one mine (the mine headed by Shchukin) and another mine is a total mess. How come?

Vladimir Putin: You have a point. That is why I said: we will change all the rules regarding control and supervision and give Rostekhnadzor the authority to suspend operations or officials who violate safety rules.

Olga Kabanova: The worst of it is in this situation that our husbands are rescue workers, I am talking about rescue workers - our husbands went into one of the best mines, Raspadskaya, and were caught by this.

Vladimir Putin: This is the most terrible thing. A tragedy.

Yekaterina Ogorodnikova: Could I chip in? I think your discussion with the wives of the deceased rescuers, I think that the problem is not one of control, but of the attitude to miners. Excuse me, I live in a mining town, my father is a miner (he has worked at Raspadskaya mine, the same section, the same team, for 25 years), my husband has worked here and many friends who, thank God, are alive and I think the miners are neglected. Previously, when things were starting here in Kuzbass, a miner had the same prestige as a cosmonaut, a miner could afford to go to Sochi on holiday...

Olga Kabanova: That's when the mine was state-owned...

Yekaterina Ogorodnikova: ... And what do we see today? They are considered to be "trash," drunks and junkies. I am sorry, but they have been reduced to such a state. A man works like a horse for eight hours and earns a pittance with his sweat and blood. He comes home and he doesn't know how to use his wages to patch up all the holes in the budget. I want the mine owners to understand that miners are not "trash." Pardon me, but if they are treated in this way... you should give due to those who give you your millions...

Olga Kabanova: Excuse me, I would like to speak up on behalf of the miners. Not the management, but the miners. My husband worked at a mine for almost 20 years, he had great experience. Now we all stick together, we talk to each other - practically all of them had worked for 20, ...17 years, give or take a few years. Yelena's husband worked for 12 years. They were aware of the danger when they descended into the mineshaft. How could they permit themselves to smoke and so on?

Yes, we are told that such things happen, so they happen. But you cannot say that about all the miners. You should not. People who have worked for so many years.

Aman Tuleyev: That is out of the question. I am just citing examples. My aim is not to provoke people into saying that "they were smoking." We forbid discussing this topic. But when the chips are down, I feel strongly about this problem. What distresses me is that ten people are on a team and they know that one of them smokes. It makes me furious; I tell them, throw him out. I have no right to keep silent about this problem, it is a common problem.

Olga Kabanova: I understand all that, and of course our husbands have worked here for so many years and they knew all about methane and the hazards and so on. But Yekaterina was right in raising the question of the attitude toward miners and their pay. If they had a fixed salary of course that would be a different situation. And the safety. It is no secret what kind of safety kits they had, how long they could last and so on.

Vladimir Putin: I repeat, we will find out about the safety kits. Thorough analysis will be carried out to see how workable they were. I have already spoken about this. Regarding what Yekaterina and Yelena have said, I see two things here. First is safety, and of course it should be strengthened and the state should control it. And also work experience. You cannot put all the blame on one side. If we want to ensure safety we must think about it. Incidentally, in the families of miners they should have zero tolerance of any safety rules violations by whomever. Then there is the other point mentioned by Yekaterina: decent pay. Absolutely right. You know that I have made the decision to seek to introduce amendments to the industry contract that will be concluded for 2010-2012 between the trade unions and the employers. The fixed part of the wage should not be less than 70% of the total. This will be done in the near future, I hope. I have been assured that the work will be completed in early July, the line will be drawn.

Aman Tuleyev: Too large companies have already redrawn their contracts.

L.V.Abbasova: May I ask one more question? All the compensation has been paid fully, and we are grateful for this. But look at my situation. We have two children, a son of five and a daughter who is nine months old. The bulk of the money was put in the accounts of the children. It is a big sum. The problem is that the trusteeship department disposes of this money until the children grow up.

Vladimir Putin: It does not dispose...

L.V.Abbasova: It makes the decisions. Yes. But I have a problem with housing because I have to pay extra because my flat is a bit larger than the social standard - well, we were anxious to provide good housing for the kids. I filed an application, they gave me a reference at my work place. And I asked them whether it was possible for me to use that money to furnish the flat because the bulk of the money is in their accounts and I need to buy something for the kids. It's a big sum and it makes sense to use it to buy something big, to buy something for the children that they could use in the future. There should be less red tape, less paperwork because it weighs on my nerves. You are already on the point of a breakdown when you come to them. They tell you: fill out this form, bring in that paperwork, this is more than I can take.

Vladimir Putin: Of course I will look into it. But I think you would agree with me that this is done in the interests of your children so that the money is not squandered.

L.V.Abbasova: I understand, but the money could be invested in real estate.

Vladimir Putin: Tell us what you want us to do and we will do it.

L.V.Abbasova: I don't know. I want permission, and I don't want to have so many problems...

Aman Tuleyev: There is a federal law.

Vladimir Putin: Decision-making should involve less red tape, right?

Aman Tuleyev: What sort of money are we talking about?

L.V.Abbasova: Each of the kids has 900,000 roubles in the account.

Aman Tuleyev: I mean, what amount do you need to solve your problem?

L.V.Abbasova: There is no furniture in my flat. I live with my mother. I cannot say in advance what sum I will need.

Aman Tuleyev: Calculate, but on the whole this is in line with the federal law, what you are talking about is guardianship...

Vladimir Putin: I understand. But still if there is excessive red tape, you should look into it. I will see what I can do, but as regards to your specific problem...

Aman Tuleyev: We will take care of that. She wants to buy furniture and she wanted to withdraw the money from her children's accounts, but the law forbids it. I will settle that matter...

Vladimir Putin: Let her say what she wants. You seem to be taking decisions for her about what she needs.

L.V.Abbasova: I am thinking about the future. I have a son. He is mad about cars. Perhaps I could buy something for him for the future, for example, a garage, because a garage is quite expensive if it's a good one. Perhaps I could buy an inexpensive car. I am not sure, I am a little messed up in my head. I constantly take my child for massage therapy.

Vladimir Putin: Well, formulate exactly what you want.

L.V. Abbasova: I want access to that money.

Vladimir Putin: Let us do it this way. As for the bureaucratic decision-making procedure I will simply talk with my colleagues and we shall see what can be done to make it less bureaucratic. I will think about it. We will put our minds together and see how best to do it. As for the priorities that you want to take care of right now (for example, buy new furniture and so on) write it down and Aman Tuleyev will do it. OK? Agreed. Very well.

Aman Tuleyev: The motion is passed.

Vladimir Putin: Oh, yes, and also... give me the data on that lyceum. What is the lyceum?

Voice: A college.

Vladimir Putin: And I think there was one other specific question. You have a question about a house, yes?

Yelena Maltseva: Yes, about a house.

Vladimir Putin: What about the house, Mr Tuleyev?

Aman Tuleyev: You will write it down, we have agreed.

Yelena Maltseva: All right.

Aman Tuleyev: And regarding the college, I am on her side, Andrei Fursenko is aware of the problem, we contacted him three times over it. She is quite right.

Yelena Maltseva: The region has no jurisdiction over it.

Aman Tuleyev: You are quite right. It is a federal college and it reports to the minister. It is a valid question and she is not alone in asking it.

Vladimir Putin: All right.

Yelena Maltseva: Because this has been going on for years. Forgive me for...

Yekaterina Ogorodnikova: I have a question. Our husbands were buried in one place. I just wanted to know what will happen next? Will there be a memorial wall or plaque? Who is in charge of this? I understand that it is our city. Of course funding will come from the top, but I understand that somebody in our city will supervise it. Who exactly, and will the opinion of the widows be taken into account?

Vladimir Putin: You mean the memorial?

Yekaterina Ogordnikova: Yes, the memorial.

Vladimir Putin: Well, this is of course for the regional authorities to decide. I have no doubt that your governor is very sensitive to this issue. And the decision will not be taken without consulting you. That it will be taken I have absolutely no doubt.

Aman Tuleyev: Yes, the decision will be taken, but as you have said, we need to assist 23 families. We will call you in, then the architect will show you his plan, then we will decide on financing, the money most likely will be disbursed from the regional budget, Mr Putin has pointed this out. But again, we have to help the families of 23 miners, everything revolves around this.

Vladimir Putin: You know that in such sad circumstances it takes some time. Nevertheless, when it comes to the actual design we can start thinking about it already. As Aman Tuleyev has said, a preliminary meeting can be held and proposals could be shown so that everybody can take part.

Yekaterina Ogorodnikova: Thank you.

Olga Kabanova: Mr Putin, we the wives of the rescue workers have one more question that nobody has answered and we are very confused. The rescuers had their mandatory life insurance before March 23. After that their insurance expired and they were more or less forced to get 1 million roubles insurance, the agreement was signed on June 8.

Vladimir Putin: June 8?

Olga Kabanova: Yes, our husbands who died were not covered. But when they were alive, Vitaly Shchukin for example (assistant commander of the third rescue squad) told his wife: "Olga, if anything happens, we are insured for a million." But as it turns out these 19 rescue workers are not covered by insurance because they died.

Vladimir Putin: Olga, you understand that this is a specific question, one should dig up the documents and review them.

But we have assumed that regardless of any interagency problems or the problems inside the company, all the families will get solid compensation.

Olga Kabanova: We understand.

Vladimir Putin: We have done it. As I said, money will come from four sources. If you feel that there are some problems connected with insurance let us sort them out. We can do it easily. We will look at all the documents.

Olga Kabanova: Why is it taking so long? You see...

Vladimir Putin: We will dig up all the documents.

Olga Kabanova: March 23, April, May...

Vladimir Putin: The headquarters I created will meet today. I will formulate the instruction and will check all the documents.

Aman Tuleyev: This is the first time you raise the issue.

Olga Kabanova: I have asked all the questions that the wives of the rescue workers gave me.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Kabanova, we will look into it by all means. I will issue instructions today to find all these documents and review them.

Yelena Maltseva: When the regional commission had a meeting we were all invited. Of course we were still in a shock. I don't think the commission was set up at the right time. They should have given us at least 40 days to come to our senses. We were all on tranquilizers, we were all hazy in our minds.

I think that our commission did not work with people on the ground at all. For example, the commission that discussed our family met on the 20th. They fixed the time at 2 p.m. We came at 2 p.m. to find that the minutes of the meeting had already been finalized at 10 a.m. How come? And do you call this proper work of the commission? If we were invited to attend the commission they should have talked with us and asked us about our problems. That is how I see it. They should have talked with every individual family. Social workers had collected all the documents from us and passed them on to the commission. The commission made all the decisions by 10 a.m. End of story.

Vladimir Putin: I understand. I will put it to them today. We will discuss it with Aman Tuleyev once more. But do you have any complaints about the substance of their work, the size of compensations or the way your problems have been handled? You are right about organisation. I understand that you have some complaints about the way this work was organised.

Yelena Maltseva: It was not proper.

Vladimir Putin: I agree.

Aman Tuleyev: Are you satisfied with the size of the compensation, Ms Maltseva ?

Vladimir Putin: Just a second. Ms Maltseva, you say the work was not organised properly and that there were problems. Do you have problems with regard to the results of their work?

Yelena Maltseva: As regards compensation they did everything in accordance with the law, but nothing else was taken into account or attended to.

Vladimir Putin: What specifically?

Yelena Maltseva: Who needs what?

Vladimir Putin: So you believe that there are some questions that need further consideration?

Yelena Maltseva: Yes.

Aman Tuleyev: What is your concrete problem?

Vladimir Putin: Regarding the family? Ms Maltseva has already said that it is about the children by her first marriage.

Yelena Maltseva: About the children and decrepit housing.

Aman Tuleyev: That has all been settled.

Yelena Maltseva: There are many problems, of course.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Maltseva a, let us agree as follows. If you think there are some derelictions and more needs to be done, Mr Tuleyev (addressing Aman Tuleyev), this matter should be followed through on.

Aman Tuleyev: We will meet with all of them once more.

Vladimir Putin: Have another meeting and check it again.

Aman Tuleyev: Very well.

Vladimir Putin: The question of children from the first marriage must be solved and, I agree, the housing question must be solved. About housing, how many flats have already been made available?

Aman Tuleyev: Well, every year we...

Vladimir Putin: I don't mean every year. Right now.

Aman Tuleyev: Forty-nine. Everyone who has applied for a flat has been given one. But what we have found sometimes is this: we have our mother-in-law, give a flat to the mother-in-law. The Prosecutor tells me: you have no authority to give her a flat. It sometimes goes a bit too far.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Tuleyev, wait a bit. We can handle the prosecutor. Don't be stingy.

Aman Tuleyev: OK.

Vladimir Putin: Twenty-eight flats have been provided and 11 mortgage loans have been redeemed.

Aman Tuleyev: That is all.

Yelena Maltseva: We had no mortgage loans.

Vladimir Putin: You have a specific question about your children, right? Let us settle it and let us settle the housing question. Follow up on this case, Mr Tuleyev.

Aman Tuleyev: I will.

Olga Kabanova: Regarding children, Yelena's is not the only such family...

Vladimir Putin: I understand. I can imagine that there are some marriages that had not been formalised and so on...

Aman Tuleyev: There are many complicated problems...

Vladimir Putin: You should look into the essence of the problem. Let us have another meeting with all of them, as you have said.

Aman Tuleyev: Very well.

Yelena Maltseva: The commission must do its job. The way they do it now, they tell us this is the law, and we came, they bashed us on the head and we came away in a state of shock.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Maltseva, it's agreed. You have heard that Mr Tuleyev will meet with every family separately.

Aman Tuleyev: Yelena, but at the same time I feel a little hurt. You yourself have thanked me: you said that more has been done than for any other family of deceased miners before you. We are now facing a backlash. The others feel slighted. We try to smooth things over. We now see that accounts are being settled within families. We do not interfere. You know that I will do everything honestly. You know that I was there at the mine from the first minute, just like Mr Putin. But other people are watching... It is a serious process and we should talk about the problems of all families. Vladimir Putin has issued an instruction to settle the issues of the children and decrepit housing. It is a common problem: it has never been addressed in this way before, relocating 15,000 people at once, this is undreamt of.

Yelena Maltseva: Forgive me, Mr Tuleyev, we live in the 21st century.

Aman Tuleyev: So what?

Vladimir Putin: Wait a bit, I just wanted to...

Yelena Maltseva: We do not live in the 15th century, forgive me.

Vladimir Putin: You are right, yes. Ms Maltseva is right. Frankly, she took the words out of my mouth. Life goes on and there have been tragedies - terrible tragedies - before. But at that time conditions were different and the opportunities were different. Conditions have changed and the opportunities are different. We should move forward and react to the problems that we face today accordingly. We have such opportunities and let us carry this matter through to the end.

Yelena Maltseva: The medical people, the police and the social workers have pitched in, so we have no cause to grumble. In fact, we are very grateful.

Voice: It's the same here, all our services are working.

Vladimir Putin: To sum up, in general everything is progressing, everything we have agreed upon is being done, has been done in the main.

Voices: Yes, yes.

Vladimir Putin: But there are problems that call for extra attention.

Olga Kabanova: Individual cases...

Vladimir Putin: Let us review them.

Aman Tuleyev: Very well, we will do that.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Voices: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Goodbye.

Voices: All the best to you, goodbye.