Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with representatives of student construction brigades in Sochi


“This year we have started work on the main Olympic construction sites, and next year the number of volunteers will double, to 50,000. Therefore, your contribution will be significant and could not have come at a better time,” said Putin at a meeting with volunteer student construction workers.

During his meeting with the students employed at the construction sites of facilities for the Sochi Olympics, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin touched on the trouble young specialists have finding employment and support for the labour market in general.

"We should not recreate unneeded jobs and support obsolete companies. While restoring the labour market, we must create well-paid jobs in high-tech industries," the prime minister said.

He noted that the number of officially registered unemployed has fallen by one million recently, adding that the government has developed an array of programmes to encourage young specialists to work at research centres.

The prime minister also listed government programmes of support for young people. In response to a question at the end of the meeting, he told the students about his own experience working as a member of a construction brigade in his youth.

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Please, everyone, sit down. It is my great pleasure to meet with you. Good afternoon.

As you know, 2009 was the official 50th anniversary of the student construction brigades, although the movement actually began even earlier, in 1924, when they had their own name for the ‘soldiers' in the student brigades. If there is anybody who remembers the name, tell us at the end. But they were called ‘soldiers' as well.

In 2004 we revived this tradition, and I must say that it has grown quite rapidly. In 2004 around 3,500 students took part in the summer labour semester, and the programme attracted some 228,000 to 230,000 in 2008, before the downturn. In 2009, the number of students working on construction sites fell due to changes in the labour market and increasing unemployment. But not by much: 200,000 young men and women volunteered for summer construction work that year. And they worked on a variety of different projects in many different regions of the Russian Federation. Students worked at construction sites for nuclear power stations, hydroelectric power stations, infrastructure facilities, motorways and railways. A large number of young people are also involved in the Housing programme. And, of course, many have volunteered here.

Many, many students were involved last year; this year there will be even more. And next year we will need even more working hands. This year we have started work on the main Olympic construction sites, and next year the number of volunteers will double, to 50,000. Therefore, your contribution will be significant and could not have come at a better time.

But I am very much hoping that student participation will not just be limited to the Olympic preparations. Because after the facilities are built, commissioned and put into operation, we will start training volunteers, and we will need more than a few thousand of them.

These volunteers - and we're betting on young people stepping up to the plate here - will be trained in several centres, and many institutions of higher education are competing to host these training sessions. And these volunteers will help welcome guests, tourists and athletes at the Sochi Olympics, work in information centres and so on. In other words, we will need people who are well-trained and have a good basic education. This is what I wanted to say at the beginning; I have already started talking with some young people on our way to this building.

I hope that you'll have the opportunity not only to work on one of the country's most interesting construction projects, but will also have a great summer holiday. I was told that some groups were able to rent a stadium to play football, there are opportunities to go swimming in the sea, plus there are three meals a day at your place of accommodation and at the workplace. Let's start with this. How are your labour activities and accommodations set up? Where are you staying? Where do you spend your recreation time, and how is this recreation organised? What about the work itself, as well as the time for relaxing? Are there any problems? Let's talk, of course, about the problems.

Mr Yerokhov, please.

Kirill Yerokhov: Thank you. Kirill Yerokhov, St. Petersburg State Railway University. As far as our life here, I would like to say right off the bat that everything has been excellent. Everybody likes the living conditions. I feel like they're fattening us up to eat us! For many people it is even better than at home; here we have three meals a day, a choice of dishes.

Vladimir Putin: That's because at home you round doing nothing, but here you work!

Kirill Yerokhov: Of course, food tastes twice as good after you have been working. But in general, compared with other places, people are content, both with the food and the living conditions. For example, we live in six-person rooms, everything is clean and tidy, and there are showers. The amenities are like a two-star hotel.

Vladimir Putin: Where are these accommodations, Kirill?

Kirill Yerokhov: Near mile-marker #438, right next to Krasnaya Polyana.

Vladimir Putin: So the commute is not bad?

Kirill Yerokhov: We are literally next-door to Alpika Servis. I don't think there are any brigades any farther out. We are right next to the last tunnel.

Vladimir Putin: And your work here probably fits your educational background, correct? I mean you probably build railways? Am I right?

Kirill Yerokhov: Specifically, our brigade from St Petersburg is building gabions, mostly for bridge construction. We have people from different departments, but we build gabions from beginning to end, including binding, stacking, hammering the front and main sides, as well as sorting the crushed stone. So we understand the process.

And the employer even promised that we would receive second-grade bridge building certificates at the end of the project. That would be great.

Vladimir Putin: When I was in a student brigade, I was awarded the fourth-grade carpenter's certificate, so you still need to perfect your skills. 

Kirill Yerokhov: We may not have enough time for that, but we will certainly try.

Vladimir Putin: What kind of bridges do you build? Are they railway bridges?

Kirill Yerokhov: None. They don't have us building bridges, just gabions for bridgeworks. Also for building railway embankments, and road reinforcements and inclinations. 

Vladimir Putin: So, the skills will come in useful in any event? What will be your specialisation at the university?

Kirill Yerokhov: I'm majoring in industrial and urban transport, and am already a post-graduate student. There are also students from the department of bridges and tunnels, the construction department, electromechanical engineering, mechanical engineering, and many others. In general graduates work as engineers and then later manage personnel, workers, foremen etc., naturally. And after experiencing physical labour themselves, they will know what it means to work under the scorching sun and how to treat people, and understand the demands of such labour, people's requests, etc...

Vladimir Putin: Exactly. Krill is absolutely right. But I think everybody agrees. To manage people, you need to understand what it takes to do their jobs, earn their pay checks, and see the conditions people work in. 

Remark: The blisters of labour.

Vladimir Putin: Precisely. Very valuable life experience, in fact. But do you also have any time to relax?

Answer: In fact, we do. We are young, and no matter how hard we work, we can still handle it.

Remark: We still have energy left for leisure.

Vladimir Putin: And you still need to take care of yourselves.

Remark: Sometimes we do not sleep at all, but we try of course.

Vladimir Putin: How much time off do you have?

Answer: We have an eight-hour working day. Plus we live quite far from work and the commute is long: 45 minutes one-way. Of course, if we lived closer, we would have more free time.

As for the days off, we make good use of them. We have already been to the mountains and hiked to the Devichy Slyezy waterfall. We raised a flag, took some pictures and came back. We also go to the beach. And we have a cultural programme that we're going to follow; there will be sporting events.

The only thing missing where we live is a sports ground. Some construction camps have volleyball courts and football fields. That's something we wish we had.  Sometimes people want to go play volleyball, but there are cars all around, etc. So this area lacks organisation somewhat.

Vladimir Putin: But the place is beautiful, isn't it?

Remark: Oh yes, it is very beautiful! Mountains are always impressive.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed. I think you are really lucky in that sense. But there should be a Gazprom facility nearby, a hotel, I believe.

Answer: There is indeed a hotel there. But we work at a controlled-access facility and have to abide by strict rules. There are almost 100 of us in the brigade. Naturally, they do not let us go to Adler on our own. Everything has to be coordinated with them, and people can only go in groups. There is even a stadium in Krasnaya Polyana and we organise trips there occasionally. But we don't have a good place to relax, have fun and get in some exercise after work.

Vladimir Putin: Let's think. What about the stadium? Is it occupied? Are you not allowed in?

Remark: No. But getting there...

Vladimir Putin: Oh, I see...

Remark: People come home after work, and they need some time to take a shower, have some food. After that, if you go on an organised trip, you have to get on a bus again, etc. Somebody could be a little late, everybody else would have to wait. That's what concerns me.

Vladimir Putin: It all depends on how well you manage things.

Remark: Sure.

Question: May I ask you question, Mr Putin? I'm Ivan Posalitsky, from Krasnoyarsk. You've said you received basic carpenter qualifications while working on a student construction brigade. What brigade were you a part of? What was it called?

Vladimir Putin: I can't remember.

Ivan Posalitsky: What cities did you work in?

Vladimir Putin: I can't remember what the brigade was called. We worked in what was then known as the Soviet Socialist Republic of Komi, repairing housing and clearing paths through the taiga for transmission lines. We worked a lot, about twelve hours a day.

Question: Mr Putin, I'm Nikolai Teryuk, from Omsk. When we talked with veterans of the student construction movement, we found out that in the Soviet era, the government provided substantial support for student construction brigades, covering up to 30% of their wages, depending on each brigade's status.

Vladimir Putin: No, the government did not pay us anything. We were paid by the enterprises we worked for.

Nikolai Teryuk: But there were some bonuses or exemptions, like tax breaks, weren't there?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we were exempt from taxes, I guess. But I should check up on this.

Nikolai Teryuk: Would it be realistic to implement this kind of thing nowadays?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, it would be.  We have introduced certain changes to Russian education law, and one other law. But we should also think this over. How much do you earn here now? I've been told that the average wage is around 17,000 roubles, correct?

Nikolai Teryuk: Yes, approximately.

Vladimir Putin: That's about average for student construction brigades across the nation. Somewhere between 13,000 and 18,000, or 19,000 roubles. We could consider the taxation issue. This would be a supplement to your earnings.

Question: Mr Putin, how much did you earn while working on a student construction brigade, if the question is not too personal?

Vladimir Putin: No, it is no secret; I can tell you. As a rank-and-file member of a student construction brigade, I managed to earn about 900 roubles for a month-and-a-half's worth of work.

Question: And how much was the national average at the time?

Vladimir Putin: About 200 roubles, I imagine.

Remark:  That's no longer the case.

Vladimir Putin: No. But some students made more in our brigade.

Remark: I hear some earned as much as a thousand roubles, and could not decide how to spend the money when they came back home. They could even buy a car...

Vladimir Putin: They knew how to spend it! My friends and I, for instance, went to Gagry [a sea resort], not far from here, and spent half of our earnings there. And then I bought myself a coat that I wore for about a decade. It was a good coat.

Remark: And how could those amounts be brought back? Today, 17,000 roubles is below average.

Vladimir Putin: You know what the problem is? Student construction teams involved in regular projects weren't paid as much at the time. As I said, we worked in hard-to-reach areas of the Komi Republic, in the taiga, working with axes and chainsaws 12 hours a day.  I was very involved in sports in those days and I considered myself the most athletic guy on the team. But that proved to be a delusion. My co-workers were all a bit older than me, and they had their army service behind them already.

I was studying law at the university then. What kind of students were at law schools in those days? Out of a hundred students in a class, 10% came straight out of high school, while the rest enrolled after army service or at least two years of work.

So the guys I was working with were older than me and, as it turned out, tougher as well. They had less difficulty coping with the workload than those of us who were fresh out of high school, like me. It was pretty hard work. It did not require much skill, though, except for being able to use an axe. But we worked hard...

Remark: Twelve hours a day.

Vladimir Putin: Twelve hours, exactly. And that was quite tough. Even students revamping houses out there, in the Komi Republic, were better paid. But students who worked in other regions, on regular construction sites and regular projects, could not make as much money.

Remark: Still, in Sochi we have mountainous terrain.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, but Sochi is not Komi.

Remark: May I ask a question?

Vladimir Putin: Sure, please go ahead.

Question: My name is Andrei, and I head the Zhiguli combined student brigade from Samara State University of Railways.

Mr Putin, about this 12-our working day: guys come here, strong and full of energy, ready to work. But there is a small legal obstacle. Employers do not hire student team members for 12-hour workdays, even though they would be happy to have these guys work for them.

Vladimir Putin: Andrei, I said we worked for 12 hours, but honestly sometimes it was even more - 15 or 16 hours. But that doesn't mean that what we were doing complied with labour laws. We worked long hours, we did a lot of work, and we were paid for the amount of work done. And for better or for worse - for better for us - this was a violation of labour laws. And I can't say I should support this way of making money at whatever the cost.

But we can consider this issue. We have many debates with the trade unions on similar issues. Ostensibly, people are ready to work more and make more - for instance miners and some other professions - but still this is not always justified. Of course, people want to earn more and are ready to work longer hours, but the state should still take care of their health and prevent employers from grinding them down.

Question: I'm Yevgeny from the Urals State University of Railways in Yekaterinburg. What will happen with the Olympic facilities after the Games? Will they be accessible to ordinary citizens, and will construction continue on transport infrastructure? Will there be a direct connection built between Sochi and the Stavropol Territory, for example? If so, the Alpika Servis [an alpine resort in Sochi's Adler Region] will not be the final stop on the railway, and people will be able to fully enjoy the railways and motorways.

Vladimir Putin: We have some plans on this score. In effect, all facilities have already been assigned post-Olympic functions. We know how they will be used after the Games.

Some of these facilities can be disassembled and then moved to other regions of the Russian Federation, or at least regions with climates similar to Sochi's. That way, people living or going on holiday in these regions will be able to get involved in sports. This is the first point.

Second, and I'm sure you've heard about this: we've recently opened the Olympic University here for training sports specialists. And the facilities that will remain here in the Imereti Valley and in the mountains will be open for national teams, ordinary tourists and alpine skiers. Competitions will be held here, too. For example, if we succeed in getting the FIFA World Cup, we could use the largest, 40,000-spectator stadium to host it.

There is only one project that I honestly never got a definitive answer from my colleagues on: the multi-thousand square metre administrative building for Russian experts and experts from the International Olympic Committee. I am still not entirely sure how this building will be used in the future. Experts say it is not worth converting it into a hotel, because we already have enough hotel beds. Some suggest turning it into an office centre that could accommodate representatives of various companies. This may be possible, and the issue should be studied further. Also, this won't cost the government money; we would work with an investor, although the investor may ask for credit, accordingly, but the investor also assumes possible risks. And so I think our Olympic legacies have a bright future. 

Question: Hello, my name is Anna. I'm a student at Omsk State Transport University. This is the second summer I've worked at the headquarters of student brigades, and I think I understand the problems faced by students from an insider's perspective. Although each brigade has its own specific problems, the most common problem is the distribution of the workload.

As you know, young people fill in and submit application forms, and are truly eager to enroll, but some of them are rejected. And now I think they could tell us about their problems themselves.

Remark: Hello, my name is Yana. I'm from Yekaterinburg. I'm a member of the Sinilga construction brigade, and I'd like to tell you about the trouble with work that our brigade is facing.

Vladimir Putin: The amount of work, you mean?

Answer: Yes, the workload. Couldn't we be given more work? We do finishing work, you know, and we do it pretty well, and we could even show off our skills more, and thereby attract more people to our brigade and show that we can be trusted with more work, because we do it perfectly well.

Vladimir Putin: It's actually a matter of the scope of work. I'll certainly talk with project managers. Are there any here? Well, probably not... But I'll certainly talk with them later today. I repeat, it's rather a matter of the scope of work. This is a purely technical and routine issue.

Remark: Students from different regions come here to work. This year 120 students from [Omsk State] Railway University enrolled in construction brigades in the Sochi area, and some universities have over 200 students employed here. But the number of construction brigades in the regions has fallen, and it is unlikely to bounce back even after construction is finished here, in Sochi.

Vladimir Putin: These problems were partly caused by the crisis. The construction sector was affected greatly by the recession. Construction fell by over 75% during the crisis. Fortunately, it has increased 140% in the first six months of this year, so it's recovering very quickly.

It's clear that major construction projects, like the facilities for the Sochi Olympics or other big international events like the APEC summit in Vladivostok and preparations for the Student Games in Kazan, have boosted the construction sector. But these construction projects will be finished someday, and we'll be able to channel the funds that we would have allotted for these projects to other sectors. We'll continue to support the construction industry to ensure that there's enough work here.

Remark: By the way, as far as the preparations for the APEC summit, there are only three student brigades in the Vladivostok area. Forty students are not enough for such a big project. Could contractors hire more students there?

Vladimir Putin: Sure.

Remark: Because a lot of people want to work there.

Vladimir Putin: I'll be visiting Vladivostok soon to speak with project managers. There are a lot of construction sites there, and a whole modern university campus will be built after the APEC summit. As you know, and I hope that you have heard about this... Well, I can repeat it for those who haven't: The campus that is being constructed to host the APEC summit will be transferred to the Far Eastern University after the summit is over. It'll be something really extraordinary. And not just the architecture and facilities... But, well, that's a separate issue, and we'll keep discussing it.

Question: Vladimir Shatsky, Voronezh State University of Civil Engineering. You pretty much already answered my original question. But here's another question: what concessions do companies that hire students receive?

Vladimir Putin: Do you think they need concessions?

Vladimir Shatsky: Well, so that they know why they're hiring ...

Vladimir Putin: This is not charity on their part. They hire students, and the students do good work. As Yana said, your work is high quality, and you get paid for that. We do provide concessions, but not always, and then the purpose is to provide incentives for companies to hire people with disabilities. That's more understandable. But as Kirill said, you have unlimited opportunities! But let's discuss that.

Vladimir Shatsky: They can hire more highly qualified workers than students.

Vladimir Putin: They hire more qualified workers where they are needed. And whatever the case, they will not put a person without specific skills and training in a position that requires extensive qualifications, even if we give them discounts and concessions. You would never put a person that lacked the necessary qualifications in a job that required specific skills and training, whatever the concessions.

Question: Let's expand this issue to include young professionals with higher education. Employers everywhere want professionals with one and a half, two, and even three years of experience. How is this issue to be resolved? Perhaps there need to be incentives?

Vladimir Putin: Incentives? Could I have that again please?

Remark: Incentives. To encourage them to hire young and inexperienced graduates who, naturally, need training.

Vladimir Putin: Do you know what the problem is with our educational system? The problem, unfortunately, is that there is a disconnect between how professionals are educated and what the labour market actually needs. Our goal, the government's goal is to first of all combine these two components. And here there are several ways to address this problem. One of them is early internships at companies that are interested in recruiting particular specialists. Such a practice is now becoming more widespread. This is the first line of endeavour.

Second, major companies are themselves organising specific courses and teaching departments, providing them with financial support and recruiting professionals in advance. But it would be inappropriate for the government to force companies to do this. They would still not use this method. We can't force anything. We can't force graduates or companies to do anything.

In a market economy, if we say that labour is a commodity, it will find its use only when it is high...

Remark: ...quality.

Vladimir Putin: Quality. Absolutely correct. Please.

Question: Ruslan Krymukov, Pyatigorsk, PGTU [Pyatigorsk State Technical University], Student Construction Brigade No. 10. As we all know, Pyatigorsk recently became the capital of the North Caucasus Federal District, and many major construction projects are being planned there. Could we recruit more students to build facilities specifically in our city?

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Question: In our district and in the Stavropol Territory, there are only two construction brigades. Our PGTU No. 10 brigade and the Maximum construction brigade. Maximum is currently working in Volgograd. We were luckier - we're building Olympic facilities.

It would be good if we could increase the number of construction brigades and recruit construction brigades specifically for Pyatigorsk, because I think construction will take off there in the next few years...

Vladimir Putin: You know, I was in Pyatigorsk recently - it's a very beautiful city. But, clearly, just as is the case across the Mineralnye Vody region, a lot still needs to be done in order to restore the former glory of the area. And create conditions to attract people to the region. From across Russia first, of course, and then from abroad. The region really has sights worth seeing and excellent places for treatment. The waters are wonderful there. There really are things to see there, as well as resorts to restore your health. The waters are wonderful, and there are beautiful retreats in the area. Incidentally, they have gotten better and better. The quality has improved significantly in recent years.

I really would not like to see widespread construction of new administrative buildings in Pyatigorsk in connection with the city becoming the capital of the North Caucasus Federal District. Something of the kind should be done there, of course, but we don't just want an expanded bureaucracy there.

Remark: When I was there, I saw that they are also building health resorts. There's a large lake, known as Novopyatigorskoye, where there are hotels, spa hotels, etc. being built.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, there are indeed a lot of such construction projects out there. But this all depends on how the local government organises everything. I'll keep in mind what you've said, and I'll ask Mr Khloponin, the deputy prime minister and the presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, as well as the regional leaders, to give their support and assistance. Because this is a very good idea.

Question: Mr Putin, I wonder whether it would be possible to arrange for members of student construction brigades to get help in paying for their travel expenses to and from the place where their brigade is located? In some regions tickets are very expensive, and students have to pay out of their own pockets.

Vladimir Putin: You know, of course, that you have to agree on your contract, and this is something that should be included in the terms of your contract. Well, the unions protecting student construction brigades' interests should also get involved here. It would be desirable if this could be included in the relevant contracts. We're willing to support this; it's a good idea. But as you know, we are doing a lot now to restore the labour market. And as part of that work, we are spending a lot of money, including federal money. We spent more than 40 billion roubles last year, and we plan to spend between 27 and 30 billion next year. One of the retraining programmes covers the expenses of travelling to and from the training location.

There is also a programme for training and retraining teachers, one aspect of which also covers travel expenses. My numbers may be a little off, but I think we are allocating somewhere around 320 million roubles for the purpose. The same could be done for student construction brigades. It is important that their unions step in. 

Remark: Sometimes the colleges and universities cover the expenses, other times the employers...  But not all are willing to help.

Vladimir Putin: We cannot force anyone to pay, you know. We just discussed how some projects do not involve a lot of students or student brigades. So if we make employers pay extra to cover travel expenses, they may just say: ‘Well, this makes no economic sense to us. We don't want it.' So we need to be careful here. But overall, I think this is a possibility.


Question: Siberian Railways University, Novosibirsk. Here's my question, Mr Putin: the student construction brigades attract active, energetic young people. Are there any programmes to engage active high school students as well? Could we possibly contribute to such programmes, perhaps by encouraging active young people to join, and establishing a philosophy for the movement, so to speak?

Vladimir Putin: So you want to work with high school students?

Answer: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Knock yourself out! Do you want my blessing?

Answer: It's just that I don't have any idea where such programmes are in place. In Novosibirsk, for instance, a friend and I have developed a project for vocational railway training.

Vladimir Putin:  And there's no one trying to implement this project in your city? It's not properly organised, you mean?

Answer: Well, I don't know at this point.

Vladimir Putin: What about in cooperation with other youth movements? Maybe the Young Guard, the youth wing of the United Russia party, or the Nashi movement? Have you considered working with them?

Answer: Such movements are present in our area. But they don't seem to be involved with the kind of work I'm talking about.

Vladimir Putin: I promise I'll speak with the people who are involved and try to have them take care of that, as your idea is a sensible one. It's pretty cool when there's interest and people willing to contribute. It's a shame, though, that there isn't enough support, and so the initiative cannot gain momentum. I'll send the right signals, OK? You're from Omsk, right?

Answer: No, from Novosibirsk.

Vladimir Putin: Novosibirsk. Great.

Please go ahead.

Andrei Goncharov: Hello, my name is Andrei Goncharov. I'm a student at the Far Eastern Railways University, in Khabarovsk.

Here's my question: when a student brigade arrives at a construction site, the contractor promises them big money. But sometimes they are not satisfied with what they receive when they're done with a job. This happens because when students enrol in the construction brigades, they don't know the amount of work they'll need to do, the operation breakdown and their cost. Contractors are usually reluctant to give students this information.

My question is how to protect students against this practice. Employers prefer to calculate costs in the end. It's always done that way in this country. There's nothing cheaper than a job that's already been done, as people say. So, that's my question. I have some proposals, but I'd like to voice them after I hear your reply, if you don't mind.

Vladimir Putin: I'm not going to say anything new here. To make a long story short, we need to deal with the student bureaucracy here. Here's what I mean: you have your headquarters, and you have a public organisation that oversees the work of the student brigades. These organisations need to watch closely what employers do at each stage of your work, and not just at the end, when it's too late and the employers are telling you "Arrivederci, go get what's due to you in the cashier's office." Student brigades and the local administrations should outline the principles of this work clearly. Also, everybody must abide by the law, including the Labour Code. And I can't see any problems here. We just have to oversee what local administrations do. That's all it takes.

Andrei Goncharov: The thing is that the cost estimates they provide us are nothing more than sheets of paper. Even a factory worker receives a clearly outlined assignment. A student brigade should also receive an official document detailing the job to be done.

Vladimir Putin: Andrei, nothing is impossible. It's a matter of communication between those who coordinate the work of student brigades, the headquarters and a local administration. And this should be done right at the outset: agree as to the terms of the activity and ensure that these terms, which should certainly comply with the labour legislation, are followed.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, Sochi will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and also the Olympics for athletes with hearing disabilities, right? And the awards for winners - the government will give all medallists a cheque and a car, correct?

Vladimir Putin: A car is an additional bonus.

Question: An additional bonus for Olympic athletes, Paralympic athletes and athletes with hearing disabilities?

Vladimir Putin: We're doing everything in our power to ensure that everything is equal.

Question: I'm asking because my brother competed in the Olympics for athletes with hearing disabilities. And he won a medal.

Vladimir Putin: In what sport?

Answer: The hammer throw. He won silver in Beijing.

Vladimir Putin: Well done! Please convey my congratulations to him.

Answer: Will do. The thing is, he received the cheque, but the car... well, the car somehow got lost along the way...

Vladimir Putin: You know, it just slipped my mind... Maybe gold medallists and silver medallists received different awards.

Answer: Gold, silver and bronze medallists all get a car, only the cars are different.

Vladimir Putin: And that car for your brother has somehow gotten lost along the way?

Answer: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: We'll make sure he gets it.

Answer: You will?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Answer: Thank you very much.

Question: Hello, my name is Alexander. I'm from Veliky Novgorod. Here's my question: now we're building the Olympics, which, in principle, is the future of our nation.

Vladimir Putin: We're building facilities...

Question: Okay, Olympic facilities... Could the government somehow help us get to the Olympics?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I emphasised that we're licensing centres that will train...

Remark: ...volunteers.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, volunteers, who will help out during the Olympics. That's the first way to get in. Also, we could think about reserving seats at the Olympic stadiums for the student brigades that worked here. It would be fair.

Question: May I ask one question about the sports venues we're building? Russian athletes failed at the Vancouver Olympics. Don't you think they may also fail at the Sochi Olympics? Or you believe they'll perform better in their home country? Can it be that we are building Olympic facilities for others' triumphs?

Vladimir Putin: How would you like it to be?

Answer: I'd like Russia to triumph there, of course!

Vladimir Putin: I want the same thing as you. And I hope that our Olympic athletes won't let us down, and we'll get some really good results. But sport is sport. These are open completions, and as you know anything can happen in sport: tragic defeats and glorious triumphs. In any case, we must do our best to create the best conditions for training, and then we can expect good results and victories.

You know, I've just toured one of the facilities in Sochi. I just got back from there. I visited a new training complex for our Winter and Summer Olympic teams. There should be more such facilities, of course, and we have an ambitious plan to build more. I'll ask project managers to take you to those facilities, if it's possible. It's very interesting. Everything is done there in accordance with the highest international standards.

More to the point, the specialists working at Sochi construction sites often tour international sports facilities to compare them with what's being built here. They admit that there are few if any facilities of this class in the world. The Sochi Olympic facilities should provide everything athletes need, offering superb accommodations, rehabilitation, recovery, medical support, and training opportunities. These training centres are really of the highest class. A series of programmes have been launched in Moscow and other regions to build training centres for the athletes who will compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, do you have a favourite sport?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Question: Could you name it, please?

Vladimir Putin: It's a big secret, but I'll tell it to you. It's judo. I also like alpine skiing. But I haven't accomplished that much there. I'm just an amateur alpine skier.

Question: Do you have a favourite athlete you root for?

Vladimir Putin: I root for all Russian athletes, especially those competing internationally.

Do you play sports, by the way? A person who has the willpower and can manage their time so that they can play sports and stay healthy deserves respect. And these people tend to succeed. They can arrange their schedule and their lives properly, which is one of the recipes for success. And not only in sports, but in life in general.

Could you please ask questions in turn?

Question: Hello, my name is Fyodor Uvarov. I'm a student at Irkutsk State Railways University, and a member of the Baikal construction brigade.

Vladimir Putin: So many railway guys here...

Remark: Indeed.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, many.

Fyodor Uvarov: Here's my question. Work for student brigades is seasonal, and when assigning jobs, some companies require that the new recruits have some construction skills, such as electrical safety skills, gas and electric welding skills and other specialties, like carpentry or working with concrete. Could we receive additional training during the year, in addition to our regular education? That would mean we wouldn't have to rush to get job certificates in the summer at the last moment. We'd get trained during the year and come here as specialists.

Vladimir Putin: Fyodor has asked a very specific and practical question. I've already mentioned that we have established training and retraining centres in many regions. On the whole, we could tailor them to cater to students who would like to acquire additional skills and learn a new vocation on the side or perhaps even a new career. This can be done. That is the first point. Second, there are plenty of courses now that you can choose yourselves.

Remark: There are plenty of courses but sometimes their cost is...

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Remark: It costs about 12,000 to be trained in gas and electric welding. Not every student can afford this, and we are very grateful to our university and the local government for their help in this area. Ordinary students cannot afford this.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, institutions of higher educational can provide timely assistance. Everyone can take these courses, although they are expensive. But we can adjust the policies of our training and retraining centres intended to improve the labour market. We can provide guidelines.

I will certainly think about this and will issue a relevant directive to the government.

Remark: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: The regions receive federal funds for setting up these centres, and determine the guidelines for their operation and enrolment. Let me say again, in principle we can adjust these training centres' policies so that they accept students who intend to work on the student brigades.

Remark: Specifically on the student brigades.

Vladimir Putin: That's not a bad idea.

Please, go ahead.

Olga Yamayeva: Good evening, my name is Olga Yamayeva and I'm the commissar for the Mercy medical brigade from Yoshkar-Ola.

First of all, I'd like to invite you to visit our city. It's small, but very beautiful. We'll look forward to your visit.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

Olga Yamayeva: I know that in the past year you served as the chairman of the Organising Committee for the official Year of Young People in Russia. A lot was done in this short span of time, even in our republic. A huge Palace of Culture was converted into a centre for youth. Student brigades and volunteers received a lot of attention. The government of our republic has drafted its own Youth Programme, but it cannot be adopted because there is no corresponding federal programme. Could you please issue a directive accelerating the adoption of this targeted programme at the federal level? If it is adopted, then student brigades and young people in general can take part in it.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, Olga, the lack of a federal programme does not mean the governments of regions or republics cannot adopt their own programme. These two issues are not connected, although naturally the regions would appreciate additional federal resources and funds for some of their initiatives. As for the federal programmes, they affect many aspects of young people's lives. Here's an example: recently we have been talking a lot about demographic problems. I'm sure you've heard all this before and know it very well. And how to resolve demographic problems? By supporting women and young families who want to have a first or a second child. Everything that has been done through these programmes is in fact youth policy. This includes the maternity capital, the various allowances. Or, as another example, take the Housing Programme: the part of this programme that affects young people is the subsidies for mortgages. This too, in fact, is designed to help young people. And so, the absence of an overall programme does not mean that we are doing nothing. We are actually doing quite a bit. Can we or should we pack all this into a single federal programme?  Anyhow, we must give this some thought.

Olga Yamayeva: Perhaps passing this bill would unite not only the young people of our republic, but also the young people of all Russia's constituent entities.

Vladimir Putin: I understand. We'll think about it.

Olga Yamayeva: Thank you.

Question: Good evening, my name is Yevgeny Bakirov, from the Rostov State Railways University. I would like to ask a question about the future generation. There some graduate students sitting at this table here today along with the undergraduates: Kirill, Andrey Goncharov and myself. We graduated from university this year. The issue that interests me most of all is whether graduate students will have a material incentive to stay on to teach at universities.

The graduate stipends are about 1,500 roubles [a month], and many graduate students have to make money on the side to feed their families. Most graduate students leave when they earn their PhDs. Will teaching salaries be increased, or could they receive some other benefits in the future?

Vladimir Putin: The issue here is not only improving how much graduate students will get paid, although this is important. The issue is that they have opportunities to continue their research and teaching. Several programmes are intended to address this issue. I have already mentioned one called Scientific and Teaching Personnel. It's a good programme and fills a real need. On the whole this addresses the effectiveness of higher education.

Question: Is this a commodity of some sort?

Vladimir Putin: No. For example, scientific research that has economic benefit. As you know, last year we made a revolutionary decision to allow institutions of higher education to get involved in commercial activities and establish small, innovative enterprises associated with particular institutions of higher education. I am not sure what the exact figure is, but the number of small enterprises that are being set up in association with these federal institutions, these universities, is very large, running into the thousands. I think this is the road to follow.

Ye.Bakirov: Yes, thank you.

Question: This is a global issue, but I'll use Krasnoyarsk as an example. Many big companies and large factories are being shut down, including some where student brigades used to work. Examples include Sibtyazhmash, TsBK and the Medical Preparations Factory. Why are so many companies that I think could be useful for the country shut down? This is happening all over Russia.

Vladimir Putin: All over Russia. I have already said that this is a consequence of the recession. I'll tell you again how this happens in real life. One of the hardest hit industries was the global automotive industry, where demand has fallen and production has slumped. As soon as car production dropped, demand for metals, many of which were produced in Russia, also diminished.

As soon as the metal-processing industry started to decline, there was less need for the amount of coal that our miners produced. Some businesses in this industry used toexport 50%, 60% or even 70% and 80% of their products. As soon as demand for coking coal fell, workloads also decreases. This had a chain effect and hurt our businesses in two ways. Why? Because prices for our traditional goods fell in both domestic and international markets, and so production fell as well. This is a double blow. And so, naturally, in these conditions many companies had to ‘streamline their workforces', as the current phrase goes. Otherwise these companies would have had to close their doors entirely. We are working on several fronts here. I have already mentioned one: supporting the labour market. That means training and retraining, as well as employee relocation to the regions where there is demand for labour.

It also means giving support to entrepreneurs to start their own private businesses, and incidentally this measure has proven to be very effective. Frankly, I was not sure it would work, but it did. Thousands of small businesses were established, which was additional support for the labour market. But most importantly, it supported the economy, allowing it to recover and grow. Official unemployment has dropped by a million in the past year. That is a very good pace for cutting unemployment. The economy is also recovering at a fairly rapid pace, which is the most important factor for the labour market to rebound.

But there is another side to this problem. We should not replicate the inefficient jobs and industries of yesterday; we need to build a modern labour market to create new, high-tech and high-paid jobs. We will move in this direction.

Who else hasn't asked a question?

Question: Good evening, my name is Yevgeny Samsonov, from the North Eastern Federal University in the city of Yakutsk. This is my question: Russian student brigades hold annual jamborees. Last year it was held in Moscow, but unfortunately, you were not there...

Vladimir Putin: I apologise. I was busy with my work.

Yevgeny Samsonov: This year the jamboree will be in Sochi, in November. Could you come?

Vladimir Putin: To Yakutia?

Answer: No, to Sochi.

Vladimir Putin: Sochi in November? Why not come to Sochi? It is sometimes minus 50 degrees in Yakutsk in November. And in Sochi... Thank you very much for the invitation, I'll see if I can make it.

Question: One more question. How have traditions in student construction brigades evolved since your time? When you were on a student brigade, how did you spend your free time?

Vladimir Putin: We worked hard day and night!

Question: You also sat by the campfire singing, didn't you?

Vladimir Putin: Singing by the campfire? Do you know how many mosquitoes there are in the Republic of Komi? They won't let you sit in peace by the campfire. You can't even use insect repellent because you're constantly swinging your axe, sweating, it gets in your eyes and burns. But if you don't use insect repellent the mosquitoes will eat you alive. I don't want to completely disappoint you so I will say that apart from the sauna, which was our main entertainment there, we also tried to organise some other activities, for example singing songs and talking. To be honest, we had very little spare time...

Question: And what about those gatherings held outside the working season? Like the ones we have...

Vladimir Putin: Gatherings? Honestly I wasn't particularly involved in them.

Remark: Like the ones we have, in addition to the Russian national gatherings, like the large-scale festival we had in Yekaterinburg last year to mark the 50th anniversary...

Vladimir Putin: Honestly, I didn't take a very active part in social life.

Remark: I see.

Vladimir Putin: I may regret it now but that's the way it was.

Question: Mr Putin, let me ask you another question about your experience of student construction brigades. Did you fall in love while working in these brigades?

Vladimir Putin: I will tell you personally later. I will make no secret of my romance in the construction brigades but I'd rather tell you about it separately. Of course I fell in love.

Question: I have another question about the availability of tickets for the 2014 Olympics.

Vladimir Putin: Somebody has already asked this question. As I recall, it was Andrei.

Question: You've mentioned special prices. Will there be special reduced prices?

Vladimir Putin: We need all these venues, which are currently under construction, to return the investment and be profitable. However, we will see what we can do. We need to think something up for those who are working to build these venues. It would only be fair.

Question: Mr Putin, this is my question. I am a university tutor, just like Yevgeny and Kirill here, and we are all concerned by the education system reform. Is it necessary? I mean, the Soviet Union's education system did not prevent it from being among the top ten countries in terms of education. So, is this reform really needed? The problem lies elsewhere, in our need to improve the quality of education...

Vladimir Putin: Indeed.

Question: We need to keep young specialists in Russia, we need to prevent what is widely known as the brain drain. The question is do we need this reform?

Vladimir Putin: There were many good and efficient elements of our previous education system. However, we need to proceed from the fact that Russia is an open country, for our specialists as well, who may be in demand in foreign labour markets. This means that our diplomas should be adapted to the international standard, including the European, American and many others. To achieve this, we should be part of the unified European system of education. That is largely why we have joined the Bologna Process to integrate our education system into that of Europe. At the same time you are right that we mustn't lose what has always been our competitive edge. First of all, it is in fundamental sciences and all related areas, including specialist training.

But as you know we have introduced some innovations even in the Unified State Examination system. For example, some leading universities have received the right to conduct additional tests to select their students. So, we need to combine different systems. We should not forget what was good and efficient but we should not tread water either.

Question: I'd like to ask a question. For example, the Caterpillar company has set up a laboratory at our university in Novosibirsk. It is also building a factory in Novosibirsk that will attract our young specialists. Why don't Russian companies produce construction and road maintenance equipment?

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean? They do, and they produce construction equipment as well. We have a tractor holding which works quite efficiently. We also have companies that purchase state-of-the-art and high tech production facilities abroad, for example, in Canada. These facilities are partially relocated to Russia. We have companies like this and they work well. But if we want to keep abreast with technological progress we also need to establish high tech production facilities in Russia. I don't see anything negative here. It is only positive because this means that they will bring state-of-the-art technology, train the personnel correspondingly and raise standards across the industry. Bringing obsolete technologies here would be pointless, as nobody is going to buy them. This is a positive process.

Remark: Fine, then here's another issue: The Caterpillar company successfully provides all necessary information for these students' training. While our factories do not release this information?

Vladimir Putin: This means that Caterpillar works better in this area. However, our goal is not only to create favourable conditions for investment in particular spheres, like with this company. Our goal is to localise production, that is, to ensure that more pieces of machinery and spare parts are produced in Russia. This is what we are seeking to accomplish in the automotive industry and we are concluding agreements with foreign car-makers establishing their production facilities in Russia, that these will not merely be complete knock down facilities, where large ready-made units are brought and simply screwed together. Our agreements stipulate the degree of localisation, that the proportion of parts to be manufactured locally should be as high as 50%, 60% or 70%.

We have recently been negotiating along these lines with an American company. They say that are ready to achieve a localisation of 80% and even having 100% of parts made in Russia after a period of time. So, what is negative about this? It is only positive. And this speaks to the fact that we are moving in the right direction. This is what almost any country strives for, creating the conditions for high tech production on its territory and achieving a high level of localisation. Well, guys, we should probably wrap it up here. Are there any more questions to conclude our conversation?



Question: Mr Prime Minister, is the government going to raise student allowances?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Remark: Because all first-year students start receiving allowances as soon as they're admitted to university, but no additional funds are allotted for these purposes. And the allowance is so small that is hardly enough to cover transport expenses.

Vladimir Putin: I agree. We're thinking about it. I've already said that depending on the overall economic situation in Russia we'll see what we can do about this by the end of the year. It's not just student allowances. We are considering ways to increase a host of other social benefits. And I would very much like this to be something we can do this year. If this is not possible, then we'll certainly raise them next year.

Question: Everyone is concerned about environmental issues. On the one hand, it's good that new facilities are constructed. Some remote regions which are difficult to access didn't have electricity at all. On the other hand, the number of cars has increased here, and the course of the fast flowing mountain river, the Mzymta, was temporarily changed. Will this cause any climatic changes? Will construction work have an impact on the environment?

Vladimir Putin: Olga, you have no doubt seen that we're engaged in an ongoing dialogue with environmental organisations. There's a ministry in the government whose experts inspect each project, and they're very fastidious. We're engaged in constant dialogue with Russian and international environmental organisations that are closely monitoring what is happening here.

We altered some our initial plans in response to their demands. For example we changed the boundaries of some construction sites. And here lies the art of development. There's always a degree of contradiction between progress and the environment. And we all need to find solutions that ensure continued progress minimising the impact on the environment, and even helping to restore the environment where possible.

You've just mentioned some energy facilities. Here, in the Sochi area, there's always been a shortage of energy. Coal has to be used for heating because there's not enough natural gas. But we're building a branch line of a natural gas pipeline along the bottom of the Black Sea to supply gas here. This gas will power a new electric power plant. Incidentally, some students are employed at these construction sites. We will see a reduction in emissions, which is good.

Sochi lacked a proper sewage system and everything used to be dumped in the sea. There will be such an up-to-date system here soon, and this also benefits the environment.

You've also mentioned the increased number of cars. But we're building a bypass road. And will build an additional road.

Do you know that in the 1950s several species of animals were hunted to extinction here? The Caucasian leopard, for example. They were entirely exterminated. We are now doing our best to restore their population. Our efforts should relieve the nature from the burden on the environment, create the conditions for its recovery wherever possible and ensure that no further harm is done to it in the future. Natural sites should remain intact.

Also, there was no proper water supply system here, but there will be. We can be proud of what we're constructing. We do everything in our power to meet environmental standards.

Thank you very much.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, could we have a group photo with you please?

Vladimir Putin: Sure.

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