Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talks to reporters following his televised Q&A session


Talking with journalists Prime Minister Vladimir Putin summarised his recent question and answer session, Conversation with Vladimir Putin: Continued, and clarified his stance on particularly acute issues such as extremist sentiment in society, support for small businesses, and transport and infrastructure development. Mr Putin said that this televised Q&A format provides the government with an annual picture of public opinion and helps identify people’s most important concerns.

Transcript of the meeting with the media:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, please, if you have any more questions, fire away.

Question: If you can, Mr Putin, I would like to ask you again to comment on the recent events at Moscow’s Manezh Square and near Kievsky Station. These events have made it clear that Russia’s youth policy is lacking. Nevertheless, there is an agency in Russia that is supposed to draft that policy. Don’t you think it may be time for certain changes in personnel or other important steps to improve the performance of that agency and its management?

Vladimir Putin: Are you serious? What’s this got to do with the agency? Don’t you see that it is a systematic problem, something no agency can deal with on its own? What does this have to do with youth policy? Youth policy certainly is an important component of the government’s and society’s effort to bring up and educate the young and to improve inter-ethnic relations. But it is a huge task that the government and society need to do work on at every level – federal, regional and local. Youth policy is only one part of this great effort.

I have said a lot on this issue already. We need to teach people how to love their multinational homeland, to help them understand that it also gives Russia, and consequently each of us, a big advantage. No government agency is capable of achieving this alone. Let me repeat, this is a shared goal of the government and the organisations of civil society.

We need to approach it together, the media included: their policy also plays a role here.

I have already said this, but I will say it again: no one should be judged simply based on their ethnic background.  We need to work with schools, with television and the media, as well as with families to foster a culture of inter-ethnic communication. I would like to repeat what I have said during my question and answer session: all Russian citizens must enjoy equal rights in every part of the country, but we should also show respect for the culture and traditions of the regions we move to for temporary or permanent residence.

There are similar policies in other countries. We must realise that it is the only way. Law enforcement agencies must respond appropriately – rapidly and effectively and take on responsibility. Society must support law enforcement officers in their efforts to enforce order, while helping them stay within the limits of law.

Question: Mr Putin, people seem to seek your help in any difficult life situation, whenever they are desperate to get a response from their regional officials. Today’s Q&A has confirmed that, and so does every trip you take. My first question:  How can we make regional officials effective?  My other question is related to the first. You come from an ordinary family. You have known what ordinary life is like in this country since childhood. And, as a leader, you travel a lot and talk to people – something the new generation of state officials don’t understand or do. Many state officials send their children to school in Britain or the United States. These children are growing up in a different world. How can they be taught to understand Russia? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Life will teach them. Anyone who decides to pursue a political career in his or her own country must know and understand that country. I am confident that as our civil society grows up, people will pay more and more attention to the content of political programmes and plans to improve and develop their municipal community, their region or the whole country. They will judge officials by their actions rather than their words.

About sending children to foreign schools – well, my children go to school in Russia, despite the challenges they face because of increased security. However, every Russian is free to go abroad to study or work or live. Any person in the present-day world is free to go anywhere, and no government can restrict their travel or dictate their choice of residence or work.

The government must create the best conditions for every person to reach their full potential. If we make Russia a more attractive country to live, study and work in, we will see more qualified professionals coming to work here. I must say that we have made some achievements already, although not on a large scale.

We have recently been working on a federal targeted programme to develop the pharmaceutical industry – I believe you or your colleagues followed that discussion. There was one young man who has worked several years in Germany and has a large income there. Well, he is back now, and he is happy to work for a Russian company. He is happy with his professional achievements and with his standards of living. There are more of them now in different industries. So, I mean that there is no danger in having people live and study abroad. It would be a problem if we failed to create favourable conditions for them here. But we must do this, we absolutely must.

Question: Mr Putin, at least one million of the two million messages you received today are focused on very serious problems. How about setting up a special commission to study these problems and respond?

Vladimir Putin: I don’t understand. Are you saying there are only two million Russians who have problems? With a population of over 140 million – I would think there are more…

Remark: I mean specific complaints. They can’t be ignored.

Vladimir Putin: Oh you mean those who asked me questions?

Remark: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Certainly. But we do so every year. We summarise  their complaints. This format is convenient because it provides us with a picture of public opinion and helps the government identify people’s most important concerns over a certain period. We will certainly analyse and compile all the complaints. In case we dig out some really severe problems, I can assure you that I will try and respond, even on an individual basis.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, would you mind telling us which question was the most difficult or uncomfortable to answer? And also, what are you doing on New Year’s Day? Nobody has asked this question yet, but I think it’s pretty interesting. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: There were no questions that were difficult or uncomfortable for me to answer.. You know, all the questions… I deal with them every day. Every single day I tackle these problems. Even though some of them are outside the federal government’s domain, they need to be addressed, and so we take them up. So I had no difficulty answering any of the questions.

As for vexed questions, yes, there were a few such questions. These are transport issues, in particular commuter transport, and also taxes on small businesses. This is a very sensitive issue. And I can understand why people ask it.

We will do our best to mitigate the negative impact of decisions that affect small businesses engaged in trade. About 41% of small businesses are engaged in trade, 7% in real estate services and 8% in securities trading. The tax burden in these sectors will increase from 14% to 34%, which is a huge increase. I understand that. We will need to find solutions to minimise the losses that these companies will incur. As I said, we could try to ease the administrative burden on these companies, which will translate into a 6% tax reduction.

We can also think about other support measures for small and medium-sized businesses that operate in other sectors, where the situation has been more or less normal.

So these are the most sensitive issues, I think. The most difficult thing about them is that there is no quick solution.

We expect the situation in transport to change for the better over a couple of years. We must create the conditions that will attract investments that can be used to upgrade trains. I have already said that several eight-car trains can be replaced with trains consisting of two or three cars. It is also necessary to increase bus traffic and build new roads. This will require investment and time, but this problem can be resolved within a few years. Regarding small and medium-sized businesses, we really need to suggest additional support mechanisms for them.

Question: Despite the government’s statements about the need to reduce spending, we are seeing more spending, not less. The government increased spending on the army and on the World Cup. How will this affect us? Which taxes can be raised next time, or will the budget deficit persist for years? And one more question, if you don’t mind: Don’t you think that you exert pressure on judges with your remarks about Mikhail Khodorkovsky?

Vladimir Putin: Regarding spending, we are reducing it. As you know, we overhaul budget items from time to time. Yes, we have increased spending on several items a little, but at the same time we have cut spending a great deal overall. Also, you have mentioned the budget deficit. I spoke about it today. At the beginning of the year we expected the budget deficit to reach 6.8% or 6.9% of GDP. But today we know that it will be 3.5%, maybe 3.8%. The Ministry of Finance says it will be 3.8%, and the Ministry of Economic Development says it will stand at 3.5%. I think it could fall anywhere between those, but it won’t reach 4%. There is a small town in Europe, Maastricht. I’m sure you know about the Maastricht Guidelines, which call for EU members keep their budget deficits below 3%. We are nearing this rate.

Now that we are capable of maintaining positive macroeconomic trends, why should we cut off the development of public services and manufacturing industries? Why reduce spending that can foster growth? Why would we do this?

Some say it is necessary to sequester the budget and reduce spending to a minimum. It is one of the options. But we choose another option: We will act very carefully, and will try to make steer a course between Scylla and Charybdis.

Regarding pressure on judges, well, you asked the question, so I need to answer it. I don’t really think this is pressure. I was referring to the verdict of the court, the verdict of guilty on previous charges. The court had already made its decision. How could I have influenced it? As for the current trial, the court will be unbiased, I’m sure. As you know, the sums in question are much bigger than last time. In the first case it was about 25 or 30 billion worth of unpaid personal taxes, while now it is 800 or 900 billion. This is what will be put on trial.

Remark: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You can ask one more question.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, my colleagues have brought up similar questions today… Do you believe you can continue to manage Russia manually? There is a lot of talk about this. You’re just one man, and ours is such a big country, with thousands of Siberian villages…

Vladimir Putin: I’ve heard this hypothesis many times. It’s a fair question, of course. I’m familiar with the argument that it’s impossible to manage a country like Russia manually. I can tell you for sure that it is indeed impossible to manage any country manually, even small Luxemburg or any other independent country, even a region. A system is needed. But when the system breaks down, you cannot just sit back and do nothing. You have to get involved. You should not be afraid to take responsibility. Thank you.

Question: Did anybody ask about 2012?

Vladimir Putin: Sure. But 2012 is far off from now. Thank you very much.

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