3 february 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits the Channel One headquarters at Ostankino TV centre in Moscow

During his visit to the Channel One headquarters late yesterday, the prime minister learned how the information programmes desk works and toured the news studio and the production control room. Vladimir Putin also attended the shooting of the TV talent show A Minute of Fame.


Vladimir Putin: Good Morning!

Konstantin Ernst: Have some, Mr Putin! I don't think you had time to have dinner.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you! Do you always work nights?

Konstantin Ernst: Usually, yes. The information programmes desk works 24 hours a day.

Arina Sharapova: We always watch TV from morning till night – from the "Dobroye Utro" (Good Morning) programme to everything that is broadcast at night.

Konstantin Ernst: Most of those here will promote their specific programme formats...

Arina Sharapova: Did you say "Dobroye Utro"? I meant to say "This is Only for Me". May I ask a question?

Vladimir Putin: You may. But in fact, I really came down here to wish Mr Ernst a happy birthday since it is coming up.

Konstantin Ernst: Thank you!

Arina Sharapova: I want to ask you a question as the host of "Dobroye Utro." After all, we entertain people first thing in the morning and energise them with optimism and vigour. Tell us, please, you have an extremely demanding schedule, we know; how do you manage, given such a schedule, to survive, if I may be so bold? How do you recuperate? How much do you sleep?

Vladimir Putin: Six hours.

Arina Sharapova: Is six hours enough for you?

Konstantin Ernst: May I interject here? One of my acquaintances said that he left Mr Putin's office yesterday at 2:40 a.m.

Vladimir Putin: We held a meeting on a very important issue, a very serious one of great social significance – salary and military pension. The meeting was over at 1:30 a.m. And then there were still a number of people who couldn't leave without asking a couple of questions, and so we finished just past 2 a.m.

Arina Sharapova: Do you have a cup of coffee in the morning?

Vladimir Putin: I don't drink coffee.

Arina Sharapova: Tea?

Vladimir Putin: I drink it, but very rarely.

Question: Are there times when you just want to rest?

Vladimir Putin: There are.

Question: Do you manage to?

Vladimir Putin: I manage to, of course. It is not a "crazy" schedule, as you said, such a schedule is...

Remark: Extremely demanding!

Vladimir Putin: But sure, it is arduous, of course. But since I like what I do, as do you...

Remark: Yes, it's true.

Vladimir Putin: Basically, when a person is happy doing his job, it's a source of enjoyment.

Remark: Well, judging by how you look, this is true...

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Likewise.

Kirill Kleimyonov: In the news, Mr Putin, the topic besides Egypt that has certainly dominated the last two weeks is the terrorist attack at Domodedovo. And, by all appearances, the investigation has determined that the most likely scenario can be traced to Dagestan.

Vladimir Putin: Has the investigation said that the trail leads to Dagestan?

Kirill Kleimyonov: Well, at least the main suspects were named.

Vladimir Putin: Who named them?

Kirill Kleimyonov: Well, I agree that... At least, there were no denials.

Vladimir Putin: I think that for the official news to be able to talk about a trail, it needs to get credible information from the investigation and not rely on rumours.

Kirill Kleimyonov: Then, are you able to tell us anything about this trail?

Vladimir Putin: No, or rather, I could say something, but for now, I will not. The investigation is underway; people are working, working effectively, it must be said, in this sense.

Kirill Kleimyonov: Are there clues?

Vladimir Putin: No clues. Consider the entire case solved.

Kirill Kleimyonov: But in this context, there is a lot of talk about needing to adopt the practices of our peers – the American experience and the Israeli experience. Do you think this is really serious for us? Ben Gurion International Airport, for example, cannot be compared to any of Moscow’s airports in size. Ben Gurion serves many fewer flights and it is much easier to provide security there. There are dozens of airports like this in Russia.

Vladimir Putin: In fact, you have just answered your own question. You said Ben Gurion International Airport is considerably smaller in size than any Moscow airport. But, I think you made a wrong conclusion: a smaller airport takes less effort to protect than a bigger one.

Kirill Kleimyonov: This is exactly what I mean.

Vladimir Putin: Then excuse me if I misunderstood your question. We do indeed have many more airports in Russia and each of them is bigger and demands a greater security effort. But if your question was whether we can and should adopt their experience, then sure, we can and we should.

Kirill Kleimyonov: What specifically should we adopt?

Vladimir Putin: Everything they are more efficient in. And we should give them due credit as they have more efficient results. Is it possible to make similar efforts in Russia? Probably not in everything, but much can be done. Are we exchanging experience in this field? Certainly we are. We have established unprecedented contact and interaction with many special services, and I have to say that a common terrorist threat unites specialists. This work has brought results, and it is mutual.  

Certainly, there is much for law enforcement agencies to do and much work on the inside, on conditions that pose a threat to us. By ‘us’ I mean all Russian citizens first and foremost. And certainly, we should improve security at public places and infrastructure facilities, without consideration for time or money. In this case, we should adopt the experience of our foreign colleagues in many countries. Do we have different circumstances? I think we do. In Russia, the threat comes from within the country, while in other countries there is an external threat. Of course, this is a rather rough definition as we all have internal and external threats. Yet, overall the major threat in Russia comes from within while their threats are external. For instance, Israel is building a separation barrier, as you know. I will not give any political assessment as to whether it’s good or bad. I think it’s not efficient or civilized, but that’s not the point. In any case, the threat comes mostly from outside, as well as in the United States which is surrounded by Mexico in the south and Canada in the north, and two oceans in the east and west. Whereas we live in the centre of the Muslim world which is going through a highly difficult stage in its development, with Muslims affected by all these problems. This certainly has an impact on us while we have enough of our own problems. For us, this threat appears more relevant and challenging. Yet it also means we should act promptly.

Finally, I think there are certain character traits typical of Russians. We lose awareness too fast. People outside Russia are very much aware of and responsive to any threat, while so far it is different in our country. Today, people are leaving Egypt amid the current civil unrest while Russian tourists are still flying there on holiday.

Remark: With children and pregnant women…

Vladimir Putin: Even though looters are everywhere and there is stealing even in hotels. But Russians keep going there. The same is happening inside the country. We all – along with the mass media, special services, law enforcement agencies and public organizations – have to change our attitude to these issues.

I will say again that we have numerous problems in the country: we have to combat unemployment in the Caucasus as well as handle many other issues. But I have to say that the terrorism issue is equally acute for the well-to-do European countries as well, and it is obvious for all. It means that there is more to it than just the internal problems typical of Russia. It means that the world is going through a certain phase in its evolution and must endure all these hardships.

By the way, throughout its modern history mankind has seen outbreaks of terrorism but they eventually subside. This clearly indicates that this is a phase that the world is going through. I could go on, but there are objective things which require prompt action from all of us.

Alexei Pimanov: Can I ask another question? Following this terrorism act, there were numerous calls from those who had watched The Man and The Law TV programme, and the site nearly went down. They all asked the same question which has yet to be answered: why hasn’t anyone claimed responsibility for the attack? The next question is why is this done at all? Everyone asks this question and cannot understand.

Vladimir Putin: You know, this question cannot always be answered. It’s a good question: why is this done and who claims responsibility for it?

They do not claim responsibility, and often don’t even understand why they are doing it. It’s senseless cruelty, absolutely meaningless. Often, they don’t know what they want and cannot articulate their demands. It’s a kind of anarchic terrorism against everything, against the state, against the authorities, against the country.

Alexei Pimanov: In other words, they don’t have a single centre?

Vladimir Putin:  Why? There are international terrorist centres; they exist and they finance these activities. But those who carry out the orders often do not understand what they are doing. And then sometimes they are in such a state that they are not in control of their actions.

Alexei Pimanov: That is clear. But the people who send them to commit those acts of terror, finance them and set this horrible mechanism in motion, why do they do it? Obviously, they want to create panic…

Vladimir Putin: They are trying to rock the boat, to destabilise the situation in the country, cause panic and sow mistrust in the authorities. Riding the crest of this wave, they try to get somewhere, to get to people’s hearts, destabilise the situation even more and make people believe that they are right. That is all there is to it. Let’s recall what happened in Chechnya in the mid-1990s. It was not until the local clergy realised that they were being separated from their own people that they took up arms and started fighting against Wahhabism, I mean Wahhabism in the negative sense, because there are different kinds of Wahhabism.

Maxim Shevchenko: To continue with this subject, since we talked about this important matter. During last week’s programme, “Judge for Yourself,” where we discussed measures to counter terrorism, we had live from Grozny the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. When he was asked how this evil could be overcome, he spoke of the need to engage young people in the Caucasus (not only ethnic Caucasian youths, as I understand it, but young people living in the North Caucasus in general) in more ambitious social projects connected with new types of activity, new types of work because unemployment, he said, is one of the main factors allowing young people in the North Caucasus to be drawn into terrorist activities.

Vladimir Putin: It’s a breeding ground for that.

Maxim Shevchenko: What can be done about this? Please, dwell on this issue,  because I am aware that a concept for the region’s socio-economic development has been adopted, it was recently presented by Alexander Khloponin.

Do you think it is possible to involve young people of the North Caucasus in something useful and distract them from these philosophical and religious debates that lead nowhere?

Vladimir Putin: You know, all events of this kind, events in the broad sense, activities of this kind (social, political and economic) have a long cycle. Just recently we were saying that Grozny looked like Stalingrad after the battle of Stalingrad. This is no longer the case. It took five to seven years to restore the city. You know that the birth rate in these republics is high. Traditionally, industry has been underdeveloped there. Chechnya had an oil and gas industry during Soviet times, but otherwise there was no industry to speak of. The oil and gas complex has been restored, but that is not enough.

Security needs to be ensured in order to develop industrial forces and create new jobs. Government investment alone cannot solve the problem. In general, there is a sense that government investment is not always effective enough. Private investment must be brought in. But show me a private investor who will go there. I had a hard time persuading Rosneft to go there. True, they have got off to a good start, one must give them credit for this. They are doing some good work and making a profit. Other businesses are also moving in. They are going into Chechnya because the situation there is calm. Calmer, perhaps, than in other North Caucasus republics.

But one problem leads to another. It takes time. You are right that we have adopted a programme for the development of southern Russia (which includes the North Caucasus), and now we are launching a special programme for the development of the North Caucasus. There is a plan to create 450,000 new jobs in the coming years. Of course, the absence of these jobs and chronic unemployment contribute to terrorism. It is not the cause of terrorism, but it does thrive in this kind of environment, with young people hanging around with nothing to do. By the way, they surface in large cities in Russia and cause resentment among the local population. Why? Many of them are uneducated, coming straight from small villages. They are misfits even at home, and when they find themselves in this new environment they cannot find a place for themselves, and the local people, naturally, do not welcome them. Dealing with this issue takes time and, of course, money. We will allocate money for this, indeed, we already are.

Voice: Could we look at Chechnya from a different perspective, a perspective that is hardly shown on television at all. Recently, Gayevsky, the governor of the Stavropol Territory, was explaining at a meeting chaired by Dmitry Medvedev that he had organised a special unit of the regional police to watch over security forces from Chechnya and Ingushetia who spend their holidays there…

Vladimir Putin: What did he do?

Voice: He set up a special unit at the Internal Affairs Department to watch over security and military forces from Chechnya and Ingushetia coming to his region for their holidays, because some terrible things are happening.

I know that many of those present (several people for sure) have been caught in such situations in Moscow. For example, they are spending a quiet evening at a restaurant and then the security guards approach them and ask them, politely, to move their cars because a colourful show, probably with some shooting, is about to begin. I’ve observed this kind of situation twice: on one occasion on Kutuzovsky Prospect about 20 men came out and fired dozens of rounds. Clearly, they were not just hoodlums, they belonged to some security or military services and carried arms legally, otherwise they would not have been so calm… And then they drove away burning rubber… No one seemed to object. The police were around, but they did not react… Can something be done about this so that people behave properly in a normal human environment?

Vladimir Putin: Any military officer, wherever he serves – in the North Caucasus or in other Russian regions – must obey certain rules. If he does not follow these rules he has no place in law enforcement or security agencies. Of course,  this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated. If this is not done, it’s a shame – it means we should look where these things happened, who was on duty and why they failed to react.

Voice: This is their idea of resting.

Vladimir Putin:  No one is against letting them rest. People who serve in special conditions and risk their lives have a right to rest. But they should not disturb other people while they are relaxing. Come to think of it, they are serving the very citizens whom they are disturbing and putting in a state of shock with their behaviour. If they do not understand this, then they have no place in law enforcement agencies.

Question: In general, how do you feel about the fact that people have the right to keep firearms at home?

Vladimir Putin: Negatively, I am categorically against it. Moreover, I think we should tighten the rules for the sale of non-lethal weapons.

Question: But that would make Russia an exception compared with the West.

Vladimir Putin: Why? Is it allowed in all the other countries?

Voice: In some countries, yes…

Vladimir Putin: It is allowed in some countries, for example in the United States. We know the tragic incident: a congresswoman was advocating the free possession of guns and herself became a victim. One has to understand that this has a lot to do with tradition, and we do not have such a tradition. I am sure that the free circulation of firearms would cause great harm and pose a great threat for us. Anyway, today it can be controlled somehow and there are grounds for controlling it. Once it is allowed, there will be no grounds for prosecuting. This is not suitable for us, as people have too many weapons as it is.

Question: Will the campaign against firearms be stepped up?

Vladimir Putin: I think so. In general, I hope we can improve the state of law enforcement in the country. It is not by chance that Dmitry Medvedev has initiated a reform of the Interior Ministry, and this is part of the reason. This is not about changing the name; this is being done to improve the overall situation with law enforcement.

Question: I have another question in connection with all that. In Moscow, we often witness an interesting situation: a young man, or a pretty woman, is driving in a sleek Bentley or Ferrari followed by a patrol car with its flasher on. The car stops, the men in uniform wielding automatic rifles leap out. The rates for such services are well known, upward of $5,000 a month.

Vlaidmir Putin: I think this is wrong.

Voice: They just buy police services.

Vladimir Putin: Especially armed guards. I think this is wrong, and should be changed. There are private security firms, and people are free to use their services. The Interior Ministry has more personnel than the Defence Ministry. Does that make sense? We discussed this issue until 1:30 a.m. yesterday, and Dmitry Medvedev discussed it today to draw the line on the issue of raising servicemen’s salaries. We must increase military salaries and then the salaries for all law enforcement agencies and similar structures.  

Question: Is this the way they appear to be increasing their allowances?

Vladimir Putin: You know I would not draw general conclusions from this and say “all the police are like this.” This is a wrong and mistaken view. And I consider it harmful and counter-productive to smear the Interior Ministry from morning till night. But when we see problems, we need to address them.

Remark: It is not just a matter of money, it seems to me. As people see these submachine gunners jump out in our peaceful and civil town, it creates a negative image of the police.

Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with you.

Yelena Malysheva: Could I ask you, Mr Putin, about your daughters?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, if you please.

Yelena Malysheva: You see, my father has been my best friend all my life. How are your daughters? How do you communicate with them? Are you friends?

Vladimir Putin: We are friends.

Yelena Malysheva: Do they understand you? Do you understand them, or not always? How do they fare? What are they professionally? Are they happy or not?

Vladimir Putin: I just now had a chat with one of them – heart to heart, you know. It was a very good and frank conversation about what’s happening. Before leaving, I had just finished my work, dropped in to change, then drove to you. While I was changing, we talked a bit. They are all right. They are now studying, one biology, and one, Japanese language and history.

Yelena Malysheva: Are they in love with someone, or not?

Vladimir Putin: It seems to me they are quite in order in this respect. They have friends.

Remark: And details?

Yelena Malysheva: Well, actually this is the main thing in life …  

Vladimir Putin: You know, I don’t think they should have a high public profile. Thank God, they haven’t pursued politics, business, or other affairs. They live an ordinary, common life – I repeat, common. And I am glad about that. They are smart and well-educated girls, very restrained, but with a sense of dignity. They are making good progress in many areas, which pleases me. Suffice it to say that they are fluent in four languages.

Yelena Malysheva: Well done. But their mother and father also speak other languages.

Vladimir Putin: German, French and English. One is trying to learn Japanese and Chinese. In another language yet… They read a book in German, then one in English, then one in French …

Remark: I saw them making several moves on a freestyle snowboard.

Vladimir Putin: You don’t say.

Remark: It makes an impression.

Vladimir Putin: They have taken snowboard and ski classes.

Remark: It is very risky.

Remark: As the doctor says.

Remark: But they do it very professionally.

Vladimir Putin: They enjoy studying, so, thank God, all’s well.

Yelena Malysheva: Are there moments when you are absolutely happy? How can you achieve absolute happiness?  

Vladimir Putin: This can happen only in Goethe’s Faust.

Konstantin Ernst: Mr Putin, we would now like to show you a promotional video about the channel.

Watch a video clip about the Channel One

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. You have a huge and diversified factory here.

Konstantin Ernst: This is true.

Vladimir Putin: It is so in fact. It is very diverse. How many people work here?

Konstantin Ernst: We employ a little over 2,000 people.

Vladimir Putin: Wow! Right, I was saying that you had a factory.

Konstantin Ernst: In fact, our staff is much smaller than other similar establishments.

Vladimir Putin: You shouldn’t have said this. Now your employees will demand a pay rise.

Konstantin Ernst: We are a joint-stock company and we do our best to work efficiently.

Remark: I would like to ask a question about the party…

Vladimir Putin: Which one?

Remark: Let me be specific. I host a programme about film, not about politics. But you already discussed film yesterday. I saw a news report about it – I’m impressed.

Vladimir Putin: Is there anything you disagree with?

Remark: There are two things I disagree with. First, I believe we should take a closer look at France’s experience of protectionism following which we could set up an institution to protect the Russian cinema because currently the cinema industry in Russia lacks the production element. There are several groups of producers who more or less successfully produce films. But we do not have a cinema industry system that would oversee the entire process of film production, from the very beginning until the very end. It should oversee not only popular films but also what are called art films and the auteur cinema as a whole.

Vladimir Putin: This is the first thing. What is the second?

Remark: Yes. I believe that if an imputed tax on foreign production were introduced, a portion of the collected money could be set aside for establishing this industry system. This industry also implies a different education system and the creation of new expert groups. Currently we don’t have a single company which can carry out a cinema project from the beginning to the end.

Vladimir Putin: We can do this. Cinema production functions along the same rules and principles as in other areas. It is very important to find the golden mean because if we impose excessive charges we will deprive our audience of the chance to watch the best works of cinema art from the West. This can be done in any area, be it the production of stockings, socks, underwear or ties. If we do this we will have only domestically made goods, we will wear galoshes rather than fine shoes and boots. This is why we need to find the golden mean. Domestic producers need to feel their competitors nipping at their heels but still have an opportunity to grow and develop. The system of distributing government support funds that had existed until the last few years – I recalled this yesterday – led to a situation where money was lavished on the industry but with no practical results.

Remark: Money was being given out way too abundantly.

Vladimir Putin: The production of many films began but was not finished. Moreover, when audits began, those responsible would start shooting something drastic to avoid criminal prosecution. Do you know how they were doing this? They used to shoot films on their mobile phone cameras. This is why it was clear that the then-existing system needed to be changed. I cannot say that we now have set up the best possible system. Probably, it needs improvement so let’s team up to do this.

Remark: In terms of the film industry, the system is perfect because direct competition fosters the production of new, interesting and diverse cinema.

Remark: I beg your pardon but there is no competition at all. Having shown a film in tens of thousands of movie theatres abroad, an American film distributor comes to Russia, spends lots of money on advertising and simply dominates the entire market.

Vladimir Putin: In fact, the United States pursues strong protectionism policies too. You simply cannot get through them. At least, it is very difficult because all the films must be in English, subtitles are not allowed. There are many technical tricks which are in fact nothing but protectionism. This is why we need to start tightening the screw gently, providing our audience with the opportunity to watch foreign productions.

Remark: I’m glad we touched upon cinema. But I would like to ask a different question, if you please.

Vladimir Putin: Please do.

Question: Here is the question. We will have elections according to the new law next year – we will be electing our parliament for five years…

Vladimir Putin: Why? We are having these elections this year…

Remark: I’m sorry, that’s true. I’m still back in December. I get the feeling – from personal conversations, from what I read on the Internet and what I see in the media – that some of our people perceive United Russia as a vigorous but ossified force just as the Communist Party was seen in Soviet times. I’m asking you as the party leader, not as the prime minister. Do you know how to change this perception? Do you intend to change it?

Vladimir Putin: Let me first point out how you posed your question. You said “some of our people” but you did not specify how big this portion was. This is the first thing.

The second thing is that there are always people who have an independent and critical opinion and it’s good that there are people like this.

Third, I believe that criticism targeted at the ruling party is always justified because when you are in power you cannot avoid abuse, misguided actions or mistakes. This is the destiny of any ruling party, of all authorities. To err is human. The opposition never does anything but criticise the authorities – this is the opposition’s blessing. Meanwhile, the authorities have to produce something positive in the economy, the social sphere, defence and security. And the government always makes mistakes and is far from perfect just like our lives in general. So there is always room for criticism.

In addition to that, as I have often said, certain individuals always try to jump on the bandwagon of a ruling party. This is a fact of life. These things happen everywhere. The fact that this criticism is being voiced, that we – I and President Dmitry Medvedev – hear this criticism and that you certainly see our reaction to it evidences that the people who are of this opinion shows that those who have these views can articulate them freely and state them anywhere – on the internet, on Channel One, or in any other media. And we are aware of these views, which is already good. We try to respond, but I have to agree with you that there are still many problems. However, I’d like to note that there are more pluses than minuses in having a major political force that unites people and stabilises society. I am not going to go deep into this issue now – I would just like to say a few words about the very acute economic crisis we’ve been going through.

I don’t know if Russia has faced anything similar before… This crisis is really very acute; it’s even more severe than the crisis of 1998 – that one was less tough. If you have noticed, we have incurred the smallest possible losses in the present crisis. That is notwithstanding the fact that the situation was exacerbated by the drought, which was even more severe than the drought of the 1920s, which resulted in mass famine and claimed the lives of millions of people.

Admittedly, food prices have risen recently, but are we facing anything like the famine of the 1920s? No, thank God. I don’t want to exaggerate anything, but this is largely due to United Russia, a stabilising force that responds quickly and makes proper decisions in critical situations. During the most difficult phase of the crisis, in 2009, and even in the first half of 2010, we intensified interaction with parliament greatly. They reviewed and passed the bills we proposed in virtually no time at all.

If they had operated more slowly, unemployment figures would be different today. We would have never put into effect our plan to combat unemployment but for parliament’s support. It’s just one of many examples.

We wouldn’t have taken measures to back the banking sector either. Everybody’s been criticising us – maybe today less than before – for bailing out banks. But unless we had done so, the banking sector would have collapsed. Thanks to our efforts, no single bank has crashed. Yes, we did buy several banks for small, nominal sums, but they did not go bankrupt; instead they were restructured, which allowed people to save their deposits.

We also supported manufacturing industries. Perhaps we could have done it in a more effective manner, but without our measures, Russia would have no car industry at all today. This industry has not only survived but also has an excellent opportunity to develop. More to the point, all major international car manufacturers operate in Russia, although recently some claimed we would never be able to produce anything. Despite everything, we are producing vehicles and will improve their quality. We have every chance for achieving that goal.

We have introduced new rules, which I already mentioned today and would like to reiterate. These rules took effect on February 1, if I’m not mistaken. According to these rules, in order to operate in this market, a company must manufacture at least 300,000 cars or 200,000 engines annually, while the share of domestic production should reach 60%. The cars manufactured under the new rules will be considered Russian. That’s our ultimate goal, and, to all appearances, we are moving in the right direction. Certainly, I can’t say that United Russia developed these measures from A to Z, but it would be impossible to have completed them without its support. We would be unable to operate effectively without it.

Vladimir Pozner: May I ask a question?

Vladimir Putin: Sure.

Vladimir Pozner: Mr Ernst, sorry but I have two questions and a request. It is very difficult to interview high-ranking government officials, for example the Internal Affairs Minister and the Defence Minister, whose opinion TV viewers would like to hear most. Everyone is concerned about the state of the army and law-enforcement agencies. I personally invited them many times, but to no avail. Maybe I’m a bad…

Vladimir Putin: You’re addressing the wrong person. The Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the security agencies are President Medvedev’s domain.

Vladimir Pozner: I understand. But then there is the agriculture minister… I thought that if you supported…

Vladimir Putin: But Mr Fursenko participated in your programme.

Vladimir Pozner: Yes, he did. Some do come to my programme. But if you think it would be useful to see these people in such programmes, maybe you could say it right now? It would help a great deal. That was my first question.

Second, what’s your attitude towards showing opposition activists on Channel One? When you say that we can see them on this channel, I think you are not quite right. We can see them very rarely on federal channels. But I believe it would be useful to invite them to participate in TV programmes. I’d like to hear your opinion.

Vladimir Putin: I believe that officials not only should but must appear on federal channels to explain what is happening in the government, so that people can know firsthand about this or that initiative and plan accordingly in their own lives. It is very important for government bodies and the state in general.

Vladimir Pozner: And what about my second question?

Vladimir Putin: The second question is positive. Unfortunately, I cannot keep an eye on everything, but from time to time, I see opposition leaders on TV, including on your channel, I think. They speak openly and criticise the government quite severely.

Vladimir Pozner: So you do not take it negatively? You believe it is possible?

Vladimir Putin: Absolutely. Some radio stations do nothing but [host the opposition].

Vladimir Pozner: Radio, yes. Ekho Moskvy…

Vladimir Putin: I’ll go even further… I know what goes on in reality. And when I listen to what they say and understand they’re telling lies, I don’t get mad about it. After all, if someone wants to hear lies, there has to be someone to tell them. Let them do it.

Remark: Maybe invite them on the “Lie Detector” show?

Vladimir Putin: That’s an interesting idea.

Yekaterina Andreyeva: May I ask a question?

Vladimir Putin: Please, Katya.

Yekaterina Andreyeva: I’d like to ask a question about American arms. On the eve of the 50th birthday of our beloved Mr Ernst – our nuclear engine and perpetual motion machine, so to speak – Russian and American delegations will meet in Munich to draw a line in the sand, either once and for all or temporarily, on a very important issue, START, so as to further reduce nuclear arsenals.

Vladimir Putin: The treaty has been signed already.

Yekaterina Andreyeva: Yes, the delegations will just exchange ratifications. I’d like to ask whether you believe that the Americans really have reset their policy as they have claimed. What kind of relations do we have with them now? What do you plan to do with our nuclear arsenals? Do we have any alternatives – if we can discuss this issue now – that could replace nuclear missiles as containment weapons? Can you tell us if it’s not a state secret?

Vladimir Putin: I think you should ask the Americans if they have reset themselves.

Yekaterina Andreyeva: But how do you feel? You meet with them, after all…

Vladimir Putin: Have US-Russian relations been reset? Well, clearly, it’s something that US President Obama is seeking. Has there been much progress made here? We have signed START, and it’s a very important step in the right direction. It’s a fact you should acknowledge.

How do we feel about it? We’re positive. We raised this issue on numerous occasions at the Security Council. President Medvedev consulted with experts before taking this decision. Everything was double-checked and thought through. The treaty was signed by the president, and he is the one who bears the responsibility. But if you want my opinion, yes, we are interested in this treaty. Does it comply with our interests? I believe it does comply with Russia’s security interests. I’m referring to the limits on carriers and warheads. It’s fine with us.

Is it possible to develop non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction? Yes, it is. Many countries, including the United States, are working on them, and we are aware of it. The issue of nuclear disarmament is raised with increasing frequency today. But I’d like to remind you that even the Soviet Union supported the idea of disarmament. Our position is the same. We know that the United States is developing very powerful and high-precision non-nuclear weapons, whose parameters are close to those of nuclear weapons. We will always make sure that each issue and decision pertaining to security, including nuclear arsenals and high-precision weapons, on which we negotiate with our partners complies with our security interests, and would never sign anything that would compromise Russia’s security.

Alexander Maslyakov: May I? I don’t have questions or requests. I have an invitation for you. This year begins with the 50th birthday of Mr Ernst, and, for me, it will finish with the 50th anniversary of a unique show, KVN. This will be a celebration of a universal scale. I don’t know how Mr Ernst will celebrate his birthday, but we will have a big party, and I’d like to invite you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. I’ll try to come. I’d like to congratulate Mr Ernst on his 50th birthday and express my appreciation to you. Your talented team produces a very interesting and useful intellectual product. I understand how difficult and exacting your job is, and I understand that this show would never have been a success without your talent. I’m even a little jealous of you. I wish you all the best. Thank you.