14 september 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with parliamentary candidates after primary voting

Vladimir Putin

At a meeting with parliamentary candidates after primary voting

“Everyone here is speaking very professionally about concrete issues. This means the primary elections were a success, because people have emerged who can see to the core of the problems, and are able to formulate them clearly and propose solutions.”

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. The seats have been arranged in a somewhat unusual way today. I am very pleased to see you all because, as you know, I have been very active in supporting this format of primary voting. I believe it has been successful because the process  involved a huge amount of people of different ages and professions (and in fact, here you all are today in this room), and with different views on how to address the problems we are are facing today. This is also good, because it means we are unified by our common goal of resolving these problems and moving Russia forward.

On the other hand, there are subtle differences that arise out of personal experience, occupation and so on. Let me cite a few figures for your information. The primary voting involved a total of 4,700 candidates. Incidentally, only about 38% of them (just over 37%) were from United Russia, while 58% were nominated by different public associations that joined in on the primary voting process through the Russian Popular Front, and 5% were self-nominated candidates. So on the whole, I think it was a success.

Of course, we must now take the next step. What does this step consist of? First, I very much hope that all of you present here, as well as those who aren’t, all 4,700 people, will participate in the next stage of our work. That stage will be directly connected with the upcoming State Duma elections. It will involve working with voters and other campaigning efforts. This has nothing to do  with competition between candidates, but mostly with working directly with voters. I don’t think I'm saying anything new about this, or anything you don’t already know; everybody knows this, and I can only reaffirm that, to effectively address the problems of the people and of the country requires knowledge of these problems and a clear understanding of them. We need to focus on the problems that people expect us to resolve, not some abstract goals that we may think are important. To identify the right goals, we need to communicate with the people. Therefore, this part of our work – our campaigning – is important not only in terms of results (although the result is important too, as everyone certainly wishes to get elected eventually) but also in terms of the process, which is a kind of general voting on our problems and their solutions. This is the second point I wanted to make.

As you all know, we will finalise our election lists on September 23 and 24 at the United Russia conference. As I said, the preliminary list consists of 600 candidates. At least a quarter of the candidates will be people who are not United Russia members but have passed the preliminary voting, a fact that will be the most important consideration for making it onto the final list of 600 candidates.

The United Russia group in parliament will be significantly renewed. This is a normal and natural process. It goes without saying, and I have mentioned this already, that our colleagues who have been working in parliament for a long time up till now will find an outlet for their experience. We’ll think of ways to help them advance their lives outside of parliament, and of ways to apply their skills. But it is also clear that this country’s legislature needs an infusion of new people who have innovative ideas about the current situation, future development, and solutions, that is, people who are ready and know how to solve these problems.

There are many goals, including social issues, defence and security, healthcare, education, the notorious issues of housing and utilities, transport and other issues. We need skilled professionals in all of these areas to adopt laws that will create the conditions necessary for the removal of administrative barriers, and that will promote civil initiative in every sphere of life in Russia.

It's likely that not everyone who passed the primary voting will eventually make it into parliament, as much as I would like this. But in any case, we need to ensure – I will certainly discuss this with our colleagues in United Russia, as well as with regional governors – that all of these people are involved in building an effective system of public control over the implementation of the decisions made at the legislative and executive level and over the work of regional and municipal bodies; and that these people are involved in the next stage at the regional and municipal levels.

In general, I think that there will be enough work to go around, and I would like to wish you all success. Please, we can, and I believe we must discuss and debate among ourselves. That’s why we have gathered here. If there are any questions or proposals, I will be happy to hear them and to speak with you.

Valery Yakushev: My name is Valery Yakushev. I have retired as of four months ago. As I have already told you about, I had worked at the famous Uralvagonzavod (Ural Railroad Car Plant) for 52 years.

Vladimir Putin: I visited it recently.

Valery Yakushev: At that time, I turned to you for help, to direct your attention to the fact that we lacked a defence contract. Thank you so much for visiting our exhibition and inspecting our famous T-90-S tank from the inside and out. We now have a three-year contract -- thank you so much for this.

Vladimir Putin: It is very good that you are currently beginning to work on advanced equipment.

Valery Yakushev: Please don’t forget about us; I will not ask any more questions. My colleagues will direct some questions to you today. They will list all the main issues that should be promptly resolved in the run-up to the elections. My colleagues will tell you about everything. You have already listed the issues of housing and municipal utilities services, our notorious roads and many other issues that need to be settled.

Vladimir Putin: Thank God Uralvagonzavod is expanding production.

Valery Yakushev: Indeed.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I am confident that the plant has a good future ahead of it. I have already said that we plan to set aside tens of billions of roubles worth of federal budget allocations to go towards various activities. The plant has been awarded stable contracts for railcar and defence-systems production for the next three to four years. You have excellent prospects in terms of developing fully new armoured vehicle models. I very much hope that your designers, or your engineers to be more precise, with their wealth of experience and with numerous good developments to their credit, will not only reach international standards, but will be one step ahead of them. What they have just shown me is quite impressive. They have reinforced the armour and provided a greater degree of protection. Most importantly, they have installed extremely powerful weapons systems, which our rivals lack … I will not talk about enemies and adversaries today …

Valery Yakushev: The T-95 tank will be designed.

Vladimir Putin: Another model is currently being considered -- the extremely advanced Armada model, which should be the focus of attention.

Valery Yakushev: And please don’t forget about the city of Nizhny Tagil, which has problems of its own. If I’m elected to the State Duma, I will, of course, bring these up publicly. The city faces major problems … 

Vladimir Putin: Yes. They city has always been walled-in, concealed and off limits. I have spoken with the governor who, incidentally, completely shares your point of view. Of course, we will devote attention to Nizhny Tagil at regional and federal level.

Valery Yakushev: Our Governor is smart.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, he is very knowledgeable.

Valery Yakushev: He is off to a good start, and I hope that he keeps it up. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Please.

Tamara Kuzminykh: I am from the Republic of Komi, and I represent the Sotsialnaya Spravedlivost (Social Justice) pensioner rights movement. You have been familiar with our republic since young years, right? You have been to Komi and can imagine what it is like there. There are over 12,000 members in our organisation and they work very actively. I have brought our two most recent pamphlets for you. The first is titled, “We can’t live this way,” and it concerns an expert review of the consumer basket. We have spent ten years testing it. I have done so personally, but no longer can because of health reasons. You starve with this pensioner’s consumer basket, grow thin and, accordingly, obtain the energy to do something about it.

Vladimir Putin: Where does the energy come from without meat?

Tamara Kuzminykh: Just imagine, without meat… A standard portion for prisoners is twice as big as that of a retired person. For example, pensioners receive 290g of bread. We have calculated the daily amount for pensioners, and it is 290g per day. Female prisoners receive 450g, and male prisoners get 500g. They get meat, fish and vitamins. Pensioners get 5g of sweets and 3g of cookies. As for meat, say, mutton, they receive about one kilogram per year.

Vladimir Putin: This is a pensioner’s basket, right?

Tamara Kuzminykh: Yes. You see, this basket…It does not exist in reality in its pure form, but it is used to calculate pensions and benefits. What kind of social welfare can you hope for if it is based on figures that are impossible for a person to survive on? This is what this aid is like. Do you see? Please respect my age and read this pamphlet.

Vladimir Putin: All right.

Tamara Kuzminykh: This is the first point. We suggest that the consumer basket be abolished. It is humiliating and cynical. It would be better if aid were based on the average salary. This would be fair and people would understand you. As it is, nobody understands these calculations.

Vladimir Putin: I agree. We should think about it. Incidentally, when I started my talk today I said that we need to work out regulations and laws that would govern our legal relations, including in the social sphere. This is an excellent example of something that should be regulated by laws.

Tamara Kuzminykh: Indeed. Secondly – Mr Putin, thank you so much for your support of veterans of the Great Patriotic War. This support was truly great – they now receive a pension of 30,000 [roubles]. We have conducted a survey among retired people of 70 years and older.  The pensioners in Syktyvkar receive the largest pension, which is 39,000 [roubles]. They are war veterans and former pilots.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Tamara Kuzminykh: Next are widows of war veterans. But you see, the widows… The military registration office made the right decision. Widows who never married and brought up their children alone now receive 20,000 [roubles], while the average pension is around 13,000. In fact, our survey has shown that 50% of pensioners are content with their pensions, and the other half is not. The half that is not content consists of those who were born just before the war, during the war and after the war. They saw the war with their own eyes, and this is the generation that followed the veterans. They had to rebuild the country after the war, and now they have the longest service record, the lowest pension and no benefits at all. They proudly maintain that they are children of the war, but there is no such official category. We must support these elderly people. There are no healthy people among those who are over 70. They all have medical conditions, and they would not have access to medical assistance if it is not free. You know the condition of the roads in the republic. At times we are completely cut off from the outside world. There is no access to pharmacies, everything is closed up.

So in general, our findings have been very interesting. Here is a chart. We have analysed the average life expectancy for men and women and the average retirement age in 13 countries. Russia trails far behind. We cannot even secure minimal wages, in compliance with the European Convention [of Human Rights]. We have been unable to reach the required minimum wage of 40%. In Russia it is 39%.

You know, this is a plea from pensioners who 70 and older who live alone. We were horrified to see how this generation lives. What is it like to be over 70? There is a man who is 101 years old, and he lives in a private wooden house. The house is rundown, the hearth is broken and the local authorities will not help him fix it. Some woman has taken it upon herself to care for him. But he is 101! Listen, there are so many people like him… Please support this category of pensioners. What can be done for them now? What can be done before the elections? The status of children of the war must become official. They must receive at least some small aid. You have the money. Give them each 1,000 roubles and they will carry you to the president’s chair in their arms, believe me.

Vladimir Putin: You know, our goal is not to take any chairs. Our goal is to solve the country’s problems. What you have just described is, of course, one of the most pressing issues.

I would like to stress that we have talked a lot about necessary changes to the pension system with respect to those who worked through Soviet times. Look what is happening in Europe. Every country is cutting pensions and benefits. Every one! Take Italy, for instance, which is currently the fourth strongest economy in Europe (after Germany), or perhaps even the third economy (Germany, France and Italy comes third, I think) – the country’s parliament is considering a proposal to raise the retirement age and cut everything. What did we do in the midst of the crisis? We raised pensions.

Tamara Kuzminykh: You did the right thing! Well done!

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Tamara Kuzminykh: The pensioners appreciate this, and they appreciate the fact that you were the first Russian leader to start pension indexation in 2000. We remember this, and will never forget it. Take a look at the survey, there are questions such as question number 13: “What would you say if you met with Vladimir Putin or Dmitry Medvedev?” You know, the surveys were anonymous and we expected all kinds of answers to come pouring out… But you know, our expectations proved to be wrong. Most pensioners support you and thank you for making their life better, they send wishes of good health to you and your family. We were delighted to read these warm wishes, and there is even one retired woman who said that she loved you…

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Send her my love, too.

Tamara Kuzminykh: And there is a woman who invited Mr Medvedev to come visit her in a very remote village. Can you imagine what it is like in the North? If he arrived there in the winter with their heaps of snow and their outhouses – I would like to see that. He would learn a lot of new things about life. You should pass along this invitation to him.

Vladimir Putin: I will, we will see each other in two hours.

Tamara Kuzminykh: Please do. We were truly surprised. But the most interesting thing is that these elderly people are not just asking for things for themselves. Let's say a man receives a pension of only 5,000 roubles. But he writes that he would ask Putin to “fight corruption, remove all foreign goods from the shelves (we’ve had enough), develop the industries, give jobs to the people and good pensions to the elderly… Our fields are overgrown with hogweed, farming is at a stand-still. There is unemployment [in Europe] but they send us their rotten imports.” People have had enough and they put it directly: pay more attention to the pensioners. They thank you very much and you know that we will always support you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. With regard to your proposals, we will definitely think about them but we cannot do so at this very moment. Without any calculations, I cannot tell you that we will do this or that. I spoke about the pension increases and the review of the pension rights for those who worked during the Soviet period, but it took us an entire year to review this. And just as we were ready to make a decision the crisis broke out. Many people told me we should not have done it then, that we should have waited until later. But we did it anyway. As for what you have been talking about now, again, it requires thorough consideration. It is absolutely true that we are going to index pensions according to the laws, regardless of any hardships. But we need to think even more carefully about those who receive the lowest incomes.

Tamara Kuzminykh: Below subsistence level.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.  And address them specifically on a case-by-case basis. That would be absolutely…

Tamara Kuzminykh: But we already did. They don’t pay pensions that are below the subsistence level anymore, the difference is covered.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Tamara Kuzminykh: However, even 50%...

Vladimir Putin: We pay from two sources: either federal or regional.

Tamara Kuzminykh: Yes, and 50% of pensioners are satisfied with the amount of their pension allowances and wish to thank you, because we know that this was your idea.

Vladimir Putin: Still, we will think about ways to solve the problems that you posed in a targeted manner, so that we cover exactly the people with the lowest income.

Tamara Kuzminykh: Our old-age pensioners have come up with 50 proposals. Please do read them.

Vladimir Putin: Good. By the way, speaking of your organisation. We just discussed it yesterday…

Tamara Kuzminykh: You gave us a grant.

Vladimir Putin: Right! We gave you a grant and you expected the pensioners to come down on me in your questionnaires?

Tamara Kuzminykh: No. You know, Leo Bokeriya (heart surgeon, member of the Russian Public Chamber) also issued us a grant. We have two grants… We have also established the Party of Pensioners. Why did you have Mr Mironov (Sergei Mironov) liquidate it?

Vladimir Putin: Why liquidate? They joined it.

Tamara Kuzminykh: There are no pensioners there. No pensioners in this party. It was such a great party. You could have such strong support. I had a regional branch bigger than United Russia, and we collected fees. United Russia didn’t collect fees. Do you understand what kind of an organisation it was? And it was liquidated. I attended all party conferences. Our hearts bleed. Pensioners keep their membership cards and hope that someday we will be able to join Russia’s political life. This would be for your own benefit.

Vladimir Putin: I have an impression that you are doing exactly this. I wanted to mention your non-profit organisation; we discussed it yesterday. We have allocated a very sizable amount of money to support socially oriented non-profit organisations; I believe it’s 800 million roubles from the federal budget only. Unfortunately, these funds haven’t been actually released, because they haven’t carried out various auction-related procedures so as to be able to release these funds. I am confident that this will be completed before the year end. And I would like you to actively participate in this process. By the way, judging from this brochure, your programme is good, too. It could be partially financed from this source. Since they are about to begin distributing funds between non-profit organisations, I recommend that you take part in it. Please go ahead.  

Alexander Kholodov: Alexander Kholodov, interregional public organisation of vehicle owners Freedom of Choice. Mr Putin, I know that the issue about garages in St Petersburg was already raised at the Popular Front meetings by my boss Vyacheslav Lysakov. However, St Petersburg vehicle owners will never forgive me for not bringing it up again, because after your comments the situation in St Petersburg became dubious. The garages that are still there and have their lease terms unchanged will likely renew their lease. In addition, our new governor… We hope very much that he will pursue a different policy regarding garage cooperatives. However, there are plots that have been purchased already… Some thievish businessmen had leased these plots and now put them up for sale. They engage in illegal demolitions, I mean that they bring in bulldozers at night and tear the garages down. They have no legal grounds for doing so, so they are doing it illegally. Unfortunately, what we need now is not a legal decision, but the “second Pikalyovo”. In other words, someone needs to be handed a pen and sign certain papers.

Vladimir Putin: I promise that I will speak with Mr Poltavchenko (St Petersburg governor) right away: he should address this issue at the governor level. The governor is in a position to do so. I will talk to him today. Anything that transgresses the legal framework must be stopped; if there are economic disputes, then you can file a suit in commercial courts. The issue about keeping garages intact is very important for many. The number of vehicle owners is ever growing. However, this problem needs to be addressed in the city in general, and only then they should start thinking about taking garages away from owners. However, the property cannot be taken away for nothing; these issues should be discussed with owners and there should be compensation.

Alexander Kholodov: There are over 200,000 garages in St Petersburg. I would like to use this opportunity to thank you on behalf of the cooperative where you own a garage for paying on time, including membership fees. You have no overdue payments, and your garage neighbours want you to know that they appreciate it.

Vladimir Putin: Give them my best.  

Alexander Kholodov: I will.

Vladimir Putin: Tell them to behave in these garages properly and don’t do anything stupid, just cars.

Vladimir Krupennikov: Mr Putin, my name is Vladimir Krupennikov. Member of the Public Chamber. Quite unexpectedly for me, I came third in the primaries in Moscow…

Vladimir Putin: Congratulations! Excellent!

Vladimir Krupennikov: Thank you. I believe this speaks to the fact that the Russian people are aware of the huge problems that people may face if, God forbid, they become disabled and even more problems if someone, God forbid, is born that way. I assure you that the majority of disabled people in Moscow and Russia support the social policy pursued by municipal and federal authorities. We met a month ago. You listened to the proposals advanced by public organisations of disabled people and issued corresponding instructions. Thank you very much for doing so.

I will not recap all the issues that were brought up during our last meeting; however, I would like to mention one problem that we had just touched upon last time we met. The issue is about removing relationship barriers, since the Accessible Environment programme is designed to create an accessible environment, good conditions for training and placing disabled people. However, the integration will not be feasible unless society is ready to accept disabled people. Unfortunately, the facts that I mentioned (improper use of parking spots for disabled, failure to let disabled people go without having to wait in line) tell us that our society, I wouldn’t say it’s not quite healthy, but it doesn’t understand disability problems correctly.

Being a host of the only on-going social programme on the TVC channel, The Factor of Life, I am very concerned about the correct coverage of disability issues by the media, including increasing the amount of proper information when a disabled person is portrayed not as some wretched beggar on a street corner who is capable of nothing; there must be accurate coverage… There must be a policy to create special programming and broadcasts about disabled people who managed to achieve something in their lives. Certainly, this should include shows about competitions with the participation of our paralympic athletes and stories about people who became successful against all the odds.

We formed a Popular Programme focusing on disabled people residing in Moscow. I will not deliberate on it, either. However, I have a request for you that I must make now. Last night I got a call. Today, you mentioned the Sergiyev-Posad orphanage, I think you were talking about the boarding school for visually and hearing impaired children. Recently, they have built a church there, a one-of-a-kind church that can accommodate people with all kinds of disabilities. The fund that supports this orphanage is led by hieromonch Meliton. He called me last night after he learned about today’s meeting with you and asked… You know, they’ve been desperately trying to have the local authorities create an accessible environment around this building, such as building railings that would prevent disabled people from inadvertently stepping on the road and building a properly equipped access road to this church…

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Vladimir Krupennikov: They just need to properly outfit a bus stop. As far as I understand, the bus doesn’t stop there or stops just 200 metres away from the church. This is very important, because this orphanage is a place visited by disabled people of all categories from around Sergiyev-Posad, over 1,000 people in all. If you could issue an instruction…

Vladimir Putin: I have a proposal. Let’s do it the following way: they asked you to do this, right?

Vladimir Krupennikov: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead and meet with them.

Vladimir Krupennikov: I already was there to shoot some footage for my show, that’s why they called me.

Vladimir Putin: Excellent. Let’s do some real work together. Go there or have them come see you. Write down all they need, and we will tackle this together.

Vladimir Krupennikov: I will.

Vladimir Putin: I promise, we will see this through.

Vladimir Krupennikov: May we contact you later?

Vladimir Putin: By all means. Talk to them and write down all they need. Everything, including the road and the bus stop...

Vladimir Krupennikov: The road is in place, it just needs to be fitted out properly.

Vladimir Putin: Let them make a list of everything they need, including proper equipment and relocation of the bus stop, ramps, or any additional facilities. We will see this through together.

Vladimir Krupennikov: Mr Putin, just one more word. These are people with severe disabilities.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I understand.

Vladimir Krupennikov: When I came there, I expected to see children who can’t see, talk or hear, but many of them also have movement disabilities. It’s amazing, but these children even participate in church services. Not many people in Russia belong to this category, but it requires special attention. That’s why they also asked me to consider assigning a special legal status to this category of visually and hearing impaired people, just like we have categories of hearing impaired, visually impaired and movement impaired people. I think we should deal with this issue.

Vladimir Putin: We’ll give it some thought and raise this issue right away in our party in the State Duma. Let our colleagues come up with their proposals. However, what you said in the beginning is quite concrete. Let’s make it happen. I promise that we will see this through. However, we need to have a clear and specific understanding of what they need.

Vladimir Krupennikov: Good.

Vladimir Putin: Agreed.

Lyudmila Romanova: Good afternoon. My name is Lyudmila Romanova. I am from the Vladimir Region Women’s Union. Originally, I come from Kovrov, the Vladimir Region.

Vladimir Putin: They used to make good motorcycles there.

Lyudmila Romanova: Not only that, but also machineguns. We have had elections in our town lately. Kovrov residents supported United Russia, and our town is now led by Viktor Kaurov, a very decent man, a military officer and leader of the Kovrov United Russia branch. He received four times as many votes as the candidate promoted by the governor. You know, our governor is the only communist in Russia.

Vladimir Putin: No, we have many more communists in our nation, it’s just that he is the only communist governor.

Lyudmila Romanova: Yes. Using my town as an example I would like to touch upon the issues that I believe are important for the majority of small Russian towns. Here’s the lowdown. The newly elected municipal head began looking for ways to streamline budget revenues. He did so successfully and the municipal budget began receiving more money. You know what happened next? The budget adjustment funds that usually come from the regional budget went down. Before the elections, the adjustment funds amounted to 140 million roubles. A year later (after the new municipal head managed to boost revenues) this amount fell to 40 million roubles.

Vladimir Putin: They cut the amount.

Lyudmila Romanova:  Yes, it’s almost three times less now. Next year, we think, we’ll see zero funds. However, the budget amount remains unchanged at 1.7 billion, same as it was two years ago including increases in prices, tariffs and everything else…

Vladimir Putin: The municipal revenue base is up, right?

Lyudmila Romanova: 1.7 billion includes everything.

Vladimir Putin: Still, did it grow?

Lyudmila Romanova: No.

Vladimir Putin: The revenue base didn’t grow?

Lyudmila Romanova: No. We did see some growth, but next year they cut the revenue that…

Vladimir Putin: Reduce the revenue?

Lyudmila Romanova: Yes, from above.

Vladimir Putin: I can tell you that it’s not because you have an evil communist governor.  Unfortunately, to a large extent the Finance Ministry does the same with regard to many Russian regions, so there’s no political aspect to it.

Lyudmila Romanova: Well, we ended up in a situation where steady municipal development is not an option, since the revenue remains unchanged over a certain period. We need to implement municipal programmes. Second point. Our town is home to a number of defence industry enterprises. We pay seven billion roubles to budgets of various levels, but receive less than 200 million roubles. That doesn’t sound fair.

I’ve already mentioned that in this case the municipal development is becoming a problem. Co-financing is a prerequisite for the implementation of targeted programmes, but in fact we don’t have access to such sources. So, the town is stagnating.

Vladimir Putin: What’s your name?

Lyudmila Romanova: Lyudmila.

Vladimir Putin: Lyudmila, I can see that you came very well prepared.

Lyudmila Romanova: I am worried about more than my town. I want life in our society to improve.

Vladimir Putin: I have a suggestion. I will talk to the governor, and I am confident that we will agree to adopt the same principles that are now being used by the Finance Ministry with regard to the Russian regions. If it’s really so, and the Finance Ministry cuts subsidies to the regions if their revenue base is growing based on the belief that they are doing well anyway, then, in fact, they are discouraging people from working well.

Lyudmila Romanova: Of course.

Vladimir Putin: It’s like that in your case, too. That’s why the Finance Ministry has come up with certain bonuses for the regions that work effectively and achieve good results, including replenishing the budget. For example, they keep their subsidies intact for several years to come. They also leave subsidising levels and federal payments untouched even despite their growing revenue base, but they keep these amounts unchanged for two or three years in order to encourage them to keep doing good work…

Lyudmila Romanova: That’ll be excellent.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. Later, when they grow even more, they start introducing certain cuts. There is a point in doing so too, because we have only 10 donor regions out of more than 80 in Russia. I am sure that the same thing happens in your region with regard to the municipal authorities. Therefore, redistribution is needed, but those who work well need to be rewarded, too. I will talk to him, and I am sure he will respond to what I tell him.

Lyudmila Romanova: Thank you very much. Just one quick question. Like I said before, Kovrov is home to five major defence plants. During the Great Patriotic War, Kovrov was making weapons for Russian troops even though it is located far from the front. About one-third of Kovrov residents went to the frontlines and two-thirds remained in the town working at the plants. They made 25,000 missiles for Katyusha rocket launcher; over 1.2 million cannons and rifles were manufactured in Kovrov. If we compare our output with Germany’s output in 1941 – 1945, I can tell you that we made more in Kovrov. In light of this, Kovrov residents came up with a proposal to assign the status of military glory to our town. This initiative was supported by the Legislative Assembly. This is why I, on behalf of all Kovrov residents, am asking you to look into our proposal and support it, if possible. It will be very important for those who are no longer with us and a tribute to those who are still alive, who remember those difficult war years. As one of my neighbours used to say, the 40,000 people who are left are the women and children who worked during the war, making the Victory possible.

Vladimir Putin: Absolutely. We will look into it, and I am very pleased that this time it is a question of moral and not material support. Of course, it is very important.

Lyudmila Romanova: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please.

Alyona Arshinova: Mr Putin, my name is Alyona Arshinova. I co-chair the Young Guard coordination council within the United Russia party and your long-time supporter. At the moment, I am also a coordinator of the Russian National Popular Front youth club. I have several questions, but I will try to combine them. First of all, we do a lot within our organisation, because it is fairly big and it has divisions in all regions of Russia.

The topic we are now discussing a lot within the Popular Front’s youth club is student problems, students’ everyday problems. I would not speak about it, but I used to be a postgraduate student at Moscow State University’s Sociology Department; I lived in a student dormitory and know what it is like. I have to tell you, there are lots of problems. We can resolve some them on our own. First of all, I had quite a problem with the Internet in my time: the Internet at universities is very often monopolised by unknown providers; you pay money, but the Internet doesn’t work, and you cannot fix it. As a result, we initiated a project within the Young Guard called the Wi-Fi Epidemic. We decided to find financing to provide Internet access on our own, and we are succeeding. We have already provided Internet access to over 20 universities in different regions from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, setting up student youth centres.

As we started working on the project, we came across students’ everyday problems. We ask whether they need Internet access. We are looking for money for it on our own, but they say, “Hey, guys, what are you talking about? Just come and see us!” We come to their rooms and see a horrible picture. There is a dormitory in the main building of the university where furniture has not been replaced since the 1950s. I even hurt myself on this furniture. And it is extremely uncomfortable. And this is the country’s university No.1. No wonder it doesn’t make it to the world’s top 100. This is the first issue.

So we decided to monitor the situation in the majority of the country’s state universities. Sometimes, when you go there for a visit, you are presented a somewhat different picture than people like us, students and postgraduates, see when we live at these dormitories. By the beginning of October, we will compile a collection of photos made by students from all over the country. I would like to be able to give it to you when it is ready.

Vladimir Putin: All right.

Alyona Arshinova: Thank you. Second, since you are the leader of the Popular Front, we would like to get assignments from you for the Popular Front’s youth club. We also need feedback, so that we are aware of the areas in which we may be less successful or have a weaker presence. Also, perhaps we could get some special assignments from you, and we will definitely fulfil them.

There is also something personal I would like to share with you. I remember New Year’s Eve 2000 very well.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Alyona Arshinova: Russian people traditionally celebrate New Year’s Eve at the dinner table and they always listen to the President’s New Year address. I was 15 at the time and I had never been interested in the news. But I noticed my parents’ reaction when they were watching TV that night, when changes took place in our country. After that, I became interested in the news, I began looking for my role, my place in this system and this country. My father is in the military – I was born in Dresden, then lived in Trans-Dniester, and then my father served in Tajikistan and Nagorny Karabakh –  so I became very active. Eleven years ago I trusted you, and the Russian National Popular Front, which has been set up on your initiative, has given us new faith, and this is your faith in us. So I would like to thank you for mutual trust. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: When  were you born in Dresden?

Alyona Arshinova: In 1985.

Vladimir Putin: And I just came to Dresden in 1985. So we already have something in common. What you are doing is really important. Of course, dormitories and students’ living conditions are a very important part of student life. Indeed, there are a lot of problems in this area. I won’t site the figures now about how the amount of modern housing is growing. It is growing, but not as quickly as we would like it to. Moreover, in 2009 (and to some extent in 2010) we were forced to cut the federal part of the programme that dealt with the construction of dormitories in order to fully honour some of our other social commitments, including pensions and subsidies. We are now restoring it. This is one thing. Secondly, Moscow State University doesn’t make it in these ratings not because of its dormitories – though some of them are good – but because Western agencies have somewhat strange criteria for compiling these ratings. They first of all look at the economic component, at the endowment, at how much money a university has at its disposal.

If a university has its own capital deposited in banks that yields interest to be used to run the university, to build dormitories, to renovate lecture halls, to buy equipment and to pay decent salaries to top professors, then it makes it to the list. If it doesn’t have this capital, its rating is very low. We are gradually beginning to move along this path. But we cannot find billions in endowment even for the country’s leading universities so quickly. That is billions of US dollars I am talking about.

As to Moscow State University and St Petersburg State University, they have been put into a separate category and they receive additional allocations, about 5 billion each, although I don’t remember the exact figure. There is a full support programme. And this money can and should be spent on dormitories as well. But on the national scale, this is a problem that needs to be resolved. And we will have to watch closely how the money allocated for this purpose is spent, so here you are at the fore of a very important task. Submit the materials you have, and we will look at them.

Alyona Arshinova: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: Maria Maksakova, soloist at the Mariinsky State Academic Theatre, founder of the Astrakhan regional charity foundation. I have two questions for you, Mr Putin, if I may. They both have to do with life in Russian provinces. In 2010-2011, our fund has been successfully fulfilling a programme to select and promote artistically gifted children. I personally travelled around all districts of the Astrakhan Region and we found quite a few such children. They have conquered Moscow and have partially conquered Europe. There are really many such children, and they are very gifted. At a conference in Volgograd, you voiced a remarkable initiative: you spoke about the importance  of decentralisation in the cultural sphere, because today all hobby groups and workshops in rural areas are, unfortunately, based not so much on a system, but rather on the enthusiasm of some talented teachers and on their dedication. Support is being provided to doctors and teachers in rural areas – I am now talking about the travelling allowance of 1 million roubles that has been given to teachers in village schools. I would like to point out that the monthly salary of a culture professional is 4,000 roubles. Also, at music schools…

Vladimir Putin: Four thousand roubles is below the minimum subsistence wage. Such wages are against the law.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: There was a woman, head of an art studio, who talked about this at the conference in Volgograd . Of course, it is not a full-time job, and she can find additional jobs, but nevertheless, these are people who make their personal contribution to… They regularly accomplish a small feat, preserving the foundations of our traditions and our culture. I would like to ask you: could we perhaps support the most talented and successful people with a programme? They give faith to children. It is very important to find these children at an early age, otherwise we will lose precious time, for example, if a person does not start learning to play a music instrument early. This is the first question.

My other question is about your public reception offices. They are situated only in regional centre, and I am often asked when travelling around the country how you can be contacted. Naturally, I give this address. But it has occurred to me that, perhaps, it would be better to set up a mobile reception office, since some areas are  scarcely populated and are difficult to reach. Moreover, there is even certain inequality, because Kalmykia, for example, has a population of 200,000 people and one office with one leader and the Astrakhan Region has 1 million people and also one office with one leader, and its territory is bigger. And it would be great it there were a free phone number to your reception office, because people pin their hopes and aspirations on you personally, and it would support them. This is my request, although I do not know whether it can be done.

Vladimir Putin: I will think about it. To be honest, the proposal about these mobile offices is unexpected, but overall, it is feasible. It is quite feasible. I will think about it, talk it over with my colleagues and we will do it. As to cultural workers, their wages are indeed very low. A wage cannot be below the minimum subsistence level or below the minimum monthly wage, to be more precise, so I don’t know why this is the case. Apparently, they do not work full time or something like that…

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: I’m sure.

Vladimir Putin: Anyway, wages in the cultural sector remain very low. As you know, we are making serious efforts to raise wages in primary schools and in healthcare. We just cannot do everything at once, that’s the problem. But we know about it – I do and the government does. Everyone knows it, and we will definitely work to increase the incomes of cultural workers. It has just been said about how many problems there are in the education sphere. By the way, apart from the St Petersburg and Moscow universities, we have set up a network of federal research universities. There are different support mechanisms – grants – for young researchers, for the personnel. Perhaps, we should do something similar as the first step in the cultural sphere – to work out a system of grants for those working in this important area. We will definitely consider it.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: Thank you. I wanted to thank you for drawing attention to this sphere for the first time in Volgograd. I am also a cultural worker, perhaps, not in the same group as the one I have been talking about, but people believe in it strongly.

Vladimir Putin: You work in Astrakhan, do you?

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: I am a soloist with the Mariinsky Theatre, but my family comes from Astrakhan.

Vladimir Putin: Have you performed at the Astrakhan Theatre?

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: You know, we are planning it, and I am looking forward to it.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, it is time it opened.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: We are ready.

Vladimir Putin: I think it will happen within a few days. Have you seen the theatre?

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: I have. I was there to check the acoustics. Everything is fine there.

Vladimir Putin: You checked the acoustics?

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: Everything is great.

Vladimir Putin: Did you like it?

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: Very much.

Vladimir Putin: The sound is good, isn’t it?

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: I want to tell you that it is a major strategic project. It is very important for us, even though many people say: why, this money could have been spent on building this or that, but in reality this will be a magnet, an attraction in the Caspian region… After all, the pride of any big city is its opera theatre. This genre may seem somewhat old-fashioned or even exotic, with today’s rapid pace of life. Still, it is a strategically important initiative. I believe that it will justify our hopes and beliefs. And the new theatre is fantastically beautiful…

Vladimir Putin: Yes, it is. The building is in the Russian style.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: It is fantastically beautiful. Its interior, architectural design and ensemble were designed in a remarkable way. It is slightly too big for now, but we look to the future.

Vladimir Putin: This is the first time I have heard it is big. Everybody says: “too small,” here they say it’s too big.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: We look ahead. Astrakhan is growing and will continue to grow, so the theatre will be very much in demand.

Vladimir Putin: I am sure. You are absolutely right. I would like Astrakhan to become a kind of a pivot, including in this region. It is impossible to be an educational or a healthcare centre (incidentally, good healthcare facilities are emerging) without having a strong cultural presence. Undoubtedly, this theatre is a gem. It may be news to some of those present that this theatre is comparable to the Bolshoi Theatre in size; it is almost as big as the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: And its construction cost much less.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, much less.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: I would also like to say that the Astrakhan Conservatory was once opened by the efforts of my grandmother, [opera singer] Maria Maksakova, People’s Artist of the USSR (sorry for boasting). This higher education institution creates opportunities for people in this field. That is very important. Now there is a new theatre in Maksakova Street – the street named after my grandmother. I am very happy about that and people have the opportunity to work at the highest level, which gives them an impetus. A great number of people who want to improve their vocal skills come to me, because they understand that this is a theatre where they can become stars.

Vladimir Putin: Excellent. I am glad to hear that the acoustics is good. That is very important.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: The acoustics is excellent.

Vladimir Putin: The sound is not good in some halls, including in Moscow, though huge funds were poured into them and the interior is beautiful and a pleasure to be in. I think this is a tragedy.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: The Odessa State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre is one of the saddest examples I have ever seen. Although they spent a lot of money on decorations, the acoustics is really very bad there and this is awful.

Vladimir Putin: Is the sound better in Astrakhan?

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: Yes, it is better in Astrakhan. Everything is excellent.

Vladimir Putin: That’s great. Sorry, I would like to ask one more question. What about the new stage in the Mariinsky Theatre?

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: The new stage is all right thanks to your attention. We also realise that the old building needs reconstruction. Anyway, the concert hall has partly helped us to lessen the burden on the building, as we are a big team and we are very much in demand, so we work like a conveyor. The construction work currently underway is going so fast that I can see from the window of a different building how the theatre is growing. Sometimes it frightens me and I wonder how a building can go up so fast. But there is no doubt that it opens up great prospects and is a source of joy for us. I would like to add something, if I may. In the tsarist Russia, the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky theatres were managed by the same people. There are people … we cannot complain that there are not many people like Valery Gergiev. We are lucky to have them. Such a person is a whole era.

Vladimir Putin: So you would like to give Mr Gergiev monopoly over the entire Russian culture?

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: I just wanted to say that the management was integrated, and those were the best years for both theatres.

Vladimir Putin: We will think it over, but we have to be very careful about this. There are two schools, two stages and this gives a certain advantage for the development of the Russian culture.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: Do you mean competition between them?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I do.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: You know, the Mariinsky Theatre seems to have overcome this competition long ago, in fact…

Vladimir Putin: Well…

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: What I meant is that it competes with the leading world opera houses rather than with the Bolshoi Theatre or other theatres across the country. I don’t think we should pursue such an objective at all.

Vladimir Putin: All right, thank you.

Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please.

Viktor Karamyshev: Mr Putin, my name is Viktor Karamyshev and I am the speaker of the Kursk Regional Duma. First of all, I would like to thank you for your social initiatives in Cherepovets. You have really hit the nail on the head when you spoke about the most urgent issues. I’m referring to the mortgage scheme for teachers and the relocation allowance for rural doctors. Our parliamentary party in the Kursk Regional Duma held meetings both before you voiced these ideas and after that with teachers and head doctors because we wanted to help them. We will allocate money in the 2012 budget for two flats for each rural region per year to attract young professionals. If they receive decent relocation benefits, they will be able to buy cars because these are young people for the most part. We have a wonderful medical school, one of the country’s best and oldest.

Vladimir Putin: In Kursk?

Viktor Karamyshev: That’s right. Everything is going well so far. When teachers’ salaries were increased by 30% on September 1, our parliamentary party held a meeting (the budget was adjusted on August 18) and added an extra 30% for kindergarten employees starting October 1.

Vladimir Putin: You have done the right thing. I agree.

Viktor Karamyshev: Apart from teachers we have counsellors and social workers at school. Now we’ll try to find the money to increase their salaries as well because our budget is not very big. But I wanted to mention something else. Statistics showed that when the movie “The Cranes are Flying” was released, the number of applications to teacher training institutes increased instantly.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Viktor Karamyshev: When the movie about Aniskin came out, people started showing more respect for our police and legal nihilism retreated. When the movie “Spring in Zarechnaya Street” was screened, young people were eager to become workers, and so on. As Professor Preobrazhensky said in Mikhail Bulgakov’s famous “Heart of a Dog”, destruction starts in the brain. It would be great if our government invested more in our cinematography and our national television networks. It is important to glorify the working people. Vocational and technical schools get very few applications or none at all because all young people want to become business managers or bank employees. Our television programmes show either corrupt policemen or dishonest officials. Some people think there is no need to work. It’s enough to rob somebody or do something like that and you will live happily ever after on some island. It would be good if we launched ideology and propaganda in the good sense of these words for the future of our nation.

Vladimir Putin: We have worked out a new system of funding cinematography. The funds must be distributed between the leading companies through a public institution. I’m talking about successful companies with sound development plans. I hope that this new mechanism will work and help address the issue you have mentioned. But the state must not act as a commander of the mass media or cinematography in this case.

As you know, one of our film directors, Alexander Sokurov, has won high acclaim at the Venice Film Festival. I’m very happy about it – the film has a good theme. I attentively followed Russian and foreign reviews of his movie. “Faust” was received with genuine delight. This achievement shows that the potentialities of our filmmaking industry are great and the task you have mentioned is crucial for educating society and especially the younger generation.

We will continue to move in this direction without doubt but this is not the task of cinematography, television or the media alone. This is the task for our entire society – all of it. After all, the media is an important component of our life but it is merely a part of our society. Of course, the media influence public mentality and the general situation in society has an effect on the media. Regrettably, the media often follow in the wake of society in a bid to make more money. This is a reciprocal process and it is important to act in several directions at once. It’s the same like in any other sphere of endeavour – there is no cure-all. We must work hard and systematically over many years. But in any event you did the right thing by mentioning this issue. We will work together after the elections to parliament as well – a great deal depends on it. I hope that many people from these circles will be elected to it and will raise these problems there.

Viktor Karamyshev: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I have a question to you. Have you brought teachers’ salaries to the regional average? Or have you simply raised them by 30%?

Viktor Karamyshev: We have raised them by 30% but this is the third increase we have made this year. We raised them for the first time on February 1, then again on June 1 and now on September 1. We will increase salaries for all public sector employees by another 6.5% on October 1. As a result, their salaries will reach 90% of the regional average… But I’m talking about salaries. Those who have a 50% higher workload…

Vladimir Putin: I understand you have every chance to match the regional average next year.

Viktor Karamyshev: Next year we will carry out your instruction to match the regional average by all means.

Vladimir Putin: I’d like to ask you and the deputies of your regional assembly to make the small step from 90% to 100% next year. Please do it and pass on my request to the governor.

Viktor Karamyshev: We’ll do that by all means, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

You are welcome.

Maria Kozhevnikova: I’d like to join my colleague. I’m an actress and I can say that many people approach me when one of my characters quits smoking and say: “We have quit smoking together with her.” That is absolutely true. But I’d like to speak on a different subject. My name is Maria Kozhevnikova, I’m a member of the Young Guards Public Council, where I’m involved with volunteers and rescue teams.

Our volunteers help children and veterans. We are grateful to Sergei Shoigu for his help. We are about to sign a contract under which our volunteers will attend Emergencies Ministry training courses and help deal with emergencies to the best of their abilities. Volunteering is a very relevant subject today. As you know, we don’t have the legislation required for it – there are no benefits. Donors have benefits – they are entitled to free use of public transport. There are no standards, either…

Vladimir Putin: Donors give blood.

Maria Kozhevnikova: Of course they do but they have benefits. There are no standards for volunteers. For example, if people work with children, they must pass a medical exam. Therefore, it would be very good if such laws were adopted because so far volunteering criteria and ideas are very diverse.

Vladimir Putin: We must try and draft these proposals and criteria because incentives and benefits for different activities, including charity, must be different. I remember my father was a donor. I recall how he came home once and spent the whole day in bed. It turned out later that there was an urgent need for blood and

his blood type matched that of a child. It somehow happened that he had donated too much blood. I know that this is a hard mission and that is why donors are entitled to benefits even though they are minimal for the time being. But this does not mean that we must ignore other people whose noble motives prompt them to work in other important areas. Why don’t you try to put together these proposals as part of the Young Guards…

Maria Kozhevnikova: We’ve got them.

Vladimir Putin: Submit them to us, and let’s discuss them.

Maria Kozhevnikova:  I will, thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Now let’s go on. Anatoly, please go ahead.

Anatoly Karpov: I’m Anatoly Karpov from of the International Association of Peace Foundations.

Vladimir Putin: I’m glad to meet you.

Anatoly Karpov: This year we celebrated our 50th anniversary, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Congratulations!

Anatoly Karpov: We have many partners and I’d like to thank you for your initiative on their behalf. It goes without saying that we have immediately joined the work of the National Public Chamber and its regional branches. However, I think we are doing better in the Popular Front – our headquarters there are better organised because we have direct communication and feedback. We are ready to continue working during the current election campaign. No doubt, the primaries were very helpful because we met when they were held. I did not know most of the people – either here or in the Tyumen Region. I’m not referring to Valentina Tereshkova – we have been working together in parallel public organisations for 40 years. I’m going to be on the list in my Urals Federal District.

I will not talk about chess or education although these initiatives are being carried out. I was surprised to learn when I came here… I knew that they were doing a great job but I didn’t know that chess is taught in half of the Tyumen Region’s schools. Now we have decided to introduce chess in all schools and not because we want to have our own champions and grand masters but because through chess like through many sports we can teach young people to plan, to make strategy. The Ministry of Sports and the Ministry of Education have supported this move. We have differences on some points but the minister fully agrees with us where chess is concerned.

Vladimir Putin: And have you reached a consensus with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of the World Chess Federation?

Anatoly Karpov: We maintain good relations, but we lack a consensus on the development of chess.

Vladimir Putin: There is a disagreement between different approaches.

Anatoly Karpov: Mr Putin, unfortunately, the prestige of the world champion title has recently fallen so low that it hurts to talk about it. This is painful for everyone, the entire chess world, and not just me. At the same time, our relations are OK.

But I would like to discuss a somewhat different issue. In my opinion, more and more Russians are becoming involved in the housing lease process. Apart from social lease contracts, people get more interesting jobs in other cities and rent housing. To my mind, relations between renters and tenants leave a lot to be desired. Probably, it would make sense to formalise this relationship in law. We can follow Europe’s example on this. By the way, this can be part of the programme for promoting and supporting small and medium-sized businesses and office lease plans.

What is the situation like in European countries? Agreed-upon prices are stipulated when you move in for the first time. Any price increases are linked with inflation, and renters can adjust prices once a year and set new prices. Projected or real inflation in many European countries is only 4%. As far as Russia is concerned, inflation fluctuates. Predictability is the main requirement for the family budget and for young families.

Vladimir Putin: Certain stability. People find it easier to predict what will happen to them.

Anatoly Karpov: For the family budget and for business. As I see it, it would be appropriate to start working on this issue now, rather than delay it.

Vladimir Putin: Sure, sure.

Anatoly Karpov: This issue can be tackled by the new State Duma or the current one, if it has enough time.

As far as the second issue is concerned, rising municipal utility rates now being discussed by everyone should also be linked with inflation to some extent. Municipal utility rates should not exceed 10% inflation four times over.

Vladimir Putin: I think nationwide inflation levels should remain below 10% next year.

Anatoly Karpov: Wonderful. But I’m talking about manyfold increases. If we link legislative issues more rigidly, then we would be able to rectify the situation as regards monopoly claims and all others… 

Vladimir Putin: I’m really surprised that Mr Anatoly Karpov has raised an issue not related to sport and chess. On the contrary, this issue is linked with a very important social issue, the provision of housing for Russian citizens.

In this regard, I would like to say that generally, national civil legislation stipulates the concepts of subleases, housing leases, etc. It regulates these basic aspects. But I completely agree that, if we want these housing-provision alternatives such as subleases and leases, to function as a viable option like in some European countries, then, of course, we need to improve national legislation. What we need is more substantial regulatory documents.

We need to create favourable conditions for expanding this kind of activity, as well as for families to predict their housing expenses. The rental market in Russia is several times smaller than in European countries. We have opted for housing purchases. But an overwhelming majority of the population finds it hard to accomplish this today, despite lower mortgage rates. Housing lease contracts are, of course, a good solution. But people should feel confident that lease payments will not skyrocket after a year if this objective is to be accomplished. People should feel secure, to some extent. Additional regulation will certainly be required because housing lease programmes will continue to grow.

Anatoly Karpov: In order to prevent possible problems?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, that’s right, you have hit the nail on the head. We have to do this today, if this doesn’t happen. And I promise you that I will certainly tell my colleagues to think about it. This is the first thing.

Second, if the State Duma, the intellectual potential of the State Duma, is replenished by people like Anatoly Karpov, then I think Russia’s No. 1 legislature will only benefit. I would very much like to see you as a State Duma deputy, all the more so since you tackle issues not related to sport and chess. Although actually this is important too because the Russian chess school is certainly outstanding, and we have always been proud of this country’s brilliant chess players, you included.

And this problem is, of course, important. I would like to draw attention to yet another aspect of your question. The government discussed this only a couple of days ago. It concerns price hikes, a sensitive issue for the economy and for the public.

We currently index retail prices every January 1. And, of course, this gives rise to certain inflation fears. Price increases are inevitable when state companies and infrastructure monopolies raise their prices. Such price hikes are not always justified and more often unjustified. General increases are motivated by the higher prices of infrastructure monopolies, including Gazprom, Russian Railways and utility companies. Regional housing/municipal utility rates also used to skyrocket.

Consequently, we have made the following decision in order to break this chain. We will not raise prices starting January 1, 2012. This will be done in July when energy demand is low. This country requires less heating and electricity in July. So this price hike will be less painful for consumers. We will make an exception for Russian Railways because this has something to do with traffic safety. Industry rates provide most of the funding for railway maintenance. These increases will not exceed inflation levels.

We predict that 2012 inflation will not exceed 6-6.5%. We would like this to happen, and we are proceeding from this premise. Starting January 1, Russian Railways rates are to increase by 6% over a 12-month period. Gas rates are to increase by not more than 15% over a 12-month period, starting July 1. Why are we doing this? You see, gas is dwarfed by other primary fuels. We are facing a disproportion here. Everyone starts using gas alone, and this is bad and harmful for the entire economy. So, comparable prices are essential. This will be the only 15% increase which had totalled 14% in 2011. Some regions had initially raised gas prices by 40%. We reduced these price hikes by 20-21% and eventually brought them down to 15%. The average price increase was even less.

Electricity, heating and power-transmission rates will also be raised on July 1, and they will also reflect annual inflation rates. I was surprised and quite happy that you pay attention to such important issues. Thank you very much.

Rafael Mardanshin (Delovaya Rossiya regional branch chairman): We travelled a lot across the republic before the primaries and met with small-business owners. There were, of course, many questions, but the main issue agitating small businesses most was the unified social tax, namely a reduction of insurance contributions. We know that the decision has been made and that the tax rate will be cut by a definite amount next year. But the point is that this issue most concerns small businesses. The tax is generally described as an increase from 26% to 34%, but for small businesses it is from 14% to 34% - a 150% jump.

Vladimir Putin: The decision has been made? Then there will be a cut.

Rafael Mardanshin: Yes, but there is another angle to this story. Businesspeople now have to report to three bodies and pay taxes to three organisations: the tax inspectorate, the Social Insurance Fund and the Pension Fund. The entrepreneurs suggest that we return to the old system, the one that existed before this year, that companies should file reports and pay taxes only to the tax inspectorate and then the inspectorate itself distributes the revenue.

The trouble is that small businesses have either to hire an additional accountant or do the job themselves. On top of all this there is a fiscal burden – now it is not just one tax inspectorate that audits but also the Pension Fund and the Social Insurance Fund. Rearranging this would not affect the budget, either federal, regional or local. Simply, if such a decision is adopted, it will be helpful and supportive to small businesses and do no harm to the budget. We have already entered this proposal into the People’s Programme – both on insurance contribution reductions and on reinstating the previous accounting system.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s stop and think. The matters that concern you are purely technical. But what makes them such? The Pension Fund raises pension money and is responsible for managing it. The bureaucratic trick is that the tax service is subordinated to the Finance Ministry and is not formally accountable for contributions to the Pension Fund, which operates at a deficit. Our Pension Fund really has a deficit: it appeared when we raised pensions and carried out pension valorisation. We meet the fund’s deficit out of the reserves the government accumulates from high energy prices.

People know about high energy prices, and they wonder where the money is spent. But it mostly goes into the pension system because, I repeat, the fund’s revenues no longer meet its expenses after we valorised and recalculated Soviet-era pensions. The fund depends above all on the collection rate and economic performance and, incidentally, on the way the fiscal bodies function. If one body is set to be responsible for raising all the money needed but is not responsible for fulfilling the fund, there is a risk that the fund will not be as efficient as we would like it to be. This is the problem, but I understand that business would find it simpler to work through a one-stop system – you come, pay, report, and leave. Let us give it some thought. I understand and would like to see a reduction in these administrative costs.

Incidentally, our starting point was the need to raise pensions, which I fully agree with. Yes, we raised them for veterans and carried out their valorisation, but we have a category of people in our country – it is not that they were children when the war raged – but we have a category of people who draw very low pensions. And despite that we opted for tax breaks. But where do we get the money to pay the pensions? I understand your question is not directly related to the volume of taxes collected but is connected with administrative procedures. We are sure to look more closely at this, you agree? Have you formulated your proposal anywhere?

Rafael Mardanshin: Yes, we have submitted it to the People’s Programme.

Vladimir Putin: It is necessary for me to know about it and issue directives to my people to consider it. Agreed?

Rafael Mardanshin: Good.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Grigory Ledkov (chairman of Tazovsky production cooperative): Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Grigory Ledkov: I represent the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area. My name is Grigory Ledkov. I will speak on behalf of reindeer breeders and fishermen. In Yekaterinburg I had occasion to say that Yamal is one of the few places where the traditions of reindeer breeding have been preserved and are even developing. But today people are worried by rapid industrial growth, which, I agree, is also necessary for the country. Everybody is anxious about the future. First, we are bracing for pipes and pipelines everywhere. We expect them to cross our pastures and our spawning rivers. Second, we are worried that our Tazovskaya Bay and also Obskaya Bay will legally become part of the sea and our region will lose them. The decision is about to be made at a tender in October. And third (I will stop at three, though we have other issues), the Regional Development Ministry endorsed rules for compensating indigenous companies for lost profits. But these rules are not in effect because they stumbled over some obstacles. There is still a legal vacuum in relations between us and the fuel sector.

Vladimir Putin: Strange. I believed it was all shipshape.

Grigory Ledkov: No, they have not been adopted everywhere, at least not on Yamal. But the important point is that they regulate the dealings with the legal entities, while the reindeer breeders are all private owners. On Yamal, they make up the bulk of the population, and half of all reindeer are owned by them. These breeders are not affected by these rules, because if companies and cooperatives are somehow recognised, private owners living along the pipeline are counted out, because the land they occupy is not fixed legally.

Vladimir Putin: Then compensations should be handled by the region, which should distribute them to private farmers.

Grigory Ledkov: We have proposals on how to improve things on these three points. If the federal centre legislates the full mechanism of compensation,…

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Grigory Ledkov: But how does the compensation filter down to the person concerned?

Vladimir Putin: You fear this compensation may be given to higher regional authorities and fail to reach the intended beneficiaries on the ground?

Grigory Ledkov: There is no process. On the one hand, we are asked why we claim these lands. It doesn’t matter that you have lived there for thousands of years and you have cemeteries and other sacred sites along this trail, they say. But you must remember, they add, there are other regions that need benefits from these fees – from oil and gas.

Vladimir Putin: Oh no, no. That logic is all wrong: all fees, the other regions and so on should develop with taxes paid by companies operating across the entire Russian Federation.

And we are discussing compensation for indigenous peoples for the damage that companies cause when developing their plans and projects. And these funds should be allocated directly to these indigenous ethnic groups.

Grigory Ledkov: Maybe the Ministry of Regional Development should go back to this and add a paragraph…

Vladimir Putin: Certainly.

Grigory Ledkov: Because, if there is no landowner, no land leaser, than there is no right to receive payment under the law.

Vladimir Putin: Let me be frank. We should have rules that do not interfere with economic activity, because these minerals wherever they are belong to the whole of Russia and they should be used for the welfare of the whole Russian population. But if this activity entails some imposition for the indigenous ethnic groups of the North, and compensation is stipulated, then it should reach its final recipient. Let’s review the procedure for these payments again and reconsider the way these funds reach a specific beneficiary. I am willing to work with you in detail, to work on it. 

Grigory Ledkov: To date, those involved have simply left it out.

Vladimir Putin: That’s strange.

Grigory Ledkov: Then we also have a proposal on a pipeline route. We see a powerful Transneft project with a pipeline route reaching some LUKoil fields. As a result, LUKoil, Vankor and TNK-BP seem to be private enterprises…

Vladimir Putin: Joint stock companies. They are not private, they are joint stock companies.

Grigory Ledkov: Yes, they have prepared land allocation documents to date. They have documents on land allocation (the documents have been signed for them), there are agreements on the choice of property, but Transneft has not come yet. But still they say it is a powerful project, it should… Here is my proposal – maybe we should discuss alternative pipeline routes that do not run through a flood plain, but along the other routes that have already been allocated to these enterprises? Yes, it will be a longer and more expensive detour, but the Taz River basin is the breadbasket for the whole district, it would be easier, of course.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s see. The feasibility of one or another project. You know, I have never tried to save an extra kopek on nature conservation issues. When it was necessary to move an oil pipeline system 400 kilometres away from Lake Baikal, I did it. Let’s consider this as well. In any case, we should not make these decisions without a serious review. But I agree with you that we should seek such a solution. Let’s see.

Grigory Ledkov: Good. And a third point, on the fate of Taz Bay and Ob Bay. This issue is on the agenda in Yekaterinburg, too. If there is a possibility – thank you very much, this is what I am saying. Yesterday I asked Svetlana Orlova about it, today they called me from the Federal Agency for Fishery, and they say they are willing to invite me in to discuss the issue. But all the same, the situation is such that the laws were adopted and now they say the bays will technically be maritime waters, but don’t worry, you will not lose them, we will keep our promises, certainly. But here is a proposal: maybe we should adopt some temporary rules until we amend the law.

Vladimir Putin: Temporary things have a tendency to become permanent things. So let’s make a final decision instead. You used the word maritime. Technically the issue isn’t maritime waters or not maritime waters, it is an issue of rights, which rights will stand, and which rights will be taken from you and the other consumers. What is primarily important is to affirm your rights. Will you work on this? If you decide that something has been taken from you, file a petition through government channels and we will go back to this issue. Yes, and I think the compensation issue is important too. I will tell my colleagues that they should look into the procedure of transferring these funds to the specific businesses or even to private family enterprises.

Grigory Ledkov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You are welcome.

Irina Manuilova: Mr Putin, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak. My name is Irina Manuilova, from the town of Berdsk in the Novosibirsk Region. I am the director of a lyceum-boarding school and a deputy of our city council of deputies. I represent a professional association of teachers and I would like, above all, to express my gratitude for what has been done in recent years to develop the school system under the Education national project. Regional authorities have started to receive additional funding – we understand this and are sincerely grateful for it, because this support is extremely valuable. I remember how ten years ago we had to buy chalk ourselves because schools did not have any money for it. But there are still many issues and problems that need to be addressed.

New Sanitary Regulations and Standards have been approved and went into effect on September 1. In my view, they include very sensible reservations about the fact that certain regulations do not apply to buildings that were erected earlier. This is appropriate. But there are two issues that these regulations do not take into account. The first has to do with holding an additional third hour of physical fitness classes. Most of our secondary schools only have one gym and some schools do not have any. The Novosibirsk Region does have a regional programme to support schools and renovate school gyms. This programme is working: for example, the floors in school gyms are being renovated with funds from the regional budget. The question is whether there will be a federal programme to build new sports complexes, probably for several schools in the same general area, rather than for each school individually. What is your opinion about this?

Vladimir Putin: Everything that has to do with colleges, lyceums and schools falls into the scope of the regional authority. Each time we set aside funds from the federal budget for addressing regional issues, I am concerned that the regional authorities that were hoping for federal support will reallocate their funds that were originally intended for these issues towards something else. This is why we only make the decision to provide federal funds in the case of certain issues, when the situation in a particular area becomes unbearable, as was the case with healthcare, education or national agriculture projects. A very dangerous threshold was being approached, and there was the obvious question of degradation. This is why we set up these programmes that are funded by the federal budget. We are currently working on a programme for secondary schools, and will be investing significant federal funds in it. Regional authorities are responsible for secondary schools, but we are setting aside 120 billion roubles for this from the federal budget for the next two academic years. As for healthcare – I am referring to regional healthcare – we will be putting 460 billion into this.

Irina Manuilova: We do feel the effects of these funds in the region. As for the projects that have been launched, secondary schools have begun receiving real money – teachers’ salaries have been increased and they have received new equipment. But if we are limited by regional funding, even taking into account the support we are receiving, we will not be able to build a sufficient number of sports facilities for schools.

Vladimir Putin: I understand that, but these are issues the regional authorities should be addressing.

Irina Manuilova: I understand, but this is a priority… You just said that in some areas a very dangerous threshold was being approached, and I believe that most regions have reached this threshold.

Vladimir Putin: This is why we set aside 120 billion roubles for renovation and for addressing other issues for two academic years: 20 billion will be provided by the end of this year. A further 60 billion will be set aside next [calendar] year, until the end of the next academic year. This is a substantial amount. As you know, United Russia is carrying out a programme to build health and fitness centres. Mr Gryzlov has recently put forward an initiative to build swimming pools at higher education institutions. A project was found that is good, cost-effective and feasible. But we need to analyse once again whether regional budgets are capable of funding the construction of sports facilities for schools or groups of schools. There are experts present in this room who are aware of the capabilities of regional budgets better than I. I hope they will tell us honestly whether regional budgets can pull this off.

Remark: Especially considering the co-financing.

Irina Manuilova: Returning to my question – the issue is that, as the school director, I am responsible for organising this third hour of fitness classes.

Vladimir Putin: I agree.

Irina Manuilova: And my colleagues… Some kind of procedure needs to be provided for.

Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with you. These processes need to be coordinated. If a secondary school has the necessary facilities, the authorities have the right to demand execution.

Irina Manuilova: That’s right.

Vladimir Putin: And if the school does not have these facilities, then there is nothing to demand.

Irina Manuilova: You’re perfectly right. My second point also concerns the Sanitary Regulations and Standards – it has to do with day-care groups for first grade pupils. Currently there are practically no schools that are able to set up a day-care group for first grade pupils – I’m referring to groups that can provide nap-time during the day. There is a very simple reason for this: they simply don’t have the necessary amenities. But closing down these day-care groups will cause a social explosion, because many people from Berdsk work in Novosibirsk and they cannot just leave their children at home alone all day. It is for this reason that I am forced to break regulations, whatever fines may come to me, but I am doing this consciously.

Vladimir Putin: Why would you say this on camera…

Irina Manuilova: Mr Putin, I believe that the time has come when we have frankly realised the following: do what you’re supposed to do, if you can; but if you cannot, let’s consider the interests of the people, and carry out the necessary planning for the future.

Vladimir Putin: Good. I hear you, and I understand. I wasn’t aware of these details. Thank you for bringing this up. I will let my colleagues know.

Irina Manuilova: I would also like to thank you for the primaries. On the one hand, I always believed that school cannot exist outside of politics, because we are working with parents and the residents of our town. On the other hand, while participating in these procedures I rediscovered the people’s attitude toward the Popular Front. I have been a member of United Russia since 2006, and I share the beliefs and principles of the party. And despite certain shortcomings, flaws and errors – as Alexander Karelin put it – it is proper that this work is being done at our sites. You know, a wave of trust for the Popular Front has swelled in the region. It is very important now not to betray this trust. The people in the regions are already thinking, the December 4 elections will come and go, but the work should not end there. And we are speaking about this as well. Moreover, a certain group of like-minded people has formed who are very much concerned with the region’s problems. As a representative from Berdsk, I was able to visit all district offices, I met with my colleagues, I revised my understanding of the life of teachers and doctors in rural areas and discovered many new things. It is very important that this group continues to function after the elections. Thank you very much for this idea. It received a very warm response from ordinary people, not politicians.

Vladimir Putin: I would also like for us to get a second wind, so to speak. And this seems to be working out properly, thanks to you.

Remark: Thanks to you.

Vladimir Putin: No, no, just a moment. It’s thanks to you – thanks to the competent and positive people who have demonstrated that there is a very strong and positive potential within our society that can be realised. This is very important. And we need to think about how to use these mechanisms efficiently in the future.

Irina Manuilova: The most striking thing is that the proposals that were initially submitted for the Popular Programme are already reflected in the popular budget hearings…

Vladimir Putin: That’s true.

Irina Manuilova: …and in the proposals and reactions that we hear from you as the party leader, at the regional level.

Vladimir Putin: I was hoping that this initiative would rouse people at the regional level and in municipalities, rather than only the top level in the run-up to the State Duma elections.

Irina Manuilova: That’s right. Those who are joining the initiative were not the biggest supporters of United Russia, to put it mildly.

Vladimir Putin: That's only natural.

Irina Manuilova: And these people are joining the Popular Front sincerely and with conviction.

Vladimir Putin: Great.

Irina Manuilova: And non-governmental organisations did get a second wind. A draft bill is being prepared in the Novosibirsk Region on financial support for NGOs that would provide sizeable grants of over 350,000 for social projects. I'm sure you will agree that a non-governmental organisation, especially one that is officially registered, which receives this money and carries out a project, represents an association of people, not who want to cash in and make a profit, but who want to help develop their town or region.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. 

Irina Manuilova: It would be great if the Popular Front continued to stir people up, rather than doing so only once.

Vladimir Putin: Good. Please.

Natalya Sementsova: My name is Natalya Sementsova, I am a school teacher from Smolensk. I’m not a member of United Russia, but I hope that the Popular Front will help resolve problems that we have at the regional and federal levels. And I will be grateful to you once we make substantial progress. Today, there are two issues that I would like to bring up. We met in the Smolensk Region, and one of these issues was raised back then, but I have to revisit it once more.

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Natalya Sementsova: The first issue that I would like to bring up is as follows. A lot has been said today about how we are trying to motivate specialists, including doctors, and hopefully teachers and cultural workers, to work in rural areas. I hope that specialists of all kinds will be included in the million that was mentioned, but this is not the most important thing. I believe that there should be a special programme for small schools…

There are 467 secondary schools in the Smolensk Region, and about 350 of them are quite small in some aspect or another. Most of them are in rural areas and they are on a different level. Some will be closed down, others will be re-specialised or associated as a branch with some other school. Meanwhile, children will have to be brought by bus from distances of up to 60 km. There are places where there are no roads, and it will be nearly impossible to find a driver for 4,500 roubles [a month]. In other words, there are lots of issues.

So why not carry out a pilot project – invite young specialists to work in rural areas, and create the necessary conditions for this? Instead of coming for three to five years, they can really settle down there. Why not turn a school into an intellectual, cultural and athletic centre? More than a school, it could be a kind of centre for, say, five villages located close to one another. Cultural workers would be able to give performances… All this would enable people to begin living in these areas, rather than just coming there to work. People would come to settle down and raise their children, rather than coming to work for three years. These pilot projects may prove worthy.

I hope that the Smolensk Region will agree to take part in a pilot project such as this. In this case I think it will be clear that we are not simply throwing around money, saying “Come and work for three or five years.” Rather, it will be clear that we truly do care what will happen with agriculture in the future – will we manage to revive rural areas, or will we throw up our hands and say that nobody has agreed to come? This year we heard Fursenko (Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education and Science) say that, strangely enough, some budget funded places are still vacant while fee-paying places are all taken and that we should do something about it. Why do you think we have this situation? Because there is already some discussion on the Internet about those studying with budget funds, whether they should work it off in the villages after graduation. So this triggered a reaction.

Vladimir Putin: I’m sure this is not the reason.

Natalya Sementsova: Well, maybe not the only one. I am sure there are other reasons. But we would like to see some development on this issue. I would like to mention one more sad thing. We live in a subsidised region, and I really envy your teachers and those living in other regions where they get a reasonable salary. Why does a teacher in Russia earn 5,000 roubles in one region while his colleague in another region earns 14,000 doing the same job? It is not that he or she does a worse job; it is just how it is. And yes, we are upset that the Smolensk Region is a subsidised region. You know how much is done to change this and we hope that our children and grandchildren will see a different situation. However, this is what we have now – our region, like some others, cannot raise teacher salaries.

Do you see what’s happening? If we look at education… We had to draw a line and give some teachers the 30% raise and tell others to wait. I’m speaking figuratively here, but this is how every teacher sees it. Teachers come to me and say, “Natalya, do you see what is happening? I finished my morning schedule and then the kids go to the afternoon teacher, the same kids. I get 7,800 roubles, she gets 5,000 roubles.”

Vladimir Putin: I see. It is true that in some regions teachers earn more than in others. It seems fair that teachers should get the same salary in any region, but if we compare the standard of living and cost of living, let’s say in the north and in Moscow or Smolensk…

Natalya Sementsova: Kursk and Smolensk are very close.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, Kursk and Smolensk are close and that’s why we take some revenue from some regions, we call them donor regions, and redistribute it as subsidies to the regions whose level of economic development is not high enough, not as high as we want it to be. That’s why we do it.

For example, some revenue is now taken from several regions to help the Vladimir Region. I agree, this can seem unfair sometimes, but we should use the excess for development. It is the right thing to do and we can’t avoid it if we want the same standard of living for all Russian citizens irrespective of the territory. It is one of the challenges the government faces, but it can’t be settled overnight. It will take time, big investment and decades of hard work; I’m not exaggerating. But there are certain issues that we cannot discard – for example, the cost of living in different regions. Unfortunately it is impossible to get the same salary from region to region because one region can be expensive to live in, while another can be cheaper.

Natalya Sementsova: Leaving aside the Siberian regions, let’s take our Central Federal District. We live differently here as well.

Vladimir Putin: That’s true. There are differences even here. And I repeat, that is the reason we allocate money from the federal budget so that every region can carry out its social obligations as well as the other regions do. The way this money is used is left up to local deputies and the local governor. And I would recommend finding out what this money is used for.

Natalya Sementsova: That’s what we intend to do tomorrow at the trade union meeting of the Smolensk education association and unfortunately these questions… I’m asking because when I go to the meeting tomorrow I need to know that this problem is being settled. You see, people are disappointed with what happened. Teachers and others, sport schools and art schools and so on… And tomorrow I will have to face these people and somehow explain the situation – why people working with the same kids get different money. That is the situation and it means that…

Vladimir Putin: But it is for that reason that we introduced these measures. We have helped regions raise teacher salaries. Education is a key field. The goal is to get others up to this level gradually.

Natalya Sementsova: Not everyone has this opportunity.

Vladimir Putin: Besides, maybe I am rushing things, but we are thinking of helping the regions in this direction.

Natalya Sementsova: You are?

Vladimir Putin: We will do it to support the regions with various budget issues. However, federal resources are limited if we don’t want the pension system or defence to collapse. We need to study it and work it out. But we hoped that by doing this we could inspire the regions to meet the challenges related to pre-school, educational and cultural institutions. Recently I met with some rectors and they asked me these questions. We see how things are and we understand the situation, but the regions should be more active in this respect also. We will think about how and whom to support.

Natalya Sementsova: People are complaining… It is necessary to look into this matter somehow…

Vladimir Putin: It is not about complaints, it’s about social justice.

Natalya Sementsova: You are right, it’s exactly about social justice.

Vladimir Putin: We should proceed not from emotions, but base on objective considerations that are formulated as social justice. This is how we should primarily orient ourselves. Now, let's talk about small schools. This is a complex issue. And the complexity has to do with the fact that the territory of this country is enormous. I am sure you know how much these small schools cost to maintain (if we take into consideration personnel upkeep costs, rent, heating, electricity and so on), and what the cost of a good educational centre is per student. I'm sure you know the level of training that is required as well. What are we trying to achieve, after all? We want our children, no matter where they attend school, to receive a high-quality education and a chance to enrol in a university or college. Generally, this means they should be in a position to decide their own fate, as they and their parents see fit. For this purpose, a proper level and good quality of training in schools should be guaranteed, and there are modern facilities that can make this possible. Schools with few pupils must not be closed (no matter how costly they are to maintain), where transporting children to remote destinations by bus is still a problem (because there are no decent roads or forms of transport). But what do we need to aspire to?

I have already addressed this in public: modern training facilities, including distance education, make it possible to establish branches of major educational centres equipped with advanced training technology. This is within our reach. Part of the funds that we allocate can be used to set up this network. And that would mean upgrading the common educational space in this country. Of course, to make this agenda a reality takes time, effort and even additional federal or regional funding. We are even prepared to consider providing additional resources. It is only necessary that the money we are currently providing (and this is a substantial amount) should be spent efficiently and not wasted. But honestly, I am very pleased that we are discussing the most vital and urgent problems that are facing the country, not simply some formal ideas or sloganeering matters. And I very much hope…

Valery Trapeznikov: Mr Putin, please allow industry an opportunity to speak. Until now, we've only heard from the public sector.

Vladimir Putin: We’ve heard from many different areas, including industry, education and health… In fact, I should have left already 20 minutes ago. But, all right, let's hear from industry. But honestly, I can’t stay any longer, I have to be going…

Valery Trapeznikov: I am a lathe operator, Trapeznikov, at an aircraft factory in the city of Perm.

Vladimir Putin: Is it an aircraft factory or a motor works?

Valery Trapeznikov: No, it makes carburettors; that is, the fuel equipment for all types of military aircraft, including the one that you fly in. We are stuck in a paradox: the United Motor-Building Corporation has purchased stock, and says, “You have 4,300 employees, and you need to dismiss 300.” We have written a letter from the workforce, saying that our output has grown 28% and we have taken over helicopter manufacturing from Ukraine, since our relations with them are not as friendly as they used to be…

Vladimir Putin: No, no, first of all we are friendly with them. And second of all, when we take over an area it is for reasons of economic pragmatism, not because of the considerations you mentioned.

Valery Trapeznikov: So you see, we have increased output. But how can we cut 300 employees? Where are we going to drop them come autumn? The most paradoxical part is they are not willing to fire the higher-ups. In the past we had 11,000 workers plus a general director and a chief engineer – that’s all. Now there are 17 directors per sector and 4,000 workers. We at the union have been tipped off that these 17 directors are paid 24% of the gross payroll. Pardon me, but this is a paradox! For example, I am a lathe operator, and someone in my position is paid somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 roubles. Let's say the general director earns 100,000 roubles. But where do his 17 deputies fit in? It’s absurd! And the MBC [Motor-Building Corporation] goes along with it, because it owns 90% of the stock.

Vladimir Putin: I have fewer deputies than that.

Valery Trapeznikov: There you have it – and our top manager has as many. We say, why cut down the labour force? I have operated my lathe for years and years. I cannot be dismissed – I operate three lathes at once because no one wants the job. Everyone wants a big paycheck right from the start. I say, my dear, you need to train – whoever said that everything had closed, all the institutes and vocational colleges, was right – let me train you, I say… But no one is willing to take the job, you see? Well, I did find two boys and trained them: they are filling in for me while I 'm here. This is a problem! And the pay gap between a skilled worker – I am in the aircraft industry – and [his superiors] – is a difference of 15-17 times. It’s completely skewed!

Vladimir Putin: It certainly is.

Valery Trapeznikov: Well, let him play on the stock exchange, or wherever else he likes, but down on the shopfloor, we need to know that we are contributing to the federal budget. We pay taxes, you see, everywhere! At our factories, it’s a criminal offence to be paid under the table. I've heard people brag they are paid 6,000 roubles officially, and the rest under the table. And I tell them, you're a scoundrel in every sense of the word! You're selling out your employer, because your country needs to receive tax revenue. You shouldn't be proud that you're being paid under the table. The time will come for you to retire. And what are you going to live on then?

Vladimir Putin: He is not a scoundrel; he is, as they say in certain circles, a chump.

Valery Trapeznikov: A chump! That’s right: a chump!

Vladimir Putin: He's a chump because he is a victim, and I will tell you why. If he is paid part of his wages under the table today, his pension rights will be restricted later. He won’t receive a decent pension.

Valery Trapeznikov: He is young, and doesn’t understand what’s what.

Vladimir Putin: But you're an active man, you explain it to him.

Valery Trapeznikov: I already have, I really chewed him out. But to conclude: “primaries” is a bad word. I tried to memorise it for five minutes and did so only with much difficulty. I am a [United Russia] member, and I think that a working man should be a member of the party… I also put them in their place over there, to some extent, you see? So, when I walked onto the stage, I felt strong because I represented both the party and the Popular Front. And I said what was on my mind. And no one will say to me, “You are a party member, toe the line!” But I will certainly obey the laws of the Russian Federation… I said, “I am taking my cues from Putin.” I spoke firmly and concretely. There's no need to be afraid of this, even if someone doesn’t like it. Why do all governors go to United Russia congresses, when so many of them are not party members? Why? And so it winds up that you receive media coverage only if you attend a congress of governors or officials. But where are ordinary party members: farmers, workers, designers, doctors? Just imagine, I saw the list for our region, and there was not a single one. I am the only worker on the Political Council, and they tried to get rid of me because I talk too much.

Vladimir Putin: They didn’t succeed, did they?

Valery Trapeznikov: No. They brought me back six months later. But that's just me. Others would be too timid.

Vladimir Putin: I’ll remember you now, and you'll never get kicked out of anywhere.

Valery Trapeznikov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: In fact, this is a very important issue, one that concerns not only the corporation you mentioned. Like a drop of water, it reflects many problems that exist in this extremely important area. Take the recent tragedy [a plane crash that killed the entire ice-hockey team from Yaroslavl]. Everyone is talking about it and we are all suffering. I feel so sorry for the boys we lost, I'm moved to tears. I just can’t put it any other way – I'm simply moved to tears!

And again, the focus is on aircraft. They are, by the way… People write that they are overworked and old. No, they are decent and good, but the world's aircraft industry is forging ahead, and we need to keep pace.

We have just one digitalised plane, the Superjet-100. Everything else is still on the drawing-boards. You see? But we will certainly be moving in that direction. In order to meet the modern industrial level, we need to unite. Even though you are a worker from the shopfloor, you are a forward-looking and intelligent person, and judging by what you say and how you say it, you understand what is happening in the motor-building sphere and in the aircraft industry in general.

There are just two or three companies in the world market, that's all. And the European countries, the most powerful economies have established a single aircraft company: the European aircraft manufacturing company. France, Germany, Italy, Spain – they have come together to establish a single aircraft manufacturing company. That is all – there are no others. And, of course, there are the Americans. There is a competition between them. China is trying to make moves, but they are still at the early stages so far. But we have the opportunity to find a foothold and maintain a position of our own. We have the school, we have the science, we have the personnel and we have an industrial infrastructure.

There is a need, of course, for government support, perhaps even considerable support. This is a difficult process, because everything was distributed or privatised in the early 1990s, this is an area that requires a concentration of resources. One company will accomplish nothing single-handedly in the world market. Meanwhile, if you don’t aspire to find a niche in the world market, you will loose your own domestic market, because it’s a global industry. A global industry! The same is true of the motor-building industry. But if in the area of aircraft-construction we want to set up a single major national corporation, then in the motor-building sphere – which we consider to be on a different level – there is the possibility of retaining certain specialised industries.

And, of course, we need to restructure and retool. I agree with you: I am not sure that this restructuring should only affect the shopfloor level. It is necessary to train people, to purchase new equipment, while redundant labour should be given new jobs. We need to pursue an intelligible personnel policy. And it is absolutely unacceptable to lose skilled personnel while building up the administrative level. But we have to look into the realities, we cannot take someone’s word for it. I promise you that I will look into this problem.

Valery Trapeznikov: Thank you.

Remark: Mr Putin, may I? A healthcare representative…

Vladimir Putin: You'll have to forgive me, but I really must go. Please don’t be angry. I have truly enjoyed speaking with you. I would gladly stay until morning, I'm not exaggerating. The ebb and flow of everyday business – and I am sure that all of you, as active people, face routines and problems of your own, just as I do – occasionally affects your foresight, so to speak, and you don’t see things as sharply as you once did. Meetings like this one are very important to me because they provide an opportunity to review our national priorities.

As we were discussing these problems, it occurred to me that we have been quite professional in our treatment of them. I did not hear any empty verbiage or catchphrases. Everyone present referred to concrete problems and did so in a highly professional manner. This is to say that the primaries were, indeed, successful. New people have emerged who can see to the core of the problems, and are able to formulate them clearly and propose solutions. Of course, there are some debatable points here and there, and areas that require additional consideration, but in general, we are on the right track!

Remark: We all support Russia! For Russia!

Vladimir Putin: And we love Russia! Thank you.

Remark: Mr Putin, on behalf of all Yaroslavl residents let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing our tragedy. On behalf of the victims' relatives, and from everyone else – thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Of course. It is my duty. We will carry out all our commitments.

Remark: Thank you very much.