21 september 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Russian Popular Front Coordination Council

Vladimir Putin

At a meeting of the Russian Popular Front Coordination Council

“The idea of the Russian Popular Front is to give a fresh impetus to Russia’s political and economic life, to ensure that new ideas burgeon at the regional, municipal and federal level and unconventional solutions are found to problems facing cities, regions and Russia as a whole.”

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,

We are meeting today ahead of the United Russia conference to discuss our candidate lists for the upcoming State Duma elections. Before we begin, I would like to ask Mr Vasilyev (Alexander Vasilyev, head of the online lobby group Pskov’s Ruined Roads) about their long drive along the bumpy roads.

Alexander Vasilyev: Good afternoon!

Vladimir Putin: How was your ride across Russia? As I understand from media reports, your impressions are better than expected, right? But I bet you also encountered some problems. How long was the drive, Alexander? About 11,000 kilometres? How was it?

Alexander Vasilyev: Even longer than that – almost 12,000.

Vladimir Putin: What made the strongest impression? Could you share a few noteworthy things with us?

Alexander Vasilyev: We have seen so much – it was a long drive. It was not the drive itself that made the strongest impression but the world around us – the beautiful nature and the people we met. It was the people that we met with who came up with their ideas and proposals. We have amassed a great deal of information which we now have to process. We just completed our tour yesterday after arriving in Kaliningrad, and here I am today. I hope we’ll be given some time to sort things out and then we’ll be ready to meet with the Transport Ministry and the Traffic Police Department to discuss these proposals.

Vladimir Putin: Where did you sleep? In your cars?

Alexander Vasilyev: We got some help, thankfully, and stayed in hotels.

Vladimir Vasilyev: Were the hotels decent?

Alexander Vasilyev: They were each different.

Vladimir Putin: And what did you have to eat?

Alexander Vasilyev: We tried to eat what people typically eat on the road, dropping in at cafeterias by the road.

Vladimir Putin: Nobody got sick, did they?

Alexander Vasilyev: There were no technical or physical mishaps. Everything went fine. We’ve all arrived here in good shape and everyone is happy.

Vladimir Putin: So there weren't any stomach problems after eating in these cafes?

Alexander Vasilyev: We were concerned about this but we tried to test everything out on ourselves. Of course, there were still places where we were not so inclined to eat. The closer to Moscow the better the service becomes, but the remote section of the Chita-Khabarovsk highway stood out to us in particular – there are also places such as one cafe that we went to, where we saw people eating with their hands.

The level of service differs widely. We thought it best to err on the safe side, because we thought our journey would be quite difficult. But perhaps it would be worthwhile to adopt a more flexible and civilised approach, in order to see how a family consisting of a father, mother and child would traverse this road, and what they would think of the catering services on offer.   

Vladimir Putin: And you did not have any problems with the domestic cars throughout your journey, did you?

Alexander Vasilyev: No, we didn’t. That was a pleasant surprise. There were no serious mishaps. The AvtoVAZ dealer network is really quite good. We could always stop by and wash our cars. Their representatives met us in every city, checked our oil and some other parameters. We were surprised that in Blagoveshchensk they replaced our windshield, which had been hit by a stone, although we didn’t insist on it. It was very far from both Moscow and Togliatti but they still found the glass for us.

Vladimir Putin: In other words, it seems you were generally pleased with the quality of service.

Alexander Vasilyev: Yes, their service was quite good.

Vladimir Putin: Okay. As we agreed, you will make your summary, and I will give relevant instructions to the Transport Ministry, our road service and other services to check and analyse all the information that you have collected at a professional level. They will then make decisions to improve the service. This is very useful information. I’d like to thank you and all those who took part in this motor race, a protest against the lack of roads and sloppiness. How long did you spend on the road?

Alexander Vasilyev: 27 days.

Vladimir Putin: Twenty seven days is quite some time.

Alexander Vasilyev: Technically, we spent less time than this actually driving, because sometimes we’d spend a day exploring a city, say Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk (we had a day for each city). After all, we wanted to visit these cities and talk to people.

Vladimir Putin: Was the fuel quality acceptable?

Alexander Vasilyev: The methods that were available to us showed that the fuel was quite good. Our cars ran normally… The fuel was expensive at good petrol stations and we paid less at cheaper ones, but the fuel was equally good in both cases. The fuel seems to be the same, but the prices vary. As I’ve already mentioned to you, there is a big difference in fuel prices, depending on the region. In some regions, petrol 92 octane costs 21.06 roubles.

Vladimir Putin: This is a result of regional monopolist practices.

Alexander Vasilyev: Quite right. There are places where it costs 31 roubles.

Vladimir Putin: I see. Well, thank you once again.

Alexander Vasilyev: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, let’s return to the theme of today's meeting.

Today, as I said, we will review the lists of candidates for the upcoming elections to the State Duma in order to submit them to a United Russia conference for final endorsement. I’d like to say straight away that the United Russia election list is based on the results of popular preliminary voting. This voting took place through the mechanisms and public communications of the Popular Front, which gave us the opportunity to reveal and suggest the names of new, very active and interesting people. These people have good proposals that are in high demand and will promote development in different areas of the economy and public life.

Almost 360 people account for more than half of our entire list (in all, it should contain 600 names, as you recall). These are people who will be taking part in national elections to parliament for the first time. They are teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, workers, army servicemen, farmers and cultural figures. The majority of our candidates have solid practical experience. They know life, without any exaggeration, and feel the problems facing our society and citizens. They are ready to suggest practical ways of resolving these problems, to translate their ideas into legislative initiatives and make appropriate amendments to our laws.

Importantly, we have considerably expanded opportunities for non-party members to become Duma deputies. They will make up about a third of the United Russia list. To be honest, I didn’t even expect this – as of September 20 our non-party candidates have received 185 positions on our list. In addition, the list includes representatives of more than 100 federal and regional public organisations – trade unions, youth, women’s and veteran movements, associations dealing with major social projects in education, healthcare and environmental protection. In effect, these organisations represent the entire spectrum of our civil society (I say this with complete confidence). Using the parliamentary platform, they will be able to exert a major influence on key domestic and foreign policy decisions, and take part in shaping and implementing priorities of government policy.

Our list also includes 167 current deputies of the Duma. We have preserved continuity in parliamentary work. I hope that voters will support us, because ultimately, this is a choice for our voters, our citizens. But alongside maintaining this continuity, we will make legislative work more dynamic and streamlined, because there will be new people coming into politics. I’m convinced that our work in the Duma will become much more effective.

You know I have recently met with some of your colleagues who have made it through the primaries. I must tell you, I was impressed by the discussion we had. These are active people who understand the essence of problems, are eager to raise them and are ready to tackle them. I’d like to add that we must not lose anyone. The experience of those colleagues whose parliamentary term is ending and who have worked well in the State Duma must be put to good use.

Colleagues, we have set up the Russian Popular Front in order to bring new, energetic people into parliament, into power in general and into politics. I have spoken about this before. The point here is that those who, for various reasons, could not show their worth or to realise their potential before must now be given this opportunity; they must have a chance to show their potential.

Undoubtedly, the establishment of the Popular Front also helped reinvigorate the United Russia party. I hope very much that our colleagues in the party understand this and will promote this process, because, on the whole, this new organisation is becoming more viable. We have used the Popular Front venue to discuss a wide range of issues related to all areas of life in the country. In point of fact, we have created a network of direct ties between the authorities and civil society institutions. It was a very important period in our work, and we will definitely continue to promote these initiatives and mechanisms.

This is what I’d like to say in conclusion. We have held a United Russia conference and approved the list of candidates and United Russia’s programme, and now we are starting the election campaign, the full-scale election campaign. I’d like to say in this regard that we have established the Popular Front and held the primaries in order to create a viable and interesting list of candidates for the State Duma. But the Popular Front itself will not take part in the elections. So for these numerous public organisations uniting women, trade unions, youth and professionals to be able to get seats in the State Duma by running as United Russia candidates, we must understand and focus our attention on encouraging voters to put their trust in United Russia, because it is through the party that these new people can get into parliament. I would like to repeat that at this highly important stage of planning its subsequent activities, the Popular Front should above all focus on this priority political goal. This is what I wanted to say in my opening remarks. Now I’ll give the floor to Boris Gryzlov. Go ahead.

Boris Gryzlov: Thank you, Mr Putin. Indeed, the results of the nationwide primaries have demonstrated that there is a new force and new people. About 360 people will be included in the list for the first time, and I want to say that 228 candidates represent the Popular Front, including 158 at the federal level and 70 at the regional level. Some of them are leaders of the public organisations represented here. The primaries were successful for the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (16 people), the Women’s Union of Russia (16), representatives of the healthcare system (13), the Russian Pedagogical Assembly (12), and Delovaya Rossiya (12). They are leading the race.

I would also like to say that nine participants of today’s meeting have expressed a desire to take part in primaries and scored high – and hence have a reason to expect that they will be included in the election list. They are Andrei Andriyanov (Student Union at Lomonosov Moscow State University), Vladimir Gutenyov (Russian Engineering Union), Vitaly Yefimov (the Union of Russian Transport Companies), Frants Klintsevich (the Russian Union of Afghan War Veterans), Yekaterina Lakhova (the Women’s Union of Russia), Vyacheslav Lysakov (car owners’ association Freedom of Choice), Mikhail Moiseyev (Veterans of the Armed Forces), Timur Prokopenko (the Young Guard of United Russia), and Alexander Vasilyev, who has told us about the 12,000-kilometre drive across Russia (the internet community Pskov’s Ruined Roads; understandably, he is on the Pskov list).

Of course, after we hold the conference, all public organisations that are members of the Russian Popular Front must not lose their initiative. We will certainly have headquarters, both federal and regional ones, where all of these organisations must work actively to popularise the ideas of United Russia, because all of us will represent United Russia during the election campaign.And I think that this is within our power, especially now that we have been joined by enthusiastic professionals. So, I believe that we can achieve the results that we envision for ourselves. And what we envision is a parliament party equal to or exceeding the current one.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Are there any more ideas or suggestions? Who would like to comment? Please.

Boris Titov (Chairman of the Business Russia social organisation): Thank you, Mr Putin. We are indeed pleased with the results of the primary elections. You said yourself that one of the goals of the primaries was for the people to be acquainted with Russian businesses, which they can often only judge through Forbes magazine. I must say that the meetings held in advance of the primaries were a success. Twelve [business] people joined our ranks, and we hope that they will be a huge asset for the business community and the entire country in helping to promote ideas for economic development. It is very important to be able to access their experience and their resources for the further progress of the Russian Popular Front. The idea of establishing a network of 10-15 regional production complexes, the federal projects that we approached you with some time ago, could be of substantial help in this initiative, from the perspective of adopting relevant laws and the further implementation of these projects. I would like to repeat that it is very important that the business community is represented in the State Duma – particularly so because the entrepreneurs who joined the party are part of the very foundation of the economy, those who are involved with processing industries. Some of the businesses they represent include affordable housing construction, fish processing, farming, poultry breeding, innovations and fertiliser production. There are people from oil pipeline construction as well, which is an equally important industry. Thank you very much. I would like to make a suggestion with respect to the activity of the Russian Popular Front. Some time ago we discussed the possibility of forming a talent pool for the Popular Front. I consider it very important that we form a reserve of young and promising people. However, both the president and the government have already created similar talent pools. I suggest that we form a reserve of people who may not always be able to find jobs for themselves so easily, but who have a lot of valuable experience to offer. We have already started forming this kind of pool for Business Russia, and we would like to propose a reserve consisting of people of 45 years and older who have substantial experience, who have worked both in Soviet times and in the market economy. It often happens that after reaching a certain age they can no longer find a meaningful application for their skills. They would be able to reach potential employers through such a reserve. I think this is an important role that could be taken on by the Russian Popular Front. We suggest forming a reserve of older professionals. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let's think about it. Yes, go ahead please.

Sergei Borisov (Head of the OPORA Russia national organisation of small and medium-sized business): Mr Putin, in the course of the primary elections, entrepreneurs made proposals regarding the future of the State Duma. After all, the elections are – probably not the ultimate goal – it is for the sake of the structural variety, after all.

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Sergei Borisov: It is very important to proceed such that our representatives are elected to the appropriate specialised committees, and that when these committees begin operating they will not become isolated. It must be fixed in the regulations of the State Duma that matters essential to the country’s activity that are supervised by these committees need to be discussed together with our organisations.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Borisov, I hear your point. We will do just that. But firstly, we must pass the pre-election stage and enlist the support of the voters.

Sergei Borisov: We'll knock on wood.

Vladimir Putin: Still, there's something not quite right about this – cooking a hare before it is caught, as they say. The idea is clear and we will definitely follow through on it. But it is obvious that those United Russia deputies who represent doctors, say, need to work for a relevant committee and oversee healthcare, while teachers should oversee education and business people should represent the interests of the business community within the specialised committees. Of course, we will proceed in this way. How could we do otherwise? Mr Lysakov, please.

Vyacheslav Lysakov (Head of Freedom of Choice, the interregional public organisation of vehicle owners): Thank you, Mr Putin. I am not going to talk about the elections. Rather, this has to do with the hierarchy of our regional coordination councils. I think we should come back to this issue later, because there is the fear that the bureaucrats may slowly push out social organisations, and that their influence will decline after the elections. What we really need is efficiency in the regional councils that make up the federal coordination council of the Russian Popular Front. There are so many active people working there. Of course we could introduce them to social and expert councils, with the idea of a talent pool or workforce reserve in mind, but this may result in a kind of dissipation. I think this so-called ‘front fist’, in a positive sense, must remain, because the influence of social organisations is underrated in certain regions. Moreover, in some regions, social organisations are being pushed away from the frontline of decision-making.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Lysakov, I agree with you completely. We must proceed with a balanced and careful approach here, in order not to lose anything. I have already mentioned this. Obviously, in general this is something that I have expected. But still, this resistance from the bureaucratic system seems excessive at times, even to me, but in general it is understandable. You know, when high-ranking officials spend years working in legislative councils with the same people, it becomes easier for them to solve these issues. They see the approach of these outsiders as too ambitious, perhaps even…

Vyacheslav Lysakov: Annoying.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, annoying. Addressing the issues that these people consider to be of primary importance requires additional efforts and resources. The managers often think that they need to focus on the things they have been doing for many years, whether successfully or not. But the task here is different. In general this is understandable, but the role… I want to repeat that the role of the Russian Popular Front is to add variety to the political and economic life of the country. This will enable the emergence of fresh ideas and extraordinary solutions at the regional, municipal and federal level for the current problems that face cities, regions and the country as a whole. But as I said, we must now concentrate on the elections to the State Duma and keep in mind that which can be used effectively at the regional level.

Vyacheslav Lysakov: Mr Putin, I hope that we can discourage the local officials if they try to dismiss professional communities and social organisations. This resistance still exists.

Vladimir Putin: You know, this is natural. Do you think this is the first case of its kind? We spoke with experts in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The majority of problems there were actually rooted in red tape and delayed decision-making.

But what is there to be done? This is not just a problem for Japan or Russia, this is a problem that is common to bureaucracy: it functions under its own laws. And such organisations as the Russian Popular Front are intended to overcome these fundamental problems, these problems that are, without exaggeration, systemic to the psychology of officials. In my opinion, this seemed to be a needed and functional tool at the initial stage, and we will not lose it. Go ahead.

Vitaly Yefimov (chairman of the association of legal entities, Russia’s Union of Transport Companies): Mr Putin, we do not have 16 people, but this was the first time that transport companies participated in a political structure of this kind. We took six leading places, of which four are non-partisan. I think that if we get this many seats in the State Duma, it will represent a good potential for completing the legal framework within this five-year period and, perhaps, even entering into a new stage. I have in mind laws that are directly applicable, so that we can avoid government resolutions, and all will be in one, as it is usually done in the West. First of all, we should, of course, address the legal framework related to transport safety. But we understand that if our candidates make it, they will have a different goal set for them. We have studied and analysed all these lists and we believe that we should submit them. They have been prepared by our experts and our coordination council, and we would like to submit them.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. As for directly applicable laws, of course, we should strive towards having more of them where it is grounded, where they can function. And I agree with you that safety is a priority. Please, Ms Ivanova.

Valentina Ivanova (chair of the public organisation, Russian National Teachers’ Assembly): Mr Putin, I am very happy to say that quite a large number of teachers have made it onto the list. They successfully passed the primaries; this is really the first time there has been such an appeal directed at the teaching community, and the first time we have achieved such success. Among those who are on the list today are such teachers as Yelena Ushakova, who made it to the top three in the Tomsk Region. She is 48 years old, and a history teacher at a rural school. Of course, this was all made possible thanks to our Front, its formation and the corresponding call that went out.

Secondly, Mr Putin, I would like to say that teachers took part in the primaries having received serious support from the implementation of your initiatives to raise their wages. This was such a powerful backdrop, such a powerful movement that was created within society. I think that this initiative is taking place on such a large scale that there may not have been decisions of this kind about teachers’ wages in 25 or 30 years. The Russian National Teachers’ Assembly has a hot line for this, and we receive inquiries. We hope to be able to respond to teachers’ questions, to the problems that arise in the teaching community alongside our candidates during the election period.

I would also like to say that we have received a huge amount of support thanks to your initiative and your Teachers’ Housing project. You hit the bull's-eye, so to speak. This is the second biggest problem faced by teachers. Frankly, there was not the slightest hope of resolving it with the wages we used to earn. But if we take a look at it now… We surveyed 24 regions and some of them, notably Tyumen and Nizhny Novgorod, have some interesting experience. In the Tyumen Region, the interest rate for loans is 1.03%. The Nizhny Novgorod Region provides loans for both housing and cars – Lada, and so on. A teacher living in a rural area gets to build a house and to buy a car. Naturally, if as a result of this powerful project we can use the experience of these regions in order to support schools, I think that the goal you set to getting teachers into the parliament will be achieved. Now, thanks to these projects, we will be able to bring up the issue of supporting teachers in order to be able to pass corresponding laws in the State Duma, allocate the required financing and monitor how regions resolve these problems locally.

Finally, Mr Putin, October 5 is Teachers’ Day. The holiday, which is, perhaps, the most pleasant for us after New Year, is approaching. Everyone has very fond memories of their first teacher, and so on. Thanks to the work within the Popular Front and the sense of connection with the community, the Russian National Teachers’ Assembly has created a medal: Popular Recognition of Work in Education. Apart from this moral support, teachers are asking for the Popular Front, if possible, to continue patronising the educational sphere, as it is doing now. Perhaps there may be some functions of popular inspection so that we could work together in assessing new proposals, experiences and results. It is now the general opinion that the Popular Front is the guarantor of the development of Russian schools. And we do not want this opinion to be disproved. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Ivanova, there are several specific tasks that can and should be set for the Popular Front. Let me explain.

First of all, we have agreed with regional governors that we will provide assistance from the federal budget to resolve certain issues related to secondary education in the regions, and they will increase their budget allocations in order to raise teachers’ wages to the level of the average wage in their regions. Some regions have already done this. I believe there are 44 that have done so, including four in which the wages are even higher than the average. In other regions, the target has not yet been reached, but wages have been raised by 30%. When I meet regional governors, almost all of them say that this will be done within next year. A majority say it will be done within the first six months of 2012. Even if they manage to do so by the end of 2012, this will not be bad either. In this regard, the Popular Front is facing its first task: we need to supervise this work; we need the Popular Front to oversee the completion of this critical social task, a social and economic task even, because the improved financial situation of this group of our citizens will surely improve their purchasing power and will have a positive impact on the economic growth in some sectors of the Russian economy. That's the first thing.

The second, which is no less important, is that the Popular Front has to ensure that teachers’ wages are indexed properly in the future, after 2012. It's possible that they may be raised to the average level and then left there. The economy will move on with its wages, but wages in this part of the public sector will remain frozen. This must not be allowed to happen. Some time ago I promised that we would index maternity capital, and we are doing this, and I will mention this today at the government’s meeting. We have even provided for indexing it next year, despite opinions to the contrary, to the effect of: “This is so much as it is, we can skip indexing for a year or two.” We do not do this with maternity capital at the federal level, and we cannot allow the situation with teachers’ wages to stagnate on the regional level. This is another simple, but very important task. And, finally, those people who make it to the State Duma will be able to control these processes at the parliamentary level, which I believe is very important. Please, Mr Klintsevich.

Frants Klintsevich (leader of the public organisation Russian Union of Afghanistan War Veterans): Mr Putin, speaking of the results, our organisation right now has a real chance of having seven deputies in the State Duma, including those who are already there. I think that this is a colossal success for us.

But this is not so important for me, and I would like to speak about something else today. When the Popular Front was established and the popular vote began, I received feedback concerning people, who by actively participating in the primaries, in this popular vote, appeared different in the eyes of the authorities – as an organisation and as responsible people. Considering that 109 people participated in these primaries on the federal level alone, I think that almost 80% of them will become deputies of regional legislative assemblies. This is much more important for us, Mr Putin: they have stepped up the activity of their organisations. Secondly, the entire social burden rests on the local and regional levels.

Today, when we say that the Front will continue this work, participation in local and regional elections is very important for us. The federal level does not concern us: there is a government policy that is difficult to change and it is impossible to fill the State Duma with veterans. But involvement at the regional level is the main goal for us today. When we conduct these conference calls, people simply thank us. Also, speaking of the results, Mr Putin, if, say, 120 people took part in the primaries and my people came in 11th, 13th and 16th, I think this would be a huge success. Even coming in 20th among 70 people is a success for those who have long gone unnoticed, even if they are distinguished people.

So continuing our work after the elections at the local and regional level, continuing the work of the Russian Popular Front – this is key, in my view, and we can only say thank you very much. That’s all I wanted to say.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Now, Alexander Shokhin, please.

Alexander Shokhin: Thank you, Mr Putin. It is very important right now, and not only because today is the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin and the birthday of Vladislav Surkov – it is important to decide on basic things like with whom…

Vladimir Putin: He is not as important as the Blessed Virgin, but we congratulate him, too!

Alexander Shokhin: …with whom we are going to the State Duma, by which I mean the candidate lists, but also with what. Naturally, the programme will be very important, the programme that will be adopted by the United Russia conference, as the programme of both United Russia and the Russian Popular Front. And because we are defending differing interests, sometimes our organisations, while not in conflict, are in ongoing dialogue. Surely we need to continue this dialogue after the adoption of the programme, including on the platform of the Russian Popular Front. We need to continue this dialogue in order to decide on the election rhetoric, slogans, and so as to avoid contradicting each other. We should reach compromises at the negotiating table and not on air, and it should be kept in mind that sometimes businessmen sort out their differences with hand-to-hand combat.   

Vladimir Putin: We have a front. We don’t fight anyone.

Alexander Shokhin: That’s good.

Vladimir Putin: And they have no front and are boxing each other’s ears.

Alexander Shokhin: By the way, Mr Putin, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that while each organisation has been speaking of its successes in the primaries and of its possible future number of seats in the State Duma, everything depends on the number of votes, of course.

However, I have noticed that, for example, business associations represented here represent business as a whole and not only the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or Business Russia, or the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, or OPORA. Indeed, we have four national organisations in Russia, they are represented in the coordination council, and two branch organisations, and we, naturally, overlap at points. For example, in the Arkhangelsk Region, our regional leader also happens to be the leader of the regional branch of the Russian Engineering Union, and that is, in my view, a case in point. These overlaps should be identified within our organisations, particularly in those representing business interests.

In fact, we have many current MPs whom we have seen in the planned candidate list and we consider them to be our candidates, too. These are heads of key committees for the budget, financial markets, economic policy, industry, energy, construction, and so on. And from the very beginning, we looked to those MPs who had a positive record, including in understanding the interests of the entrepreneur community. We consider them to be our candidates, our parliamentary candidates in this case, and therefore we are speaking now not only about our representatives on the list but about the list as a whole. It is worth mentioning. And the fact that we agree all lists is important because it includes not only our representatives but also the active part of the current State Duma that we expect in the future membership.

I want to draw your attention to one more issue. It is time to think about the programme we are going to publicise. My colleagues have noted two approaches. Boris Titov says we need to decide on federal projects, the dozen or so federal projects, on lobby for them, as they say, create a system of administration and so on. Sergei Borisov says we need to have a mechanism to agree bills with the business community…

I believe it is premature, but on the other hand it is important to remember why we are running for seats in the State Duma. I think it is very important that, in the coming months of the election campaign, the business community states its wishes; it is important to have an institutional mechanism to protect the interests of the business community. Surely, the mechanisms existing at the government level (assessing the regulatory impact, with our business associations formally included in the process, and expert evaluations of current legislation, etc.) – all this could be transferred to a higher level, to the parliamentary level, the State Duma level, and then it will be possible to use this mechanism to resolve any problems, including those mentioned by Boris Titov. Naturally, we may differ on certain issues, but if we design and build future mechanism for cooperation with legislators and executive bodies similar to how the regulatory impact is assessed and expert evaluation of current legislation is conducted, I think this will be the most effective tool to resolve concrete problems, concrete bills, etc. So I would like to ask my colleagues to take note of this issue. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Shokhin, we are already using these mechanisms.

Alexander Shokhin: I said the mechanism has been formalised at the level of the government. At the State Duma level… The Public Chamber is entitled to participate in expert evaluations.

I would agree here with Mr Borisov that if such mechanisms based on procedural norms existed, we might not even need a law. But those should be the procedural norms of the State Duma and not only because we are members of the coordination council, but also because we are an organisation that complies with rather strict requirements... In this case, we could have been involved based on arrangements similar to the Public Chamber or the ones we have with the government. And this would have been a big step forward.   

Vladimir Putin: Mr Gryzlov, do you think this would be possible?

Boris Gryzlov: Yes, I think that would possible.

Vladimir Putin: See, they are even afraid to argue with you.

Alexander Shokhin: Well, we still need Shmakov to agree.

Vladimir Putin: You should keep in mind, however, that unlike in other… By the way, does the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs have an ethics committee or a similar structure?

Alexander Shokhin: We do have one, but fortunately both businessmen involved in the fistfight do not belong to the RUIE, nor have they complained to us about each other’s behaviour.

Vladimir Putin: Just keep in mind that some members of our Popular Front are Afghan war veterans, and while they are not in their prime, they are still quite tough guys… 

Alexander Shokhin: We can use Mikhail Moiseyev as…

Vladimir Putin: And if need be, they can still kick butt so bad that you’ll regret it. They aren’t the least bit rusty, as my neighbour said.   

Alexander Shokhin: In addition to the ethics commission at RUIE, we also created a joint ethics commission about five years ago together with our colleagues from Business Russia and OPORA. It includes mediators from all business associations. We invite the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to join. I think it could be a good venue to discuss the incident that happened during the show at NTV.      

Vladimir Putin: Anyway, enough with them. I can only imagine how they fight when it comes to money, they’d probably eat each other alive. Please, Mr Moiseyev, you have the floor.  

Mikhail Moiseyev: (council chair of the National Public Organization of Russian Armed Forces Veterans): Thank you. Mr Putin, on behalf of the group of nine that was mentioned earlier by Mr Gryzlov, I would like to thank you, Mr Gryzlov, and the leadership of our Popular Front.    

Without a doubt, those regions that have nominated us for this important and difficult task… If we succeed in going beyond Tula, which is the task that we have set for ourselves… When we entered the primaries, all 18 of us sitting here were rivals. Each organisation was trying to have more of its members nominated. Today, the situation is completely different and we are all allies now. Today, we are united under the United Russia flag. The success of the important goal that we have set out to achieve will ultimately depend on how well we work in those regions where we presented our programmes to the people.      

I will not give an exact figure, which is quite modest, but we expect that 12 representatives of the military will be elected to the State Duma provided that we prepare well for the elections. This is a rather significant group, representing the military, which can set goals, put forward proposals, and work to implement government programmes.   

We are waiting for the party conference, which is scheduled for September 23-24. As members of the federal coordination council, we can invite 20 people each. We have carefully reviewed candidates from all regions and invited those who will be involved in the United Russia’s election campaign. Immediately following the conference, our leadership will be travelling to the regions. I will be holding a veterans’ conference in Krasnodar on September 30 to share the tasks and deadlines set at the party conference.

The emphasis will be made on the veterans’ movement in the broadest sense of the word. In November (even though I need to be in the Far East to visit military garrisons in the Khabarovsk Territory, talk to people, and get them involved in major public projects) we have planned major activities in St Petersburg. This year will see the 70th anniversary of the Road of Life across Lake Ladoga, and on this occasion we want to hold a veterans’ meeting to pay tribute to the veterans who built that road. Preparations for this wonderful event are in full swing.    

With regard to current issues, the State Duma is considering the law on military pensions and payroll in the first reading. Using the Popular Front’s platform and this videoconference, I would like to request that the numbers being discussed at the State Duma be presented.   

There are many questions from veterans about military salaries for active duty and pensions for retirees. I believe this information would have answered many questions and we would have been able to provide people with answers that they wanted to hear.   

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Please, Ms Lakhova.

Yekaterina Lakhova (head of Women’s Union of Russia): Mr Putin, I would like to say that women were very active during the primaries. And I am not only referring to our union. Mr Gryzlov has already mentioned those representing our organisation, and in general women were well represented among candidates from the business community as well as the trade unions. The pensioners were also well represented. And I am very happy with the number of women on our list.  

I even watched on TV the meeting you had with young members of the Popular Front. We were very proud to see three of our young ladies attending the meeting. And most importantly (during the primaries and in the run-up to the elections) professionalism and willingness to work are becoming a priority. You can see that people are well prepared… We can see what they are capable of and in what area they can work, and who we can join efforts with to lobby and implement various social programmes. Take family policy, for example, which is very complex.    

The primaries and the preparations for the elections have certainly revealed some problems and have set new tasks for our organisation and for our union, for example. After reviewing the results of the primaries in eight districts, it appears that there is a certain pattern emerging. In the Caucasus district, for example, there were no women candidates. This must be the result of my failure to work more actively in those regions and engage women’s organisations. Of course, I realise that there are certain ethnic and cultural factors at play, but this is not a justification for not working harder.         

The second point that I want to mention is that there is a whole layer of… Doctors and teachers have been actively forming associations to advocate their social interests. Over the past 15 years, however, there has emerged a new occupation (I was there at the beginning of that profession and of the secondary and higher education programmes), which is that of a social worker. These people work at institutions which did not exist before 1990. I believe there are over five thousand social workers under the ministries of health and education. Their salaries are very low, but the work they do is very hard, having to deal with human suffering. And here, too, most social workers are women. Women account for 80% of the entire public sector. Therefore, we cooperate actively with the Assembly of Educators, the healthcare sector and trade unions, in fact, all social-sector segments. But I would like to say that the initiatives you voiced in Cherepovets have provided us with additional incentives for October and November, to unite people and coordinate their activities. There is hope. Judging by what Svetlana Orlova is currently doing (virtually an extension of the people’s budget), judging by the work of Mr Vyacheslav Volodin, the head of our headquarters, and judging by the specific initiatives and instructions voiced in Cherepovets, I can see how we have become united. Now that the regions have received instructions, I think this will also invigorate work to some extent. It appears that a second wave has begun, an election wave. At the same time, public-sector employees have suggested a number of initiatives. This is why I would like to thank you for setting us a number of tasks and for the internal analytical process that has taken place. Whether we are responsible or not, but we realise our mistakes. And we have a somewhat critical opinion of ourselves because there are some drawbacks. That’s why we will become more active in the regions during the election process. Ten women have been elected in every region during the primaries, including those held by the regions. Although Mr Babich is looking at me and saying that I’m a masochist. I say that I will ask this question, and he is calling me a masochist. But what can I say? These questions and the gender policy notwithstanding… Women also want to have a say in decision-making on vitally important issues we all depend on.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Mr Leonid Roshal, please.

Leonid Roshal: Mr Putin, first of all, I would like to ask a question about the future of the Popular Front after elections. I believe that the front must carry on. But we need to set forth a clear stance as regards its specific activities. We have the Public Chamber, we have the State Duma, and we have the Federation Council. We should see how it will fit into this structure, so that it does not become redundant, but proves useful and effective. This is very important. The people have come to believe that this project is useful. However, some individuals may not be totally convinced. The people believe in this because the front involves representatives of other parties, the people who don’t like United Russia very much. Yet they have joined the Popular Front. In my opinion, we must continue to move this forward. It’s very important that specific functions and duties become formalised. This is the first thing.

Second, I would like to tell you that we have kept our promises in full. We have submitted all materials concerning the healthcare bill to the State Duma on the 19th, which is right on time. The materials are now there. Actually, it took us three months working round the clock. This effort involved hundreds of medical experts, who did their best to improve this bill. We will work hard to find compromises. It is my opinion that the bill must be passed this year. But we have to work very hard so that the results of our efforts are not wasted. We must meet each other halfway and come to an agreement. Perhaps you will have to resolve some issues. In the long run, you might have to bang your fist on the table and say yes or no. This is very important, we consider it very important.

We have been cooperating fruitfully with the State Duma. Mr Boris Gryzlov instructed First Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov to assist us, and he has met with us. I hope everything will be all right. At the same time, we are working on a document, a programme, which contains a section on healthcare. We would like to compile a document that people would read and use as a guideline, without any populism but with clear statistics in hand. This is essential.

Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to return to an issue we have already discussed. The National Medical Chamber, the largest such organisation today, was the only one to work effectively all this time. We have other organisations, some of which are controlled by Yabloko, others by the Communists. We decided that we should stick with the Popular Front. Right now, they have raised the issue of abolishing the National Medical Chamber. I’m openly stating this because all regional governors have receives letters written at the instigation of the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development. The letters propose establishing a new organisation called the Russian Medical Society and virtually eliminating the National Medical Chamber. This is a serious issue. Mr Vladislav Surkov, I hope very much that you did not inspire this. 

Vladislav Surkov: Me too. 

Leonid Roshal: I hope very much that you did not inspire this, but this is a matter of survival… It’s impossible to fight this administrative resource when they say, and the governors, naturally, listen and obey. I don’t want anyone to say that yes, the National Medical Chamber will continue to exist. I don’t want this. But we must have equal opportunities. Let the people themselves make the choice. However, there should be no pressure from above. We have clear programmes, and we have discussed them. Their aim is to improve the healthcare sector. They are real programmes. We are moving in the right direction. Well, let’s just forget about it and close it all down. This is a serious issue, Mr Putin. I’m simply asking for your advice for the second time, and I’m requesting action for the second time. The situation only got worse since our previous conversation. The letters have been sent. People have been calling me from all over Russia and saying they have received the letters. Just now I received calls from the Leningrad Region, the Smolensk Region, Novosibirsk and the Southern Federal District ... When they get letters, they think this has been coordinated with you, with all those concerned, and that they should follow the instruction and establish a new organisation. I realise that we are not exactly an easy partner to deal with. We are independent. We say things that are unpleasant for the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development to hear. Quite possibly, we make mistakes in some cases, but sometimes we don’t make mistakes…  

Vladimir Putin: Mr Roshal, as far as the Popular Front and its future are concerned, I have already said that I consider it appropriate for the Front to continue to function. We should find a way of making it part of the state administrative system, so that it will occupy this niche effectively. We will certainly discuss this issue later on. But the fact is that new people have joined United Russia through the Popular Front, and they will work at the State Duma. They will assume responsibility before the public organisations that have delegated them and before the Popular Front itself. Notably, I have already said how Ms Valentina Ivanova and I had discussed teachers’ problems and the solution lies in raising salaries and in implementing the Teacher House project. By the way, we have discussed this issue with virtually all governors. On the whole, they support this idea, but, nonetheless, they need outside support … There are numerous tasks. For instance, the Public Chamber plays an important role. But an entirely different platform is required for working in the regions, directly working in municipalities and through public organisations. Nevertheless, I agree with Mr Roshal that everything should be assessed and instituted. That is absolutely right. You and I will tackle this issue together in order to facilitate effective cooperation with United Russia.

As far as the question regarding the National Medical Chamber is concerned, I’m less interested in destroying it than anybody else. What I mean is that we work actively and effectively within the Russian Popular Front’s format. And I can see how hard and constructively your colleagues are working on the highly important healthcare bill. If this is happening, if there are some departmental aspects involved, then I would like the staff to report what’s going on there to me in the near future once again. Have no doubt, we will look into the matter.

Leonid Roshal: Thank you, Mr Putin, thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Shmakov, please go ahead.

Mikhail Shmakov (chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia): Mr Putin, I’d like to return to the beginning of our conversation. You said that by raising the proper questions about the future, about the Duma’s work, we are cooking a hare before we it’s caught. There’s a similar saying, about disposing of a bearskin before the bear is caught. Needless to say, we must support the bear as the symbol of United Russia and keep its skin intact.

But seriously speaking, I would like to emphasise that our main task today is to conduct preparations and advertising for the elections. All members of the Popular Front, all public organisations – those represented at this table and those absent (the latter’s number is much bigger) must pool their efforts for the election campaign. A conference will take place in a couple of days to endorse the lists and the programme. We all took part in preparing these documents, but now we must move on. We must work now. We must say at the current meeting of the coordination council that this is our main task for the near future. Mr Moiseyev said there were 18 of us here. There are 18 of us here now and to a certain extent we competed for the position at the primaries…

Leonid Roshal: I didn’t compete with you…

Mikhail Shmakov: I have repeated what Mr Moiseyev said.

Leonid Roshal: Mr Putin, we have exceeded the plan and there are three of us now instead of two. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You are good guys.

Mikhail Shmakov: But today we have a normal multi-party system in the political field. Seven parties will join the election race. We are supporting United Russia and we must be competitive. After we finish the race we can demonstrate tolerance but we must compete during the race as in Vladimir Vysotsky’s famous song about the runners and friends from foreign countries. I’m not saying they are enemies of the Front. I’m just saying we must concentrate on the race. There are still some things to adjust in the lists and I think we can do this in two days before the conference.

Vladimir Putin: Okay. Thank you. Please take the floor.

Valery Ryazansky (chairman of the Pensioners’ Union of Russia national public organisation): May I? Mr Putin, 101 representatives of our union took part in the summer primaries race. This was a serious test for us. Several years ago it was difficult even to imagine we could find so many people from among the older generation. Of course, this is the result of special attention to the older generation. I think our motto of active longevity also helps.

But even the fact that 11 people have been chosen for the race on the top ten in their constituencies is not that important. What matters is that they represent the interests of practically every federal district. In other words, we have winners in every federal district. This means that during our intensive work in summer we managed to check the readiness of our regional and local organisations and now we are ready to take part in the work you mentioned – advertising immediately after the conference. To back our motto of active longevity we will hold a computer championship or competition, if you will, in Vologda on September 29th. It will be devoted to the Day of the Elderly on October 1. Its main goal is advertising – we want to show that we have eradicated computer illiteracy. This is yet another stage in our work under the active longevity motto. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s bridge the digital gap between the generations.

Remark: Let’s help pensioners go digital.

Vladimir Putin: Why not?

Valery Ryazansky: In sixty regions.

Vladimir Putin: I visited a class two or three years ago in a region. School teachers were taught to use computers. I asked one of them if it was interesting and she said: “Very much so. I don’t want to retire.” She sounded very sincere.

Please, go ahead.

Valery Plotnikov (president of the Russian Association of FarmHoldings and Agricultural Cooperatives): Thank you. Mr Putin, we represent farmers. They are responsible people and they are the first to the polls and support United Russia. Now they are also going to take an active part in the elections because they support you. The congress of farmers in Tambov was very important. We appreciate the specific decisions you voiced – I mean a 30% discount on fuel and 50% off equipment. We have never had anything like that before – farmers have bought all their equipment and are asking for more. And other specific things, too…

Vladimir Putin: They didn’t buy up the equipment. I just visited Vladivostok, and they had only two machines.

Vladimir Plotnikov: Then they had empty warehouses. And in other regions too, some regions are like that.

Vladimir Putin: They had empty warehouses. But we still have a large batch left here, I don’t remember the exact percentage. But we are determined to carry this plan through.

Vladimir Plotnikov: I must say that Rosagroleasing... Well, we’ve got Oleg Nazarov who is putting a lot of effort in it and who has taken your instruction very seriously. He is very responsible and cooperative. From what he is doing, people see right away that certain instructions have come from the leader and they’re working. The government is working. Farmers are especially perceptive to this kind of thing, this kind of activity. And we hope very much that we’ll have one representative and that the most deserving person, among the farmers I mean, will get into the State Duma. We have nominated a woman, she is strong and spirited.

One more thing. The Agrarian Party has teamed up with United Russia. For the first time ever, we have pooled efforts and closed ranks ahead of the election. This is a responsibility that we feel, and we would really like United Russia to feel it too, at regional elections and in general. I am confident that farmers won’t let you down.

I would like to draw you attention to one more issue. When we discuss agriculture, we certainly have to consider life in rural areas. I think that your latest initiative, in Cherepovets, involving such issues as rural schools and how they work, if there are enough doctors and other professionals – I think these are the central issues which also influence agricultural production. Why am I saying this? Because much depends on these things. I liked the way Vyacheslav Volodin handled this, setting goals in a clear and direct way, determined to give a forward momentum to these initiatives in the regions. I believe that things got rolling there. I am looking forward to the elections, which should help people realise that these initiatives are working, that they will soon have new housing, new mortgage plans and interest payments. These are the most discussed issues in rural areas.

I would like to ask you to emphasise this from the very beginning of the election campaign because it will have a tremendous positive effect on the psychological climate throughout the campaign, especially in agriculture. I think farmers won’t let you down, and we’ll see a high voter turnout. I am certain that rural areas will meet this goal best of all. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Next please.

Timur Prokopenko (chairman of the coordination council of United Russia’s Young Guard, a nationwide public association): Mr Putin, Mr Ryazansky just talked about a computer marathon. We have also been implementing a computer project called Granny Online. We have taught several thousand elderly people to use Skype to keep in touch with their grandchildren. They didn’t know how. I read this on Twitter a few days ago, about a young man who wrote he fell ill, and his elderly mother called him straight away. It appeared she had been following her son’s Twitter account to keep track of how he was doing in Moscow. We’ll continue this project.

I have seen young people change their lives over the past few months. We implemented a special mechanism to identify public opinion leaders during the youth primaries. That was followed by the main primaries, and then regional voting. I am confident that those who have been socially or politically active since high school or university have got on the lists. We have Pavel Fadeichev. For the last five years, he has been visiting elderly people in the Yaroslavl Region and helping them stock firewood and other things for the winter season using his two-handed saw. When [Emergencies Minister] Sergei Shoigu found this out, he gave the young man a petrol-powered saw as a present. He later organised a group which is continuing to help the elderly.

We have Yana Lantratova from St Petersburg. She is involved in volunteer work at orphanages and old age homes. She has also established a monitoring centre to expose child abuse. This is a very important issue. One case has been exposed and brought to court in Zelenograd, and the Popular Front helped us too. It was one of its initiatives over the summer to organise a Popular Front youth club. Eight youth movements jointly proposed this initiative. It was supported by Vyacheslav Volodin (deputy prime minister and chief of the government staff). We have received feedback from the government and from public organisations. We have drafted and are discussing some improvements – amendments to the Family Code, the Housing Code and even one amendment to the Criminal Code.

And this mechanism has certainly helped us reach you, Mr Putin. It often happens that problems do not get resolved until you intervene personally. Our Alyona Arshinova is in Blagoveshchensk now; we are installing free Wi-Fi internet access in several universities there. We were very happy when you gave this instruction last week. President Dmitry Medvedev also said every university should have Wi-Fi. Other regions have joined our project. And not only universities – last week they connected the largest park in Irkutsk. They are connecting public transport too. They told us in Ivanovo and in Cherepovets, which recently hosted a party conference, that buses no longer run empty in the evenings: college and university students are riding around in them, reading up for their exams.

Now about your instructions to support volunteers: people have started contacting us. A lot of good work is underway. Whereas a few months ago they discussed in social networks whether we need this Popular Front at all, and what it is, and why and against whom – now people are writing to us about specific problems.

Alexander Vasilyev mentioned petrol prices today. But you ordered the producers last winter to cut prices. Something did change; prices fell in some regions and grew in others. But we won’t abandon this agenda. On September 27, we will be picketing major oil companies demanding a cut in prices.

You know, people even come to us to discuss everyday problems. Many people from different regions travel to Moscow now, and they have suddenly noticed that Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has improved most of the parks. The Gorky Park is now a great place for outdoor activities. It is a real green oasis where one can do sports without having to avoid gaming zones or dangerous rides. People now come to us saying they, too, wish to have similar parks with ski trails in the winter, with new benches replacing rotten ones, and safe to visit in the evenings. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Go ahead, Mr Katyrin.

Sergei Katyrin (president of Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry): Thank you, Mr Putin. I would like to focus on two issues. I agree that what is most important now is not even to divide up the posts and organise feedback (the future State Duma is certain to adjust these things) but to think of how to win the elections. I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about the primaries and how they were held. You were absolutely right when you said that many officials resented these primaries very much and, realising they will affect them, acted accordingly. We have an extensive network of commerce and industry chambers across Russia and we’ve had good feedback, and I think you would have had to call off the elections not just in two districts but in many more, if there had been no prompt response on the part of the campaign headquarters, which, I gather, operated round the clock and made the required corrections in the early stages very quickly.

Why am I saying this? If we fail to provide the same feedback in the upcoming election period and the same performance by the headquarters, I think we will find it hard to win the elections, because many of the officials that are in office now and have been for some time will attempt to hold the elections in their own way. And another point. In order to avoid people working counter-productively in our own ranks (I am referring to those who will know they are not making it to the winning list), I believe we should ensure that all organisations making up the Popular Front should enlist these people in the election campaign so that they could work together with us, so that they realise that they are the core, sought-after people, and that eventually they will have a chance to make the mark. Then, I believe, we will be able to chalk up the best results in the elections. Thank you.

Andrei Andriyanov (board chairman of the Moscow Lomonosov State University Student Union): Mr Putin, today as we sum up the effective work done between May and September and discuss plans for the future, I would like to say a few words on behalf of the students.

Students have traditionally been considered a non-political section of the population, one that doesn’t care about elections, but the Popular Front has altered this situation radically. First, over these past months we have staged nationwide primaries, and now our list has candidates representing student communities, who are not party members but who will run in the elections. It is very important that we have put together a People’s Programme, which incorporates proposals from young people, including a large package of suggestions based not on directives from above but on the real proposals and wishes collected among the students.

Now that the conference has approved the programme, public organisations will begin explaining this programme to the electorate. We will discuss it in student communities, on the Internet, and at large nationwide events, for example, the National Student Forum, which is to meet in Barnaul early in November. This will no doubt alter the students’ attitude to the elections generally, that is to say they  will not just go and vote for some extravagant party just because it is cool to do so. They will adopt a more thoughtful approach now, they will analyse the party’s list and programme, and this strategy undoubtedly will give United Russia a considerable edge over its rivals. I think this approach will work well on December 4 and United Russia will win these elections by a wide margin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I would like to start my concluding remarks where Mr Andriyanov ended. We have excellent start-up positions. And this is due, in my view, not so much to what is known as the much-criticised administrative resource, as to the fact that we are off to a good start. And the quality of this start derives above all from our enlistment of many interesting, forward-looking and positively charged people who without exaggeration reflect the entire spectrum of Russian society.

At the same time, it is going to be a hard job. The efforts being made by United Russia, which undoubtedly have such grass-roots backing, is still overburdened with certain problems inherited from the past years and a number of unsolved basic issues and problems which the authorities should have addressed. This must also be acknowledged and taken seriously. So the Popular Front’s objective will be to prove to the electorate and convince it that the solutions offered and the people who will implement the tasks facing them are relevant goals and that these people are capable of tackling them.

I join the colleagues who are urging us all to work energetically in the election campaign. I want to thank you all and wish us all every success. Thank you very much.