6 december 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with heads of regional public reception offices of the Chairman of the United Russia party

Vladimir Putin

At a meeting with heads of regional public reception offices of the Chairman of the United Russia party

“We cannot accept any acts of corruption. They must be fought very actively. Very actively! We must marshal every resource, formal and informal.”

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Good to see you all. I would like to begin by thanking you all for your efforts during the election campaign. You know that the United Russia party has won a confident majority in parliament. We have suffered losses too, but that was inevitable. This can happen to any political party, especially a party that has been shouldering the responsibility for the country for so many years. Given the present conditions, this is a good result.

We certainly know and we have seen examples of what is happening in countries which only recently seemed far more stable than Russia, both economically and socially. These countries have seen mass protests – millions of people take to the streets. The Russian government continued to increase pensions and social benefits throughout the recession. We have minimized unemployment: it is even below pre-crisis levels now. None of the developed economies can boast these achievements. None of the developed economies will have a budget surplus this year; while Russia’s federal revenue will exceed expenditures. Inflation will be the lowest in recent history this year – 7%, which is even below the estimates.

The country’s reserve funds are growing too. We have a healthy economy and financial sector and we stand a good chance of making a development breakthrough. Certainly, there are also problems and unresolved issues, and perhaps, there are some miscalculations as well. The network of public reception offices you are heading was designed as an informal platform for direct contact and direct work with the people. Direct contact implies direct access without intermediaries such as bureaucratic agencies or officials.

I would like to thank you. I appreciate your active involvement not only at this final stage of the campaign but also throughout the whole period since 2008, which is a long time.

I know that you and your colleagues who work in the regions have often visited single-industry towns and so-called ailing companies, especially during the recession, and went to towns and villages hit by natural disasters such as wildfires. That was a very valuable contribution.

Over that time – I assume each of you knows how much work has been done in a specific office, but I doubt that anyone has any idea of the overall amount of petitions processed – public reception offices have received over 700,000 petitions. Over 700,000! It is especially gratifying that 25% of all requests have been granted. These petitions led to 55 changes to federal legislation (laws and bylaws), 250 changes in regional and 400 in municipal regulations. This is a great deal. All of the petitions raised issues that influenced specific people’s lives, companies, industries and even rather large cities. That was truly great and important work.

As I just said, any country or any political party faces its share of problems. A ruling party which controls government agencies must always deal with a lot of controversy and opposition. Opposition groups fight it and point out its mistakes. In general, this is not a bad thing, this is rather a good thing. And speaking of that, there is a point I’d like to make. First, it is wrong to judge anyone by a label. This label is applied to the government, not a specific party. They say that the ruling party is a party of thieves and corrupt officials. If we think back to the Soviet era – remember who was in power then? They were all labelled thieves and accused of corruption. The same happened in the 1990s.

So this is a label of the government, not of the party. It is important that the government be able to fight negative phenomena. The government should work to improve both society and itself. Why am I saying this? Because this direct contact mechanism (via the public reception offices) helps us promptly respond to problems in our lives, in our society and in our government agencies. First of all, we must respond, forcefully and rapidly, to any problem that involves the violation of people’s legitimate rights. I would like you to concentrate on this. If people come to see you – well many come to discuss everyday problems related to housing, pensions and social issues – but you must immediately spot cases where you see that people’s rights have been violated. Your response should be forceful and immediate. You should absolutely respond to all such violations in any sphere.

Second – I have already mentioned this too – we cannot accept any acts of corruption. They must be fought very actively. Very actively! We must marshal every resource, formal and informal. We often criticise the media, which they often deserve, because they are certainly part of our society and therefore have the same flaws. But they should absolutely be engaged in our anti-corruption effort. We shouldn’t be shy of engaging them, of addressing them directly.

Third, I very much count on you to continue this work which is obviously making a difference. This is the first meeting in its kind, but I have seen many of you in the regions in the process of our hands-on efforts. I am certain that we will continue our hands-on experience. Thank you.

Please, if you have any questions, or organisational proposals for our cooperation, you are more than welcome to voice them. Go ahead.

Leonid Ogul (head of the public reception office in the Astrakhan Region): Mr Putin, I am Leonid Ogul, head of the public reception office in the Astrakhan Region. Thank you very much for this meeting. Like other heads of public reception offices who are present here, and our other colleagues, I know that your candidacy for president was put forward at the United Russia convention. We would therefore like to know more about the role of the heads of local public reception offices; the role of those people with whom we have worked side by side for three years, especially during the past six or seven months leading up to the elections. I’m referring to members of regional coordination councils with whom we maintain a mutual trust. So, my question concerns the role of local public reception offices during the presidential race.

Vladimir Putin: I believe it should be more or less the same as it was. We don’t need to convert these offices into election campaign headquarters. We should continue working with people. There are many things that tend to become more intense during election campaigns. Many of them are alien to our nature, and we are well aware of this. We had the opportunity to watch all those pre-election videos that either brought you to laughter or tears. What do you think they are all about? What is their call to action, and how do they plan to achieve their proclaimed goals? Some of what they say does not go beyond empty declarations. On the flip side, you are in a position to talk to people directly. I promise this, and my colleagues will help: we will provide as much informational materials as needed. If people ask questions, you will be able to explain things to them.

However, there’s another point that nearly slipped my mind. You are aware that our colleagues did a fine job in the Popular Front and that they came up with a popular instruction programme. And it just occurred to me... This is certainly a basic programme. As a matter of fact, it is simply a compilation of requests embracing all areas of life that have been presented by the Russian people. In order to convert this programme into guiding principles for the future government and president, it needs to be reviewed by experts. This may be obvious, but still, it presents a concrete road map to follow. With this in mind, I believe that you should utilise your potential and first, discuss this road map with Russian citizens, and second, keep in mind that this map is a living instrument. If people come up with additional proposals regarding the substance, goals and purpose of such work, I would be grateful to you if you could accumulate them to be later included in the programme as well.

Leonid Ogul: Thank you.

Alexander Degtyaryov (head of public reception office in the Republic of Bashkortostan): Mr Putin, my name is Alexander Degtyaryov, I'm the head of the public reception office in the Republic of Bashkortostan.

First of all, we all appreciate you taking the time to meet with us in the wake of these highly important State Duma elections. I would like to ask you a question that is directly related to the current situation in Russia, one that at the same time offers a certain analysis of three and a half years of the public reception offices’ work.

When you were in Bashkortostan some time ago, you said that all of Russia can see its reflection in Bashkiria, as in a drop of water. I believe that there is truth in these words. Here is my question. As we know, the number of people contacting public reception offices has increased many times over during the last few months. We saw this number quadruple in Bashkiria. It’s unlikely that it’s due entirely to the election campaign, because the party’s ratings declined by 10% in Bashkortostan during this same period. However, the number of requests filed in your name quadrupled. This tells me that the level of trust in the leader of our nation has not just remained unchanged, but rather, that it has increased by many times. Here is my question: there are dozens of public reception offices across Russia, including regional, federal and municipal offices, where the number of requests has not gone up or has done so only marginally. Perhaps you could advise us, with regard to the municipal authorities, about what public reception offices can do to help restore or build up the same kind of confidence rating that can be seen in your ratings as a national leader? Of course, they won’t be able to reach that high, but I'd like to ask in case you have some thoughts about this that you can share with us.

Vladimir Putin: You know, these confidence ratings are not determined by the number of different entities or foundations, even those that are established with the best intentions. I believe that these ratings are determined by the ability and readiness to address the problems that are facing people. Overall, with your help, we are doing fine. As I’ve already mentioned, over 25% of favourable decisions regarding individual requests have been made at your offices, that is, at my offices that are run by you. I can tell our colleagues one thing, though: never promise anything that is undoable, and never promise anything that, once implemented, will destroy a municipal or regional system. My only recommendation is always to tell the truth, provide explanations, listen and conduct an exchange of information with people. Why? Because even with the best intentions, it’s not always possible to find solutions to the problems confronting us. In this regard, it makes sense, and is sometimes very useful, to listen to what people have to say about potential approaches to addressing a particular issue. In fact, there are many such proposals. Your job is to keep your ears open to them, summarise their proposals and do your best in order to get them implemented. In this regard, I would like to emphasise the importance of these public reception offices. The increasing number of requests from the people is a good sign.

Alexander Degtyaryov: Thank you, Mr Putin.

Irina Blokhina (head of the public reception office in the Tver Region): My name is Irina Blokhina. I’m the head of the public reception office in the Tver Region. Mr Putin, there are people here in this room who have extensive experience. We’ve been doing this work for some time now. Working with people isn’t easy; it requires patience, experience and skill. Still, people are often disheartened when they run up against official formalities or are faced with indifference. Occasionally…no, not occasionally, we often see you solving particular problems in Russia in the hands-on mode. How can we make the government machine at all levels solve issues automatically rather than on a hands-on basis? I believe this is very important for us and especially for our people.

Vladimir Putin: This is our goal.

Irina Blokhina: But how?

Vladimir Putin: Improving the performance of the government machine is our strategic goal. One way to achieve this is to carry out the electronic government project, which we are currently doing. Once implemented, it will greatly reduce the need for people to go from office to office to deal with numerous bureaucrats; instead, they will go to a "one-stop shop" and receive all the information or documents that they need there. And the goal is to… You know when people need some final document and have to rush to different authorities… the ultimate goal is to enable these authorities to exchange information electronically and issue the applicants only the final document. This is a technological aspect of resolving the issue but there is also a legal aspect – we must upgrade our legislation. Therefore, we must have people in the Duma who will seek the best solutions rather than be guided by the-worse-the-better principle.

And, finally, there is also a moral and ethical aspect – work with people, and this work must be consistent. As for parliament, I have just said we need a professional parliament. I have been saying this all the time. I have recently been to the Baltiysky Zavod shipyard in St Petersburg. I told one local worker that if some people want to see MPs fighting or dragging each other by the hair… well, this may also be an interesting show, but if someone wants to see a show, then it’s much better to go to a circus, theatre or cinema. The more we laugh at what is happening in parliament, the sadder things will be for us. This change will be inconspicuous but it will lead to not only political but also legal degradation of the state’s operation. Our next-door neighbours (in Ukraine, for one) are constantly fighting in parliament. Some of our political leaders (or those who believe they are) quite recently worked as advisors to Viktor Yushchenko, the former Ukrainian president, and now they are trying to arrange something like this here. But this doesn’t at all mean… Quite the contrary, this means that we must be more attentive to people. I said at the beginning of this conversation that swift and tough responses to violations of human rights and red tape must be a major part of the activities of public reception offices. In fact, being aware of this problem, I initiated the formation of these offices at one time, and I rely on your help.

Irina Blokhina: We’ll do our best.

Vitaly Likhachyov: (head of the public reception office in the Volgograd Region): Vitaly Likhachyov, the Volgograd region, the home of the Popular Front (and hence this question). During the formation of the Popular Front, my mates and I joined it while still being United Russia members. A failure to understand fully the front’s tasks led to rumours that the front might eclipse the party, there was some rope pulling. Now we have passed together through another, very serious election stage. We would like to understand your view on future cooperation between the United Russia party and the Popular Front.

Vladimir Putin: I can just repeat what I have said many times, but I will say it again. I think any party and any political force in general requires renovation and such a venue as the Popular Front helps to do this. I’m sure that many people representing the Russian Popular Front have been elected to the State Duma through United Russia’s channels. In effect, this is the party’s renovation and this is being done not through bureaucratic corridors but directly, at a grassroots level, and this is great.

This is the first point, and the second is that the Popular Front is still…We call it a nationwide front. It includes not only United Russia members but also representatives of professional communities, trade unions, different associations as well as employers and employees in most diverse spheres.  The front is much broader than the party. And I’m simply convinced it is necessary to work in close contact with the front. I hope for the front’s support during the presidential election campaign.

Vitaly Likhachyov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Please, go ahead.

Olga Batalina (head of the public reception office in the Saratov Region): Mr Putin, I head the public reception office in the Saratov Region. My name is Olga Batalina. My colleagues spoke about the presidential campaign and involvement of public reception offices. Can I ask you a female question in this context? Honestly, it’s not exactly female because all of us want to know the answer.

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Olga Batalina: Can you tell us whether we’ll see the return of the old Putin or the advent of a new one?

Vladimir Putin: You know, after all… Sorry, what’s your name?

Olga Batalina: Ms Batalina.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Batalina, have you changed if your compare yourself before your work in the reception office and during it? Are you any different or the same?

Olga Batalina: Well, we all hope that we are changing for the better.

Vladimir Putin: You are right. There is a well-known saying in many languages – everything flows, everything changes. Life around us is changing and setting new tasks before us and we are changing together with life. We are not simply adapting ourselves but always parrying the challenges of the time. I hope your humble servant is changing, too. In general, in the modern educational world the most important thing is to learn to learn or to teach others to learn. This is the first point.

Second, I recently met with foreign colleagues and said off the record – although this is no secret and I can repeat it again – that there are fundamental things that never change. I’m not afraid of saying what they are – love of one’s Motherland, responsibility to the people and the country. In this sense, I haven’t changed and won’t change a bit.

But there are also things that are not so fundamental or even strategic. They concern the priorities of development – what is more important now and what can be delayed. We have many tasks and challenges and one of the main challenges is economic diversification. We must introduce innovations in the economy, modernise it and the rest of our life. We allocated no small funds to particular industries but, regrettably, had to divert some of them to the efforts to curb growing unemployment. We had to spend some of these funds on higher unemployment benefits and so on. You will understand that this was a forced manoeuvre. 

However, now we have practically achieved economic recovery and can reorient these funds and pay more attention to modernisation and diversification. Having done this we must make another step in developing the social sphere and improving living standards. The requirements for these changes and the modernisation of our society are becoming more urgent. In this sense, we are all changing, of course, and I’m no exception.

Olga Batalina: Thank you.

Gennady Averyanov (head of the public reception office in the Orenburg Region): I’m Gennady Averyanov from the Orenburg Region. Mr Putin, first of all, I’d like to thank you for receiving people personally in the Orenburg Region. This is evidence of the government’s accessibility and transparency. This shows that it is possible to contact the government. All issues have been resolved and there is a positive public reaction.

I’d like to look a bit beyond the horizon. I have this question. I think that 2012 and 2015 will see a new breakthrough strategy, a challenge of the times, a challenge to the current conditions. This strategy will require a creative approach, a new integration team that will be capable of resolving all these problems. What do you think about the prospects of personnel policy in 2012 and subsequent years? This is a basic question that interests many people, including governors and mayors.

Vladimir Putin: The first step has been made now. Obviously, the State Duma will have many new members. The presidential election will be followed by the government’s formation. And, of course (as we have said many times) there will be considerable changes in the government as such and later on in the governors’ corps. Voters must elect new people at the municipal level themselves. However, we must display caution during all these essential and inevitable changes. It would be impermissible to destroy a good team and get rid of professionals to the accompaniment of the renovation slogan. You know, this is always tricky – some people may launch a slogan and then become guided by it rather than by the interests of the cause. We call it a deceitful campaign and must prevent it by all means. However, it is clear that we need serious changes in personnel.

Please, take the floor.

Anatoly Sukhov(head of the public reception office in the Sverdlovsk Region): Mr Putin, I’m Anatoly Sukhov from the reception office of the Sverdlovsk Region. We resolve many issues in the office in cooperation with executive bodies but there are some that we cannot cope with – they must be resolved at government level. We have a serious problem. There is the single-industry city Krasnoturyinsk in the region. It has one plant – the Bogoslovsky Aluminium Plant. Its owner is going to shut it down. He warned his workers on November 30 that four shops will be closed and one thousand workers will be employed until February 1. People will lose their jobs. We know how to resolve this issue. Our regional government is dealing with it and the governor himself is actively working on it.

When Dmitry Medvedev visited Yekaterinburg on November 28, Alexander Misharin (Sverdlovsk Region Governor) spoke on this issue – there was a written petition and the decision was made to give it attention. But, as of now, the situation has not changed. Nearby, we have a number of enterprises, including enterprises with 7,500 personnel involved in bauxite-extraction operations. The workers have become alarmed: if aluminium production stops here who will buy bauxites? There is a facility in the Urals making the final product (for freight cars, locomotive engineering and aviation), and currently there is a feeling that this facility is threatened. I want to ask you for a great favour, and the facilities personnel have filed a request to the Co-ordination Council. We have held a Co-ordination Council session and sent the relevant document to the headquarters, to the Russian Popular Front Co-ordination Council in Moscow. The electricity prices for aluminium production are high, amounting to 45% of the prime cost. This is one of the basic issues that is causing alarm.

In the past you have helped the Urals and Nizhny Tagil, where, thousands of people are working now and receiving adequate wages. Naturally, we want you to help us with aluminium production, too. We think it is necessary to save it, as it is a strategically important material for Russia. This is where we stand on the issue. I ask you for your assistance.

Vladimir Putin: I will surely see to it. I just do not know the current situation at the enterprise. What is the name of the enterprise?

Anatoly Sukhov: Bogoslovsky Aluminium Plant (BAZ).

Vladimir Putin: Do you have any documentation with you?

Anatoly Sukhov: Yes, I do. We have filed everything here with the headquarters, and we also have them on hand.

Vladimir Putin: Let me see. It is difficult to comment at the moment, given that I haven’t been informed before about the issue, but I will certainly look into it.

Anatoly Sukhov: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: And who is the owner?

Anatoly Sukhov: Deripaska is the owner.

Vladimir Putin: I’ll look into it – today, in fact.

Anatoly Sukhov: Great.

Vladimir Putin: How many people work there?

Anatoly Sukhov: The plant employs 3,500 workers, but there are parts suppliers working close by. On the whole, the refinery complex employs 3,500 workers.

Vladimir Putin: This is an old enterprise, isn’t it?

Anatoly Sukhov: Yes, it is an old enterprise. It was designed in 1939 and built in 1944. A comprehensive aluminium production facility was planned… In 2012, its capacity will increase unless [the plant administration] decides to stop production. Currently, the plant is not bringing in profits; however, while it is very easy to close the plant and stop production, it will be very difficult to re-launch it in the future.

Vladimir Putin: Has the plant closure been announced?

Anatoly Sukhov: It was announced on the thirtieth. Four workshops will be shut down before February 1 – one thousand people will be left without a job. The governor came to the plant and tried to disrupt the process. He instructed that the closure be suspended, but nothing has been done. So the facility remains in suspense as before.

Vladimir Putin: All right, we will look into it.

Anatoly Sukhov: Thank you.

Yevgeny Tarlo (head of the public reception office in the Tambov Region):  My name is Yevgeny Tarlo, the head of your public reception office in the Tambov Region. Mr Putin, first of all I want to assure you that in this election, we, Tambov Region voters backed United Russia and the Russian Popular Front, in general. I am sure that our voters will support you in the presidential election, too. Our support here will be no less than before – at about 70%. However, I’d like to say a few words about the other 30%. There are not so many people from our region who voted against United Russia, but these 30% are our citizens, and this is rather a large number. There is significantly more opposition in other regions, but currently I see in the media that we are congratulating each other on our victory. I’d like to ask you as the party leader: maybe in terms of the Popular Front, we should first of all focus not on congratulations but on ways to extend bridges and start a dialogue with those people, our citizens, who voted against our party and, perhaps, turned their back on us. But they are our fellow citizens. We should jointly resolve common problems: we should try to strengthen our citizens’ faith in us, comfort others, and start a dialogue with yet another group of the population who uphold views different from ours – but this dialogue should not result in confrontation. We should not be in isolation from the people, and maybe through the Russian Popular Front we should do our best to attract all Russian citizens.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, the Russian Popular Front was created exactly for this reason. Surely, we can congratulate each other within the party, but we are all adults and understand pretty well what a difficult period we’ve been through, a whole stage in our country’s life, and we see how this affected people’s sentiments. This is normal – there is nothing unusual about it. But we should always think about the people’s real concerns and why they do not vote for United Russia but instead for other parties. And I completely agree with you: it is necessary to analyse these problems and formulate further proposals to solve these problems. And this should be done with respect to all our citizens no matter what party they supported in the parliamentary election.

Zhanna Ivanova (head of the public reception office in the Sakhalin Region): My name is Zhanna Ivanova, the head of your public reception office in the Sakhalin Region. Judging from the popularity our reception office experienced just days after opening, I can say that this was due to the level of your prestige and approval rating. I’d like to say that in all these years the feeling that we are really your direct assistants stems from the fact that not only elderly women but also people working at different enterprises would say: “Ms Ivanova, please be sure to tell Mr Putin…” In other words, they were absolutely sure that I was meeting with you every month and reporting to you. And when we hand over documents with your signature we know for sure that you never sign anything arbitrarily, but you know exactly which individuals are worthy of your signature. So I’d like to ask you whether you would like to help boost the prestige and authority of reception offices by taking a photo with each of our employees, individually, so that we can hang them in our offices and be proud. It would be a present and reminder for each of us to not let you down. 

Vladimir Putin: We will discuss it with our party members. But, of course, it’s not even a question. It’s the least I could do. But let’s turn to more important matters now.

Georgy Kuranov (head of the public reception office in the Perm Territory): I am Georgy Kuranov, head of the public reception office in the Perm Territory. Instead of asking a question, I’d rather make a proposal. In the Perm Territory, the State Duma election coincided with the elections to the Legislative Assembly, and because all elected deputies on the United Russia and Popular Front lists (party and non-party members) were initially supported by the Popular Front, passed the primaries and were supported in the election, we plan, in the near future, to come to terms with some of them on a concrete agreement on interaction in two basic areas. The first area is the human environment and, first of all, utilities; all my colleagues know that this issue was most sensitive during the election, and it determined the people’s decisions on voting. The second area is a barrier-free environment for the disabled. The third area is assistance in solving maternity and childcare issues as well as healthcare and education in a wider context, among other issues. What does this give us? It makes it possible for the Russian Utilities Systems [RKS] to directly influence the adoption of laws improving the quality of life of the Russian citizens, and it increases the deputies’ responsibility to voters. This initiative was given a positive assessment in our territory. I am ready to begin discussions with colleagues who would like to take part in this initiative. If this initiative works well in our territory we will extend this initiative for making such agreements with deputies to the State Duma.

Vladimir Putin: Right. I think this is a good form of work that will serve as an additional instrument of contact between people of various areas. And this is the way to do it. A colleague asked me about working not only with party members but also with other citizens. Surely you know that of all people applying to the party leader’s reception offices, only five percent are associated with United Russia. Only five percent. This is the point. Naturally, the [public reception offices] were created to maintain a direct link with the people.   

Please, go ahead.

Zoya Stepanova (head of the public reception office in the Rostov Region): My name is Zoya Stepanova, head of the public reception office in the Rostov Region. You say that 25% of requests from citizens receive a positive response. The public reception office in the Rostov Region helped 30% of applicants to receive a positive response to their petitions – higher than the Russian national average.  

I’d like to ask a very serious question about the city of Taganrog. You visited the Taganrog Automobile Plant [TagAZ] in the 1990s – it’s a perfectly organized enterprise, wonderfully planned and all. Here’s my question: personnel representatives (6,500, in total) applied to our reception office. The plant found itself in a predicament during the economic crisis, although this automobile plant has never stopped operations even for a day – and today it works smoothly, and it pays out all wages and taxes. However, there is a problem in restructuring its debt. The plant has signed agreements with eleven creditor banks including Sberbank and Gazprombank. The only stumbling block is VTB. Our governor Vasily Golubev visited you on behalf of the plant’s personnel and administration, given that the plant is a major employer in Taganrog. You have made a favourable decision, but you know how the bureaucrats work…

Vladimir Putin: Will you give more details?

Zoya Stepanova: … VTB will consider the plant’s bankruptcy on the 26th. We would like you to help us resolve this problem. The plant’s personnel and the public reception office will be grateful to you.

Vladimir Putin: Do they assemble Korean cars?

Zoya Stepanova: Yes. But it is not a knockdown assembly, you know, it is car production where we cast and paint ourselves. You remember that this plant has never stopped work even for a day – it participates in the state car industry support programme. Over the last three years the plant’s debt decreased by 50%, but because of the crisis we are in this difficult situation. We’d like to get your support, of course…

Vladimir Putin: Very well.

Zoya Stepanova: We will be very grateful. This will be another favourable decision for our public reception office with your help! Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Can you recall exactly how much debt they are facing?

Zoya Stepanova: It’s difficult to say – it’s in the billions. We filed a letter to Stepashin [Sergei Stepashin, the Chairman of the Audit Chamber of the Russian Federation], and the governor handed this letter over to you.

Vladimir Putin: And what does Stepashin have to do with it?

Zoya Stepanova: He can check this case for possible violations or the like. And when the governor was going to meet with you he examined all these issues, and…

Vladimir Putin: The Audit Chamber only checks budget spending, but this [case] is a matter of loans…

Zoya Stepanova: That is clear, but if you help us we will all be very grateful, including Taganrog residents. Thank you for your time.

Vladimir Putin: Very well. I’ll surely look into it. It is necessary to review the situation in its totality.

Zoya Stepanova: They are ready to repay the debt over a period of time...

Vladimir Putin: Are there any foreign creditors?

Zoya Stepanova: No.

Vladimir Putin: Only Russian banks?

Zoya Stepanova: Only Russian banks. And agreements have been signed with eleven banks – there are no hang-ups. With Kostin (Andrei Kostin, the head of VTB)…

Vladimir Putin: You have problems only with the VTB, haven’t you?

Zoya Stepanova: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: All right, we will look into it.

Zoya Stepanova: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Afonsky (head of the public reception office in the Tula Region): Vladimir Afonsky, here, head of the public reception office in the Tula Region. Mr Putin, I’d like to say “Thank you very much!” on behalf of Tula armourers who are actively implementing the state armaments programme – 21 trillion roubles were allocated up until 2020…

Vladimir Putin: That’s an overstatement! 21 trillion? You mean “billion”.

Vladimir Afonsky: Billion, yes. I’m nervous, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Total allocations for the programme are 20 billion.

Vladimir Afonsky: Correct. We know that you have issued instructions for the development of a defence sector modernisation programme. It is very important to us. So I ask: what are the prospects for its adoption?

Vladimir Putin: It will be adopted in the upcoming term. Tula (armaments producers) is covered by this programme, of course. It is being finalised, but it is important to allocate these funds, a not-so-small amount of money, three trillion – here it’s trillion – to the whole defence sector. And we have a military-industrial complex commission working jointly with the Ministry of Defence, with industry, and with the Ministry of Industry and Trade. This work is not easy, because as we understand it is necessary to distribute these funds (although not small, yet limited) and to channel these funds to enterprises that are tasked with making modern types of armaments.

Vladimir Afonsky: Making competitive armaments – something which is very important.

Vladimir Putin: Not just competitive, but able to guarantee our defence capabilities, if you’ll excuse the repetition. We will channel these funds into manufacturing modernisation first. The Tula Region will benefit, too – I cannot name the plants and how much each will get, but I can tell you for sure the programme will be adopted: the money is already available and allocated in the three-year budget.

Vladimir Afonsky: Thank you, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: You have the floor.

Seifulakh Isakov (head of the public reception office in the Republic of Dagestan): I am head of the public reception office in Dagestan. Mr Putin, I would like to express many thanks for supporting us and for your written responses to our citizens. You know the people of Dagestan have a warm spot for you. You have been with us through all these hard years. The past elections have confirmed this, showing again how the republic and our citizens feel about you. This great trust is likewise shared by our leadership who has headed the regional ticket.

In these elections, at all venues, our mothers and sisters raised one and the same question – we are having a difficult time now what with rampant extremism and terrorism in Dagestan. Maybe this can be explained by the fact that federal agencies have been strengthened and the struggle against these elements in the neighbouring republics has moved over to our republic, but are worried about this very much. Today, as with no other republic, our republic needs social and economic growth, we have fallen behind many other republics. Our leadership is doing everything it can to attract investment to our republic in all areas. But today’s social and political situation is such … Our request to you is this: please step up efforts against these elements in our republic; help us, we always support our leadership, we are a good and hard-working people. To our great regret, these elements are marring life a bit … This was the main request at all venues. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: This problem is, unfortunately, typical not only of Dagestan, it is typical of all the Northern Caucasus. You are right: since certain efforts have been fairly effective, some of this extremist underground movement has moved over to other areas and is not only hurting people’s lives, but even claiming lives – this is the negative result of terrorist subversion. No doubt, efforts in this area will be continued, and not just continued, they will become more vigorous. I remember some of my trips to Dagestan, especially one of the first when people with machine guns and assault rifles, with bandoleers crossing their breasts, stood around me, like revolutionary sailors in 1917. Why am I saying this? It is because I look for support from the republic’s residents, from the people of Dagestan. These efforts cannot be effective without the direct and active support by the population of Dagestan. We should, therefore, join forces in dealing with this problem. But at the same time we will be providing social and economic backing. We have a full-time programme for the Northern Caucasus, and we will allocate considerable resources for Dagestan’s development, above all for infrastructure and job creation. We will not leave the Northern Caucasus and Dagestan without support, particularly in such priority areas as housing, farming, etc.

Seifulakh Isakov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Please you have the floor.

Khongor Elbikov (head of the public reception office in the Republic of Kalmykia): I am Khongor Elbikov from the Republic of Kalmykia. Mr Putin, I would like to avail myself of the opportunity to invite you to visit the Republic of Kalmykia to …

Vladimir Putin: Do people still play chess there?

Khongor Elbikov: We play chess, yes. To invite you to give a reception at the public office and meet public organisations that have joined the National Popular Front in Kalmykia. They make up 66% of those who have voted for United Russia in Kalmykia. Most of them are public organisations which have backed and will continue to back United Russia. I have the following question: Mr Putin, in their petitions our citizens often raise issues relating to local government authority. There are municipalities with a strong economic background. But there are also  some that lack this. I want to know what steps are being made to develop inter-budgetary relations in Russia.

Vladimir Putin: You know that we have a commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak. Right now (on the day before, today, tomorrow and early next year) we will be busy redistributing resources and specifying financial sources at municipal levels. I will not say which municipalities will get additional sources of financing at this time, although I know the proposals. The proposals must be given time to mature, if you will, and be discussed with the governors and representatives of the municipalities. I do not meet with them often enough, but I still do. The decisions will be made also as part of the ongoing process to transfer law enforcement authority and part of the law enforcement system to the federal level. This means at the federal level, we are facing far greater obligations relative to the Interior Ministry’s maintenance. But this also means that some authority must be transferred, together with the finances. This is a complex process: every step entails a cascade effect. But one thing is certain: we all, Dmitry Anatolyevich and me, believe that such a redistribution should be made, and we will make it.

Khongor Elbikov: Thank you.

Tatiana Zabolotnaya (head of the public reception office in the Primorye Territory): Mr Putin, I am Tatiana Zabolotnaya, head of the Primorye Territory’s public reception office. I would like to thank you on behalf of Primorye’s people for your initiative to hold the 2012 APEC summit in our territory. Some of the facilities for this are already finished. I would like to speak about the three bridges currently under construction.

Vladimir Putin: Are they nice to look at?

Tatiana Zabolotnaya: Very nice. Incidentally, they can be seen from the office’s window. Such a beauty! I invite all of my colleagues to come for the inauguration: it will be an imposing and instructive sight. The first bridge under construction will link downtown Vladivostok with one of the fishing districts – Vladivostok’s Pervomaisky District. The second bridge is being built to Russky Island. And the third is a low-water bridge to the De Friz Peninsula. 

Vladimir Putin: And the first one?

Tatiana Zabolotnaya: It will cross Golden Horn Bay.

Vladimir Putin: Excuse my interrupting you. I once saw – or rather was presented with – a postcard dating either from 1906 or 1907, the turn of the century. It showed the drawing of a bridge across Golden Horn Bay. People dreamed of a bridge at this place early in the past century.

Tatiana Zabolotnaya: That dream is now coming true. Mr Putin, there is also a fourth bridge that we are building; it is one of trust between the authorities and the common people. That is very important. It is more of a priority today than ever before. Deputies from our territory, deputies at all levels who receive citizens, they all realise their degree of responsibility. And when your name is mentioned, it gives a green light to the solution of issues because we work for results, not just for the sake of the process. Only forward! This is a catchall call for the Primorye Territory.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. As far as crime is concerned, the situation across the country is not very simple. In the Caucasus – as a colleague of yours just said – these issues are connected with extremism and terrorism. Other territories also need attention, including the Primorye Territory. You have many crime-related problems. I do not want to exaggerate, perhaps it is saying too much, perhaps it is not the criminalisation of authority, but still yours is a territory where, to put it mildly, such problems are unfortunately far from being solved and a lot needs to be done. I therefore ask you to pay attention to them. If people do come – I did not mention rights violations for nothing – if people do come with grievances, please take them seriously.

Tatiana Zabolotnaya: We very much hope that you turn your gaze to the rural  territories, to the north of the Primorye Territory. They are facing many problems there also, as indeed is the whole Far East. But I represent the Primorye Territory and am expressing the interests of the voters I met during the election campaign.

Vladimir Putin: What problems are they facing today?

Tatiana Zabolotnaya: A big one is availability of transport. We visited a remote community called Malaya Kema in the north of the Primorye Territory.

Vladimir Putin: You mean the roads?

Tatiana Zabolotnaya: Yes, they have a problem with the roads.

Vladimir Putin: You must have heard that the road fund begins operating next year – a federal road fund and regional road funds. The law allows – and we will raise the matter with the regional leaders – to set up municipal road funds, which could receive money from regional funds. What’s more, you know that we have adopted amendments which oblige these regional road funds to contribute some of their means to municipalities and some to rural areas for roads between population centres. What am I referring to? We will, of course, watch that this provision of the law is enforced, but if people come to you and complain that the programmes are performed improperly or not at all, I ask you to inform us of such reports in a timely manner.

Tatiana Zabolotnaya: Our governor has his sights set right in this respect.

Vladimir Putin: I do not doubt it, but still the thing needs watching. Is that all? Thank you very much.

Now I wish to thank you once again and express the hope that we will continue to work together very actively. And, judging from my visits to the reception offices and from the letters that arrive through your offices, I can say with a high degree of confidence that professionally trained and very tactful people are employed in these offices. Thank you very much.