8 december 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Russian Popular Front's Coordinating Council

Vladimir Putin

At a meeting of the Russian Popular Front's Coordinating Council

“If people act within the framework of the law, they must be given the right to express their opinion, and we must not restrict anyone in exercising these civic rights. However, if someone breaks the law, the authorities and the law enforcement agencies must urge compliance with the law by all legal means.”

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues. We are continuing our meetings and our joint work at the Russian Popular Front. I would like to say a couple of words about the elections to the State Duma. There is much talk about this now and it has been discussed relentlessly from each and every angle. I will not provide any estimates right now. The only thing that I would like to say is this – 50% of the United Russia parliamentary party has been replaced, while 25% of those who made it to the Duma on United Russia's lists are not party members. They represent organisations affiliated with the Popular Front. This is precisely what we were talking about and what we sought to achieve. We said that approximately 25% of the deputies in our parliamentary party should be independent, and this is what happened in reality. Far from all of the Popular Front candidates were elected. However, 25% of your representatives will be part of the parliamentary party. As I see it, this is a sound result.

In this regard, I would like to openly say the following. We see what is happening in certain regions, where Popular Front representatives were favoured over United Russia functionaries. They are being pressured into surrendering their mandates to United Russia. I love United Russia dearly. It is an organisation that I founded, but I ask both you and the candidates elected on the party lists not to succumb to any pressure, nor to hand in your mandates. The Duma is for the people who won in an open and honest struggle. Let us consider our discussion over in this regard. And please, Mr Gryzlov, see to it that nothing of this kind should happen in the regions. This is my first point.

Second, we will continue, as we agreed, to work within the Popular Front's framework. This is a supra-partisan organisation based on basic national development values, which we share and by which we are guided in our practical work. In this connection, it is of particular importance for the Popular Front to keep an eye on your members who have been elected to parliament and to monitor the programmes that the government has recently outlined. I am referring to economic and social development, healthcare reform, and the development of the road network, for which we have set aside huge allocations. The Popular Front includes some professionals in this area, who should supervise how these funds are spent. It has been a long time since we allocated comparable amounts for road construction. There are also other vectors that will require parliamentary and local supervision when practical implementation efforts are underway. This is very important.

And now I would like to discuss another domestic political issue that is of growing importance. I am referring to the upcoming presidential elections. This is what I would like to discuss and suggest. As you know, candidates' electoral staffs are usually formed during presidential campaigns. Up until now, these were, as a rule, technological and administrative entities. So, I would like to make a suggestion and have it discussed. The suggestion is this. Your humble servant's electoral staff should not be a technological and administrative entity of this kind. I want it to be open. If you don't object, I would like to establish it on the basis of the Popular Front, a supra-partisan organisation, as I said, which includes different people with different political views. And yet, they are united by basic national development values.

I would like to ask you to delegate to the staff individuals who enjoy national renown and trust. And I would like to ask Stanislav Govorukhin to head the staff if he thinks this is possible. I will not dwell on what has made Mr Govorukhin widely popular in our country. I will also not speak about his professional career. What I want to say is that Mr Govorukhin is known as an open, principled and proactive person. I know that he has repeatedly criticised me – and he will continue to do so – for what we failed to do and for what, in his view, we haven't even started doing. This is first.

There is another man in this room, whom I have known for quite a long time and with whom I have been through many different and difficult situations. He is also very popular in our country. He is Leonid Roshal. I won't speak about his services in the sphere of medicine, although he is a brilliant doctor, organiser and specialist. People in this country also know him as a prominent public figure. I would be very pleased, Mr Roshal, if you would accept my proposal.

The next person is Mr Alexei Romanov (Alexei Romanov, First Deputy Head, Directorate V, Special Purpose Centre, Federal Security Service). He is Hero of Russia and the first deputy commander of the Vympel Group. He fought in the Afghan war and saw action in various hot spots. He began his military career with the airborne troops. For me, Vympel is not an unfamiliar organisation. I remember very well how I formulated a proposal to restructure the Federal Security Service's military component, our leading specialised agency.

 I remember the difficult position that these units were in that time, and I am aware of how they are doing today. But this is not about the unit as a whole, which is worthy of every respect. I know that people there… I've said this once and I'll repeat it again – at one time these units were in a very difficult position, in terms of their morale. And I know how this situation has changed, when after one operation I gathered these people together and asked them about their mood and their feelings (thank God they carried out this operation without any losses), and I remember what they said: “We are ready to die for Russia.” This is a dramatic shift in people's motivation, and it is evidence of their readiness to serve their homeland. I appreciate this and I would be very pleased if you would also join the election headquarters.

Now I’d like to speak about Lyudmila Bokova – a history teacher in School №1 in the town of Balashov. She is also famous and our educational community is proud of her. This environment is very interesting and important. We are carrying out these difficult and drastic changes in education, and it is be very important that we are in direct contact with the people who work in this area. We must understand these people, and we must be able to formulate some unresolved tasks in a timely manner that, regrettably, are certain to arise in this area. The main thing is to give them our attention without delay.

Alexei Lavrenenko heads a successful farm in the Stavropol Territory. Roman Rusanov is the leader of the interregional public organisation, Our Builders. He is actively involved in supporting small and medium-sized business. I’d like to ask Valery Yakushev to join the headquarters as well. He is a respected worker – a metallurgist. He has been with the industrial giant Uralvagonzavod for more than half a century. This is a big plant, a major enterprise in both the defence and civilian industries. But this is beside the point. It is Mr Yakushev himself who matters. I’d like to ask you to work with us in the headquarters and to give us your support. 

Olga Platoshina (chairwoman of the Central Council of the National Youth Public Organisation, Russian Rural Youth Union) is а member of the Popular Front’s Youth Club. Of course, it is very important for us to maintain this contact with the younger generation in all areas that are of interest to the youth, and to get feedback from them.

And this is not simply a matter of support. It is important for us to determine goals in this area, and to figure out ways of attaining them. The youth is an environment that requires constant attention and support. They are just starting their life. They have no savings nor any industrial experience, and they require special programmes and special attention.

Nikolai Fyodorov (chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies) is the author of a national programme that he has compiled along with his colleagues. He headed Chuvashia, one of the national republics in the Volga Region for a long time. I think this is also highly important. Russia is a multi-ethnic country, a federal state, and Mr Fyodorov has a wealth of experience in this area. It would be great to put it to use.

Vyacheslav Lysakov (chairman of the Coordinating Council of the Interregional Organisation of Motorists,Freedom of Choice) has always consistently defended the rights of motorists and a sense of justice on the road. He is a very well-known, active, and meticulous person. I know from experience that Mr Lysakov is a man of principle. He is persistent and is able to clearly formulate the problems that we need to address.

I’d also suggest including Mr Mokhnachuk (chairman of the Russian Independent Trade Union of the Coal Industry). We have known each other for many years. Mr Mokhnachuk knows how to defend the interests of the working class. He has been in charge of one of the nation’s leading trade unions and chairs the National Miners’ Council.

We know him from his work at official agencies. We know how he has discussed safety issues with officials, how he defended the interests of miners during the settlement of labour disputes. He is a tough and consistent man, I would say, but this is the kind of person that his current position demands. There is no doubt that Mr Mokhnachuk enjoys people's trust, and this is extremely important. He works in a very difficult industry, one that requires the constant attention of the state. We have recently done a great deal to enhance safety at enterprises by altering the funding for safety measures and for wages. I hope our efforts will yield results. I’m sure this is not enough but we will work consistently to resolve these problems. In particular, we’ll work in cooperation with the trade union, and I rely on Mr Mokhnachuk’s support.

And, finally, I’d like to ask Mr Monoyenkov, a student of the Plekhanov Academy, to join in this work. Mr Monoyenkov, are you there? He is also one of our young activists.

I’m convinced that this task, one which we must all work together to resolve, does not depend on age or professional orientation, but working with students is of the utmost importance. I look forward to your support and your active role during this joint work.

This list is not complete. We cannot extend it indefinitely because at the end of the day, we must have a working, functional structure. Nonetheless, if you have any additional proposals, let’s discuss them and make further adjustments, if necessary. In fact, that's all I wanted to put forward for discussion.

I know that Mr Titov wanted to say a few words. Excuse me, Mr Titov, but I would first like to hear what Mr Govorukhin has to say, his position and his response to my proposal. Mr Govorukhin, please go ahead.

Stanislav Govorukhin (art director of the Vertikal Film Studios, a subsidiary of the Mosfilm Cinema Concern): This proposal is a surprise for me. Of course, this is a great honour and a huge responsibility. Even if we regard politics as an art, one that has a lot in common with film directing, politics to this day remains to me a terra incognita, one which I am eager to explore. It’s with great pleasure that I accept my new responsibilities [as Vladimir Putin’s campaign manager], because for me this will be a labour of love, with Mr Putin as my candidate. I’m prepared to commit myself to the job for which you have selected me, but at the moment I cannot say with absolute certainty that I’m the ideal candidate because I simply don’t have the necessary experience.

I have a lot of questions for Mr Putin. You’ve outlined your agenda to the nation already, but I’m curious to get to know it in greater detail, because I will be acting as a communications officer. Of course, you may elect to answer as Alexander Suvorov did when asked about the plan of one of his military campaigns. He took off his hat and said, “Not even my hat is in a position to know what is on my mind.” But with your campaign team, perhaps you should be more candid.

I have several urgent requests to communicate, ones that come from across the country and need to be addressed as soon as possible. The government must honour those requests, especially considering the fact that acting on them will not require a great deal of effort.

Everywhere I go across Russia, whenever I speak with the public, people always ask me when television and movies will stop corrupting the hearts and minds of our children.

The newly introduced Unified State Examination is another highly controversial issue, one that created a great deal of noise during the latest elections. I currently find myself in a difficult position; it’s too tricky to figure out right away. But I enjoy chess. So I look more closely at the position and, after a while, I come to see the intentions of the white pieces and the black pieces, as well as the tactical threats that are there.

I would be happy to support Mr Roshal, but I think the campaign team simply needs a few more people who are renowned nationwide, not just for their professionalism, but for their integrity as well. Some outstanding statesman once said that integrity is the only truly indispensable quality for someone running a nation. I believe this was U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Thank you, Mr Govorukhin, for accepting the offer. For me, this is a matter of principle. We’ll discuss this in greater detail within my campaign team as we continue working on the platform of the Russian Popular Front. This is a structure that we’ve created for the long term, but it’s the campaign team that defines campaigning activity. So, when speaking with my campaign team, I should be more specific in setting forth my views and ideas, as compared with the concise form in which they are presented in the national programme, compiled by Nikolai Fyodorov. By and large, we’ve laid out our programme on paper, identifying our aims and goals, so that we can now refer back to it when working with people. But you are absolutely right in saying that certain things need to be made more concrete, and soon we will do just that. We’ll get together and discuss those issues. And we will be sure to take into account public concerns about the mass media and education, among others. Mr Titov (Boris Titov, chairman of the national public organisation Delovaya Rossiya.), please go ahead.

Boris Titov: Thank you, Mr Putin. I’d like to focus on issues that really matter, such as the business community’s support for your candidacy in the upcoming elections and how to consolidate its position. The business community does not represent the widest voter base, but it is a significant force, because businesses provide jobs and bring prosperity to the nation. And the socio-economic wellbeing of the nation depends on that of business.

At our most recent session, we made the decision to set up an industrial group within the framework of the Russian Popular Front, and on this basis, which we are currently forming, we are creating a business headquarters to support your candidacy in the next presidential elections.

In this regard, it is of utmost importance that we send the right signals to the business community so as to make it feel more secure and to reassure businesses that they can invest in Russia’s economy and develop private entrepreneurship here. Many steps have recently been taken toward that goal. The programmes of the Popular Front and United Russia reflect our main goal – the creation of 25 million jobs in 20 years, which is crucial both for entrepreneurs and for people who will receive well-paying jobs.

A number of concrete decisions have been made in the electricity sector, for instance, with regard to scrapping penalties for overuse and underuse by small and medium-sized businesses. A lot of progress has been made here. Yesterday, the president finally signed a resolution to cut social insurance rates. We hailed this decision because the previous rate, 34%, seemed a bit excessive. Now it will be brought down to 30%. Still, it would be great to see this measure followed through, as it is still a somewhat half-hearted effort.

Vladimir Putin: And what do you think the next step should be in that direction? Tax cuts?

Boris Titov: Tax cuts, yes, but not of the conventional kind. A “non-linear” scheme should be developed. We have some related proposals to put forward. For instance, effecting a minor pension reform, creating a pension fund for older generations, singling out of people born after 1967, in order to pay from the fund’s direct receipts, in particular from excise duties (on tobacco and spirits), maybe part of oil revenues could be used, it is necessary to discuss this decision. These are indirect solutions to be adopted today, but they could form the foundation for further progress.

 But naturally business expects some more decisions. We are very much concerned about taxes, I could say something about a so-called tax manoeuvre, reducing production taxes and increasing consumption taxes. At least to the level… In the common Customs Union, and now in the common economic space with our neighbours, for example with Kazakhstan – they have lower taxes… Maybe we should think about levelling Russian competitiveness in this sense, about bringing our taxes to the level of Kazakhstan, at least. It is very important to simplify taxation accounting and adopt international standards. There are many different issues.

The fight against corruption is very important. It is probably a priority, and in this respect we would like to make a point… First of all, under Article 159 of the Criminal Code, 30,000 people have been sentenced for fraud crimes.  This article deals with the illegal seizure of companies and property, with abuse of office. Perhaps it’s time to think about more serious legislation to do away with corruption. We had a difficult period when bureaucratic pressure on business was intense; perhaps we should think about amnesty for small and mid-size businesses that have committed minor and moderately serious economic offences. Perhaps we should take some measures to seriously improve the business situation but not at the cost of other social strata, so these proposals must be well elaborated. Although we believe that lowering taxes will not reduce budget receipts and consequently affect social programmes but will only increase them due to business growth and the growth of the tax base as well as higher wages caused by improvements in technologies and industries. Higher wages will improve the social sphere. So, if possible, we would form a business headquarters where we could discuss these problems and make our proposals to you to be included in the election manifesto for your presidential campaign.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Titov. Mr Govorukhin said it is necessary to look at a chessboard to see the moves of the whites and the blacks. It is necessary to see all moves, those of the whites, and the blacks, and the rest, too. The issues in this sphere of activity are very sensitive for all components of our life and they are very professional. And, of course, some business community proposals are extremely important. Mr Titov knows that the government and the Presidential Administration regularly work with business on a permanent basis. And Mr Shokhin knows that. I regularly meet with you and we have had parallel meetings with Mr Shokhin, with each of you. What is important is not my personal meetings, what is important is that the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Industry and Trade are in permanent contact. In the trilateral commission, we discuss all issues with trade unions on a permanent basis. Mr Shmakov (Mikhail Shmakov, Chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia) has sucked so much of our blood. You see, he is in good health, and all of us in the government are thin.

 We should prevent only one thing (I don’t think anyone is interested in it) –  the situation that our friends and colleagues are dealing with in Europe. You know that when the national debt is 124% as in Italy, or 162% of GDP as in Greece, or 202% or 206% as in Japan, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to implement any development programmes. Yesterday I watched Euronews information blocs – from the first to the last. They were all about those problems. And what does it lead to if these problems are not solved? You know better than anybody else – you and Mr Shokhin who is heading the RUIE [Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs]. If these problems are not solved, there will be a recession. What is a recession? Decline in production, a lack of money for wages and pensions, immediately. Immediately! This is a real threat that our colleagues are facing. Look what people are talking about. There is what we saw in 2009: decline in production, rise in loans, rise in the cost of loans, decline of all property prices, real decline in wages everywhere.  Now listen to prime ministers, my colleagues in that information bloc… The prime minister of Ireland (Enda Kenny) sitting under two flags, that of the European Union and his national one, is saying to his country, “We face an exceptional challenge. … I wish I could tell you that the budget won’t impact every citizen in need, but I can’t,” he tells his citizens. It will impact all of them. Therefore we, of course, should and will think about reducing the tax base. My personal opinion is that we can meet social obligations only on the basis of economic growth, and that economic growth requires light taxation, efficient taxation as well as the implementation of budget obligations for people in need of support. It is necessary to ensure national security, defence, healthcare, education, pensions etc., because all this requires budget funding. But this also means that we should think about making this taxation less burdensome and more efficient, that’s certain.  Of course, we have taken into consideration such things as reducing social contributions by raising excise duties on tobacco and alcohol, and various colleagues had various proposals. Mr Titov, there are some limitations related to  everyday life. Preliminary calculations show that the receipts from the growth of excise duties on tobacco and alcohol will be insufficient for a significant reduction, for businesses, of social contributions to social funds. It is possible to get significant receipts from this type of taxation, but you would have to increase tobacco and alcohol prices many times over. Of course, we can say that smoking is bad for your health and drinking should be avoided, but I don’t think that we have a right to take such decisions in this sphere based on the need to ensure the normal work of businesses. This will lead to price hikes not by one or two roubles, not by thirty roubles, but several times over, immediately. Several times! And if prices do not increase several times over, the insignificant price increase will have an insufficient effect on reducing social contributions to social funds. So it should be looked into very carefully.

You mentioned that part of the oil revenue should be used to support the pensions system, but that is exactly what we are doing, because the money we put in the reserve funds is intended precisely to shore up the pension system. To remind you, we have two funds: the Government Reserve Fund which we use, if necessary, to offset the budget deficit, this year we will have a surplus, but in times of crisis we compensated for it from the Government Reserve Fund. And the other fund is the Fund of National Well-Being which we luckily are able to keep in a working condition. The Fund totals 2.7 trillion roubles, its size has remained the same, and it is intended under the law to finance the pension system deficit, and that fund is replenished with oil and gas revenues.

This year we will have a budget surplus. We had expected a deficit, but this year’s budget will have a surplus of about 0.3-0.5%, or about 350 billion roubles. A large part of the extra money will be transferred to the Fund of National Well-Being, that is, to support the pension system. That was just a brief comment, but all the same your proposals will be useful. We will certainly consider them together with you very thoroughly. But one thing that is absolutely certain (no objections there) is that we should take a long hard look at the need to carry on the fight against corruption, a fight that I would not describe as effective. Anyway, if we do not speak about it and do not continuously look for new tools to combat that evil, we will never succeed. It needs to be done. And we should seek to remove various administrative barriers… You know that we have been working hard on this recently, and I will not recap it here so as not to waste time or bore you with this talk. You know what is being done in this sphere and we will continue to work jointly with you.

Vyacheslav Lysakov, please.

Vyacheslav Lysakov: Thank you. As a member of the Coordination Council and, as of today, a member of your campaign headquarters, I would like to say a couple of words about the situation on the ground, or rather, the problems that exist in the regions, what with the two back-to-back elections. The professional environment is formed not only by the president and you, the prime minister, but to an even greater extent by the local officials in the regions. I have raised this topic more than once. You have just used the term “administrative barriers.” I have recently been dealing with the problems of taxi drivers. As you know, I head up the newly created national taxi council. There are some superb professionals there, top-class, and they have advanced technologies that even Western companies do not have. I think that in a little while our taxi service will be one of the best in the world and we will do our utmost to move in that direction. Anyway, we recently held a round table under the auspices of the Russian Popular Front, it was chaired by Svetlana Orlova (Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council), it was her 30th round table. Incidentally, as regards the national budget and the national programme, practically all the regions took part, we had video links, and the picture of course is bleak, but we knew about it, the professional community knew about it before. There are massive administrative barriers in some regions, in many regions and the local bureaucrats… We have one customer, I can name him, he is Mr Pugachov, the head of the Transport and Communications Department of the Krasnodar Region. People like him totally ignore professional communities, civil society and citizens’ organisations, including the Russian Popular Front. I think you would agree with us that professional communities and non-governmental organisations should shape their personnel policies in the regions. I have sought the assistance of Sergei Neverov (Secretary of the Presidium of the Party’s General Council) and he has already talked to the governor. We want that official to be removed because he ignores professional communities and non-governmental organisations and undermines the rating of the government and the party and your rating, Mr Putin. So, unfortunately…

Vladimir Putin: I don’t even know him.

Vyacheslav Lysakov: Neither do I.

Vladimir Putin: But he pushes down our rating.

Vyacheslav Lysakov: Well, that is true, because people in the regions see that you, Mr Putin, travel about the country and meet and talk with people practically every day, give concrete answers to their questions, while some local big wig behaves in such an arrogant way that it is impossible to get through to him. Higher ranking officials, starting from governors and mayors and ending with the heads of departments, behave as if they were Mr Putin himself. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that situation needs to be rectified, and I stress once again that the professional community that these bureaucrats form reflects on the mentality of the people in the regions.

Perhaps they do not keep track of global issues that you and the government are pursuing but focus on the way they are approached and on the way their everyday professional issues are being resolved from above, the issues on which Mr Titov spoke, and Mr Borisov can surely say the same. Unfortunately they are forming these locally. So we can implement great things on a national scale, but if in the regions the branches and personnel are headed by such individuals, we will hardly make any progress, unfortunately, Mr Putin. Thank you.

Valery Yakushev (pensioner, honorary steelworker): Mr Putin, may I add something on this issue?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, you are welcome.

Valery Yakushev: This is a good subject. I’d like to say a few words. I don’t know why they say that 50% is good, that it is a victory. In my opinion, we have lost. Losing 77 deputies is a lot. And who is to blame but the officials who affect people’s feelings. Here’s an example. I was meeting with people with disabilities, voters. Some women had been given twenty tickets for a Urals Folk Choir concert in Yekaterinburg. Buses were a problem. The deputy head of the district could not help with buses, and cursed about it. I swore at him and asked him to ask some other people to help; finally they took the disabled to the concert.

There was also a case of some young athletes, swimmers, they had won gold medals in the regional competitions. Well, they were to take part in a regional competition, three youngsters received travel money but the coach received no money for travel. How could they leave without their coach? One of the parents accompanied them. The youngsters won gold medals. Is this a good way to treat people? This is a source of bad feelings among the parents of these youngsters, among those disabled people etc. Perhaps it is necessary to make United Russia statutes more rigorous. And the majority of these kinds of officials hide behind United Russia – it is necessary to do away with them, drive them out of United Russia, drive them out of their posts and replace them with others who fear something and feel responsibility.

Vyacheslav Lysakov: Now the campaign headquarters has opened, Mr Putin, you see?

Vladimir Putin: Mr Yakushev, first, you are right. Some issues must be addressed with more vigour. And I think we will do this. That’s the first thing.

Secondly, We do not see everything from Moscow. Even Mr Fyodorov is nodding, and I think, even at the region or republic governor level it is difficult to see everything that happens below. That’s why we have created our Popular Front – to see such things and respond in a timely manner. And even within the Popular Front, everything is not always possible, but if we expand this organisation, if it functions throughout the country, this will be an additional channel linking us with people and an extra channel for control over the situation in the regions. We will do this; we will do it jointly with you, Mr Yakushev.

You are welcome, Mr Shmakov (Mikhail Shmakov, the Chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia).

Mikhail Shmakov: Mr Putin, colleagues, I’d like to go back to the subject of your campaign headquarters. I maintain that it is an absolutely logical solution, and the campaign headquarters will and must work vigorously. But when I heard Mr Titov say that there will be an entrepreneurs’ headquarters, and then some other headquarters will follow… In my opinion, these various headquarters will only obstruct each other’s work and the election campaign, because tomorrow there will emerge a bakers’ headquarters, followed by a plumber’s headquarters, etc. They will all support the election, of course, but they will not act in unison…

Vladimir Putin: The plumbers’ headquarters would probably help with the utilities problems.

Mikhail Shmakov: However we are speaking about our election campaign technology. Of course, everything should be concentrated in this headquarters. And everything should be done consistently and everybody should be tasked to this end. In my opinion, any large-scale innovation such as changing the pension law or reducing taxes for business… In our view, the law on contributions to the social fund was approved arbitrarily in its time, without discussion, and sparked criticism amongst the public. 

Vladimir Putin: Do you mean the reduction of social contributions?

Mikhail Shmakov: Reduction from 34% to 30%. Of course, it is necessary to consider where and how to create normal conditions for businesses and to prevent excessive tax pressure. For example, Kazakhstan’s socioeconomic model is not the best. In terms of the Common Economic Space, I do not know what option is better, whether we should go down to the level of Kazakhstan or whether we should pull Kazakhstan and Belarus up to the level of Russia. But these are such global tasks that could be harmful during the presidential election campaign because we will lose votes. It is necessary to remind voters about other topics – about achievements, about the programme that it envisages for higher living standards. But if we start debating and discussing innovations ahead of the elections, we will not resolve the task. The first thing that we should do is to make the population more active and to mobilise our supporters to get the votes that we need. 

Secondly. In my opinion, as Mr Govorukhin also said, there are the black and the white squares on the chessboard, that are different parties, opponents on the chessboard. We have the results of the past campaign as you said, and we all know the results, but we lost the information and publicity space.

I think we should adjust our previous shortcomings and focus on intensifying publicity and our counterpropaganda campaign. For example, the events currently taking place in Moscow were discussed and planned in advance by the internet community two months ago; they said two months ago that the elections would not be straight, and so we will go out to the streets on the evening of December 4, and we will continue to go out in the streets day by day in order to defend honest elections. And that’s what they are doing. Today Solovyov [Vladimir Solovyov, TV presenter] calculated that the number of demonstrators are only 0.01%, those ten thousand that gather and go out, while others… And they cast doubt on the political and state system in principle. Because discrediting authorities is a way to seek an alternative political goal of their own. Because it is an opponent team on this chessboard.

It should be clearly understood, it is necessary to terminate political complacency, because politics is a rough game. You were right to say – nobody is easy on his opponent or enemy on the political battleground in any country. Positions are well-defined and in this confrontation between positions, the voter chooses a position to his liking. And in this confrontation between positions, the policy pursued in this country, your policy, Mr Putin, will surely win a majority. But there should be conversations and an adequate campaign on our part, in the media. Because, what do I see in today’s newspaper, for example? I will not even say what paper. It reads: “Plumbers’ Party,” “Authorities Endorsed by Bribery,” etc. 

Vladimir Putin: Plumbers again. Plumbers’ Party – this is good. If they think that they have insulted us they are mistaken.

Mikhail Shmakov: Of, course, they haven’t insulted us, Mr Putin, nevertheless those who are not so deeply immersed in political bickering and debate will read it, and what those articles say next… lies. They are telling lies. And it is necessary to fight against these lies, it is necessary to have counterpropaganda as it is called in other countries, counterpropaganda is propaganda conducted by that section of society aimed at some objective in the presidential election, it is necessary to have this counterpropaganda and it should be stronger than previously.

And the last thing, I’ll be short. Of course there are developed techniques that intensify voter activity. As the party candidate you do not need to collect two million signatures, but we might start this campaign through a collection of signatures accompanied by remarks, proposals for improvement, as we did with the Popular Front. Perhaps this approach will work but this should have been done yesterday, in principle. We should not drop it because now it is necessary to work more intensively in the media and the internet platforms.

Vladimir Putin: I hold that the main, the most efficient method of a ruling political force, the most fundamental tool to gain confidence of people is surely the practical work of this political force and its results. And I think that the results of this work… The results of the election show how people see what United Russia has done. And I think that the reduction of a certain number of seats is fair. However it makes it possible for United Russia and for state organisations in general to efficiently plan their work. It is enough to have stable work, but I agree with you that certainly any political force (any!) must effectively use modern media in order to bring people its concept on what it intends to do and how it assesses its own work etc.

As for what we may refer to as street democracy, this is how I feel about it: If people act within the framework of the law, they must be given the right to express their opinion, and we must not restrict anyone in exercising these civic rights. However, if someone breaks the law, the authorities and the law enforcement agencies must urge compliance with the law by all legal means.  That is my second point.

And thirdly. We are all adults and we understand that some of the organisers (not all of them, but certainly some) proceed according to a plan in pursuit of purely selfish political objectives. In this case I cannot but agree with you, Mr. Shmakov. But we both also know that people in our country do not want to see the situation escalate to what happened in Kyrgyzstan, or in the recent past in Ukraine. Nobody wants chaos. In relying on the overwhelming majority of our citizens, we should conduct a dialogue with those who are in opposition and allow them to express themselves, to exercise their constitutional rights and voice their opinions. By relying on the overwhelming majority of citizens who do not want to see any chaos in the country, law enforcement agencies must organise all of this in accordance with current legislation and our nation’s constitution. I hope it will work that way. With regard to all this, we certainly hope to receive the support of the unions as well.

As for collecting signatures, this is not necessary, as is spelled out by the legislation. Selection took place in accordance with our election legislation. If you believe that we could discuss the selection and the future programme though… such as the United Front (the United Front, in particular), I believe it could be beneficial and interesting. It would be the right thing to do. 

Mikhail Shmakov: May I make a brief reply?

Vladimir Putin: Certainly.

Mikhail Shmakov: In his time, Ronald Reagan introduced such notions as “the screaming minority” and “the quiet majority”. And we are all now… Just like everyone who is present here today, I am experiencing the current situation for the second time… At the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, such contra propaganda did not exist, there was no such push back, no discrediting of the obvious lies that have shone though some of the noisy rhetoric. In his time, Mikhail Gorbachev, whom I did not respect, when asked about possible restrictions to the materials being published in newspapers, said that people should not read  newspapers. Well, that is a position, too. But the laws must be followed. According to the law, if people want to express their opinion, they must be able to do so. The ideological struggle, however, is not ceasing -- meaning lies must be countered appropriately, and they must be revealed as lies.     

Vladimir Putin: I agree with you.

Mikhail Shmakov: Please, I'll finish in just a moment. I'm simply concerned that this is happening for the second time…

Comment: Perhaps Mr Shmakov should be appointed our chief ideologist.

Shmakov: I would certainly accept if you nominate me. I would not like to fall back into the pit that we have been climbing out of for quite some time. This all happened because of … Well, let's not go there, there are those who are in opposition, they must be able to express themselves, and that’s why it was approached with such complacency. In the end, we see the situation we find ourselves in, and we are concerned. I believe that this topic should be emphasised more extensively during your election campaign, in part by the Popular Front and its headquarters that were established today. That's all I wanted to say. 

Vladimir Putin: All right. I hear what you're saying and I agree with you on many points. And certainly… I simply did not want to bring this up. This is not why we have gathered here. But I have considered the initial reaction of our American partners. The first thing that Secretary of State Clinton did was to provide an assessment of the elections by saying that they were unfair and unjust, even though she had not yet received the OSCE report. She set the tone for some of our political figures within the country, she sent a signal. They heard the signal and with the support of the State Department, they began their active work. I'd like to say it again: those who act in accordance with the law should be able to exercise their rights. However, law enforcement agencies must also carry out their duty by relying on the wide support of the society. This support came from the chairman of the most powerful union organisation and I heard it. Thank you.    

Leonid Roshal (president of the non-commercial partnership, “The National Medical Chamber”): May I?

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Leonid Roshal: Mr. Putin, first of all, you know that I have been a supporter of the Popular Front (I have told you so on multiple occasions). This is not because the Popular Front defends United Russia, but because I consider it to be an actual mechanism that can get things done. Let’s take healthcare, for instance: through the Popular Front, we have been able to formulate the law more or less as needed, and to come up with a programme that no one should be ashamed of. We would like to think further about how to implement this programme; perhaps concrete directives should be issued to the ministries of  Healthcare, Finance, Economics, to our public organisations and to the government, explaining how to carry out that which has been written? It is clearly laid out that in five years we need to have doubled the number of Russian citizens who are satisfied with healthcare. Five years will fly by in the blink of an eye, and we will have to report. So it would be good…

I support your idea of the headquarters, but I would like to make a suggestion. Everyone who is gathered here… We have headquarters, so let's have them be the council of the headquarters, as they were the first to come, to help out, to work and to discuss these issues, and I believe such a system will not weaken us, but will strengthen us. I'm uncertain as to whether headquarters should be established for each -- one for healthcare, etc. -- but we do need an active core. Each of these specific cores would rely on the adequate work of individuals. We have already discussed this issue, and I support your idea that the list of candidates is not final, but I would like to suggest Sadovnichiy, Gergiev and Piotrovsky, well known, reasonable, sensible individuals, who understand Russia, who help and who are known by the people.  Nice and clean, no? So that they, too, could lend a hand. We could find a few more individuals like them.  

I have also been keeping an eye on what is going on here. I recently came to the realisation that human beings are the worst kind of animal; no other animal raises another in order to kill and eat it. Only humans behave in this way. Sharks want blood; they flock to it and destroy. Some may feed these sharks, some may not, perhaps ideologically… There are people who want blood. All I'm saying is that we saw what happened in the Arab world, what happened with Gaddafi in Libya. It has not come to that in Greece, but it's not far from it. There were protests in the U.S., in New York. There are people who are born this way, and I believe that we have such people here too. I agree with you that they are difficult to convince. Whether they are being fed by others or not, this is the way they are, ideologically. I know people who complained about everyone during communist times, and they are complaining now. Their nature is to complain.

Vladimir Putin: It's a profession.

Leonid Roshal: Yes, and today, the social issue is important. I think, I hope that there will not be any social catastrophes in these times. We will have to raise the bar in some way, in healthcare for example… We have a huge problem with healthcare personnel. This is something to think about. History reveals that it's not just the social sphere. Look, the social environment under Gaddafi was normal, better than in some countries, but look at what people did. Politics plays an important role, and we need to make certain conclusions. In a sense, I do not know how -- legally and on a more serious level, we need to establish a relationship between the Popular Front and the State Duma committees, with the Ministry of Healthcare (it’s my field), so that they are not reduced to the level of boys and girls shouting about something or other only to be shooed away like flies. There must be a dialogue. Work on the healthcare legislation has clearly demonstrated that. It is good for the country since, as it turns out, not everyone can have their own opposition. That’s not good. 

There is also the issue with two of our deputies. I'd like to say that when you read the list of Popular Front members, most of these individuals are not members of the party. That’s important. Most of them are just ordinary people. Of the three candidates, two of our nonpartisan candidates did not make it through. Among them was Ms Aksyonova from Smolensk, who worked very effectively (Mr. Klintsevich can attest to that). I travelled there, a thousand doctors were assembled. We worked well -- actively and effectively -- but we ran out of time; we should have worked faster, and started earlier. And Mr. Kostushov could also have been a great addition to the Duma.   

May I conclude with Takhchidi?

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Leonid Roshal: I have spoken about this man four times. This is a man who was almost unanimously elected to be president last year by all ophthalmologists in a secret ballot (with 80% of the votes), a man who did great things to help the Fyodorov Eye Institute, a man who is not a criminal. I repeat, he is not a criminal! I know that there has been talk about his dismissal for a long time, but this was not because of his work performance. And they found the worst possible way. Just the worst. A United Russia representative, a deputy (perhaps he is a good organiser, I do not know), a head of a nursing department (he is a good person, just not a specialist) has been appointed director of the institute. I have travelled around the country. Look at what is happening. During my visit to Irkutsk, an audience of a thousand people asked me, in one voice, what happened to Takhchidi? In Smolensk they asked me, what happened to Takhchidi? Here we are trying to win the people over, and through foolish decisions such as this we are taking steps backwards, only to return later. I have a feeling that the directive you issued has not been enacted. There was a commission that did not include Takhchidi that came to the institute without him. They should have consulted me at least. People talk about who knows what. After the new director has been appointed (I understand people, this is a form of self-preservation, nobody wants to lose their job) the people began to vacillate. But in principle, I believe this was a mistake. What's the hurry? What if it happens after the elections, even after the March elections? Where’s the fire? Why does this need to happen right at this moment? They came at 7 o’clock in the morning to kick him out of his office, the deputy minister and the other one, what’s his name… He said, “Mr. Putin wrote this… You can take this paper …” Word for word, it was said publicly. I think there needs to be an investigation. If we realise that a mistake has been made, and we bring him back… The minister has this prerogative, and she did not sign a contract with him. She did not sign a contract with him for 2.5 years, since she does not have to, and without a contract he can leave. But this is besides the point. He has been slandered. I do not believe that he is a thief, and an outlaw. If you come to any institute, you’ll find something. In my institute they may find something, too. I think this was a mistake, a pre-election mistake. But we need to fight for every single person! For every single person, I would like to emphasise that! I apologise, Mr. Putin. 

Vladimir Putin: There's no need to apologise to me. You have told me about this personally. This specialist, Takhchidi, I do not know him personally…

Leonid Roshal: You should meet him, he's a good guy.

Vladimir Putin: I believe it, since you are speaking of him in this way.

Leonid Roshal: This means your eyes work just fine.

Vladimir Putin: Thank God, they haven't complained so far. But you are aware that the minister dismissed him in connection with violations? I don't know, I myself have not checked personally whether there were any violations or not. Administrative actions of this nature should not be considered part of the internal political process.

If irregularities occur we must react no matter what political process is underway at the moment. Whether or not it’s a fair decision, honestly I don’t know, this is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Healthcare, the jurisdiction of the minister, and intervening all the time in the affairs of every minister means upsetting the entire system of government. But I agree with you and you know my position: if there is reason to believe that the data are not objective, they are subject to additional verification. I have asked the prosecutor general to make such an independent and impartial verification. We will take a decision based on the results of the verification.  

Leonid Roshal: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Remark: Can we give the floor to another sector, so far we’ve been hearing only from non-governmental organisations…

Vladimir Putin: Let’s hear from Yekaterina Lakhova (Chairwoman of the NGO Russian Women’s Union). And then we will move over, OK?

Yekaterina Lakhova: I would like to say that Hillary Clinton has apparently pulled out all the plugs, because we have long been speaking about grant givers.

Vladimir Putin: Well, yes.

Yekaterina Lakhova: And today, of course, they support the NGOs and party organisations and provocateurs… those who are rocking the boat, well, that is understandable… Is it a rose, orange or some other revolution they want to provoke here? But I would like to go back to the big wigs mentioned by Lysakov and Yakushev because there is a link between these things, because we are discrediting ourselves.

For example, we passed a law on non-commercial organisations and today many sit in the Russian Popular Front, including our organisation, and they do many social projects. They created a committee for state support of socially oriented non-profit organisations and filed documents. Hundreds of different NGOs have filed their documents, including my organisation (which is why I have tried to carry out an in-depth investigation, but I didn’t go far enough), but we were turned down. I say: “So who received the grant?” We cannot get a grant from the Public Chamber, but who do we have here? I can name it: the organisation is called Charitable Social Fund in Aid of Creating Conditions for a Worthy Life and Free Development of the Individual, and it is called Sozidaniye. Its sources of funding are: the European Commission, the embassies of Britain and the Netherlands, the Ford Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The next organisation is a therapeutic pedagogical centre all of whose staff have been trained at the American organisation USAID, the coordinator… I don’t know, somebody has to tell me what these organisations are. So the coordinators of that centre coordinate the work of foreign volunteers, we do not have our own volunteers. Then there is the Donors’ Forum organisation, it is also an organisation that raises money. It consists of Russian oligarchs, including Potanin and others.

Two NGOs that are part of the Public Chamber (Lena Nikolayeva seems to be set to become a deputy; and Oleg Zykov) receive grants there, and you see this rigmarole. I think we too have a good project, it has to do with socio-cultural programmes to encourage children to read, because it is a problem in Russia today. So I would like to say that when we allocate federal budget money to organisations which have already received and are receiving grants from various international organisations, maybe it’s a good thing, but still… we work in Russia and for Russia, so we would like these organisations, and there are a lot of them…

I had a call from the Consortium of Women’s Non-Governmental Organisations yesterday and they said that they too had been turned down. I said: “Why did they turn you down? What is your project?” They say it’s domestic violence, they started teaching at police schools and at professional development courses for police officers and that they are learning the ropes. These are good projects and they too were turned down. So we have some problems with these local big wigs who distribute these grants. We should look into it more closely.

You say quite rightly that it is all about corruption. And we have picked up that topic, I mean the United Russia party. And we seem to decide ourselves what to open and what not to open. Of course you cannot know everything. Yesterday, when I talked with women’s organisations in Moscow they told me: “What do you expect? Yes, modernisation of healthcare, a lot of money is allocated for that.” But what is the result? She was referred for a medical examination in February and it was only performed in October. She wants modernisation to make a difference in her life, to be some kind of plus, and if she needs some tests they tell her: “You can’t have it today, but if you pay you can go to the floor below and have your test.”

So if we talk about corruption at various levels of power we should also look into the industry and look thoroughly in order to change the situation. One feels sad when one looks at Germany and they have a new Party of Pirates, a social networking party. We too see such a movement emerging here which… Somebody makes a call and for money provocateurs appear who will charge that we are thieves, crooks and so on. So I would like this issue of local big wigs to be looked into… Try to sort it out somehow.   

Vladimir Putin: Very well. As regards financing for various activities from abroad, I wouldn’t lump everything together. There are some quite decent and useful activities and jobs, some of which are supported by our colleagues and friends from abroad. We should not build up tensions and say that they are all enemies and that there is a conspiracy against us. Obviously, some work is being done including this kind of work… There is a political struggle going on inside the country and on the international arena and some of our colleagues…

I recently met with the press, with the media, and surely we are a major nuclear power and we remain a major power. This prompts certain fears from our partners. And they are prodding us so that we should not forget who is the boss in the world and that we should be obedient and know that they have levers through which they can influence us inside the country. So, if it comes to humanitarian issues connected with health and the like, this is normal. But when foreign money is invested in political activities inside the country this should give us pause. Injecting foreign money in electoral processes is particularly abhorrent. This is simply inadmissible. We must bear it in mind, all of us, including the deputies.  

Leonid Roshal: I’ve seen a concrete figure, 9 million. The State Department…

Vladimir Putin: Pardon me, let me finish. Actually it’s more than that. Hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in this work. So we must discuss it here at the Popular Front and with the deputies: we must develop forms of protecting our sovereignty, protecting ourselves from outside interference. For example, we have an internal law that regulates… We are not against it, we are all in favour of foreign observers watching the political process, the electoral process. By the way, in the States they don’t allow observers anywhere. They simply turn them away from the polling stations. More recently they have been allowing some people in but in general they simply told them, “go away” and did not allow anyone in. The procedure is very tough there actually. Far less liberal than here. We are for it, but we have a law. And when some domestic organisations that are allegedly our national organisations but in reality work for foreign money and dance to the tune of a foreign state within the electoral process – this is inadmissible. We should see what our legislation is in that sphere and how it works, and how effective it is – Leonid Roshal is absolutely right – we should see what amounts of money are funnelled into it. We should protect ourselves from interference in our internal affairs and protect our sovereignty, this is in the interests of Russian society as a whole.

But I repeat, it does not mean that we should ban everything. There are many people who are absolutely friendly, who want to cooperate with us, want to assist us and give advice and material aid, even though they themselves have many problems today, they themselves need support and they are actually suggesting that Russia too might give them support and some help. Ten years ago this would have been unthinkable. It was hard even to imagine anyone coming to Russia for help and support. Given our condition today, we can do it. The question is, how, through what channels? Anyway, this is no cause for rejoicing. They have problems today, we had problems yesterday. And incidentally, many people there wished us well and they wish us well today. But we are obliged to defend our sovereignty. We should think about improving the legislation, and increasing penalties on those who are working on behalf of a foreign state and trying to influence the domestic political process.

Now as regards dishonest bureaucrats. You know, Ms Lakhova, I have already said that one of the reasons we created the Russian Popular Front is to keep a watch on the processes that are taking place in the administrative bureaucratic sphere. We have allocated a sizable amount of money from the budget this year to support our non-governmental organisations. Yes, and if you see that they have some problems… that they have problems is bad, but that you see them is good news, and it is good that we have an opportunity today to hear you and to respond. But we will discuss it later on. Let’s have a detailed discussion. Agreed.

Remark: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let us move over here. Vitaly Yefimov (Chairman of the Russian Transport Workers Union).

Vitaly Yefimov: I would like to speak about the irritants. During the election campaign I managed to visit or have meetings in 40 communities with voters in cities and in the countryside. Of course it was a very pleasant region to visit. The Mordovian Republic is developing dynamically, people are in a very positive mood, and they have great respect for you especially. Indeed, they have done many things there on your instructions, but I would like to speak… but first I would like to thank you for Novosibirsk. The transport people are very happy because you have solved practically all the problems. My only wish is that the instructions that you gave them are followed up. That is all.

Regarding the irritants in the city. I found that problem puzzling. There is a law and a government resolution on water meters.

Vladimir Putin: On what?

Vitaly Yefimov: They install water meters in flats. But the resolution, as it turned out, is so worded that all the losses in water pipelines or over-consumption of water by residents who have no meters are divided up proportionally among those who have these meters. At first I did not understand, in fact I did not believe it. But when I looked into it, indeed I received invoices which said that 20 cubic metres had been used legitimately and 20 cubic metres was compensation for the losses that occurred elsewhere. Merkushkin (head of the Republic of Mordovia) is a competent professional and he will compensate the losses not to irritate people, but it is a powerful irritant which should be addressed immediately… I am told that a resolution…

What’s happening in the countryside? The countryside is being transformed.

Vladimir Putin: Vyacheslav Volodin has made a note of it, and we will revisit that issue.

Vitaly Yefimov: I’ll tell you, it is Resolution No. 307.

Vladimir Putin: So what is the problem? Is it to do with water or with other spending too? A tower block has some common amenities and somebody has to pay…

Vitaly Yefimov: No, no, no.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I understand. But if they went to the other extreme and this is not about common amenities for which people have to pay but losses unconnected with what people use, then this is a problem of some residential stock managing organisations and municipalities. Then they must assume responsibility and pay for this themselves. You are right, of course this needs to be looked into.  

Vitaly Yefimov: The worst of it is that if I do not have a meter I am charged for only 7 cubic metres, and if I have used ten then the next-door neighbour who has a meter will pay for me. 

Vladimir Putin: That’s very true.

Vitaly Yefimov: As for the countryside, I repeat, the countryside is being transformed. It is becoming more civilised. I looked at their agriculture and it is wonderful. I lived in the West for five years and I must say that the livestock farms I have seen are every bit as good if not better than in the West.

Vladimir Putin: They are better because they use the latest technology.

Vitaly Yefimov: Every district has physical fitness complexes and swimming pools, some have ice rinks… Who is talking about irritants? Of course the better a person lives the higher his expectations… Some people raise questions about pensions and say that pensions are too small. They also ask about roads leading to their villages and especially inside the villages. And while we are on this subject, they complain that people from rural communities cannot get to the district centre. Transport from the district to the regional centre is provided by private agents, but inside the district nobody is responsible because the flow of passengers is unstable, buses are not filled and private companies do not go there and all the passenger carrying enterprises have been shut down during this period. So I have a request to make. I have this table where all these complaints are listed by district. If we look at the first two this is the biggest problem. What do we propose? It is not a very massive programme. If we could find 4 billion [roubles] a year over the next five years we could buy minibuses, we don’t need large ones, at the expense of the federation. The heads of regions of course should be ordered to provide subsidies because we have to be subsidised anyway, it doesn’t work out any other way. And the next thing is that these enterprises should be restored there.

Vladimir Putin: What enterprises?

Vitaly Yefimov: Well, the places where these buses will be parked. We call them regional production and technical bases of motor transport enterprises. They still exist in some places, the utilities enterprises still exist and something can be done. That would also solve another problem: we transport people are very concerned about bussing children from schools. All the buses have been transferred to schools, teachers know how to teach, but the guy whom they hired is manager, driver and supervisor rolled in one. Besides, these buses are stricken off the list, they are not licensed and we cannot present any demands to them. So regional enterprises should be organised. That is realistic, we can judge by Mordovia: we could solve problems there in the next five years. I think 4 billion is not a lot of money for the country and we could then say that the issue would be solved for many people in our country, for the rural population. I would like to ask you on behalf of the transport people and especially the rural people to support that programme. Second, there are irritants that are universal. Mr Putin, diesel fuel cannot cost more than 95 grade petrol. I’ve been making this point everywhere. Diesel fuel is waste from petrol production. The oligarchs are really going over the top there.  

Remark: It’s the same all over Europe.

Vitaly Yefimov: I repeat: this is a by-product. I lived in Europe, it was some time ago, two or three years ago, but, pardon me, we are talking about diesel fuel. So we should look at this issue. We use diesel fuel for 60% of our carriage, and anyway you subsidise agriculture and pump a huge amount of money into it. What other problems are there? True, they are being addressed. People want to have running water in every house and many villages have already built pipelines. Other issues are minor: to repair a school, to repair a kindergarten, to buy tools, but irritants connected with transit are number one in rural areas. These problems have to be solved. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Very well. Of course, as we all understand, this is an issue under the jurisdiction of municipalities and regions and not of the federal budget. But we should see what can be done. And we should move in two directions at once: first, the roads…

Vitaly Yefimov: The roads are already there.

Vladimir Putin: No, I disagree. I understand that as a transport specialist you think that it is necessary to buy buses and ensure the work of that sector, and furthermore, if there are no roads, buses will need to be replaced more often. Perhaps this is not so bad for the sector…

Vitaly Yefimov: There are roads, they have built roads, but there are no vehicles, one has to go on foot.

Vladimir Putin: No, there are no roads there. Rural roads are very bad or non-existent. So we have to move in two directions: to build roads and, of course, to provide transport. I quite agree with you there. As for roads, next year, like I said, we will start creating road funds, federal and regional. The regional funds, under the new law, have the right to create municipal road funds. Indeed, at the last moment the previous Duma made a decision (the colleagues have backed it) and adopted amendments to the law that allow a certain amount of money from the road funds (actually makes it binding on them) to be spent on rural roads and roads within cities. We made it binding on them to allocate a certain amount, and overall considerable resources will be concentrated in the road funds, over 165 billion. I have no doubt that this will boost road construction. At the same time of course the transport component should be developed. Let us think over the programme together with the regions. If we have to do it, it can only be done together with the regions. I agree, we’ll think about it.

Vitaly Yefimov: Can I say this to the minister?

Vladimir Putin: I will issue an instruction today. We have to wind up.

Valentina Ivanova (Chairwoman of the Russian citizens’ organisation All-Russian Pedagogical Assembly): Mr Putin, I would like to back Mikhail Shmakov and Leonid Roshal because in our sphere (I mean education) we will gladly create a body of activists and collect signatures… most important, we will vigorously support and promote here the Popular Programme and your initiatives. And I would like to offer praise and to convey from the teachers a number of letters that have been coming to the All-Russian Pedagogical Assembly, and indeed we recently opened a hotline and we have had meetings and of course teachers are grateful to you for the salary increase. But, as you have warned us, sometimes funny things happen. A teacher is not receiving his salary for two months because of a mistake in arithmetic. And then we have to join forces and solve this problem and pay the arrears. Such things happen.

Vladimir Putin: Are they paying all the arrears?

Valentina Ivanova: They are. But it happened in November, and we would have liked to it happen in September or October. Therefore we will continue this work but, Mr Putin, one should understand that we will pay 60 billion in 2012, so monitoring will, if anything, be still much more of a problem. Because you set the task of ensuring that every school knows what this money will be spent on in terms of modernising the school, repairing and cleaning up and developing the school grounds, sports and other facilities. Huge sums will be paid out and I think that as our work during this period over the hotline has revealed, if the school has a governing council then incentive mark-ups – surely there are some questions to be sorted out – then these problems are solved locally and do not go to the federal level. So, the question of public-private administration, the creation in every school of a governing council is a critical issue today. The Russian Pedagogical Assembly is planning to hold corresponding forums and conferences with the heads of governing councils so as to take the issues of school modernisation under the control of the Russian Pedagogical Assembly and the Russian Popular Front (the headquarters) and probably of these structures. The governing councils attach great importance, as we said, to the interaction between family and school, between family and modernisation of education. The school influences the family, so there must be a mechanism for this nexus and the governing council provides such a unifying mechanism. We are planning a number of such measures and we are sifting through them and implementing them. But there is one project, Mr Putin, that is extremely important and you have mentioned it. It is the Teachers’ House. It is a very cumbersome interagency organisation and apparently all the agencies concerned, and that includes the Economics Ministry and the regions and so on, all these structures… They will need to conduct discussions and meetings because I stress once again that we have complaints from teachers. Just recently I had a meeting. A teacher’s family left Severodvinsk: he is a physical training instructor and she is a school headmistress, and they moved to the Moscow Region where she became a school headmistress too. But because they are civilians they did not get a flat there. They had moved to the Moscow Region because their children have finished school, and they have been left without an apartment. There are many such cases.       

Vladimir Putin: I just didn’t understand. They are not military people?

Valentina Ivanova: They are teachers, they worked at a school in Severodvinsk. But when they came here, because they were not eligible for benefits (teachers have no benefits), it is only now thanks to your project that this initiative is getting off the ground and it meets with massive support. But it is a complicated project because it involves many different agencies. Just the Education Ministry and our own non-governmental organisation are not enough, regions and various federal agencies must be brought in. We are ready and we are asking you…

Vladimir Putin: We will continue this work by all means. And secondly, I think I must note that in general we should pay particular attention to solving the housing problem in the immediate future. Housing construction is an extremely important matter that affects the interests of millions of our citizens. Today we are able realistically to tackle this problem more vigorously than up until now. We are gradually completing this huge project of preparing for the Olympics, the APEC summit, we will carry through this work of providing veterans and servicemen through. The resources will be released gradually and one of the main thrusts of our joint work is to deploy massive housing construction to provide people with housing through various channels. The Teachers’ House is only a small segment of that effort. But on the whole, I am thinking about it and we will revisit this issue many times in the future – we will have to seek the opinion of the deputies and the future government and we should raise and solve these issues, we should launch this large-scale programme intended for many years. Our time is nearly up. Ivan Mokhnachuk, Chairman of the Independent Russian Union of Coal Miners.

Ivan Mokhnachuk: Thank you for the honour, frankly, I did not expect it, though I remember many things because I was your campaign representative the first time when there was an election. I will permit myself to say this: Stanislav Govorukhin spoke about chess, but because you are into another sport, I also played another sport when I was young. I think that, as you have always said, in judo the man who takes advantage of the opponent’s mistakes is the man who wins. I was into boxing.  When you enter the ring you know that the stronger man will win. You must be prepared for the fact that it will be painful, that there will be blood, and some hitting below the belt, so I think these things must be kept in mind.

I would like to support Mikhail Shmakov, only not in collecting signatures on your behalf (in your case, I don’t think any signatures are necessary), but in collecting suggestions sent to you from anywhere. I believe that this should be done for one simple reason. I have long been engaged in community work, I attend a variety of events and I have heard all sorts of speeches, honestly… when some smart guy comes up to the podium or starts criticising from the floor, it is often simply for the sake of criticising in itself, they ask questions and do not care to listen to the answers. But when you tell a person, “You're criticising, but why don’t you suggest something?” and then you add, “Write it up, set down exactly what you are proposing,” then they are immediately deflated because as a rule, nobody wants to do any writing, they hate it, and often they don’t know how to write: it's easier to say something out loud.

So in general, I believe that the headquarters should use this approach in our work when we meet with people publicly… You cannot silence people, everyone will say what he thinks, which is fine. But at the same time, we should demand that they put their proposals in writing, in which case we will then consider it. Often in such cases, the situation turns around.

There is one more thing I would like to say. I will not expound upon the subject of schools because a lot has already been said here, much of which I would agree with. Indeed, there are many problems. I would like to say that the miners are truly grateful to you for assisting them in resolving their dispute and prevailing over those proprietors who just sit around and who pay wages in a 30:70 proportion, because people are disappointed with the authorities and with the unfair wages that they receive, it's the wrong approach. I don’t want to dwell over the minimum wage, which has been talked about so much, into which they have squeezed the northern hardship pay, incentive mark-ups, and so on. I have been explaining everywhere that remuneration in the Far North districts (the northern mark-up) is not pay for work, it is pay for living in these areas. While in Krasnodar in the south you can live on 4,511 roubles and walk around in sandals, in Vorkuta you will freeze, and you cannot even buy felt boots with that money. I think this needs to be addressed, because it is a very sensitive issue. Believe me, wherever I go people constantly ask me about this.

I had an argument with Andrei Fursenko. I arrive in Syktyvkar and I am approached by a young teacher who says, “I am ashamed to go before my class and face the pupils because I have holes in my stockings.” I say, “How much are you paid?” She replies, “7,600.” And the subsistence minimum is 8,200 roubles [a month]. But Fursenko says that there are no teachers living in poverty. How can I convince this teacher that everything is normal? So I believe that we need to develop some kind of approach. And I would also like to say that school reform (I don’t know why teachers haven’t brought this up here) appears sound on the face of it, but in reality it amounts to legitimising corruption.

When the pay scale was cancelled and left to the discretion of the schools, there was an addition of 30% to the wage fund and the schools were left to work out everything on their own without providing any benchmarks even though this is budget money. The teachers’ average salaries remained basically the same, they were raised very little, but the headmaster is paying himself 200,000-250,000, which is completely disproportionate with the teachers’ salaries. It would be better to make it clear and tell the headmaster, “You can pay yourself three times the average pay of your teachers.” So if you want to raise your own salary you have to raise all the other salaries as well. In this case, there wouldn’t be all these discrepancies, and teachers, doctors and public sector workers would respond differently. This is the most sensitive issue that I have to deal with when I go on visits

And the last thing. There are some government officials, frankly speaking, who do harm to you, to your reputation and to many other things. There is a resolution, Resolution 870, that has to do with work place certification. It applies to all sectors of the economy, including teachers, doctors, etc., because there are dangerous conditions for workers in schools and hospitals. We have been butting heads with the Ministry of Healthcare for three years, trying to explain what is meant by hazardous working conditions, what is meant by difficult working conditions, and so on. But probably to please the employers, instead of putting pressure on them and forcing them to eliminate hazardous jobs… if you don’t do, that you must increase compensation for these jobs. I can understand when there are 8,000 hazardous jobs in a coal mine (there's nothing you can do about that, because these are underground jobs), but when on the surface the number of hazardous jobs is multiplying, this is something I cannot understand. And in order to avoid improving labour conditions on the surface and to avoid paying more, they have decided that the degree of hazard according to Sanitary Regulations and Norms be moved from Clause 3.1 to difficult labour conditions.

I told officials at the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development: “Imagine you are laying rails and crossties, building the Baikal-Amur Railway. Is this hard work?” I ask them. “It is.” “You are out in the elements shovelling and wielding a sledge hammer and carrying things around on your back. You are doing the same work in a coal pit, only underground, laying rails. Is this hard work?” I ask. “It is.” “Is it hazardous?” “Not hazardous,” they say, “just hard.” “But there are hazardous conditions: methane gas, dust and all the rest…” It's impossible to explain all this to the bureaucrats, but the resolution affects more than 5 million people in all sectors. The Healthcare Ministry set this condition: unless we come to terms before December 15, we will no longer listen to the Trade Unions, and we will move forward with this legislation. What can one make of this? We will hold the final meeting on December 15 and proceed with adopting the legislation. There are five million people who are disgruntled because they will be deprived of their mark-ups, wage tariffs, benefits and so on. And then you, as a representative of the electoral headquarters, have to face these people and explain to them why their benefits and compensations have been taken away from them. It would drag wages and all the rest down. So I do not want to …

I could mention some concrete points. I think we should look at everything in detail and instruct government officials to show a greater sense of responsibility when adopting laws, to communicate and listen to people who might tell you good or bad things, as the case may be. But they must take their opinions into account so as to prevent the passing of inept resolutions, because what would we tell people then in order to justify our decisions?

And the last thing I would like to say: I think we must provide an assessment of the situation, and offer some interim analysis. In 2000, when I was your campaign representative, I said that we should buckle down and try to get through the elections in one round. Why stretch things out to the second round? I think we are strong enough, and we have enough opportunities: we have taken our share of beatings in our time, we have had our faces smashed and our noses bloodied. So we should do our best, work through the pain and resolve everything in a single round.          

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Thank God we haven’t been beaten, and if somebody is in pain, we have good doctors who can help.

On to the substance of what you have said, as regards benefits and compensations and the resolution of other issues that you think at times are not being addressed effectively or fairly. There are mechanisms (the Tripartite Commission, etc.) but I would like to say again: we created that instrument in order to have an additional channel of direct communication with the professional communities and with the people. I hear what you're saying about benefits and compensations. If you believe that something has not been properly regulated, then we will come back to this issue. The same goes for Resolution 870. Of course, we'll have to take another close look at it. You said something that appeals to me very much: we should learn to listen to and hear each other. You know that I am ready for this. Of course, you cannot be aware of everything that is happening everywhere, and this is why we get together in order to draw each other’s attention to these things.

With regard to teachers’ pay – what can I say about this? There's a lot that has already been said. We are trying to bring the average salary for teachers up to the average in the economy. More than half of the Russian regions have accomplished this task. In all the others, wages have been raised by at least 30%. When I speak with the governors, I am constantly urging them to move forward. In all regions of the Federation, teachers’ salaries must be increased to the average in the economy and then adjusted for inflation and gradually increased, perhaps even more quickly for them than for other workers. The same should be done with other public sector workers, especially those whose wages are very modest: cultural workers, preschool institutions, libraries, etc.    

Ivan Mokhnachuk: I understand that. I'm talking about the pay ratio within the school, within the hospital.

Vladimir Putin: I'll tell you now, I have remembered everything and anything I thought I might not remember I have noted down. I agree with you about pay ratios inside public sector institutions. We warned our colleagues some time ago that the distribution of the funds they received two years ago as part of the 30% increase in the wage fund at public sector institutions should be more tightly regulated. You are absolutely right and I have nothing to add. There are many institutions whose heads pay themselves salaries that cannot even be compared with the average income of the workers at these institutions, and that is unfair, that is wrong. This needs to be corrected. These corrections are being planned and they will be carried out.

To conclude. We have indeed decided to change the wage ratio for miners: 30 to 70, you are familiar with the parameters. That is fair. At the time, I said that 70 was the minimum. We adjusted the situation regarding safety. We made businesses responsible for compliance with occupational safety regulations, so that they now have a civilised responsibility, and we do not have to persuade people and businessmen to provide social guarantees for family members and for the miners themselves in the event of a disaster. We have accomplished this together. We have amended the current law. But I agree with you that there are still many problems in the industry. There can be no doubt that the state still has a long way to go in this area. I would go even further to say that the state is still indebted to miners. I do not visit mining regions often, but I do visit them regularly, I meet with people and I know what their work is like. It is dangerous and difficult and, incidentally, it has been very effective recently. 

Ivan Mokhnachuk: I have written a letter to you, Mr Putin, asking you to instruct your subordinates to hold a meeting to review how the instructions that you and Igor Sechin provided are being carried out. There are more than 100 instructions, and we are monitoring each one of them. I should say that not everything has been done, which calls for more effort on our part, which we will certainly provide. 

Vladimir Putin: Okay. Now as for your meetings with people. Of course, we should all work more actively and be aware of problems that exist. Even if they are not resolved, we are aware of these problems and we know how to address them. Then it is easier to talk with people. But there is one item that I cannot agree with.

You said that you sometimes find yourself in the position when a person stands up and offers some criticism, but is unable to articulate a proposal. You know, when it comes to people who go to America, receive some training there, get some money and equipment and then come here and engage in provocations, dragging people into the streets and the like – first of all, you can't apply the same yardstick to these people. It's one thing when somebody comes here from abroad after being briefed and supplied with money. But it's another thing if a working man stands up, presents a problem but does not know how to solve it. He does not need to know how to solve it, it is the job of you and me to know how to solve these problems, so let's just say that everybody should do his own job. If a miner works, feeds his family and produces coal and accomplishes other tasks, including for the benefit of the entire country, and if he faces problems and injustice, he should let us know about it and he should let you know about it. But that does not mean that he is obliged to come up with a solution at once. We cannot come up with a solution ourselves sometimes, even though this is our duty. Thank you very much.