15 december 2011

After the Q&A session, A Conversation with Vladimir Putin: Continued, the prime minister answered journalists’ questions



Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. I think I have dealt with every possible issue. Frankly speaking, I’d like to see this session come to an end. However, if you have a couple of additional questions, please – go ahead.

Question: If possible, could you say something about the timeframe for political change that you mentioned, like direct elections for governors and members of the upper house, and the registration of small parties? Are they possible at all?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, they are.

Question: And what about a timescale?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I was speaking about this as a general idea. I think it really is possible, but this move certainly calls for detailed elaboration. I would not put it off for a decade or so; we should get on with it now. I believe this issue should be debated by the public and then in the State Duma. We must thoroughly consider details – this is not an issue that can be settled in an off-hand fashion, but neither should be put it in the pending tray. I think we could do it next year.

Question: Thank you. My second question is: do you think United Russia’s success in the elections was sufficient for Medvedev to become prime minister?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, because United Russia led by Medvedev won the majority. In the State Duma you need 226 seats for a majority. United Russia will have 238. This will allow the government to function sustainably, and is certainly a victory, even if it comes with some drawbacks and unavoidable losses. But this is only logical, as I have said many times. We have come through a crisis, which had an impact on people’s lives. I think this is perfectly clear. I believe that Dmitry Medvedev will be able to form a government – providing yours truly wins the presidential election – and work efficiently. This is an issue of how efficiently the government will work with the Duma. The number of seats they have allows them to structure their work properly.

Question: A few words about governors, please. I’d like to know who proposed reinstating the system of direct elections for governors. Have you discussed this issue with the president? And another thing: you said that there will be a presidential filter, and nominations will be made by each of the parties represented in regional legislatures. How many candidates will the president ultimately offer people? Will it be a referendum or elections involving several candidates?

Vladimir Putin: Listen, I just said that this idea requires thorough analysis. I just said during the Q&A session that I proposed the current system of appointed governors. It was not proposed by an official in the executive staff or other professionals – I myself proposed it, working from the condition the country was in. And I developed and put forward the innovation I mentioned regarding elected governors myself. I discussed it with Dmitry Medvedev two days ago. He agreed that it is quite feasible and necessary, and, as I mentioned, we agreed that the idea requires additional consideration, that all the details should be thoroughly analysed and we should open it up for  consultation with the general public, with the citizens of Russia, before submitting it to parliament.

Question: Mr Putin, as a judoka, you have been taught to assess your adversary, his weaknesses and strengths. Who is your main rival in the presidential race, and what are his strengths and weaknesses?

Vladimir Putin: I am my own main rival, I think. It is a very difficult and responsible period in our nation’s life, and in that of each candidate, including myself. One must be precise and transparent in dealing with the public, there is no room for mistakes. The experience I gained in my previous positions allows me to think that I can do it. Next question, please.

Question: Mr Putin, you have been sharply criticised today for not delivering on your promises, in particular regarding pensioners, housing and other issues.

Vladimir Putin: Listen, there has not been a single case of me, personally, promising something and not delivering. As for the housing issues we discussed today, I have stated, openly and clearly, what is going on in that regard. The problem did not develop overnight. We said that the housing problem would be resolved by late 2010, but as soon as we saw how the situation had changed, and that the number of people waiting for housing is several times greater than we expected, we said quite frankly: “We will have to put off the solution of this problem a little.” We said this clearly, openly and absolutely honestly.

Remark: Sorry, I’d like to put this question somewhat differently. You have this oversight department and when you see that the calculations are wrong, couldn’t you just tell the people behind them that they are wrong? Or each time they fail to get something done on time, couldn’t you tell them this is not the way to go? The oversight department must do a better job.

Vladimir Putin: Look, I understand that your question carries no hidden message. Believe me, the oversight department has nothing to do with this. If for decades – and I want to emphasise this – for d-e-c-a-d-e-s – an incorrect approach was taken to registering people on the housing waiting list, then the people responsible for the recent calculations can not be blamed for that. What happened in the Armed Forces before we launched a massive housing construction drive for service personnel? An officer was simply put on the waiting list in his service location. Then he went somewhere else and he may or may not have been put on the list or he could even have been registered twice. Some never made it onto the list at all. The Defence Ministry did not have proper registration for decades. And to blame those who did the counting… It is always possible to find scapegoats but it is better that the work is done well.

Question: Mr Putin, will you take part in election debates. I think you should.

Vladimir Putin: I’ll think about it. But why don’t you go ahead and take part? I will tell you frankly what I think. All these debates that take place in different venues are essentially useful. This is true. The law gives us the choice to take part in these debates or to refrain from doing so. What do representatives of the opposition do? They don’t care about the consequences of the decisions adopted. They simply appeal to people’s needs and promise them everything. They explain what measures they would take. But would they actually take them? I haven’t seen any of our opposition members doing a good job, including those who have been in power for many years. It is easy to promise everyone housing, happiness, health and wealth tomorrow but this is idle talk and it is unfair.

What I will do, for a fact, is guarantee them the opportunity to compete with their “junior partner” on every single actual issue, to find people who are capable of answering each pretender for the post of President of the Russian Federation, and perhaps, in some sense, I will also participate in these debates.

 Remark: Thank you very much.

Question: Prokhorov said today that if he is elected president, the first thing he’ll do would be to release Khodorkovsky. Do you think this would be the right course of action? Or might it destabilise the situation in Russia? And one more question, if I may. How important it is for you to win the first round? Don’t you think that you have a slimmer chance of that after the protests? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As for the rounds, I will have to see how the election campaign is going and what the public mood is. I have already said I would treat the people’s choice with absolute respect and without taking any offense. I won’t take any offense at all! I will merely thank them for trusting me in top government positions for such a long period of time (quite a long time!). I felt their support both as president and as prime minister. As for the rounds, there’s no need to get ahead of ourselves. Let’s wait and see how it goes.

As for Prokhorov’s statement that he will free Khodorkovsky if he becomes the president, you know the saying “birds of a feather flock together.” One oligarch will free another – there’s nothing extraordinary in that. But Mr Prokhorov is a decent man and an effective worker. He is also a generous patron of the arts – he is not a greedy man and helps people in the arts, in education, and doesn’t boast about it, it is pleasing to note.

As for a decision to release Khodorkovsky, that is the president’s right, but if Prokhorov were to hold that post he would have to abide by the law. The law requires that an individual who has been sent to prison by a court verdict should appeal for pardon. In effect, this amounts to an admission of guilt and Khodorkovsky has not done this to date. If he does this under Prokhorov’s presidency, if he files an appeal for pardon and admits his guilt, then the future president will be in a position to release him. If he doesn’t do this, I don’t see how Mr Prokhorov could pardon him. But that is a separate issue…

Remark: And what if he files this appeal?

Vladimir Putin: If he files this appeal, I will review it, but before that I need to become president.

Remark: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Goodbye.