Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with university students in Tomsk


“I really like talking to audiences like this one,” the prime minister told the students. “I always enjoy it, but it’s especially nice on St Tatyana’s day, the day of Russian students.”

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, guys. I'll sit here so that it will be more convenient for us all to talk. As I was walking here I heard similar applause, so I realised the top brass must have arrived. I see that Mr Fursenko (Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education and Science) is already here.

Before we begin our talk, I've been told there are two people in the audience celebrating their birthdays today. It’s Yura and Lena, right? My congratulations! (Hands over presents) This is an officer’s gift, a watch, I think. Why am I giving out watches all the time?

Today is also Tatiana Day. Do we have any Tatianas in the audience? One … two? Are you a Tatiana too? With a beard? Come on!  Tomsk students are really funny…

As you know I have just toured Mr Kroening’s laboratory (Professor Hans-Michael Kroening from Germany, scientific director of the International Research and Education Laboratory of Non-destructive Testing), where some of you are working. It is very good, to be honest I was pleased with what I saw. Moreover, when I left the professor (I will not disclose all our secrets), I realised that they have things there which we will be needed in the very near future, and not only for the manufacturing industry but also in the security sector, especially since we are preparing for the Olympics. The professor and I have agreed that the laboratory will be given additional assistance for the implementation of its projects and plans. Theirs is concrete, practical, and very necessary work. And you get the sense that their work is founded on a solid theoretical base, on reliable information and skilled personnel.

You celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of your university last year, which is a major achievement. As your rector has told me, the building was specifically designed for the university. It is being kept in good condition. But let's begin with social issues, such as stipends and of course dormitories. I am 100% sure – everywhere I went I was told this is the most acute problem. Shall I start with these problems? I know that you have them here too.

Let’s start with dormitories. Andrei (Andrei Fursenko) has told me that he has been here before and talked with students and lecturers, and that dormitories are without question one of the most pressing issues. Unfortunately, we provide relatively little money for this, that is, not enough to resolve this problem. Moreover, we had to reduce allocations in 2009-2010 because we had to save and redistribute budgetary resources during the financial crisis. Last year we launched – or rather continued with – a joint construction programme and built just over 50,000 square metres of dormitories. This is very little. In the next three years, we plan to build ten times that amount, 500,000 square metres of dormitories. As a result, financial allocations will also be ten times larger, but also for a three-year period.

In addition, we will continue to allocate funds for repairs. Andrei (Andrei Fursenko) also said that he inspected some of the dormitories and that they were cold. This is Siberia, and the rooms are cold. This means that the buildings have to undergo technical improvements. We've actually allocated much more for repairs: over 3 billion roubles, or to be precise 3.2 billion, in 2011. We will be increasing these allocations further. In general, in future we will also be considerably increasing spending on the construction of new dormitories. This may be of no interest to you, because you will have graduated by then, but it is important for future students and those who have only just started studying.

There is your colleague in a construction jacket – I think that he and many other students understand that we must complete large construction and infrastructure projects connected with major events. We have to complete preparations for the Olympics, for the World Student Games in Kazan, and for the APEC forum in Vladivostok in the Far East. They all require massive government funding. Once we have completed these projects, then we will be able to increase the funding for vital projects such as the construction of dormitories. I would like to start with this issue. Or rather, I have already started with it, so that you would not torment me with this most acute and difficult of all issues. Nevertheless, if there is something else you'd like to ask, then please go ahead.

Andrei Bazdyrev (a second year MA /Master of Arts/ student at the Biology Department of the National Research Tomsk State University):  My name is Andrei Bazdyrev. I’m from the Biology Department of the National Research Tomsk State University. Mr Putin, first of all, I would like to thank you for amending the amateur fishing law.

Vladimir Putin: Folks, let’s all agree to remain seated while talking. Especially if the young ladies stand up, I'll have to stand as well.

Andrei Bazdyrev: I understand that this topic is not entirely related to student life. In addition to my studies at Tomsk State University, I’m an activist with the public organisation Strizh Environmental Centre. Incidentally, you recently met with the leaders of public amateur fishing and sport fishing associations. Notably, Alexei Tsessarsky, Chairman of the Fishing Union, also attended that meeting. Mr Tsessarsky said that the Tomsk Region faces the following problem. Our organisation conducts regular anti-poaching raids on the Ob River. And we are being constantly harassed by officials from the fish protection authority. The most interesting thing is that …

Vladimir Putin: This is strange.

Andrei Bazdyrev: Our information shows that … Ask any fisherman on the Ob River, and he will tell you what officials from the fish protection authority go fishing there themselves. Vladimir Sultanov, Head of the Upper Ob Agency for the Preservation of Water Biological Resources (Verkhneobrybvod) fishes there. Trucks deliver fish to Novosibirsk, and local residents are, of course, quite offended. It turns out they are not allowed to fish, but someone else is. It would be acceptable if these people just caught some fish, but they also prevent normal work, including that of our organisation.

Vladimir Putin: It's too bad you mentioned this in public. Now everyone has heard it. You should have whispered this in my ear.

Andrei Bazdyrev: Good. And there's one more thing I would like to draw your attention to. This country has developed a good tradition by which every year should be dedicated to some important sphere of public and social life. We have had the Year of the Teacher, the Year of Young People and the Year of the Family. The current year has been proclaimed the Year of Russian History. In 2011, members of our organisation met with the Governor of the Tomsk Region and proposed that the year 2013 be proclaimed the Year of Environmental Protection in the Tomsk Region. We would like to thank Mr Kress, our governor, and Alexander Adam, chairman of the Natural Resources Department, for supporting this initiative. As a result, the year 2013 has been proclaimed the Year of Environmental Protection in the Tomsk Region. I would like to ask you whether it is possible to organise the Year of Environmental Protection at the federal level sometime in the near future. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say a few words about the protection of fish and of biological and water resources in general. Of course, this is a highly important issue for our country. This country contains a huge diversity of biological resources. Unfortunately, they have been exterminated on a massive scale over the past few years and decades, beginning in the 1990s. We cannot allow a situation similar to the one which has now shaped up around Japan to ever occur in Russia. As a biologist, you must know that Japanese trawlers have swept the adjacent seabed clean, and that it’s now impossible to restore certain biological resources there. It is very difficult to do this, even using artificial breeding methods. Thank God, Russia is not facing a similar situation. Nevertheless, there are many problems in the sphere of fish protection and the protection of biological resources. At one time, I had instructed the Federal Border Service to assume the function of protecting biological resources on the high seas. But, as you know, many problems remain here, and numerous problems continue to accumulate.

What is to be done? We need to introduce additional mechanisms, including economic mechanisms. For instance, the issue that concerns caviar on the Volga River. This may sound strange, but they will continue to illegally produce caviar unless we destroy such illegal caviar. Why? It's because all these watchdog agencies, including fish protection authorities, organise commercial production of caviar. I don’t want to offend anyone. In my position, you know, one must be extremely careful in making such statements, because far from everyone violates the law at protection agencies, including the fish protection authority, etc. I believe that an overwhelming majority of their employees are decent and professional people. But there are also those who turn this into a business. In effect, this is one corporation. Some people produce caviar, and others protect them. Still others sell caviar, and some other people manage financial flows. As I have already said, we can fight this using economic methods. When I first said that we must destroy caviar… They asked whether this was humanly possible, and whether I had gone insane. Well, the fact is, we need to do this because otherwise this cycle will continue indefinitely. Incidentally, this is being done all over the world. But we must also establish law and order through administrative measures. We also need to involve security agencies in this process.

If what you are talking about really does take place in the Tomsk Region, then this means that other watchdog agencies are turning a blind eye on the issue, to say the least. We’ll look into this.

As for proclaiming some year the year of environmental protection, this is an excellent idea. This idea is just wonderful, and we will certainly discuss this with our colleagues. I won't rule out the possibility that we might spread this undertaking, which has originated in the Tomsk Region, to the entire country. I don’t want this to be an empty assertion. We should see what our plans are for 2013, but this is a very good proposal. Actually, it's quite good because we face a great deal of problems in the sphere of environmental protection. You are probably aware that this problem is quite acute in certain major industrial centres. This used to be a serious problem in regions with a well-developed iron and steel industry. And such a problem persists. To be fair, it should be mentioned that Russia’s iron and steel companies have been investing tremendous assets in production retooling programmes over the past few years. The volume of regional toxic emissions there has recently decreased by many times. I have visited Magnitogorsk, and I go there regularly. I first visited that place in the early 2000s. At the time, all the snow was completely black in the winter. It was absolutely black. People breathe this air. The situation is now changing to a large extent. The industry’s top managers are prioritising this issue. But this is not happening everywhere. Consequently, we must draw the attention of the public and state agencies to issues of environmental protection. This is a timely matter. Please.

Maxim Gvozdev (a fourth year student at the Physical Technical Institute of the Tomsk Polytechnic University): Mr Putin, my name is Maxim Gvozdev, I'm the campus manager at the Tomsk Polytechnic University. You have noted that the lack of accommodations at student dormitories is a problem facing all Russian universities. We are no exception. We, students, have conceived a unique solution for this problem together with the university administration. Roughly speaking, another floor should be added to each dormitory...

Vladimir Putin: So that the foundations would sink down?

Remark: No, no, no.

Maxim Gvozdev: Yes, we should simply add mansard/attic floors. And this will make it possible to accommodate about 1,500 students. The Tomsk Polytechnic University has 13 dormitories. Moreover, we can renovate the premises both from the inside and the outside, and we can also insulate them. We would virtually be able to kill two birds with one stone.

Vladimir Putin: Please, talk to Mr Fursenko (Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education) about killing two birds with one stone.

Maxim Gvozdev: This would also cost much less than building new dormitories.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, you are probably right.

Maxim Gvozdev: We, the students of the Tomsk Polytechnic University, are ready to experiment in this sphere. But, of course, the university is unable to implement this project independently...

Vladimir Putin: Let’s take a look. I don’t remember how much we had allocated for renovation and dormitory construction projects in Tomsk. Instead of reducing funding, we must, of course, increase such funding a bit in order to implement your proposal, because this can essentially be accomplished during renovation work, rather than through capital construction projects. Yes, this can be done.

Maxim Gvozdev: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We just need to do some figuring. Mr Fursenko (addressing Andrei Fursenko), we should compile a cost estimate.

Andrei Fursenko: About 800 million.

Viktor Kress (governor of the Tomsk Region): 750 million for a period of three years …

Vladimir Putin: 800 million was allocated…

Viktor Kress: This means nationwide allocations for a period of three years.

Vladimir Putin: Nationwide construction allocations, yes.

Viktor Kress: But we are talking about renovation.

Vladimir Putin: Maxim, this is a good proposal. But we had allocated 3.2 billion for major overhauls. Consequently, we must assess the next year’s allocations and provide help. This is a good idea, we just need a top-quality construction expert check and top-quality materials, so that students will not shiver on mansard/attic floors in Siberia. Please.

Bogdan Petrenko (a second year student at the Nuclear Industry Production Process and Automation Faculty of the Seversk Institute of Technology affiliated with the National Research Nuclear University MIFI): Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Bogdan Petrenko: My name is Bogdan Petrenko. I’m a student of the Seversk Institute of Technology affiliated with the National Research Nuclear University MIFI. I would like to ask you a question that has always been of interest to students, that interests them today, and that will interest them in the future. This financial question has to do with stipends.

Vladimir Putin: I knew you were going to ask this question.

Bogdan Petrenko: When you were a student, everything was absolutely…

Vladimir Putin: I had received 40 roubles, an increased stipend.

Bogdan Petrenko: Yes, in old days absolutely all students, including underachievers, received stipends. The state’s approach towards providing stipends has now changed somewhat. Today, all students wishing to receive stipends must get only good and excellent marks (A and B grades). In December 2011, the best and most active students, those making up 10% of the student body, received a small surprise in the form of lump-sum bonus stipends. I was very happy to be included in this list. Thank you very much for this. I think that most of those present in this auditorium would also like to thank you. Certainly, this will become a major incentive for excellent academic achievements, research and public activity. But not all worthy students were able to receive this stipend, and it was very difficult to select these students. Is it possible to increase the stipend fund next year in order to create incentives for an additional number of worthy students?  Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You are right. Indeed, the ministry has chosen this option that you mentioned – to provide bonuses for top-scoring students or assistance to persons who are truly in need. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that universities themselves are responsible for distributing the stipend fund.

It’s my understanding that an institution of higher education, be it in Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Moscow, St Petersburg or Omsk, will do this together with corresponding student public organisations. We have three types of stipends: academic, which is a regular kind of stipend, enhanced, and social. You are receiving the enhanced stipend, as far as I know. Is that correct?

Bogdan Petrenko: No, not currently. I’ll start receiving the enhanced stipend beginning this semester. It’s about 2,500 roubles.

Vladimir Putin: Academic stipends in Tomsk average slightly above 2,000 roubles. All the students receive about the same amount, as far as I understand. If there’s a mistake in the papers that I was given to read before coming here, then please let me know. But as far as I know, the academic stipend in Tomsk is over 2,000 roubles. Students who show very good results should get much more, perhaps 6,000 or 8,000 roubles. There are some students who receive as much as 20,000 – 23,000 roubles. This is the maximum level, and there few such students. There are around 3 million students in this country, about 200,000 of whom receive enhanced stipends of 6,000 to 10,000 roubles. That’s not a lot, but these students demonstrate good or even outstanding levels of knowledge and achievement. We should certainly make broader use of such stipends next year, and we have made corresponding allocations. Last year, we allocated 22 billion roubles from the federal budget to this end. Andrei, how much have we allocated for enhanced stipends on top of this?

Andrei Fursenko: 25 billion roubles alone from the budget of the Ministry of Education and Science.

Vladimir Putin: So, 50 in all?

Andrei Fursenko: Yes, 50 billion.

Vladimir Putin: How much was allocated to pay additional stipends?

Andrei Fursenko: Another 9 billion.

Vladimir Putin: This is for last year? I’m asking about last year. Well, 2.2 billion, he just rounded down the numbers, dropping 200 million roubles. In 2012, we are allocating another 9 billion, which will be used to provide these stipends to a greater number of high achievers. I hope we’ll see many more of them. Let me turn around so I can see you. Yes, please go ahead.

Alexander Barkhatov (second-year graduate student of the Institute of Natural Resources at Tomsk Polytechnic University): My name is Alexander Barkhatov, I’m enrolled in a master’s degree programme at the Institute of Natural Resources at Tomsk Polytechnic University. Currently, students who are paying tuition may not receive stipends. However, there are many smart and talented people among them as well. It’s just that training in certain specialties is provided exclusively on a paid basis. Are there plans to provide stipends to students who pay for their education?

Vladimir Putin: It seems strange at first glance that someone who’s paying tuition would be paid a stipend as well. However, in certain instances, like the one that you have just described, this may make sense. This practice is in effect at some educational institutions in Russia where certain stipends are paid out from the money that comes in from the budget and from the tuition paid by students. This is normal, and institutions are authorised to do so. That’s my first point.

My second point is about transferring good students from paid departments to tuition-free departments. There is, however, a problem with students who can only be trained in a chosen specialty at paid departments. However, paying stipends with tuition received from other students is a viable option. This is legal. If Tomsk University does not do this, we’ll ask the rector to give it another thought. However, paying stipends from the federal budget to students who themselves pay for their studies doesn’t make sense to me. Let's think about it. I’m a bit confused by what you just said about specialties that can be acquired exclusively at departments that charge tuition.

Alexander Barkhatov: There are only one or two students who study for free at my institute.

Vladimir Putin: If there are one or two now, then you can always make it three or four. Do you see my point? If there’s none, there's nothing you can do about it. Let me repeat that payment of state-financed stipends to good students is a manageable issue. I’ll look into it. I'd like Mr Fursenko to look into this as well. We will find a solution. I’m hearing this for the first time, but I’m sure that if there are one or two students who don’t pay, then there may be one or two more.

Alexander Barkhatov: May I ask you another question?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Alexander Barkhatov: Are there plans to extend the list of professions that are prioritised as vital for the national economy to qualify for receiving special presidential or governmental stipends?  There are many, perhaps thousands of specialties that are not on this list, but which are nevertheless important for the country.  

Vladimir Putin: You have said yourself that priorities have been identified. There may be thousands of specialties, but the priorities remain unchanged, and the government will focus its resources on addressing them.

Alexander Barkhatov: Some things may be a priority today, but will lose their priority status in a year.

Vladimir Putin: We may introduce this in a year.

Alexander Barkhatov: If we leave out something now, we might remember it ten years later and realise that…

Vladimir Putin: We don’t forget about things, and nothing gets lost. Seriously though, you're right, line departments should pay close attention to these issues. There’s no other way to go about it.

Alexander Barkhatov: There are professions in the oil industry or in construction, and so on. They are in no way less important than those related to nanotechnologies…

Vladimir Putin: Yes, they are just as important, I fully agree. The energy industry is another example. We keep saying that Russia is heavily dependent on oil and gas. This is partially true, but the availability of resources also gives Russia a significant competitive edge. What is the energy industry all about? We eat and we drink – that’s also energy. Everything around us is energy. Nothing can survive without energy, which is a key component of any economy. The question is, what kind of energy is it? Is it hydrocarbons, energy saving power engineering or green energy? That is why this area of the economy is so important. Oil and gas companies are becoming increasingly involved in training their own future employees, and they provide the corresponding financing for this. However, with nanotechnologies, where everything is still in flux, the state should assume responsibility and finance this area at an accelerated pace, if we want to retain our nation’s competitiveness. The sources of financing may be quite different. Let me return to the beginning of our conversation. I believe it’s very unusual that there are specialties that can be acquired only at a tuition-based department. We will absolutely look into the possibility of paying stipends to these students. Please go ahead.

Alexander Oskirko (third-year student at the philosophy department of Tomsk State University): My name is Alexander Oskirko. I’m a student of Tomsk State University. On the one hand, I study at the department of political science; on the other hand, I represent the Russian Union of Youth, a national public organisation. I’m also a member of the Russian Popular Front, and I’m interested in the following political issue. Not long ago, in his interview with the Expert television channel, Boris Titov, head of Delovaya Rossiya, said that the Popular Front was being used as a basis to form an industrial group. In other words, he was talking about forming an industrial lobby. This is my question for you: will there be any other lobbies formed on the basis of the Popular Front? Since I represent a youth organisation, I’m interested in youth lobbying groups. Young people and youth organisations are participating in developing budget projections for conducting youth policy at the federal and regional levels.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. As a matter of fact, the Popular Front is a lobbying organisation in the broad sense of the term, meaning it represents people from all walks of life. Certainly, these people represent the interests of particular groups of people. The Union of Transport Workers is a member of the Popular Front. Of course, they talk about the development of transport in Russia and focus on transport-related problems. We also have people who deal with social issues and charity. They discuss social issues, of course, and insist on increasing financing and draw the attention of the state to problems facing orphans and people with disabilities. In a sense, they all represent such groups, and the same applies to youth movements. We have young people who represent youth organisations. However, you are welcome to share your proposals and ideas, and we’ll see how we can implement them using the Popular Front possibilities.

Alexander Oskirko: I haven’t ever heard of any young person from the Popular Front being invited to participate in the projection of the youth policy budget, for example, at the regional level.

Vladimir Putin: Well, when I meet with my colleagues from the Popular Front, they often ask me questions about youth policy and the budget. The governor is here, and I believe it would be good to do the same thing at the regional level. But you should understand that youth policy is about a set of measures. As a political scientist, I think you’ll agree with me and support me among your colleagues.

Alexander Oskirko: Of course.

Vladimir Putin: When we say “youth policy,” we are also talking about demographic issues, because they are also part of this policy. Housing for young families is also part of the youth policy. Physical fitness and sport also belong in this category. The issue has to do with specialists like you helping us structure this work at the regional and federal levels. Things tend to get spread thin across many areas, and at times one might think either that we don’t have any youth policy at all, or that we have too much of it and it’s costly and inefficient. We need a clear understanding of what’s going on in a particular industry. We need for funds allocated from the federal, regional or local budgets to go towards addressing the most important problems, and to be used efficiently. Perhaps, as a student in this area of study, you have heard that we are about to switch to a programme method for budget organisation instead of budgeting of the industries.  

Perhaps what I’m about to say will be of interest to those of you who are studying to become experts in other areas as well. Mr Fursenko has just said that half of all institutions of higher education report to the Ministry of Education, while the other half is run by other ministries and departments. For example, medical schools and universities report to the Ministry of Healthcare; some transport educational institutions are run by the Ministry of Transport, and military schools are run by the Defence Ministry. The same thing happens, say, in our healthcare system. We have medical institutions accountable to the Ministry of Healthcare and there are those that are run by specific departments for the benefit of their employees. For example, Russian Railways and the Defence Ministry have their own medical clinics. We have no way of knowing how much money we are spending on health care, because each ministry has its own healthcare budget. In order for us to be able to understand how much money we are spending on health care, we will start budgeting things using the programme and target method. All the funds used to support health care will go to one programme. Only then will we be able to see how much is being spent on what, regardless of the departmental ownership. We need to do the same with regard to youth policy.

Please, go ahead.

Dina Khamitova (fifth-year student of the control systems department at Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radio Electronics): My name is Dina Khamitova. I study at Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radio Electronics. Students have on many occasions raised the issue of the income tax on welfare allowances paid to students from federal funds. We brought this up with the Ministry of Education and with you during an earlier meeting with the students. I’d like to know whether this issue can be resolved or not? Are they going to cancel the 13% tax that we have to pay now or aren't they?

Vladimir Putin: Cancel what?

Dina Khamitova: The 13% income tax.

Vladimir Putin: Are there any economists in the room?

Remark: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: You? And you? What are your names?

Valeriya Matveychuk (fourth-year student of the economics department at Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radio Electronics): Valeriya.

Vladimir Putin: Valeriya. And you?

Yuliya Simkina (fifth-year student of the economics department at Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radio Electronics): Yulia.

Vladimir Putin: Yulia, will you please tell us about the principles governing the work of the taxation system in any developed economy? Is it acceptable to make any exceptions, with regard to taxation, for different sources of income? Does it make sense and does it damage the national taxation system at all?

Yuliya Simkina: It certainly does some damage…

Vladimir Putin: All right, I’ll let you stop there. Do you see my point? The point is that there are many essential areas of the economy in our country. Look at the employment of people with disabilities and their income in general. Or such sensitive areas as defence or national security. Let’s say an enterprise is making defence products, such as missiles, aircraft or navy vessels. Here's the question: why would the state take money – in the form of a value added tax, for example – from one of its pockets and put it into another? Anyway, all of that work is being done for the benefit of the state. The question is, why do all that? 

The point is, if we start making exceptions for each critical area of life, whether in production or the social sphere, we will soon run the budgeting process into the ground. The solution to the problem that you raised does not lie in cancelling taxes, but in increasing the amounts of these allowances. When the economy and the budget system function based on known, stable principles, then they should be able to yield a certain financial result. Only then can we decide on the priorities and channel funds towards addressing them. This decision is made by our regional assemblies or by the State Duma. All we need to do is increase the amount of these allowances, but we cannot destroy the fiscal and tax systems.

Dina Khamitova: In fact, it looks as though we are paying these allowances from the stipend fund to support students, and then take a portion of them back from students to return to the fund.

Vladimir Putin: This is exactly what I’ve been saying about the defence plants. Or enterprises that employ disabled people. Why tax them when we’re supposed to be helping them? We need to do so in order to maintain a civilised taxation system. If we start making exceptions for each seemingly important issue, we will ruin this system. There will be many instances like that and all of them will be critical. In that case we should just stop levying taxes altogether.

Remark: This is a municipal budget. Municipal budgets are replenished mostly through individual income taxes.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know.

Remark: I’m saying it for the benefit of the students.

Vladimir Putin: Let me repeat: we just need to increase the amount of funding if we want to address these issues effectively.

Please go ahead.

Question: Good afternoon. Mr Putin. First of all, let me thank you for this opportunity to meet with you. This is a true gift to Tomsk, which is a student city. Here’s my next question. The elections are not far off. What expectation do you have for the younger generation? And what place does it occupy in the election campaign?

Vladimir Putin: Elections are always a major event in any country. I have already said and I’ll repeat – at one time I deliberately chose not to change the Fundamental Law because I knew election emotions would be running high. I made a conscious decision because I want us to have a civil society. As you well know, if you browse the Internet and you’ll see how I am cursed and what is happening on the web. This is also a positive thing. The main point is for us not to violate our cultural code. We must always use appropriate words and be civilised. But it is very good that debates are unfolding and society is taking shape.

As for the younger generation, it presents a very special environment for several reasons. First, they are very vulnerable because they are just starting their life. They don’t yet have anything and in this sense they need support from the state. But at the same time they are the most promising part of our society because they are looking to the future and thinking about it. And in this regard, of course… But they are still part of the electorate. The youth also have their likes and dislikes, their preferences. I hope very much that our young people (the level of education is growing and I will say a few words about this now, too) will take a mature approach to these processes, that they will not give vent to emotions during elections to municipal, regional and federal bodies. I hope they will take a well-considered approach.

I’m sure they can do this and will do this regardless of the information wave that may descend on them. I am sure they will think for themselves and draw their own conclusions. “Yes, this is how it was done but it could have been done in a different way. And these guys say they will do it like this and make promises. But will they be able to do this or not? And these other guys don’t make impossible promises but say they can do this and that… But is this realistic? Yes, this is realistic. I know that this will be done…” I hope they will base their preferences on this line of thinking. As for voting, you will decide yourself whom to support.        

Remark: May I add something? I’m a member of the national public organisation the Russian Youth Union and I’d like to tell you something. You probably know there is a big project called the Russian Student Spring. It began in 1992 and every year it draws more than a million people. About 2,500 meet for the finals. This time the finals will take place in Chelyabinsk. I would like to invite you to the finals on behalf of our organisation. Should we expect you for our 20th anniversary competition? 

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much! When will it take place?

Reply: In May, from May 20 to 25, we’ll have the finals on the 25th.

Vladimir Putin: What is it like?

Reply: There are various categories – theatre performances, signing and dancing. The most diverse group of young talents meet at one place.

Vladimir Putin: Do you hold qualifying regional competitions before?

Reply: In many stages. First in a higher educational institution…

Vladimir Putin: Is this a strictly Siberian event?

Reply: No, It is a nationwide competition, held in more than 70 regions. First we hold competitions in universities, then in cities and then in regions. We even have festivals between regions. They delegations are being sent…

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Are you inviting me as a person or as an official?

Reply:  As a guest of honour.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. So, you are inviting me regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming elections? This is what I’m driving at.

Reply: Of course.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. I’ll be happy to come.

Timur Amanzhulov (5th year student in the department of history and philology of Tomsk State Pedagogical University): Good afternoon, my name is Timur Amanzhulov. I’m a 5th year student at Tomsk State Pedagogical University. I’d like to say that when I was completing my first semester in my beloved university five years ago, I saw a telecast of your speech at the international security conference in Munich. I was overwhelmed by a desire to shake your hand for the confidence you had given to me personally and for saying things that many were afraid to say.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s shake hands now.

Timur Amanzhulov: I’d like to emphasise what was the most important point for me – the call for dialogue to resolve global security issues. But my question – since I’m a philology student and my specialty is Russian language and literature, I’m a future teacher… It is no secret that this profession does not enjoy much prestige in society, its status leaves much to be desired and there are many problems. But the main reason why many talented graduates do not become teachers is that there are no material advantages at all. We all wish the best for our children and want them to have good and interesting teachers. I’d like to hear what you think must be done to enhance the prestige of teachers. Does the country have the resources to support them materially?

Vladimir Putin: First, I’d like to say that you are doing a very important job. The Russian language and literature are key components of the national identity of the Russian people and many other peoples of Russia. You must have seen in the media that I was in the Stavropol Territory several days ago attending the Forum of Ethnic Groups of Southern Russia.

Timur Amanzhulov: I read your article “Russia: The Ethnicity Question.”

Vladimir Putin: Practically everyone at this event spoke about the importance of the Russian language for the country as a whole. People of most diverse ethnic origins live in the Stavropol Territory – we have people of many ethnicities in all of Russia, but they are particularly numerous in the south. As for Russian literature, this is part of world culture, one of its major components. Of course, we must give all possible support to this sphere, teaching included.

As for the material side, let me just say what I think, ladies and gentlemen. Of course, there are some spheres, notably business, where one can make a lot of money and there are others where one cannot make much.

Timur Amanzhulov: I absolutely agree with you.

Vladimir Putin: You can do whatever, even bash your head against the wall, but you won’t make money! But this is a choice everyone has to make. Say he wants to be an artist. In this case he will paint in watercolours or oils and derive pleasure from this – this is self-fulfilment for him. Maybe when he dies his paintings will be worth millions but he doesn’t think about this. Well, some people do and some don’t but they simply believe that they have achieved success in life because they enjoy life and have a sense of personal fulfilment.

After all, there have been plenty of wealthy people who were unhappy. Savva Morozov, a famous entrepreneur, committed suicide despite being very wealthy. During my work in St Petersburg in the early 1990s I met with many people – I was dealing with the city’s external affairs, that is, foreign trade – and talked with one businessman. At that time I thought he was a big entrepreneur. Now I understand that he was a mid-level guy. I thought he had no children but he said he had a son and a daughter. I asked him: “What are they doing?” He said “My son is an engineer and my daughter is involved in literature.” I asked him: “But who will inherit business?” He said: “This is a real tragedy for me – nobody wants to.” I asked him why. He said: “My son says: ‘What for?’ I see how busy you are with your business from morning till night. I’m an engineer. I receive a steady salary and I derive satisfaction from what I do. It is a source of personal fulfilment for me and it is enough for me. I don’t want to be involved in your business, dealing with your rivals or doing this paperwork.” This is a choice every person has to make. Or take military service members. They aren’t involved in business either. They receive salaries and I hope now they will receive decent salaries that will be sufficient for them. Meanwhile, other people are interested in business and want to make a lot of money.

But I can assure you because I deal with these people that at some point the act of making money loses meaning. They agree with me, and I talk to a lot of people about this: “It’s no longer interesting. What do I do with all this money?” You can’t take this money into the grave with you. This is why they start thinking about some social role – how to develop production or train personnel, and this is quite a different philosophy. As for teaching, you won’t make millions but you can achieve personal fulfilment, provided you are able to have a decent life.

As you know, we have decided that the salaries of teachers should not be below the average regional level. I’m not entirely sure of the figure but in many regions, I think in 20 or 25, the average salaries of teachers are already higher than the average for the economy. We will continue working to make progress on this front.  

Timur Amanzhulov: But don’t you think that this issue is rooted in the public mentality? My dad is a good example – he had always grown grain and never earned much. When I ask him today why he never changed jobs, he says he was doing the right thing – he was growing grain. But for some reason even future teachers, university graduates are not committed to teaching children.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is the other side of this process – public consciousness and the importance of this or other profession or type of activity. It goes without saying that, in this respect, the media and the state must foster the right ideas among the public. I fully agree with you and we still have to do a lot on this front.

Dmitry Poletayev (1st year graduate student at the Institute of Engineering Entrepreneurship at Tomsk Polytechnic University): Good afternoon. I’m Dmitry Poletayev from Tomsk Polytechnic University. I’d like to say a few words about a choice every person has to make. Many Russian higher educational institutions including our Polytechnic participate in academic exchange programmes thanks to which we can visit other countries and study abroad. We have a chance to see the work people are doing there and how science is moving forward… And we are glad to say that the training of specialists in Tomsk is at a high level.

Vladimir Putin: Sorry for interrupting you but I have just spoken with a German professor and this is exactly what he said. We spoke before going to the demonstration hall and he told me about his work here. We spoke in German and I will ask my colleagues to translate what he said and give it to the media. He mentioned very interesting things to me in a confidential conversation but I hope he won’t be cross with me if we make his words public. He said it was more interesting to work here than in other places. He said it was more difficult in some respects and easier in others. (I will now tell you what he said).

I asked him: “Why is it easier?” He replied: “People are very creative.” I asked him to be more specific. He said: “They are quick to grasp things and generate their own ideas and think in a creative manner.” “What are the problems?” I asked him. He said: “They are not disciplined enough.” He was being serious. He wasn’t joking. I said: “Well, no students are very disciplined.” But he did not agree with that. He said: “No, in fact I have Chinese students – they will follow my instructions even if they are wrong. Say I give them a wrong instruction and will then realize I was wrong but they are already carrying it out. They are very persevering and extremely hard-working. Yours are different – they have their own pluses and minuses.” I think it makes sense to listen to the German professor. We must enhance discipline albeit not to the Chinese level, of course.

Dmitry Poletayev: I agree with you.

Vladimir Putin: We probably will never reach it anyway.

Dmitry Poletayev: Yet, the level of education is high and Europeans tell them before they return home: “Hey, guys, why do you want to go back? Here’s our lab at your disposal, here is a house for you to live in, here’s your new citizenship and your monthly salary. Now you can bring your family here.” This salary is the equivalent of 150,000 roubles. Young people who study abroad start wondering whether they should stay because Russia still cannot provide such conditions. I have a question in this context – do you plan to introduce some federal targeted programmes to support young researchers in 2012 and beyond?

Vladimir Putin: I’m sure you know that I lived abroad myself for a long time – almost five years in Germany so I know what this life is about. Again, this is a choice every person has to make, a personal choice.

Dmitry Poletayev: Absolutely.

Vladimir Putin: We have an open country no matter what some people may say or write, raising the spectre of dictatorship and so on. We don’t have any of that and I hope won’t ever have it in the future. We have an open market economy and an open country. If our colleagues agreed, we would be ready to cancel visas requirements for the European Union tomorrow. By the way, I believe this is the right thing to do because this will happen sooner or later anyway. The European Union already has visa-free travel with some Latin American countries and look where Europe is and where Latin America is… Incidentally, in Latin America the criminal situation and other problems are worse than ours.

As for criminals, they can get anywhere by any means – nobody can keep them in check. This is why I think that these visa regimes between neighbours are Cold War remnants. Visas will disappear one day but we are already open. People should feel free. On the whole, the fact that our specialists are in demand in the world market testifies to the high level of Russian education, and this is a good thing.

It is also good that we give people an opportunity to choose how they want to live, where they want to live and the jobs they want. You know, during my recent trip to southern Russia, to the Stavropol Territory (I have just spoken about it), an Ingush writer told me an interesting thing – I don’t know if they showed it on television or online; they don’t broadcast everything. He said: “When I was flying from New York to Munich…” It really heartened me to hear it – an Ingush writer travelling from New York to Munich. He said that when he boarded a plane, some girls nearby started speaking Russian, and he was happy. I can understand how he felt because I lived abroad for a long time. I understand what going not simply home but to the land of your language means. When you return from a country where you had to speak a foreign language to the environment of your native language and culture, it’s like a holiday. So I understood him, what he meant, very well. It’s a joy when you return to your native language and cultural environment. No matter how well you learn a foreign language, you will always be an immigrant there. Do you see what I mean?

Dmitry Poletayev: Absolutely.

Vladimir Putin: And it will always be that way, no matter what people may say. It will always be like that in everyday life. But it does not mean that this is bad. Some people accept it – I wish them health and success. Many Russian professionals work abroad and become successful there, and some even win Nobel prizes. I can understand young people, young professionals who want to have a laboratory and good living conditions, and enough money to buy a flat and raise their children properly. This also concerns lecturers and other professionals.

What are we doing in this sphere? First, we have noted more than once the laboratory I have just visited and the so-called mega-grants. By the way, I believe that there are 10 students and 11 post-graduates from Tomsk universities working with that German professor. But we have only about 80, more precisely 79 such mega-grants. This is not a widespread phenomenon, but still… their grant… I think they received 130 million roubles, and other grants are for 150 million. This is the first sphere in which we have been working.

Second, we have two funds, the Fundamental Research Fund and the Humanities Research Fund. Unfortunately, they receive only small amounts of money. We have even cut their funding, to 6 billion roubles for the Fundamental Research Fund and to 1 billion roubles for the Humanities Research Fund. But we will need to increase them, by at least 1 billion roubles for fundamental research, which now has 6 billion, and by 500 million roubles for humanities research, this year. We will need to increase them even more in the future. We also have a programme for training young professionals, where smaller funds are issued in larger numbers, 30 million, 20 million and 17 million roubles, if my memory serves.

Andrei Fursenko: Fifteen million.

Vladimir Putin: So I have said: 15, 20 and 17 million for this sphere. There are also joint laboratories established by several universities or academic institutes, which specialists from many universities and several research institutes can use.

And lastly, some time ago we decided to give universities an opportunity to engage in commercial activity, to set up small and medium-sized businesses. I was surprised to learn that they have set up several thousand such firms. Am I right, Andrei?

Andrei Fursenko: There are about 1,500 such firms. Tomsk is among the leaders in this respect. Such firms are producing a large amount of goods.

Vladimir Putin: And their number will keep growing. It is a practical opportunity to find an interesting job that pays enough to allow you to resolve your domestic day-to-day needs. This is what I’d like to say in this context – I believe that many people in this audience will share my view: such spheres can become much more promising than ordinary work in some Western countries, even if it may seem better at first sight. You will receive a salary there, while the market is unlimited here, and we are only taking first steps in many spheres. You can make a name for yourself immediately, actually walking in the footsteps of those who have become billionaires by using their intellect in the West. This is quite possible in Russia.

Next, please.

Maria Belyankova (a fifth-year student at the Siberian State Medical University): Good afternoon, my name is Maria Belyankova, I am a fifth-year student at the Medical University. I have a question about sport. We know that you like sport but sport at the elite level is a very expensive business. Do you plan to provide federal financial assistance for student athletes competing at the elite level?

Vladimir Putin: As I have said today, we will host the World Student Games for the first time soon. Therefore, much will be done to train student teams. But to ensure that our students reach world-class achievements we should first of all promote grassroots sport among students. Unfortunately, there are many unresolved issues in this sphere. On the whole, fewer people in Russia go in for physical fitness and sport regularly than in neighbouring countries, nearly half as many as in Finland, for example. But the number of people who exercise and do sport regularly in Russia has been growing, and students are better suited for it than other groups. I would like each university to have gyms and swimming pools, which not only students but also people living near the campuses or near the gyms and swimming pools would be able to use. Do you know about the 500 swimming pools initiative? Pools are being built in Tomsk and other Siberian regions and across Russia. We will continue working in this sphere, but on the whole, I believe that the regional authorities should be more active. As I have said, not only students but also other people living nearby should be able to use these facilities. I am all for it. We will definitely continue to work in this spheres, take my word for it.

Maria Belyankova: I would also like to ask about…

Vladimir Putin: I will not provide figures here. They will not sound… No one will take any notice…

Maria Belyankova: …about scholarships for students with high achievement in  sport.

Vladimir Putin: Scholarships? Do you mean that…

Maria Belyankova: They should receive additional athletic scholarships, which would serve as an impetus for the further development (of sport).

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we could think about it. However, I believe that stipends should be paid primarily for academic results, but in the case of sport, when students demonstrate high achievement, they should receive encouragement from their teams, not from their universities.

Basically, of course, the development of student sports helps solve a whole range of problems. For example, I have mentioned the Universiade in Kazan. As you know, the athletes who will come to take part in the Kazan Universiade will live in the buildings that were originally meant to be student residence halls. Many of these premises have already been turned over to Kazan University students and they already live there. Then guests will arrive, and when the events are over the students of Kazan University will go on using these halls. I’ve been there, I was there at the very start, I saw the designs, I saw how they were being built and saw them after they were finished and I can tell you that the standard is remarkable, simply splendid. That is one approach that we will pursue. Of course we cannot hold a Universiade every year in this country, but we can hold various student Olympiads, interregional competitions, and that would also lead to the development of infrastructure. That is how we will proceed. Let's go around the room, all right? Yes, please.

Ivan Podgorny: (5th year student, clinical faculty, Siberian State Medical University): Good day, my name is Ivan Podgorny. I am a student at the Siberian State Medical University, in my fifth year. I would like once again to raise a much discussed question having to do with dormitories. I am the chairman of the student council at one dormitory, so I represent the interests of all of them. According to the project plan, a student campus will be built in Tomsk by the Tomsk regional administration, the Ministry of Science and Education and the institutes under its jurisdiction.  

Vladimir Putin: I understand that it is due to be launched next year.

Ivan Podgorny: Yes, but as far as I know Andrei Fursenko was supposed to visit that site.

Vladimir Putin: Construction is already underway, yes?

Ivan Podgorny: No. As far as I know construction hasn’t started yet.

Vladimir Putin: At least one residence hall should be opened this year.

Viktor Kress: A campus for everyone. We are beginning the design stage.

Ivan Podgorny: I have familiarised myself with the data concerning this project and I see that students will be charged for living there: from 2,500 to 8,000 roubles on average, depending on whether it is a single room, a double, or more. Is there any way that the state could compensate the cost of living in these dormitories? Because I believe this sum is too burdensome for students. We would like to know whether there's any way that the state can compensate for the cost. And I would like to add one more thing. A student here spoke about building garrets. Our university’s rector has been proposing the same thing at many meetings, and some projects have already been put forward. I would like to ask you to give this project one more push forward.

Vladimir Putin: You mean the garrets?

Ivan Podgorny: Yes, the garrets. Because that will make it possible to accommodate more students within the shortest timeframe. I don’t know about other regions, but in the Tomsk Region there is a 25% shortage of places at residence halls.

Vladimir Putin: I am aware of that. In the country in general, 80%-85%-86% of the demand for dormitories is met, while in the Tomsk Region it is 77%, less than the national average. As regards compensation that you mentioned for living on campus, let us revisit that issue after the dormitories are built.

Ivan Podgorny: We simply wanted to get this problem down on the record so that students do not face the same problem later because there is a danger that this will begin operating on a commercial basis, where in fact students would be commercial students and not government-supported students.

Vladimir Putin: No, it makes no sense in that case. Today many places in dormitories – not in the Tomsk Region, fortunately, where the situation is more or less satisfactory in that respect – but in the European part of the country many places at student residence halls are not occupied by students but are rented out to outsiders, including, incidentally, migrants. This is a problem. A serious inspection of these residence halls should be carried out in order to determine who lives there and on what grounds. I am asking you to do this together with the migration service. I will issue instructions to the migration service.

Ivan Podgorny: I would like to say that such inspections are in fact being carried out here – I myself took part in one, I sat on the commission to inspect residence halls with the aim of ascertaining who lives there and whether there are outsiders.

Vladimir Putin: Have you found any outsiders?

Ivan Podgorny: No. There are no such irregularities in our dormitories. Because this work was conducted from the beginning.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, yes, Tomsk is doing rather better on that count than other regions. But to return to the question of compensating students for the cost of living on campus once it has been built. All I can say right now is that it should on no account be unduly burdensome for the students financially. And the second thing. I think those students who receive bonus stipends could receive certain discounts: even though they have higher stipends, they have earned them by their good academic performance. Regarding garrets, I have made a note of it, we won’t forget about it, believe me. Please don’t raise this issue again, I have made a mental note of it. What is your major?

Ivan Podgorny: I study at the clinical faculty and there are several options. I will have to make up my mind during the year.

Vladimir Putin: Are you going to continue with postgraduate studies?

Ivan Podgorny: Naturally. Perhaps I will choose traumatology or cavitary surgery, something along these lines.

Vladimir Putin:  You guys always want to cut something off.

Ivan Podgorny: No, why? Our aim is healing people.

Vladimir Putin: Sorry, what’s your name?

Ivan Podgorny: Ivan Podgorny.

Vladimir Putin: Ivan, our people seem to think that a doctor is always someone who wields a scalpel, he must be a surgeon. There are many other areas of medicine. I am not trying to talk you out of it, I just know that many new fields, very interesting areas are appearing on the border between different sciences: biology, physics, chemistry. It is a very interesting area of knowledge and activity, very interesting.

Ivan Podgorny: Our university also has a medical-biological faculty where they engage in these studies, while we concentrate on healing people.

Vladimir Putin: Applied therapy. 

Ivan Podgorny: Yes, exactly.

Vladimir Putin: Okay. Good luck to you!

Ivan Podgorny: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: A very interesting area. Next please.

Natalya Derkach: (5th year student, clinical faculty, Siberian State Medical University). My name is Natalya Derkach. I am a dentistry student, at the Siberian State Medical University. Students of course make the biggest contribution to solving the demographic situation in our country, and in this regard there is a shortage…

Vladimir Putin: How many children do you have?

Natalya Derkach: I would like to have children, but no one has made a marriage proposal to me yet. Anyway, there is a shortage of places at kindergartens…

Vladimir Putin: Your people there must not pay very good attention.

Remark: We’ll make a note of that.

Natalya Derkach: Only very few institutions of higher education have preserved their own kindergartens. My question is: is it possible to preserve and finance kindergartens out of the state budget?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. How else would this be done? Kindergartens are financed out of the budget.

Natalya Derkach: I mean departmental, or industry-sponsored kindergartens.

Ivan Podgorny: At the Medical University they are financed from off-budget sources.

Vladimir Putin: They are not financed from off-budget sources?

Ivan Podgorny: They are.

Vladimir Putin: From budget sources?

Natalya Derkach: From off-budget sources.

Vladimir Putin: Oh, I see, from off-budget sources. But that is because this falls under the jurisdiction of your university.

Natalya Derkach: Yes, a departmental kindergarten.

Vladimir Putin: So, it is a departmental kindergarten then.

Natalya Derkach: Yes. My question is whether it's possible to have financing out of the budget?

Vladimir Putin: I wonder if parents whose children attend departmental kindergartens also receive compensation.

Viktor Kress: It’s exactly the same.

Vladimir Putin: Exactly the same as in a state-run kindergarten? What is the percentage in the Tomsk Region?

Viktor Kress: 1,200 roubles per child. If the child is an only child, there is no compensation, if there are two children, 60% of the cost is compensated.

Vladimir Putin: So it does not depend on whether it's a municipal, regional or departmental kindergarten?

Viktor Kress: No, it doesn’t.

Vladimir Putin: Well, that is direct budget financing and of course we will preserve it, but the fact is that we obviously do not have enough of these kindergartens. You know, there is something I would like to share with you now. I think that in principle, some of our colleagues who study political science must know this – I’ll tell you what I have in mind.

Our demographic situation has been improving more or less starting in the early 2000s (I will tell you what is happening in a moment), but between 1992 and 2000 the birth rate in the country dropped sharply, the repercussions of which will be felt for a long time to come. This is the so-called demographic pit: the number of births from the beginning of 1992 until 2001 was probably at an all-time low in the country. The reasons, of course, are clear: the disintegration of the Soviet Union triggered the collapse of the social sphere and the economy, people were simply afraid to have children, so birth rates dropped sharply in the early 1990s and 2000s.

After 2000 things began to improve. But what will be the result of the demographic pit (I’ll tell you in a moment what I'm getting at)? The result will be that in 4-5 years, and I beg your pardon for using this expression, the generation born in the period between 1992 and 2000 will begin to reproduce itself, and it turns out there are considerably fewer of these people, people in the reproductive age… They will be entering the reproductive age in four or five years’ time and the number of kindergartens that we want to increase today most probably, and unfortunately, will be excessive, and we must keep this in mind today.

I am addressing the governor of the Tomsk Region and I want the other governors to hear this as well: it does not mean that the problem should not be addressed, it must be addressed. But how? These are objective realities, you understand, guys, it's a given that we must take this into account, it's an objective reality. It means for example that we should not simply build kindergartens, but that we should know how we will be using them in four or five years’ time.

Building annexes to schools, for example, would be a sensible solution. Then at a certain point, when there is no need for a kindergarten, it could be effectively used as an extension of the school. There are other options. But what's completely clear is that we need to focus more attention on these kindergartens today. We are doing this, of course, there are entire programmes devoted to it. The federal budget this year has earmarked an additional 10 billion roubles to stimulate the regions that are going to address this problem. We will channel additional funds to where they are used effectively.

I would like to take advantage of your question to say a few words about demography in general. I don’t know if you have heard about it or not, but I am pleased to repeat it: last year life expectancy in the country increased by a whopping 1.5 years. This is a unique phenomenon. A process like this usually takes five years. Here we saw an increase of 1.5 years within one year. We thought that we would reach a life expectancy of 70.3 years (the average in the country last year) in 2014-2015. The entire range of measures that we are implementing is yielding results. This includes a reduced rate of injuries and health problems as a result of road accidents, from the consumption of substandard alcohol, occupational injuries, and if I remember correctly, the mortality rate has dropped by a factor of 5-6 times. Maternal and child mortality has dropped dramatically (you may wish to know this as a future mother). Child mortality in Russia is the lowest it has been in the last 19 years. The results of all this are highly positive.  

Natalya Derkach: Thank you.

Remark: Forgive my persistence, but while on this topic… a friend of mine…

Vladimir Putin: A friend?

Remark: Well, a colleague. We study together at university. We have a project.

Vladimir Putin: You have a friend? Who doesn’t have a friend? You? Turn your attention to Natalya.

Darya Popova: (5th year student, physical-mathematical faculty, Tomsk State Pedagogical University): My name is Darya Popova, I am from the Tomsk State Pedagogical University. My question has to do with kindergartens. Just recently a group of student activists made a proposal to the rector: to set up rooms at our university where members of the staff could leave their children temporarily. In future these could develop into specialised kindergartens. The rector and the administration approved our proposal, but raising funds is a problem. Our students, graduates, those undertaking practical training and the pedagogical university are all ready to pitch in. What shall we do, and do you believe that it is an idea worth pursuing?

Vladimir Putin: It’s a good idea. Provided of course it does not interfere with studies and is not too much of a distraction. But the university must support the initiative. You want us to support it out of the federal budget?

Darya Popova: That is exactly what we want. We want very much to raise our children.

Vladimir Putin: Very well. At the end of the day you may be right. It makes sense. It would be mutual education.

Darya Popova: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, that would be interesting. I am not prepared to give you an answer straight away, but we will think about it. All right?

Darya Popova: Okay.

Viktor Kress: We will commit some money from the regional budget. We encourage such things.

Remark: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Do you have the money?

Viktor Kress: It won’t take all that much money. 

Vladimir Putin: You see, Viktor Kress and I have known each other for a long time. After a while he'll say to me, “You have approved it.” I will say “Yes.” “Then give us a bigger subsidy because we have spent money on this project and now we don’t have enough for another project”.

Viktor Kress: We are not talking about very much money.

Vladimir Putin: It’s a good idea.

Viktor Kress: A very good idea.

Vladimir Putin: Just a moment. I promised to move up here.

Yelena Tereshchenko: (4th year student, nuclear energy technology and automation faculty, Seversk Technological Institute, MIFI National Nuclear Research University): Good day. My name is Yelena Tereshchenko. I am in my fourth year at the Seversk Technological Institute, MIFI National Nuclear Research University. Like many students in “restricted cities” I am concerned about my job prospects. It is no secret that many enterprises around which our cities are built are either contracting or shutting down. As a student who has received specialised training at my university, I have trouble getting a job at my enterprise, and I don’t want to leave the city and change my profession. The construction of a nuclear plant in Seversk could provide a solution. In fact it has already been approved, a site has been chosen, a license has been obtained, last September Kiriyenko (Sergei Kiriyenko, the Head of Rosatom, the Federal Agency for Atomic Energy) came here, and he confirmed that construction will go ahead, but not until it is approved by the Energy Ministry. I'm sure the head of government is aware of these issues. This is my question: Mr Putin, can you speed up the approval of the nuclear plant construction, and if it is impracticable or unjustified, how do you see the future of ZATO (Closed Administrative-Territorial Entity) and its survival without projects like this.   

Vladimir Putin: Is your ZATO under the Atomic Industry Ministry?

Yelena Tereshchenko: It is a combine.

Vladimir Putin: It belongs to Rosatom, am I right?

Yelena Tereshchenko: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Then I must tell you that you are absolutely right. Such issues do not pass by the head of government and the heads of the relevant agencies. However, I must tell you frankly: I do not know, I simply don’t remember what the timeframe for this project is, although of course one could look it up, it only takes a second. But I can say this with confidence. We will develop our peaceful nuclear programme. In this country – and as a specialist you will be aware of this – only 16% of power is generated by nuclear plants. In France, for example, this figure is over 80%. We do have advanced technologies not only for the generation of electricity, but for issues connected with nuclear power safety. Some of the technologies that we have are unique in the world. Our aim is to increase nuclear power generation from 16% to at least 25%. This means that in the next ten years we must build as many large reactors in our country – large reactors, not small ones – as have been built throughout the history of nuclear energy in the Soviet Union.

The state budget and the Rosatom budget have allocated money for this purpose. All the plans will be carried out, I have no doubt about it. As for the exact timeframe, I am not in a position to tell you now, but you can rest assured that you will find a job, and specialists in your field will find jobs here or elsewhere. You know that the mobility of the workforce in our country leaves much to be desired. What you have said is further proof that we have a mentality by which we are too attached to the places where we were born and where we study. It's great that you love your birthplace, it's wonderful, because this makes up the basis of patriotism in general. But at the same time… and I am now addressing not only your topic and your question, but everyone. It is necessary to look to where interesting job opportunities exist. One should not be afraid of this. But as regards the case at hand I will look up what the immediate plans are.

Alexander Nikulin: (manager for fan work of the Tom football club): Good day, Mr Putin, my name is Alexander Nikulin of the Tom football club.

Vladimir Putin: Pardon me. By the way, we are not only doing this in Russia. We have a large package of orders abroad. As you know, we built the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in China, and the Chinese are very pleased. The technologies employed there do not exist anywhere else in the world. We built a fast-neutron experimental plant for them. Such plants exist only in Russia, Japan and France. Not in the United States. Now China has one. We are building plants in India and we have also a big package of orders there. We have agreed on this with our Indian partners, we have signed the relevant documents. It's a large package consisting of many billions. We are building in Europe, we have agreements with Bulgaria, we are going to build in Turkey, all the documents have been signed. Just yesterday I spoke with the Turkish prime minister, they are very interested and are urging us to hurry. The documents are being prepared according to schedule. There are some problems that have to do with Turkish laws: they do not allow more than one working foreigner per five Turks, but this is a difficult ratio to maintain in nuclear projects, because they require top class specialists. There are no specialists of this kind in Turkey as of yet, but I am sure that there will be, so there will be work to do and it will be interesting. I repeat: regarding this particular place, I will look into this matter. Next question.   

Alexander Nikulin: Hello, Mr Putin. This is our second meeting in two weeks, as it happens.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, your face is familiar. Where did we meet?

Alexander Nikulin: In St Petersburg on the 19th and that was when we started our dialogue, which you promised to continue in Tomsk. Actually I have two questions related to that conversation.

Vladimir Putin: Are you a fan?

Alexander Nikulin: Yes, I am a fan of a football club. At the time you mentioned the problem that prevents the Tom football club from receiving steady funding and from developing fully, looking towards the future with your head held high. These problems have to do with including financial organisations within the structure of the club. Just yesterday there was meeting with the club’s director general who, as things now stand, is the number one person in the club who can give the go-ahead and say that our doors are open, that the club is ready for companies to enter into it. In fact this will relieve the regional authorities of some of the burden of financing (Viktor Kress must have discussed this problem with you), and it will enable the club to develop, which is what we want. These are not injections of oxygen that enable us to survive, but rather, steady financial assistance to developing sports. That is my first question – namely, can we consider this problem solved? Can we count on it? And my second question. In our conversation on the 19th, the problem of sports and sporting facilities in the region in general was raised. That is a good thing. Some sports facilities are already receiving a facelift, our champion divers have been remembered and they are putting up posters. They should be remembered not only when you come to visit the city, but always.

Vladimir Putin: I arrived yesterday evening, but repair work began the day before yesterday.

Alexander Nikulin: Repair work began in the evening of the 20th, I'm sure of it.

Vladimir Putin: You see, it is not connected with my visit.

Alexander Nikulin: Hopefully. The fact is, the situation in the region is appalling. I repeat that in 2011 two children died at stadiums because they were crushed by some equipment that had not been attended to…

Remark: By the gates.

Alexander Nikulin: They were crushed by the gates, in other words, instead of playing sports people die there, instead of improving their health they die. Which leads me to my question: you said that you were planning to “go see the situation on the ground and come to grips with this issue.” Have your plans changed?

Vladimir Putin: We'll have to see. I already mentioned it today and I am ready to look into it and even to support the region in addressing these issues. But first we must see what facilities remain to be completed. What's the situation, Mr Kress? What are the unfinished projects?

Viktor Kress: I do not agree with everything he is saying.

Vladimir Putin: Or rather, you disagree completely.

Viktor Kress: I disagree completely.

Vladimir Putin: So I gather.

Viktor Kress: First, if you look at support for sports, we have been paying stipends to coaches, to athletes, including students, divers, out of the regional budget for many years. We are the only region that has been financing out of the budget and has been supporting 289 coaches on the ground, while contributing to the financing of construction projects – for example we are building a large complex of swimming pools: 50 metre pools, 25 metre pools and so on. This project is scheduled to be completed in 2013, but we have decided to finish it this year. The federal budget provides the main funding and we contribute something from our own budget. Last year we completed a sports arena with artificial ice. We are working on this together with Mutko (Vitaly Mutko), we have signed an agreement whereby each of the four districts in Tomsk will have an artificial ice rink within the next few years.

The other day we went to inspect a large complex of 12 sports halls in Kemerovo. We are beginning the design work – in short, things are moving forward. Since 2005 we have allocated 2.396 billion roubles to support the Tom football team. Divide this by seven, and you get 300 million a year. We have looked at per capita spending in the neighbouring regions and at the national average, and it turns out that we spend more.

Vladimir Putin: All right. Thank you very much. But still, sorry, what is your name?

Alexander Nikulin: Alexander.

Vladimir Putin: Still, you are talking about some specific projects, Alexander.

Alexander Nikulin: Yes, of course. A track and field stadium has been built here as Viktor Kress will know. Many facilities are being built, perhaps not as many as in Kazan and other regions, but they are being built. They operate on a strictly commercial basis, and ordinary people cannot afford to use them. The track and field stadium has been built, but students of the track and field school still use the corridor under the western grandstand. We have prepared a file for you with photographs.

Vladimir Putin: Of these facilities?

Alexander Nikulin: Yes. Please have a look at them. There are pictures of children training. The conditions are intolerable. They all operate on a commercial basis and are beyond the reach of ordinary people. One hour of training at the track and field stadium costs 1,500 roubles. Sports schools cannot afford to pay that much.

Vladimir Putin: Very well. I will look into it. Perhaps we could go there straight away and have a look.

Alexander Nikulin: If you like, we have a Palace of Sports in the city centre. We might go there, retail trading was going on there only an hour ago. There are photographs also showing what a wonderful…

Viktor Kress: It's a sports complex owned by the trade unions. You see? We are in a delicate situation: in order to get them to leave we have to raise the price of land by ten times and more. Such a mechanism exists. But there are people working there, they have their jobs there. So we are moving forward one step at a time. Some of the premises have already been designated for sports. If it were municipal, city or regional property, we would have done it long ago.

Vladimir Putin: That is a serious problem.

Alexander Nikulin: It is.

Vladimir Putin: If it is not state property.

Alexander Nikulin: How did it pass into private hands, Mr Putin?

Vladimir Putin: Private hands or trade unions?

Alexander Nikulin: For example, the 50 metre swimming pool is used as a discotheque now.

Viktor Kress: You are confusing things again. There is no swimming pool there because it was unusable. To repair the swimming pool, more than 10 years ago, we would have had to invest several hundred million roubles, money we did not have. A private company came forward and said they would do the repairs, but it won’t be a swimming pool because there is no money in it for us. Otherwise more than one child would have been crushed there. So we had to accept the offer.

Vladimir Putin: If this is not state or municipal property…

Viktor Kress: It's not municipal.

Vladimir Putin: …it's hard to do something about it because if it does not belong to the state, to the city or the region but belongs, say, to the trade union, only they can do it and they don't have the wherewithal either. In general trade union property is a major problem. We are engaging in a dialogue with them, and basically we see eye-to-eye on many facilities, for example, in Mineralnye Vody in the Caucasus – but I was not aware that you have similar problems here. We will discuss it and I’ll talk to the trade union officials, they normally react to such things quickly enough. We might even help them if they ask for it, or we could come to an agreement with them whereby they hand over this property to the region, then we provide our input together with the region and help to restore the facility, but in that case they would need some compensation because in the modern world you cannot give away things just like that.

Alexander Nikulin: Mr Putin, I was not prepared for this from the legal perspective, but we are seeing a sports facility that has been turned into a market, and this of course is outrageous.

Vladimir Putin: I am outraged too. You have probably seen what was taking place at some markets in Moscow and what is taking place today.

Alexander Nikulin: Yes, it should be done in Tomsk as well.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, but fortunately, there it belonged… Eventually it transpired that the Ministry of Sports was the final beneficiary and it began recovering everything through corresponding structures, through the Sports Institute actually. Here the owner is the trade unions and the problem has to be approached differently. But in general, if you are engaged in this (and I feel that you are very much engaged) it would be good for you to immerse yourself in this more deeply in order to understand the ultimate cause. Anyway, I repeat, we will revisit that issue, I will talk to the trade unions and I would like to stress again that they are fairly forthcoming, but naturally they always ask for compensation.

There is yet another issue and that is the Tom team. The governor said that the team has been financed to the tune of 300 million roubles each year by the Tomsk Region.

Viktor Kress: It was 480 million last year.

Vladimir Putin: Well, you see, when he asked me to help Tom in 2009 because of the financial crisis, we did so, allocating 340 million roubles. But a year passed and Viktor Kress came to me again in 2010 to ask for more help, and we gave 340 million again.  A year passed, and I said that I hoped things would be normalised and everything would shape up. He said, yes of course. A year went by. In 2011 he came to me again and asked for more money. He seems to have grown a liking for it. We gave him another 340 million, but the companies we turned to (I'm not pulling this money out of my own pocket, I ask some companies for support), these companies are telling me that the Tom team exists in two capacities: as a non-commercial partnership and as a joint stock company. The exact structure, the legal form is still impossible to understand because the ultimate beneficiaries are not in sight. Some shareholders in the joint stock company, in fact nearly all of them, have been declared bankrupt. I have a document to that effect, I’ll show it to you. Almost all of them have been declared bankrupt. They say that if you continue to bring pressure on us we will of course cough up more money, but we warn you that it will never end. If people – sport fans, football fans, the athletes and sports officials here, including the organisers of the Tom team – want things to rest on a solid foundation, the whole process has to be transparent, we need to understand who owns what, what the property rights are in this or that facility and we need to trace the cash flows. For example, the stadium has been put on the balance sheet for the city of Tomsk. This looks good on the face of it, but in reality they have undercut the club.  

Alexander Nikulin: I completely agree with you.

Vladimir Putin: There you are. Because if they were not stingy and had turned the stadium over to the team, to the club, it would be a totally different property structure. Let us take another look at all these structural matters together. And if effective shareholders or members of a non-commercial partnership enter (we don’t care what the legal form is, the important thing is to understand who owns what, who owns the trademarks, the real estate and how the money flows), then I guarantee to you that Tom will have reliable and financially credible participants in the process: either subsidiaries of Rosneft or subsidiaries of Gazpromneft that work in Siberia and in the Tomsk Region. They are prepared to do this.

Alexander Nikulin: When will that happen?

Vladimir Putin: Anytime. It could be tomorrow, I mean it. The people who have been giving money up until now would be ready to come tomorrow, speak with the regional officials, with the club managers and start the process at any moment. I have tentatively discussed this problem with them, and it was not by accident that I named these two potential participants. They are familiar with the problem and they are ready to take part in this work.

Alexander Nikulin: You see, it's just a matter of days, and the team is perishing.

Vladimir Putin: But we must all work together.

Alexander Nikulin: Very well. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: We are all for it. If I had told you, “no, I won’t do it, I don’t want to,” if I had turned my back on you… as it is, we have been supporting the team for three years, but nothing has really changed so far, unfortunately. We must change the approach.

Alexander Nikulin: Yes, that's right.

Vladimir Putin: I will give them the go-ahead tomorrow, they are ready. Mr Kress, Rosneft and Gazpromneft are ready to get to work.

Viktor Kress: My deputy is in charge of this, I will issue instructions to him at once. The problem resides in the club’s management.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Viktor Kress: The management of the club. And of course what you said about a lack of transparency with regard to cash flows, that is absolutely true. We seem to be ready to channel money from the budget today (we have a Duma session tomorrow) but we can't do so yet. We don’t know where to direct it!

Vladimir Putin: You know what the crux of the problem is? I hear people saying, elections are going to be held soon and they’ll give you the money anyway. What do you call that?

Viktor Kress: Blackmail.

Vladimir Putin: Are there any Russian language specialists here? What is the proper name for it? You are right, it's called “blackmail.” But that's not the main thing. I would personally like to see the team exist, I would like to see people enjoy it, going to the stadiums instead of guzzling vodka in the street or at the stadium, I don’t want people to drink. Honestly, I'm not joking.

Alexander Nikulin: We would also like the team to progress and develop, you see?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course, and not be in 16th place as it is today. Really, I would very much like to see this. This is a team that has a good brand, it has been around for many years.

Alexander Nikulin: Blatter (Joseph Blatter, FIFA President) and Platini (Michel Platini, the head of UEFA) approached us and said that they knew about Tomsk.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, incidentally, it was an interesting meeting. Did you like it?

Alexander Nikulin: Yes, very interesting. It is always interesting to talk to such people.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, they are very interesting and very friendly people. They truly are friends of our country, I mean Blatter and Platini.

Alexander Nikulin: I was surprised that they knew about our city of Tomsk.

Viktor Kress: Mr Putin, we will include Nikulin in the Physical Fitness and Sports Department collegium starting tomorrow.

Alexander Nikulin: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Let him deal with the problems of the team as an official.

Alexander Nikulin: Talking about “the right time”.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. That’s true. Next question.

Nikolai Fattakhov: (5th year student, medical biological faculty, Siberian State Medical University): Good day. My name is Nikolai Fattakhov. I am a student of the medical biological faculty at the Medical University and I am also a candidate for the Skolkovo Open University. As you have said today, there are good specialists appearing at the intersection of different scientific disciplines, so my question has to do with the training of specialists in biomedical technologies. There are some joint educational programmes between technical and medical universities in Tomsk. For example, there is an MA programme at Tomsk Polytechnic University in “medical instrument making” which allows Tomsk medical students majoring in relevant subjects (cybernetics, biophysics) to take part in them, but only after they complete their university course and only for a fee.

Mr Putin, do you think it's possible in the future that students of medical biology, for example, could study in parallel under such programmes on money from the budget, for example, as part of academic exchanges between Russian universities and within the consortium of Tomsk higher education establishments financed out of the budget? Is this a realistic prospect?

Vladimir Putin: It is already possible. The law does not forbid parallel training at other education institutions and in other specialities, there are no legal bans on this. In fact this is common practice at many institutions of higher education. Yes, Andrei, you wanted to say something?

Andrei Fursenko: There is one thing you have to keep in mind: you can only study for free for one university degree.

Vladimir Putin: Ah, yes.

Andrei Fursenko: But in general parallel programmes, joint programmes don't only exist in Tomsk, and we for our part encourage and support them.

Nikolai Fattakhov: Is it possible, for example, to obtain two degrees after graduating from the medical university if the other degree from the university where you studied part time is in a related field?

Vladimir Putin: That of course is possible, but the point is that the BA and MA degrees are equal from the legal point of view. Both fall under the category of higher education.

Nikolai Fattakhov: So, in senior years of someone's studies, if part…

Vladimir Putin: Yes, that is possible.

Nikolai Fattakhov: It is possible?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. Let's turn to the gallery now.

Artyom Yelkin: (6th year student, nuclear industry technology and automation faculty, Seversk Technological Institute, MIFI National Nuclear Research University): Good day, my name is Artyom Yelkin. I am a student of the famous Seversk Technological Institute. My question is not about money, but about happiness…

Vladimir Putin: About what?

Artyom Yelkin: Happiness. You see, according to the law of the conservation of energy if something decreases in one place it must increase in another. So if you do a lot of work in one field, you are likely to be less successful in another field. Steve Jobs, Korolyov, Otto von Braun are striking examples: they worked and achieved great success, but they were deficient in some other ways. You work a great deal, and you succeed in many ways, but there is no area in which you are deficient. What is your secret? How is it possible to work in a way that enables you to do good deeds and to grow and not to diminish in any respect?

Vladimir Putin: Well, I think… What is your major?

Artyom Yelkin: I major in nuclear physics, sorry, chemical technology.

Vladimir Putin: So you see, one can combine things – in any case they  combine easily in the head. Let us not fiddle with concepts, all right? If something is diminishing it is diminishing. But when you work hard and enjoy it, nothing diminishes. You are only gaining.

Alexandra Kravtsova: (5th year student, civil engineering faculty, Tomsk State Architecture and Civil Engineering University): My name is Alexandra Kravtsova, I am a student at the Architecture and Civil Engineering University. There are two questions that are a great source of anxiety for me. I obtained Russian citizenship five years ago.

Vladimir Putin: Where do you come from originally?

Alexandra Kravtsova: From Kazakhstan. There are many students in Tomsk who come from nearby countries, have obtained citizenship and want to work for the good of their country. But there is one problem. While we are students, we are socially protected: we receive our stipends and we have accommodation at dormitories. But we have temporary residency permits, we have no permanent place of residence because we have no relatives with whom we can live. Are there any programmes that support people like me, new citizens of the Russian Federation?

Vladimir Putin: Have you obtained citizenship?

Alexandra Kravtsova: Yes, I have. But there are many people who come from families with many children, older and younger children, and they are unable even to take out a loan because they have no stamp in their passport.

Vladimir Putin: What kind of stamp?

Alexandra Kravtsova: One that indicates permanent residency. And under a temporary residency permit you can't even get a mortgage at the normal rates. That is my first question. And the second question is whether there are any plans to restore military courses at civil engineering universities.

Vladimir Putin: You want to study at the military department?

Alexandra Kravtsova: Why not, my mother is a military officer, she was awarded that rank in her time.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, indeed, we have many women in the army who do various specialist jobs. One of the main reasons for this is that military technology is becoming more sophisticated and they need very advanced specialists. Frankly, gender does not matter, what they need is a good specialist. The number of women in our army is growing and in general, it will continue to grow.

Alexandra Kravtsova: And in construction as well.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, perhaps in construction too. But what is at the heart of the matter? I’ll start with this. The thing is, the number of military departments is linked with the level of conscription, so these departments were retained wherever it was possible to train specialists for the Armed Forces in schools other than military ones. I cannot give you a flat answer, but I won't rule it out. Your department has been shut down? Did it exist before?

Alexandra Kravtsova: Yes, it did, but because financing was cut off… We had a lot of equipment…

Vladimir Putin: Apparently the Defence Ministry functions on the basis that there are specialised education institutions that train military specialists so far. In St Petersburg, for example, there are major educational institutions that train military engineers. 

Alexandra Kravstova: You see, there are Tomsk Architecture and Civil Engineering and Novosibirsk Architecture universities, and neither has a military department.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I repeat that if you have such a department, then its students will not be liable to be conscripted. As regards specialists, the army has specialised institutions where it trains as many specialists as it needs. That is a separate topic. As for adaptation of people who come from abroad – it's unfortunate that we have to put it this way now – we have a programme for receiving compatriots, but I agree that it could use some improvement.

Alexandra Kravtsova: We are not covered by that programme.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, because you are already citizens, you have been granted citizenship. Honestly, I was not even aware of this side of the problem. So, you already have Russian citizenship?

Alexandra Kravtsova: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: But you have no registration. That’s odd. We should look into it. I can’t answer your question. I'll have to make a note of it.

Alexandra Kravtsova: It’s difficult even to buy a SIM card if you don't have a fixed home.

Vladimir Putin: Doesn’t the fact that you are a student count for anything? Is that not grounds enough?

Alexandra Kravtsova: No, it's not enough.

Vladimir Putin: And that is why you have no registration?

Alexandra Kravtsova: I am registered at the dormitory, but I am in my fifth year. I graduate and that’s it…

Vladimir Putin: But you are planning to work somewhere, are you not?

Alexandra Kravtsova: Yes, of course, but…

Vladimir Putin: You’ll be registered at your place of work.

Alexandra Kravtsova: ...places very often refuse to hire you if you don't have a permanent residence address.

Vladimir Putin: Is this an obstacle to employment?

Alexandra Kravtsova: Yes.

Viktor Kress: I think the real problem is this: they will rent a flat, and unfortunately, all rented flats are semi-legal – that is, the landlords charge a fee, but they do not affix a stamp. This is because there are people who have three or four flats and do not pay taxes on them. This is an area in which more work needs to be done. But under the INO Tomsk-2020 programme, several houses for rent are scheduled to be built, where the price will be much lower than the market price, above all for graduates and for innovation enterprises.

Vladimir Putin: This is something to keep your eye on. We will think about this as well.

Alexandra Kravtsova: I can rent this flat, but I cannot live in a rented flat my whole life.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. But that is another problem. That has to do with the housing problem in general. Everyone present here is worried about that, regardless of whether they come from Kazakhstan or were born here. But we must give some thought to these extra difficulties that arise due to a lack of permanent residency registration. I am not prepared to answer that question now, but I agree that it is an important question. You please.

Anastasia Novikova  (5th year student, clinical psychology, psychotherapy and social work faculty, Siberian State Medical University): Good day. My name is Anastasia Novikova, I am from the Siberian State Medical University, I am a clinical psychologist and also a volunteer with the students’ anti-drug movement. My question is as follows. The Siberian State Medical University and other higher education establishments in Tomsk initiated a programme of drug abuse prevention among educated young people. It was recognised as the Tomsk anti-drug initiative at a meeting of the State Drug Control Committee, which decided to create a Centre for Psychosocial Prevention of Crisis Situations, Disadaptation and Asocial Behaviour. No concrete steps have been taken as of today.

In other words, the programme has been worked out, the decision to set up the centre has been made, the premises have been found, we have examined them, but now things seem to have ground to a halt. 

Vladimir Putin: Was this under the auspices of your university?

Anastasia Novikova: It was a university initiative backed by Tomsk as the Tomsk Anti-Drug Initiative, and it was recorded as such by the State Drug Control Committee. All the documents are pending before the Federal Drug Control Service, but so far there has been no follow-up.

Vladimir Putin: I will come back to this. I just don’t know anything about that initiative.

Anastasia Novikova: Well, the reason I bring it up is that we have looked at the premises, all the documents have been filed, a mechanism is in place and if we launch a pilot project in Tomsk, it will be tried out here and we could spread it to other Russian regions, because this is a long-standing problem.

Vladimir Putin: Okay, I’ll see what I can do. Are you sure that all the formal documents are in place?

Anastasia Novikova: I am.

Vladimir Putin: Where exactly is it located?

Anastasia Novikova: As far as I know all the documents have been handed over to Viktor Ivanov (Director of the Federal Drug Control Service) at the Federal Drug Control Service.

Vladimir Putin: I will be sure to speak with Ivanov.

Anastasia Novikova: But I don’t know what happened to these documents.

Vladimir Putin: All right, I’ll speak with Viktor Ivanov today and find out what happened to this project. It’s agreed.

Pavel Rvalov (head of the student media centre, deputy chairman of the student trade union organisation at Tomsk Polytechnic University): Good day. My name is Pavel Rvalov of Tomsk Polytechnic University. There are many ski resorts in our country, but sometimes it is cheaper to go skiing abroad than to get to the city of Sochi. This leads me to my question: will an ordinary student, or just any ordinary young man, be able to afford to ski at Krasnaya Polyana after the 2014 Olympics? I know that you like skiing, and I like snowboarding – I wonder if we might ski together some time. And a very pressing question that concerns young people: which is "cooler": snowboarding or skiing?

Vladimir Putin: Snowboarding is cooler, but skiing is more interesting, I think. We will ski together surely. As to whether skiing will be affordable, actually I launched this whole Olympic project in order to concentrate resources on developing the south of the country so that Greater Sochi and the Black Sea coast in general would be convenient for our people in winter and in summer. I have said it many times and I will say it again: only 20% of the funding goes into the actual sporting facilities, while 80% goes into the infrastructure of the Greater Sochi area, that is, roads, tunnels, power plants, gas mains. We built two additional gas pipelines, one under the Black Sea and the other through the mountains. We built a power plant, eight substations, dozens of bridges and tunnels, hundreds of kilometres of roads, including a detour around Sochi. And of course the mountain cluster is connected with winter sports development: downhill skiing, snowboarding, jumps and other winter sports. I hope that you will be able to visit. It is not just a matter of going there and enjoying all this. You said "cheaper than reaching other ski resorts”. That has to do with the cost of travelling. This needs to be sorted out: sometimes it costs more to get from one place to another inside the country than it does to fly abroad. Part of the reason has to do with taxes, and we have already discussed this topic, because they do not charge VAT when you fly abroad, but they do here. We should sort this out. The Finance Ministry is aware of this and is preparing the relevant proposals. It has to do with the price of aviation fuel, especially in remote areas such as the Far East. They have a monopoly there: one or two companies control the market and keep prices high. There are a whole bunch of issues and we are aware of them and will address them. Next question, please.

Alexander Barkhatov: Alexander Barkhatov, MA student at Tomsk Pedagogical University. My question concerns the development of the entire region. I live in the village of Samus. There is a lot of talk about gasification of households and so on – we have had a gas pipeline for more than ten years, there is a gas supply to the boiler room, that is, there is central heating, but there is still no gas in the homes. On the eve of every election we hear promises to bring gas to every home in the village, and after the elections the services that are responsible for this tell us to draw up a plan. You can imagine that simply creating a gasifiction plan for a village can cost hundreds of millions. And a lot more money will need to be spent. Clearly, people cannot do it by themselves. 

Vladimir Putin: That’s more or less the same kind of question your peer from the gallery was asking: all the energy goes into making election promises, and there is no energy left to keep these promises, yes?

Alexander Barkhatov: Unfortunately, that is so. It's a pity. We have written to your site twice, we have written to the site of the president and of United Russia countless of times, but the situation is what it is. 

Vladimir Putin: Let me promise you that we will resolve this issue. But I need to know exactly where it is and what the situation there is. Secondly, and this applies not to your village specifically but to the entire country. We often hear that we sell a lot of our natural resources abroad, including natural gas, and wouldn't it be better to use that money to bring gas to all parts of the country? First of all, gasification of the country is moving ahead at a rapid pace. As for selling gas abroad and domestically, it must be said that foreign sales make it possible to keep gas prices low within the country, that is the main reason. I want you and all the other people to be aware of this. Currently our gas average price is just over 400 euros per 1,000 cubic metres for Europe, whereas the domestic price is several times lower, around 80. That may not be the exact figure but it is in that range. That is, the prices cannot be compared. And this low domestic price is made possible by Gazprom’s high export price. 

Alexander Barkhatov: We want to buy it.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, now let me tell you how things stand with gasification. The state, as represented by Gazprom, and the Gazprom company itself build gas pipelines to towns and villages, and the region or municipality constructs a gas supply network, which is not the responsibility of Gazprom or the federal authorities. And when they promise you a lot and do not keep their promises, that is deeply regrettable. I am glad that the governor is present here and listening. If the job is so difficult, we will help…

Nadezhda Lebyodkina (third year student, Humanities Department, Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics): Hello! My name is Nadezhda Lebyodkina, I am from Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics. Today many Russian universities are setting up public associations, such as student brigades.

Vladimir Putin: Do you mean construction brigades?

Nadezhda Lebyodkina: Student brigades.

Vladimir Putin: Student construction brigades?

Nadezhda Lebyodkina: Construction, agricultural, teachers’ brigades – we have an extensive range of brigades. However, the university administration and trade union oversee and organise the activities of student brigades in the university. Currently, under the new law, only organisations listed in the federal or regional registry can have official members. That creates problems with employers: in order to confirm our membership, we have to hand over our members’ lists, that is the lists of students who have applied for membership, to a regional department, and the regional department forwards them to Moscow. That is a very long process. And we have a problem when we are talking with employers. To be eligible for preferential tax treatment, employers need this membership confirmation, dockets. And this is a problem because it takes a very long time for these documents to arrive from Moscow. Many prospective employers who would pay good wages to our members turn them down… 

Vladimir Putin: This is the first time I hear that you have to go through the Moscow bodies.

Nadezhda Lebyodkina: Yes, this is a new law, and we want to ask you…

Vladimir Putin: Are you sure it is a law?

Nadezhda Lebyodkina: Yes, now the confirmation must be issued in Moscow.

Vladimir Putin: Does it actually say so in the law? Which law is that?

Remark: The law on construction brigades, isn’t it?

Nadezhda Lebyodkina: Yes, it has just come into effect. And this is the situation. We would like to ask you to grant the university the right to confirm membership status because the university is well positioned to do that…

Vladimir Putin: I do not understand why they created all this red tape. I agree, I will note it down. Yes, go ahead, please.

Denis Gamov (postgraduate student, Physics and Technology Institute; head of the student brigades’ headquarters at the Tomsk Polytechnic University): I would like to add a few words on this point. Denis Gamov, Polytechnic University, head of the student brigades’ headquarters. These problems go back a long time. This law exists and it has raised many questions. Why did they decide, as you said, to create so much red tape? Because they were and still are afraid that certain odd and vague brigades may appear, brigades that have no relation to student teams. This  concessional taxation  should  cover …

Vladimir Putin: Well, the young lady is right, it should be the university’s responsibility. Alternatively, the confirmation could be issued at the regional level, by some regional bodies.

Denis Gamov: It can be done at the regional level.

Vladimir Putin: This is what should be done.

Denis Gamov: It was adopted a short time ago, just before the summer.

Vladimir Putin: And which bodies should confirm the brigade’s existence?

Nadezhda Lebyodkina: The central headquarters of student brigades.

Vladimir Putin: I see, the central headquarters of student brigades.

Nadezhda Lebyodkina: That’s right.

Vladimir Putin: But you probably also have regional headquarters, don’t you?

Denis Gamov: Yes, we have a regional branch. But in reality, the problems… We have helped our members get job placement, and this year we have already used this concessional taxation. Why should it go through the central headquarters? You see, we are a movement here and they are an organisation over there, so legally we should be… Currently we are changing our status to that of an organisation, so we can use this preferential tax treatment on the regional level.

Vladimir Putin: On the regional level? Does the law allow for that?

Denis Gamov: Yes, it does.

Vladimir Putin: In that case, let’s do it that way. It is legal.

Andrei Polyakov (fourth year student, Computation Systems Department, Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics): Hello, Mr Putin. My name is Andrei, and I am a Tomsk University student. A year and a half ago, myself, another student and some graduates from other Tomsk universities made up our minds that it was high time to act and organise ourselves to fight for our right for housing. We decided to build our own houses, lowrises in the countryside. Currently we are building the houses, our plan is being implemented, and it is very successful. A square metre of our housing costs 8,000 roubles. And these houses have all the modern conveniences, including central water supply, heating and electricity, and currently we are working on gas supply project and we will order  it ourselves.

Vladimir Putin: Have architecture students taken part in your project?

Andrei Polyakov: No, they haven’t. Our project has been very successful. Deputy Governor Sergei Tochilin and Tomsk District Head Vladimir Lukyanov have helped us. But you see, we have only 26 houses. They belong to those who had initially planned the project, the members of our  public organisation, so to say. However, we conducted no advertising campaign, because the public… Theword spread quickly and, there were a lot of people who wanted to take part.

Vladimir Putin: Do local authorities offer land to you?

Andrei Polyakov: Yes, local authorities offer land lease.

Vladimir Putin: Do they build the infrastructure, too?

Andrei Polyakov: We wanted to build the infrastructure on our own, using our funds. We include these expenses in the cost of our projects, in the expenses for one square metre of our housing.

Vladimir Putin: It is very inexpensive.

Andrei Polyakov: It is very inexpensive because we take advantage of all the benefits. The Tomsk Region Law No. 165 allows logging for individual needs. We use beams to build our houses, and in line with this law, we harvest the timber, that is, we do not pay for the timber, we pay for sawing only.

Vladimir Putin: What do you saw?

Andrei Polyakov: We saw logs for wooden boards.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Andrei Polyakov: That is our situation. To date, we have received about one hundred applications from people who want to build for themselves without subsidies from local or regional authorities, but they have no resources. A programme solution is necessary. We have a project. A programme solution is necessary, but currently we do not see a ready programme solution in the region. We are ready to participate in its development. Moreover, our public organisation is ready to develop it.

Vladimir Putin: We don’t need to look far. The governor is here and he has heard you. Moreover, the experience is positive and is implemented with support from local and regional authorities. There is nothing stopping you. So you want your project to be systematised and adopted as a programme?

Andrei Polyakov: That’s right, as a programme, but the burden of responsibility for implementing this project should be with public organisations. That is, we should not burden the regional authorities, for example, because we have succeeded and there is no reason why others should not succeed as well. It is necessary to improve control and create the opportunity to implement the project. We are ready to take responsibility and build a settlement of, say, 300 houses.

Vladimir Putin: I see. Mr Kress, are there any obstacles to implementing this?

Viktor Kress: Let’s make it 500 houses, can we agree on it right now? I will instruct Mr Tochilin and Mr Lukyanov as soon as we finish here, agreed?

Andrei Polyakov: Good. Who will I speak to?

Viktor Kress: Mr Tochilin. Mr Tochilin and Mr Lukyanov.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please.

Vyacheslav Perunovsky (fifth year student of the Philosophy Department at Tomsk State University): Good afternoon once again, Mr Putin. I would like to continue the theme of creative people seeking to fulfil themselves. I, personally, have applied for admission at Skolkovo Open University and am planning to join in the near future the ranks of professionals who will be advancing our science and economy. I see myself as a member of the middle class, its most active segment, which includes high-tech specialists, cultural figures, all those who are generally known as the creative class. 

Vladimir Putin: I am just curious, how would you define the middle class?

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: Members of the middle class are people with a certain income level and…

Vladimir Putin: What income level?

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: Above average.

Vladimir Putin: What income would that be? Could you name it?

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: More than 30,000 roubles per months, I believe.

Vladimir Putin: Ok.

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: Plus a certain life style…

Vladimir Putin: What kind of life style?

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: Rather active…

Remark: Including night life…

Vladimir Putin: No, not that.

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: Definitely not that. Mobile people, who are interested in new things, and my question is the following…

Vladimir Putin: There is another characteristic, you… What’s your name, by the way?

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: Vyacheslav.

Vladimir Putin: Slava is absolutely right. Our experts believe that by Russian standards members of the middle class are people whose income is around 30,000 roubles per month. They own a home and a car, which makes them more mobile. These are formal characteristics that determine membership in the middle class. In addition, Slava also rightfully mentioned life style, which is very good. Experts should have also paid attention to this. But you did mention it, and they did not.     

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: I apologise for not introducing myself. Vyacheslav Perunovsky, I am a sociology student at Tomsk State University, so I am somewhat knowledgeable on this subject. I wanted to ask you the following question. In your programmatic article you defined a certain group of people as middle class; you were addressing them, in a sense. What exactly would you like to offer to the creative class, which is the most active part of the middle class?  

Vladimir Putin: I would like to offer that you realise your plans. You just mentioned them. You just need to be proactive and to work hard, just as your fellow student behind you. That’s what he is suggesting, and he is right. He is not just suggesting, he is implementing specific plans, he is really doing the work.

What are you majoring in?

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: State and municipal management.

Vladimir Putin: Now that’s good. In principle, anybody can work in this field, but that’s his major and he is specialising in it. That’s what everybody should do in their field.

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: We are already doing it. I would be interested to know what you would like to offer from the very top level.

Vladimir Putin: You should not be sitting on your hands, you need to work hard. You should move forward, take initiative, and be active. You should know the law and work in various organisations, including public ones. This seems to be an insignificant thing, but Sasha keeps talking and talking about this Tom and sporting facilities.     

I am sure that it will bring results. That is to say that he is being active and (I want to emphasise this) he is doing that without using foul language and being rude. He is just taking an active stance. And I am positive that this will bear fruit. If every one of is as active in his own place, we will see results. 

The point is that we, in general, are very prone to paternalism. We always expect that some kind fellow, czar or hero will take care of us. We should certainly understand what the state must provide and we need to know our rights, but we should also be aware of our responsibilities and feel ourselves as self-sufficient individuals. 

I have already mentioned this when discussing with a colleague where one should live and work. We still have lots of problems and unregulated spheres of activity. But perhaps due to this lack of regulation, we also have lots of opportunities. And together we need to find a solution and streamline these issues.     

Many of the issues that have been raised here, which, I frankly admitted that for example I did not realise that there was, say, a registration problem for people who had been granted citizenship, as I had never heard of it.  And we have a lot of problems like this one. But we also have many opportunities to resolve these problems and to do in such a way that has not been done anywhere else. 

We are currently working on the Olympic project. As far as technology is concerned, we are doing it better than anybody else in the world, since we can take advantage of the most up-to-date technology and management systems for such projects. What was done before was also very good, but it was based on a different technological and management level. The same is true in virtually every other area.

Vyacheslav Perunovsky: Can I add something? Are you planning to rely on this group in terms of developing the country?

Vladimir Putin: Certainly, this is one of our priorities. Without any doubt, the future belongs to them, because for the most part these people are well educated and run medium-size businesses. And that forms the basis of almost any developed economy and makes it stable. When the economy is diversified and based on revenues from small and medium-sized businesses, then it is less susceptible to external shocks and risks, which are associated with the global economy, the risks that we can not manage and control. This is very important. As to whether this trend will continue or not, I can tell you for sure that it will. Today (I have mentioned that it is related to the population’s education level) if we look at the education level of our citizens, a full 57% of young people between the ages of 25 and 35 have received higher education. And if we take the next generation, those between the ages of 15 and 25, 80% of them either want to or are already pursuing higher education. In one of the articles I called this a drive for education. And we certainly can and must support and take advantage of the young generation’s drive for education. And we will definitely do that. 

Remark: I’m a student at the Tomsk Polytechnic University’s Department of Hydrogen Energy and Plasma Technologies. Today, you saw a laboratory at the university which is headed by Professor Kroening. I work at the hydrogen energy laboratory, which was opened as a result of resolution No. 220 …

Vladimir Putin: You even know the government resolution’s number.

Remark: … It was opened under the supervision of Professor Sigfusson from Iceland. We have created a good team over the past two years, and we have already gained some important results. But, as I already said, 26 months are not enough for specific research results, which we have, or for any practical implementation.

Vladimir Putin: You need to keep going.

Remark: This is precisely what I’m driving at. I would like to thank you very much for this opportunity because I as a student … I was a BA (Bachelor of Arts) student, and I became immersed in this. I’ve gained work experience, which has been recorded in my work book. I’ve also gained the experience of working with international professors. I would like to ask you whether you plan to support these kinds of projects in the future, and whether they will be financed in 2013-2014?

Vladimir Putin: We didn’t know how this programme would work. As I understand it, we allocated the following total for the programme …  

Andrei Fursenko: Twelve billion roubles.

Vladimir Putin: We allocated 12 billion roubles for this programme. For those who don’t know, I think many people know, but some probably don’t, we allocate a mega-grant totaling up to 150 million roubles under the programme. But the grant is allocated to a specific individual, a scientist offering an interesting and promising project rather than to a research institute. We allow him or her to choose co-workers and their number. Certainly, he or she must fulfill the following condition: this condition is that if the scientist is a foreign specialist, then he or she must spend at least four months annually in Russia. We are ready to pay this amount, and we will pay it to any specialist regardless of his or her citizenship, depending on his or her aptitudes and qualifications. In our opinion a grantee can supervise a process from abroad using modern communications networks, but that this is still less effective than on-site management involving direct contact with primarily young Russian specialists. This is one of the project’s components. We have now allocated 79 such mega-grants, which are proving to be quite effective.

I can’t now describe the make up exactly, but, to the best of my knowledge, the grants have been distributed mostly to 39 Russian specialists. That is followed by US, German, French and Italian specialists. It seems that there are also two specialists from Iceland. The geographic break-down is impressive. They implement projects in the most diverse, interesting and useful areas. We can therefore see that the programme has been launched, and that it is being carried out effectively. We will continue to offer this programme, and we will provide the funding as it is fulfilled.  

Remark: I’ll finish now, I had six years to go, and that’s it. I haven’t decided yet whether to take a post-graduate course, or not. Can I hope to stay at this laboratory, and that the laboratory will continue operating actively for the foreseeable future?

Vladimir Putin: Here is how the budgetary process works: The Government submits the budget to the State Duma, which either approves or rejects it. The State Duma can also amend the budget accordingly. I hope that the deputies will support us in this.

Tatiana Yefanova (a fifth year student at the Faculty of Technology and Entrepreneurship at the Tomsk State Pedagogical University): Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Tatiana Yefanova. I’m a student at the Tomsk State Pedagogical University. It is common knowledge that the prestige of pedagogical education is not very high. A rumour implying that pedagogical universities will be merged with general universities is circulating among the students of our university. Is there any truth to this?

Vladimir Putin: Do you mean that pedagogical universities will be merged with general universities? I know nothing about this. First of all, a pedagogical education is quite specific. It is not enough to be a good physicist or mathematician. One should also be an educator. One should also be well-versed in child psychology and teaching. This is a difficult process, and this is a different career. The Minister of Education has not informed me about any such plans, and I’m hearing about this for the first time. But on the contrary, I’m absolutely confident that we must expand pedagogical education as a separate discipline. This is a very subtle and intricate process. So, we don’t have such plans. But I don’t know, in some cases … Maybe, some small institutes, which find it difficult to function independently, might find it more profitable to merge with some major university. We will not interfere in this process. But there is no policy stipulating the elimination of pedagogical universities as self-contained units or their incorporation, regardless of the price, nor can there be such a policy.   

Tatiana Yefanova: Thank you very much.  

Vladimir Putin: You now have the floor. Please.

Sergei Shevchenko (a fifth year student at the Civil Engineering Faculty of the Tomsk State University of Architecture and Building): Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Sergei Shevchenko. I’m a graduate at the Tomsk State University of Architecture and Building, and here is my question. First of all, I would like to make some comments on my colleagues’ statements and to say a few words about the construction of upper/attic floors. I understand that you are tired of this, but I still would like to explain this system a bit. This process is quite profitable and unique. The Germans have overhauled some of their flat buildings using this process. But we are still unable to solve this problem, although such technology has been trying to be introduced in Russia for the past four years.   

Vladimir Putin: What’s your name?

Sergei Shevchenko:  My name is Sergei.

Vladimir Putin: Sergei, do you know such an expression: to try to break down an open door?  You are an architect. The door is open, and you are still trying to break in … I have already agreed.

Sergei Shevchenko: You see, we need some kind of a start. This does not require any substantial investment, although private investors should be involved. I’ll simply explain the process.

Vladimir Putin: These architects are a little stubborn.

Sergei Shevchenko: How were buildings constructed in the past? The safety margin for Khrushchev-era quick tenement building foundations is 100%. So, four floors and even more can be added. We get investors involved and they construct these additions and then profit from the flat sales. In exchange, they must overhaul these buildings, replace engineering mains, meters, insulate the facades, install vinyl windows, and everyone is happy. 

Vladimir Putin: I have a proposal. I would like to ask my colleagues, and they will try and implement these projects here in Tomsk in the nearest future with the help of the specialists from your universities. Please establish this small business at the university under the current legislation. Please set up this business together with your colleagues based at one or two universities, and we will include you in the practical work, because the things you just mentioned require a practical expert assessment. It is no mere chance that I did mention foundations of tenement buildings. I know nothing about what condition they are in. I haven’t studied this issue, nor can I do this. But you can. You and your specialists should establish your company and give it a try … This is absolutely normal, and this will work.

Sergei Shevchenko: The problem is that this may solve such major problems as housing construction, as well as construction of administrative and industrial facilities. It is possible to build daycare centres and all the rest. I simply want to say that …  

Vladimir Putin: In short, this will be New Moscow and Old Vasyuki or vice versa.

Sergei Shevchenko: We simply lack these specialists today. The young people here talk a lot, but there are very few specialists here today. We need to go to Germany to see and learn. I’m not demanding, I simply … Our university has very skilled professors, but we have no opportunity to complete the advanced training courses in Germany.

Vladimir Putin: I don’t remember when I last travelled abroad. I mostly go to Gadyukino village, back and forth, and he wants to go to Germany…  

Sergei Shevchenko: This is only for the good of the country, our Fatherland. And there are people who are ready … We don’t intend to remain in Germany. We would work on these problems here. We don’t need 150,000 roubles. This is just a remark, and now I would like to ask my main question. I study at the expense of the budget. The state has spent quite a lot on me over the past five years. But, without a skilful and competent internship, it turns out that I’ll graduate as a specialist who cannot resolve a practical issue like this.

Vladimir Putin: And you advise us to add upper, attic floors…

Sergei Shevchenko: Precisely! I want to have the issue of practical training resolved. Otherwise I risk being left behind on the job market. The introduction of a new form of education, like the bachelor’s degree, cuts back on the precious few hours allocated for practical training. I study for four years and I have no engineering practice. I don't think we should be introducing that kind of system in civil construction universities, because an employer … The upshot is that an employer doesn't really know what he's getting with this student. Who is this bachelor? In the end, there's no practice to back up the student’s theoretical knowledge, and this is impossible for such a profession as construction engineering.

Vladimir Putin: I agree. I think you need some practical training in any profession, especially if it is an applied activity unless we're talking about, say, pure mathematics. But even in pure mathematics you need to work in a good laboratory with top class specialists. In applied fields you certainly need practical training. What would I like to say in this regard?

Firstly, we should all be part of a global system of education, an international system of education, we must have standards to give us confidence in the labour market on a global level and not only in Russia. Experts once suggested we join the Bologna Process so that our specialists would have educational qualifications that would be recognised throughout the world. It is a slow process, based on our bilateral relations with other countries to get us to recognise their qualifications and they recognise ours. In some cases we are even prepared to unilaterally recognise their qualifications, I mean those from the very best of the world's leading educational institutions. But there should be practical training and this is the second part of the Merlaison ballet, which is that a substantial part of the current training of a specialist must be taken up with practical activity. It must form a living, breathing part of their everyday activities. Without that, as you correctly said, it is impossible to train a good specialist. And incidentally you don't have to travel to Germany for that. What you need is just to keep in regular contact with Russian businesses, both in construction and in other fields. If you don't do this, it's not because this goes against government policy about how this process should be organised. It suggests that you are not organising it the way that we are trying to do at the federal level. Our thinking is that practical training and direct contacts with future employers should continue throughout the entire time of your education. It is about practical training and work experience, that kind of thing. If you don't have this, that's a shame. We cannot monitor every college or university, not at ministry level and certainly not at government level. But we will bring this to the attention of those repsonsible for organising your studies at your institution.

Sergei Shevchenko: I've had some decent practical experience. I worked in Sochi for two years, I actually built things. But not all my colleagues were able to do this. There were only 10 of us from the Tomsk Region who went there. So I think we should expands … There should be a lot of  money saved up which could be used to help us realise our potential. But what next?

Vladimir Putin: Sergei, I agree this should be done on a larger scale. It means what is being done is not enough. If you are raising the matter, it means you feel there is a problem and not enough is being done.

Sergei Shevchenko: It seems to me these companies and individuals could be given some kind of legal incentives to take students on for practical training or work experience.

Vladimir Putin: We are in constant contact with employers, with all sorts of associations of employers, entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized businesses. You heard Titov was already mentioned, as well as other colleagues and other associations – the RSPP (Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs) and so on. They have an interest. We cannot force anyone, but they could be encouraged, which we are doing and will continue to do. But it is sad that in your case this is being done on such a small scale. I am sure things could be improved without any additional regulations, because the existing rules make it possible. What is your institution called?

Sergei Shevchenko: The Tomsk State University of Architecture and Construction.

Vladimir Putin: We should take note. Is it a federal establishment? Take a look at what is going on there. They need our help, they are our colleagues. Let us not chastise them, we should be helping them instead. We are in fact experiencing a building boom. The 2009 crisis set it back slightly, but it's holding up. We have housing construction, special construction and large-scale projects under way – all of them can make use of and employ students. There is no doubt about that. It is a matter of organisation.

Sergei Shevchenko: I just wanted to say that construction is everything to us. It has been our main trade for centuries. And I would like construction to be put on the list of priorities, because we are facing a big problem here.

Vladimir Putin: You know, little will change if we put it on some list or other. This has always been the case and still is – we cannot do without construction, it really is one of the oldest professions, in the best sense of the word.

Sergei Shevchenko: Thank you for your article, for what you plan to do with the migrants and criminal offences, because these migrants, these people who are of course industrious and I love and respect them, but let them do that in their own countries. My trade is losing all respect and esteem. Who is a builder? I will soon need to learn Uzbek to understand them.  

Vladimir Putin: Yes, yes. I've said this many times and I don't want to repeat myself. Anyone arriving in this country … I am not referring to ethnic Russians or those who consider Russian to be their native language because one may not be an ethnic Russian but still feel part of Russian culture (I write at length about this in my article), who feel and consider the Russian language to be their own language. Feeling part of Russian culture is a different matter. But when people fail to understand even the language of the host country, this makes things more complex. This is an indicator of their level of training, capabilities and quality of work. But I will tell you we cannot give up immigration entirely – no country in the world can. It's a question of creating competition in attracting immigrants of a certain quality, including in your industry. Everything should be properly organised. Of second and third, or perhaps even primary importance, is for the authorities, law enforcement agencies, and local and regional administrations to respond appropriately to all injustices and violations of the law. When local people see that they are protected by the authorities, the situation will turn around in the right direction. In some big cities today people are afraid to venture outside their homes on holidays. You can see what we've come down to, and it cannot be tolerated.  The law enforcement agencies must respond. If they had reacted properly and efficiently, such a situation would not have arisen and there would not have been such an attitude towards the immigrants. But that is another matter. And it is connected to the fact that we also need to protect the rights of migrants. The point is that there are many cases when they are treated like slaves and left completely defenceless. It is in everyone's interest to create a normal, civilised situation.

Bair Zhamsuyev (fifth-year student, international management department, National Research Tomsk State University): Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Bair and I am a student at the international management department of Tomsk State University. I have the following question: what place do young people occupy in politics? I would like to hear your personal views on the subject and your  concrete, practical steps. . How can young people help state agencies to raise the state to a new level? Please be as detailed as possible.

Vladimir Putin: To get a detailed answer, you should formulate a detailed question. From what I have heard I can only repeat what I said before, that is, if I understand your question correctly – that our young people have a noticeable desire to study. This is positive for the country’s future, for young people’s participation in public movements and work in modern, high-tech companies. It has been said here, and I have said it a lot, that we plan to create 25 million new jobs in the near future, which is, in fact, the initiative of one of our business communities. Well, we will not exactly create these jobs – it is impossible to create 25 million jobs in a short period of time, but we will create a number of new jobs and modernise existing jobs. Who would take these jobs? It is usually young people  and it brings me to the next idea.

I often visit companies and enterprises which employ young people with a higher education, and they are happy: they receive a high salary and can realise their potential because they have interesting high-tech jobs. I was recently in St Petersburg where I was shown how young workers are trained. I was really impressed. It’s a shame that there are so few similar schools where top quality workers can be trained, but this number will definitely increase because this is the demand of the economy and of business. So I hope that not only in production, but also in politics, defence and security… Who will implement all these plans? Young people, of course.

Bair Zhamsuyev: This is exactly the answer I wanted to hear not just for me, but mostly so that the young people who are watching this meeting on television will hear it and show some initiative. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: The trouble is also that a growing number of young people with a higher education cannot find jobs in many large cities. This is a real problem. Many companies generate jobs for the sole purpose of hiring more professionals, just in case, but they cannot pay them a good salary. And people with a high level of education also have high requirements, but society cannot respond to these requirements of the people, our citizens. This is a vital issue Sergei has pointed to, it concerns practical life. Employers on the one hand and the state and universities, on the other hand, should work closely, and then we will not have… We will never eradicate [unemployment] completely, but we can cut the number of unemployed professionals with a high IQ and a high level of education. We must work hard towards this goal. We will approach an equilibrium when we establish a precise balance between labour market requirements and the number of professionals we train. There is no equilibrium now, but I am sure that we will keep working to achieve it, and we will achieve it rather quickly, because this is an economic demand.

Bair Zhamsuyev: And now about my personal question… I hope you will not be offended, but would it be possible to be photographed with you, maybe after this meeting?

Vladimir Putin: We’ll hash out this question in our tight Komsomol circle and give you a positive answer.

Bair Zhamsuyev: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You’re welcome.

Sergei Golubtsov (candidate for a master’s degree at the Physics and Technology Faculty, Tomsk State University): Good afternoon, my name is Sergei Golubtsov, a graduate student of Tomsk State University, which I love very much. I have several questions for you; I will try to be brief.

My first question concerns the recent presidential decree on the priority areas of modernisation. As you know, there are eight such areas, each containing professions in which students can receive scholarships from the Russian government or president.

Vladimir Putin: Are you referring to an increased scholarship?

Sergei Golubtsov: Yes, I am. The trouble is that I am studying at the Physics and Technology Faculty, which is not a problem in itself, but is part of it. I am majoring in applied mechanics, which is not on the list of professions that allows you to claim an increased scholarship. But there are students on my faculty who major in technical physics and robotics engineering but who in fact are doing the same as I do. The difference is that they can receive a government or presidential scholarship and I cannot. There are other cases when, say, radiophysics students work in a laboratory dealing with these subjects although their faculty does not have the appropriate specifics. So my question – my first question – is whether the above list can be expanded to include these professions in order to adequately meet the challenges of modernisation?

Vladimir Putin: I think you understand why we compiled the list in the first place. Lists are compiled to outline priorities which mean that some important professions are not put on such lists. This is what happens all the time, and it is the major drawback of such lists. This is true. At the same time, the state must focus on something which it considers a priority. By the way, it is an old economic dispute; the same also happens in the economy. When state needs to choose the areas to develop in the economy, choose economic sectors they plan to highlight, my liberal or super-liberal colleagues say that this must not be done. As soon as you choose sectors for increased government attention, which will receive funding as a priority, rest assured that some sectors will be overlooked and, secondly, the environment will not be competitive, because some sectors are overlooked while others receive preferential treatment.

I won’t go into detail here, but this is right, theoretically, although some things run contrary to logic in the economy. For example, South Korea adopted a law on shipbuilding in 1962 and has become the world leader in this sector. Privileges were later lifted from the sector, yet the country has kept the lead in capesize ships. Unfortunately, we have to do the same with education. The decisions were not made by the president or the government; it was the expert community that determined the current priorities. But you are absolutely right that this list should be expanded and that there will come a day when it will be cancelled, because conditions must be the same for everyone and there must be no preferences in training a certain group of professionals all the time. But the president has decided to give a boost to and create the necessary basis in the sectors that will be crucial for the country’s economy in the next few decades. This explains the list. But I agree that it should be expanded.

Sergei Golubtsov: Well, this is all very well of course, but if they have been determined, and it appears that we are working on the same thing, couldn’t we just…

Vladimir Putin: I agree. But this should have been discussed with the experts. It appears they have overlooked something. But I agree with you.

Sergei Golubtsov: This is what my proposal is about. I hope that you will consider it.

Vladimir Putin: As a mandate?

Sergei Golubtsov: If that’s possible.

Vladimir Putin: Agreed. I see your point and I’ll keep it in mind. Andrei, will you please take a note of this. What are you doing back there Mr Fursenko? Chatting with the young women?

Andrei Fursenko: I am taking notes.

Sergei Golubtsov: Can I ask a second question now? It is broader than the first one. It is well known that Tomsk is a favoured destination for many, maybe for more people than any other Russian city. However, unfortunately, we have no students from the Far East, which is only natural because they cannot afford the flights. Consequently, they cannot come to study here. A flight from Khabarovsk to Moscow is 50%-75% of what they would have to pay to fly to Tomsk. I have three questions. First, is it possible to introduce discounted airline fares for students? I know that you have already been asked this and I know that this is not an easy decision. But maybe there could be some special provision for students from remote regions, at least?

Vladimir Putin: But there are already special privileges and discounts, both for young people and senior citizens. The Far East is one of the regions where large seasonal air transport discounts apply. The problem is, possibly, that we need to extend the list of destinations. We’ll be doing this gradually.

Sergei Golubtsov: And my second question. You've already mentioned air transport. Couldn’t something be done to make ticket fares proportionate to the distance travelled or some similarly transparent criteria, and not just reflect the interests of specific airline companies?

Vladimir Putin: The problem is that in a market economy we cannot directly regulate airline fares. What we can do is adjust the tax system and try to prevent monopolies on aviation fuel.

Sergei Golubtsov: There is no competition.

Vladimir Putin: Right, but there should be competition. This situation did not come about overnight. Monopolies have been keeping fuel prices high for decades. When an airline flies to some destination, they need to refuel there. Now they are saying that they have to deliver the fuel there first, because there are no producers in that remote region. What we need to do, therefore, is build oil refineries in the Far East and eastern Siberia. That requires billions of dollars in investments. Billions of dollars! And time too. But we will do it.

Sergei Golubtsov: And my last – personal – question.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Sergei Golubtsov: I will graduate from the university this year. My friends and I want to start a business. We have put together a good business plan. There are wonderful business incubators here in Tomsk. You go to them with a proposal and they help you implement it. However, it so happens that our project requires more than that. I know that you are very good at negotiating with investors. Could you help us – promising young entrepreneurs? Could you help us get a head start?

Vladimir Putin: We have various support programmes – I'm not kidding, no. We have a business start-up programme and another small business support programme which is not related to students or universities. And there are other types of available support. Leave your contact details with me. But I must…

Sergei Golubtsov: I have our business plan ready. I will hand it to you.

Vladimir Putin: All right, do that. Are your contact details there – your address and phone numbers?

Sergei Golubtsov: Yes it's all there. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You are welcome.

Mikhail Yeryomin: Good afternoon, my name is Mikhail Yeryomin and I am a student at the Physics and Technology Department at Tomsk University. My question is this. Many students are engaged in fundamental research. As part of this work, they publish articles and become listed as participants in scientific research projects. This greatly improves their academic results and they can win grants and scholarships, like the Tomsk Region Governor’s Scholarship, and in other regions too. But what I would like to know, do you think it is a good idea to set up a student fund similar to the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Research? Just for students? I mean that personal applications from students to participate in a competition of integration projects, for example, can’t hope to compete with joint applications submitted by groups of universities or separate applications by individual laboratories.

Vladimir Putin: I have a proposal. I've just had an idea. To be honest I didn’t realise this was a problem, until recently.

Mikhail Yeryomin: It is.

Vladimir Putin: Here is what we can do. The minister has just asked me to increase the financing for these funds for 2012: to add another half a billion to the 1 billion fund for the humanities, and a further 1.5 billion, I believe, to the 6 billion fundamental research fund. We’ll do that on condition that the ministry develops a special programme for supporting student proposals.

Mikhail Yeryomin: That would be great. I am glad my request coincided with that of the minister.

Vladimir Putin: It’s not that. I never thought of this before, because I never knew there was a problem. It just occurred to me now. If it really is a problem and if there are good proposals coming from students, then we could do this.

Mikhail Yeryomin: The problem is that the whole budget of the Fundamental Research Foundation is divided between associate members of the Academy of Sciences, directors of institutes and academies. They just divide it between themselves.

Vladimir Putin: We could add some requirements for additional financing – for example to attract students to projects.

Mikhail Yeryomin: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We’ll consider this. Next please.

Question: Good afternoon! My name is Arina and I am a student at the teacher training university. It might be unusual for a woman to ask these questions, but I have the same concerns as many car owners: what is going to happen to petrol prices this year? And another question: the government is gradually attracting private agencies to carry out compulsory vehicle safety inspections. How will they be regulated? Isn't there a danger they'll just turn into private markets for selling safety certificates?

Vladimir Putin: I see. First: the government is making attempts to regulate this area but there are certain market limitations that are linked to high global prices. The more we restrict growth induced by the world market trends, the more products will flee abroad via grey or black schemes. There is, therefore, a certain limit to this regulation that stems from the fact that we should help the relevant industries, including oil refining and oil production, to stay profitable. There are things, however, to which we must react anyway; we do react to them now and will do so in the future. For example, we don’t have enough refining capacities for making motor fuel. We have drawn up an extensive programme, agreed with our companies and granted preferences to oil producers so that they build refining capacities or modernise the existing plants. We are short of both assets: there are few new plants under construction, and the modernisation of the existing ones has been too slow. This has been causing shortages at home. We agreed to grant them certain commercial preferences (I won’t go into detail now) provided that they build those plants. But the preferences will be withdrawn if we see that they don’t go ahead with construction. I think this is a good enough incentive for development. Of course, the programme is a long-term one, but it will be implemented and actually it is being implemented. Finally, we have adopted a number of decisions on regulation within the existing rules. We will increase export customs duties on crude oil. The Ministry of Energy proceeded from the assumption that we should create additional incentives for our companies to supply a considerable amount of oil products to the domestic market. We will continue to closely follow the global market situation and use export duties as a regulatory tool. But we must certainly proceed from reality.

Another aspect is related to excise duties. We have increased the excises by one rouble earlier this year because we need to set up road funds, both federal and regional. It’s a lot of money. If the transport tax yields 90 billion roubles, the one-rouble extra in excise duty will fetch between 93 and 94 billion roubles to the regional budgets. If you asked this question, you may perhaps represent some public organisation. But if you don’t, I would like to be heard anyway. The funds that will come to the regional road funds are very considerable and should be monitored both by regional parliaments and public organisations.

Remark: What about the motor vehicle inspection?

Vladimir Putin: Right, the MVI. This came up because there were, regrettably, so many traffic jams as motorists arrived for a MVI. The sphere itself is deeply corrupt. In effect, we decided to commercialise it, without increasing pressure on motorists. Judging by what I have seen earlier today – I visited several facilities – and how the procedure is organised in Moscow, it hasn’t increased the financial pressure on motorists. On the contrary, there is more pressure on the motor vehicle inspections that have been granted the right to issue technical inspection certificates. Naturally, all of this must be overseen. Formerly, however, a certificate could have been bought for a small bribe: this fact alone speaks volumes about the level of control that existed and the technical state of motor vehicles in general. I mean that there were rules but no real oversight, or insufficient oversight. Today, if we license service centres and they set much store by their license, we will not only put our house in order and eradicate corruption but also improve the quality of inspections.

Valeria Matveychuk (fourth-year student, Faculty of Economics, Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics): Valeria Matveychuk, Tomsk University of Control Systems and Electronics. I have a question about sports. Every year we witness a situation where sport school leavers enrol in educational establishments other than specialised sport colleges. Can we organise a regional student league, where all Tomsk University teams would play against university teams from Omsk, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk?

Vladimir Putin: As far as I can see, this organisation has been taking shape. It is a very good idea. I think it has a future. I was talking about it two or three years ago. It is a pity if it still doesn’t exist in practice. Tomorrow or the next day I will certainly take the message to the minister of sport. The process must get under way in earnest at the regional level. I think this is great! Students will be filled with a real patriotic feeling watching Tomsk-Omsk games, to name just these two cities. In my view, this is absolutely wonderful. I think this should be promoted not only at universities but also at colleges and even secondary schools. It would be great if schools organised competitions of this kind (with due regard for child physiology and health, of course). Many regions have done as much.

Valeria Matveychuk: We have it here, too. They play football.

Vladimir Putin: You see, she says they play football.

Valeria Matveychuk: We would like to give it more scope.

Vladimir Putin: All right. I will make a point of talking to Mr Mutko, the minister of sport. He will also speak to his colleagues in the regions. And, of course, Mr Fursenko (addressing Minister of Education Andrei Fursenko), your ministry should lend a hand as well.

Andrei Fursenko: We have just signed an agreement with the Basketball League and one with the football association. They have been holding regular competitions. There are also presidential competitions, where regions compete with each other.

Vladimir Putin: It is not quite what Ms Matveychuk means. She spoke about competitions between universities. It’s a different matter.

Andrei Fursenko: The leagues are doing precisely what you said.

Vladimir Putin: Whenever I speak about it, I am told one and the same thing: for children’s football we have the Leather Ball and we have revived the Golden Puck for ice-hockey. Incidentally, this is very good because 300,000 young people take part in the Golden Puck and 600,000 in the Leather Ball. But these teams do not belong to schools. As soon as there are competitions between schools, there will be rivalry and the right atmosphere, giving rise to a society, a community, a family… This is very important and necessary.

Andrei Fursenko: We have what you said for football and basketball. There are student leagues that we have just formed, and they hold competitions.

Vladimir Putin: But let us give this more attention. That’s the right thing to do.

Andrei Fursenko: Certainly.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please.

Question: My name is Andrei, and I represent a medical university. I am concerned about academic exchanges, a subject of great importance for the medical community. Our colleagues from the Polytechnic and from universities for humanities have been given this opportunity. They can spend a term at another university in a different city or even in a different country that has a leading academic school. Regrettably, medical students don’t have this opportunity, and, in fact, we are isolated from the medical community, both at home (because we cannot even leave for a six months’ course of studies in a neighbouring city) and elsewhere. My question is this: Can we count on your support in resolving this issue? Mr Fursenko, who is present here, oversees the operation of the institutions of higher education that are able to do this, but our institution reports to the Ministry of Healthcare and we can’t do anything about it, unfortunately. However, we would very much like to know that we can study abroad,  then return to Russia and put our knowledge to use in our city.

Vladimir Putin: I fully agree. Different points of view are expressed when we discuss the organisation of the educational system at government sessions. Some say that all institutions of higher education should be run by one superministry; others believe that line departments should be entitled to train their own future employees. This approach has its advantages, but judging from what you have just said, there are drawbacks as well. The Ministry of Education and Science has an established system of organising practical training, whereas other ministries don’t, as follows from what you’ve just said. I’d like to ask the minister to see to it that this is carried out effectively. Of course, modern medical techniques, knowledge and training methods differ, and unfortunately, we don’t always stick to the best standards, but we should strive to do so. However, these standards cannot be achieved without learning about educational processes in other educational institutions. I will speak with the minister about it. However, this is a purely technical departmental issue.

Remark: Good, thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You’re welcome.

Artyom Mochalov (fourth-year student of the Institute of Physics and High Technologies at Tomsk Technical University): My name is Artyom Mochalov. I’m a fourth-year student at Tomsk Technical University. I have two questions for you. You have mentioned small businesses and young entrepreneurs on several occasions today. Here in Tomsk, we have a good environment for promoting youth entrepreneurship, including grants and specialised funds. Young people are encouraged to start their own businesses, to be involved in the programme. There are many creative, talented young people who are willing to become entrepreneurs. At first I wanted to ask you about heavy taxes for  small businesses, but you said that it's not worth getting into the issue of taxes.

Vladimir Putin: No, it is worth it. What is not worth talking about is total tax exemption. We have established an entire system to support small businesses, including in the area of taxation. Small- and medium-sized businesses can use the simplified taxation system, which involves less paperwork and lower tax rates. Small- and medium-sized businesses fall under different regulations regarding deduction of business expenses and other tax arrangements. Are we done with this issue, or do you have other questions?

Artyom Mochalov: I just thought that small businesses could be granted a tax remission during the first two years, since these are the most difficult years.

Vladimir Putin: Let me repeat: the system is deeply rooted in the deduction of business expenses, which is entirely to do with support rather than tax exemption, including the provision of easy loans. We provide funds from the federal budget to regional budgets, and then distribute these funds across businesses. We just need to increase the amounts of this funding. This measure is already working, but perhaps not well enough. Even during the crisis of 2009–2010 we allocated a certain amount of funds to help unemployed people start their own businesses. To be honest, I was not sure that such an idea was really good and challenging.  How can someone start a business after losing his or her job? However, 600,000 businesses were created using these funds. Therefore, we will think about other ways to facilitate this work. There is a need for additional funds, but there are budgetary constraints. We will use every opportunity to provide more funds. We keep in touch with small- and medium-sized business communities, and we are aware of their problems. There’s so much going on there, I don’t even want to go into that now. There were problems with cash registers, taxation, switching to simplified taxation regulations and so on. We will keep track of all the developments.

Artyom Mochalov: May I ask for a personal favour? Mr Putin, a good friend of mine is in the hospital now waiting for the authorisation to come through to pay for the surgery. Is there any way you could help him?

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Artyom Mochalov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Please come to me right now. Please go ahead.

Yekaterina Denisova (fifth-year student of a master’s degree programme of the Institute of Natural Resources at Tomsk Technical University): Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Yekaterina Denisova. I’m a fifth-year student of a master’s degree programme at Tomsk Technical University, and a volunteer for the Sochi 2014 programme. Tomsk Technical University is one of 26 institutions of higher education that are entitled to train volunteers for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi and we also participated in the work of volunteers movement leaders’ camp held in Sochi last October.  

Vladimir Putin: Where are you being trained as a volunteer?

Yekaterina Denisova: The all-Russian selection of volunteers will begin on February 7. We are now busy getting everything ready for recruiting volunteers, and we had a training session at a camp…

Vladimir Putin: Where was the camp located?

Yekaterina Denisova: In Sochi. It was a meeting of the leaders…

Vladimir Putin: Ah, Sochi… Just so everyone knows, we have set up 26 such volunteer training centres across the country.

Yekaterina Denisova: We are in charge of technologies aspect. As a participant at this camp, I was able to see the scale of construction of the Olympic facilities, and we are very proud of our country for winning the right to host the Olympic Games. Here’s my question: what do you think about the chances of the Russian national team at 2014 Olympic Games and 2018 FIFA World Cup?

Vladimir Putin: This is a very difficult and tricky question. Let’s ask Sasha, who’s an expert in this area, what he thinks about the outlook of our national team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Yekaterina Denisova: Given the successes achieved by Russian football in past years, we can count on a medal place at 2018 World Cup and the European championship.

Vladimir Putin: I hope that this is exactly what will happen in 2018. If, God forbid, it doesn't pan out in this way, then direct all your questions to the fans.  Of course, we’ll do everything we can to make sure that our athletes are successful at the 2014 Olympic Games. All the requirements are in place. As you may be aware, in the past we have had to hold even the Russian skating championships in Germany, because we didn’t have properly equipped skating rinks. It may sound both funny and humiliating, but we had to hold Russian championships in Germany because there were no skating rinks in Russia. Thank God we have everything we need now. We lost mid-mountain training camps following the collapse of the Soviet Union. These camps are very important to the training of national teams, because training at an altitude of 1,000–1,200 metres has specific conditions for  training in all sports. We had such training camps in Georgia and Armenia, which we no longer have, for obvious reasons. We are now doing our best to rebuild such training camps in our country.

There are also issues related to various generations in sport, the organisation of training and mass sport. I believe it should be apparent to you how much effort we are putting into the development of physical culture and professional sport. I’m hardly in a position to talk about the number of medals that we may win or which team placing Russia will take. However, the Russian government will do its best to make sure that Russian athletes have good chances of making it to the top of winner’s stands.

Oleg Dzhabiyev (third-year student of the Institute of Natural Resources at Tomsk Polytechnic University): Good afternoon, my name is Oleg Dzhabiyev. I am a student at Tomsk Polytechnic University. There are many students from Kazakhstan at Tomsk Polytechnic University. There are students here under student contracts, that is those sent here by Kazakh enterprises, and also students studying at the tuition-free department, like myself. I’m a third-year student and I ran into a problem with practical training. I specialise in geology and exploration of mineral resources. Mineral deposits are strategic objects, so I can’t be given access them as a non-Russian citizen. The other problem has to do with medical insurance policies. I had to have surgery lately, and the state regional hospital charged 25,000 roubles for it. I had the surgery done at a private clinic for 22,000 roubles. Of course, the trade union committee helped me cover the cost, but this is still a problem. In 2007 – 2009, there was a fast-track programme for receiving Russian citizenship. It was a truly straightforward procedure where one could file an application, receive a temporary residence card and a residence permit, and then a passport. The entire process took about three to four months. How can these issues be solved now in the context of establishing the Customs Union and progress towards the creation of the Eurasian Union?

Vladimir Putin: These procedures should be made less complicated. I might hurt Mr Nazarbayev’s feelings if he hears what I’m saying now, but the more people we have in Russia who can easily adapt and assimilate, the better. There are many issues related to employment, social infrastructure, and the attitude of local people, but overall Russia is interested in having more people from neighbouring countries come here. Certainly, we want skilled people, just like you. We are interested in them becoming Russian citizens.

You have mentioned a number of issues that we are currently addressing in legislation, including protecting the social rights of people who live here. This has to do with the provision of medical services as well. However, we will be promoting these processes as part of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space to make sure that everyone (especially if we succeed in establishing the Eurasian Union) can feel comfortable in any member state. We have even created a supranational body that deals with economic issues, but we will keep track of social issues as well, just like we did in our bilateral relations with Belarus. Much has been done there to regulate social relations. I will look into the issue of medical insurance policies again.

Oleg Dzhabiyev: These policies exits but they cost about 3,000 roubles and they cover…

Vladimir Putin: That’s expensive…

Oleg Dzhabiyev: No, the issue is not about the price…

Vladimir Putin: Then what?

Oleg Dzhabiyev: They cover only physician’s services and basic lab analyses, blood and such.

Vladimir Putin: Blood and such, as if we don’t know which analyses take the least amount of effort on the part of patients…

Oleg Dzhabiyev: However, you have to pay extra to see a specialist.

Vladimir Putin: All right, I’ll look into how prices correspond with your rights.

Oleg Dzhabiyev: One more question on foreign policy, since I’m interested in politics. There has been a wave of revolutions in the Arab countries. Then there were parliamentary elections in Russia and Kazakhstan.  However, the OECD gave a negative assessment of them. I’m not sure about Russia, but they said that the elections to local representative bodies in Kazakhstan were undemocratic. Do you think this has anything to do with the Arab revolutions? Do you expect any disruptive actions in Russia during the presidential election?

Vladimir Putin: This is not related to the Arab revolutions. This has to do with the foreign policy of the United States and its allies. They want to control everything. I have already mentioned it in my televised conversation with the nation that occasionally I can’t help thinking that the United States is looking for vassals, not allies. That’s right, don’t give me that smile please. It makes unilateral decisions on all key issues. Do you think that they hold any deep internal discussions there? The United States makes unilateral decisions on economic issues, even where Europe may start a trade war or ban imports of certain items, political issues, security issues, and certain key international issues.

I’m sure that you are aware of what things were like in Iraq when they first invaded this country and then the US president said that those who were not with them were against them. Why are you smiling? What is that other than a diktat? They began involving everyone in Iraq, and it was hard for these nations to say no, because there are certain commitments that come with NATO membership. We can see it now again with the missile defence system. This isn’t related exclusively to defence against potential missile threats in the future. I had a frank discussion with my American colleague. I believe that this also has to do with the desire of the United States to consolidate its status of a leader of the Western community, so as to perpetuate the latter’s need for protection in the future. This is a very important strategic consideration. This is exactly why they are not prepared to act as an equal partner with Europe or with us. Equal partnership is all about the joint identification of threats and the joint development of a system to address these threats. However, they refuse to do so in no uncertain terms. They don’t let the Europeans negotiate this issue with Russia. Questioning everything and saying that someone is not up to the standards that they themselves established is also a way of influencing things.

This doesn’t mean, however, that everything is fine in Russia or Kazakhstan. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t promote civil society or ensure freedom of the press. Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t think about how the democracy works in Russia since we have many problems in this department. Certainly, we need to improve all these things, but it doesn’t mean that everything is bad in Russia and has come to a standstill. It doesn’t mean that everything is fine in the United States, either. I have provided the following example on many occasions already. Twice in the history of the United States the president was elected by a majority of electors while losing the popular vote. That’s an irony inherent to the US election system. They have indirect secret ballot. We in Russia have direct secret ballot. Voters come to polling stations and cast their votes. That’s not the case in the United States, where they first elect electors and electors then elect the president. On two occasions in the history of the United States the president was elected by a majority of electors while losing the popular vote. This was the case with George W. Bush – yes, that’s a historical fact – and with another president sometime in the early 19th century. When I point to these systemic problems in my conversations with American colleagues and ask them why they don’t do anything about it, they tell me that this is their tradition and no one should interfere in their internal affairs. This is exactly how they put it. I say all right, we won’t, but then don’t interfere with our way of running things in this country.

With regard to our non-government organisations and movements, I believe that we must listen to what they have to say and respond to their comments, and we will do so. One thing, though, that we will never accept is the attempts by foreign states to use our NGOs to pursue their own interests in Russia. This is unacceptable.  

You are young people contemplating your careers. Perhaps you are not sure yet what exactly you will do with your life, but all of you are Russian citizens. I’d like to call your attention to this fact. We should promote our civil society, and we should assist our non-government organisations in what they are doing. The authorities listen to them no matter how unseemly their language becomes when they speak about the government. We still have to listen. One thing, though, that we should oppose is any and all attempts by foreign nations to use these organisations as a means to promote their foreign policy agenda in Russia. We have certain rules that regulate the activities of foreign observers during elections. By the way, they only recently began admitting foreign election monitors in the United States. They wouldn’t let any foreign monitors in previously. Basically, what they are saying is that they don’t need any foreigners to monitor their election process, because it is their country, and those who don’t like it are free to leave.

Remark: They say they have a democracy there.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, that kind of democracy. In his time, Jacques Chirac used to say that without a billion dollars you will never be able to run for president in America. Well, this is a different matter, let’s drop it. They have begun letting in OECD monitors. Some time ago no one was allowed to monitor their elections. However, we do have certain rules. If they aren’t good enough, then let’s have internal discussions and see how we can improve them. Let’s hold an internal discussion and amend our legislation. However, we shouldn’t let anyone skirt these rules. How can you get around the rules? You can hire a group of people, pay them and tell everyone that these people are performing internal monitoring, when in fact they have been hired by a foreign state. This has nothing to do with internal monitoring and everything to do with bypassing our rules. As for Kazakhstan, as far as I know, there was just one party in its parliament until recently. There are three now. That’s a step forward, which is commendable.

Yuliya Simkina (fifth-year economics student at Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radio Electronics): I’m a student of Tomsk University of Control Systems and Radio Electronics. We have been celebrating the Day of the Radio on May 7 in Tomsk for over 25 years now.

Vladimir Putin: Who invented the radio? Was it Popov?

Yuliya Simkina: Yes, of course. I found out lately that this anniversary is celebrated in other cities, like Yekaterinburg, as well…

Vladimir Putin: Do you know who discovered the X-rays? I’ll tell you later. Russians, of course, who else?

Yuliya Simkina: Great. Other cities, including Ryazan, Yekaterinburg and St Petersburg celebrate this anniversary as well on May 7. We had an idea to have a train…

Vladimir Putin: Derailed, no?

Yuliya Simkina: …to have a train go from city to city with the last station in St Petersburg where Popov actually invented it.

Vladimir Putin: It was in Kronstadt. I believe he was the first one to establish a phone connection with the Russian Navy, and the demonstration was held in Kronstadt.

Yuliya Simkina: We ran into a problem with Russian Railways. Actually, we talked to its branches, and they told us that launching such an itinerary was a complicated task.

Vladimir Putin: What’s your name?

Yuliya Simkina: Yulia.

Vladimir Putin: Yulia, I’ll let Mr Yakunin, President of Russia Railways, know that there is a girl named Yulia in Tomsk, and she needs help implementing a good project. He’ll help.

Yuliya Simkina: Good, thank you.

Vladimir Putin: He’ll help. I have a feeling that he will support your idea.

Guys, we have to wrap it up. Thank you very much. Pardon me for not being able to talk with each one of you or answer all your questions. I understand that you have lots of them. Thank you very much.

Bahir Zhamsuyev: What about a group photo?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course, let’s have a group photo.

I wish you success and I also wish to thank you all for such a meaningful and focused conversation. I really like talking to audiences like this one. I always enjoy it, but it’s especially nice on St Tatyana’s day, the day of Russian students. Happy holiday once again!

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