5 march 2012

Vladimir Putin meets with Mikhail Prokhorov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Sergei Mironov

The conversation focussed on the presidential election and the prospects for joint work. Vladimir Putin told the other presidential candidates, “Although we sometimes have different approaches to the challenges facing the country, we will work towards consensus and compromise and thus arrive at optimal solutions for our people.”

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, I’m very pleased to meet you on peaceful, neutral territory. I believe that the hostilities have ceased. First of all, I’d like to thank all of you for congratulations yesterday. I’m also grateful because, tough as it was, this election campaign was free of the mud slinging of previous election campaigns. The candidates and, most importantly, their headquarters conducted their campaigns in an appropriate and civil way, although, let me repeat, the campaign was tough, which is only natural for such an event.

I’d also like to congratulate you on your results. Some of you have achieved more and others less than expected, but this does not matter much. What matters is that people voted for you, many people. Each of you has many supporters and all of us must show great respect for these people. This is why I suggested that we meet and discuss how we are going to proceed from here. We must work by pooling our efforts in order to resolve the issues facing the country in the most effective way.

This is all I wanted to say in the beginning. Mr Zhirinovsky, please take the floor.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky: Мr Putin, speaking about the future, perhaps the Central Election Commission and journalists should announce results in a different way. For instance, they could say that one candidate has won, while others received the support of their voters. “They have lost” does not sound good – there are no losers because every candidate has his own core constituency. In this case those who voted for others will feel better. Obviously, we are all glad and support the victory, but it shouldn’t mean that all others have lost. It should be like in the State Duma elections – all those who got elected received their seats – that’s all. Perhaps it would be good to announce the results like this.

And perhaps it also makes sense to consider the specialisation of our parties. If Mr Prokhorov, for instance, has more experience in business, that’s fine, but we would like to be heard more on issues linked with education, foreign policy and the CIS. The younger generation wants to hear from us and this is important. Specialisation is quite possible. The leftwing forces combined received about 25%. Their ideology will always exist. I think that rightwing, excessively liberal ideology will get about 10%. It won’t get more, just like it doesn’t get more in other countries. So, I think this approximate ratio will determine the alignment of forces.

It goes without saying that all of us – all parties, the press and political scientists –  must adopt a more positive attitude. They should not speak about “the horrible opposition, systemic, non-systemic or losers.” They have some gloomy predictions for us – “there is no future, parties will fall apart; it’s time to go.” This is not their business. This is up to voters and nobody should advise others to go away or stay.

Speaking about domestic issues, maybe we should think about enlarging our territories because they are too diverse – 50,000, 200,000, five or 12 million. People want this. Only government officials object to this. Imagine, one boss sits at the table and the idea of having another boss over him… This is also important.

Apparently, we can support all programmes. If we want to develop the Far East… We have suggested cancelling taxes only in the Far Eastern Federal District by way of experiment for a year. If we see that it is on the upsurge, that people started moving there, we should continue this experiment because we need a breakthrough. Benefits and payout do not work but complete abrogation of all taxes… We could make up for them in other places.

Take the Unified State Exam (USE). It has already been announced but let’s do without it this year. Let’s grant everyone the right to go to any university, and, if, say MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations) or the other three, four or five Moscow universities have more applicants than places, the rest can stay home – they have their own universities where they live. I’m talking about an experiment. I think everyone wanted the USE cancelled.

Everyone will support more volunteers in the army. I’m sure many Russians from CIS countries will volunteer in exchange for a passport – they will have to wait for a year or half a year  instead of eight years… This issue can be resolved as well. 

And the food problem, here too… People want land; our amnesty for dacha owners is stalled; people are still working on registration and have to wait… If we promise people land quicker, they will go. They want to but they see that some obstacles are being created in this matter… Meanwhile, food is vital. Many countries have oil and gas, many countries have the engineering industry, but food may become very important in the next few years, especially organic products. Our fertilizer-free products will be highly rated. People are skilled and want to work.

Now a few words about employment… Why do young people feel offended? After graduating from universities they have no jobs. We must create a database. A guy who became a lawyer in Tomsk may find a job in Kuzbass; or a Moscow graduate may get a job in Saratov. Graduates must have a database of vacancies. They must be told in their universities – we educate you, but there is no demand for your specialty in our city… This will also encourage them to move. Young people are not against moving to other places.

Well, tourism is… We are being told all the time that our tourists have got stuck somewhere or that someone has abandoned them. We must check this out locally – why are tourists being left to their own devices or why are equity holders being cheated? The local administration or tax agencies must look into these problems – why hotel rooms are not paid for and the like. These companies must be held to account or let them give more guarantees to their customers.  If people are going on vacation, let them…

As for bailiffs, they are doing their jobs to excess at times. If someone is suspected of having a debt of 5,000 roubles, and this is not even certain, he or she is stopped at the border. Why don’t you just send an enforcement order to their jobs? Everything was sent to work places in Soviet times. But now they are rushing into your home and checking your bank accounts and you don’t even know that your property is threatened with confiscation somewhere. Let them send an enforcement order to the office and the accountants will automatically withhold the money owed. When they demand money and people have forgotten or failed to pay for some reason (sometimes a traffic fine), their vacations are spoilt and they get angry.

And my last point is about guardianship authorities and juvenile justice. Listen, if the conditions in the family are really horrible… But they do this for statistics… Take a normal mother with a daughter… They don’t have enough cottage cheese in the fridge and the girl has few toys but she wants to live with her mother. No, they say, we’ll take your daughter to an orphanage and the mother is left without her daughter. The Justice Ministry, the Bailiff Service… They are a new service and they do many things properly but sometimes they go to extremes and make people angry.

Last but not least, we must think about medicine. This issue concerns all of us and we should focus more on free healthcare. Fee-for-service medicine is dragging everything out, demanding endless tests and more diagnoses. People are eager to pay because this is their health… But we should think primarily about free medical care and free education. Commercial universities are a good thing but they are often being used for receiving a diploma or avoiding army service. We turn out a large number of specialists, but they are not always of high quality. Perhaps we should have more free places there and, if we need money, get it in some other way. Then they will really study because kids study more diligently at ordinary educational institutions than at commercial ones. He has paid and that’s it: “I’ve paid you, what more do you want from me?”

These are the issues we should tackle together, but at the end of the day the moral atmosphere is the most important thing. We should make it entirely positive. We are one country. There are parties and trade unions, but there should be no tough confrontations, nothing revolutionary. We can all come to terms, sit down and talk. There are open forums, round tables, and by the summer we should bring about a change of mood in favour of positive work and not some negative things. The LDPR is ready to cooperate in all these areas, we have some ideas: We are the oldest party, 23 years old, this is our sixth Duma. In any case, over the past 20 years between seven and eight million people have voted for us, that is a fair number of people.

Vladimir Putin: I agree.

Mikhail Prokhorov, I know that your programme contains some useful ideas about how the economy should be run. Indeed, seriously speaking, many of the things that you say are necessary for the development of the economy have been actively implemented and will continue to be implemented. So I think if you go ahead with your plan of creating a party, there are ample grounds for constructive dialogue. What Vladimir Zhirinovsky said about the Far East and Siberia is within your purview because you engaged in production activities and you voted in Krasnoyarsk, if I am not mistaken.

Mikhail Prokhorov: Not far from Krasnoyarsk. Mr Putin, I stood in the presidential election for the first time. This is a new experience for me. I am a novice. I think the main problem in our country is that the vertical power structure is not developing as rapidly as civil society. The initiatives from below and initiatives from the top can never meet because of the inefficiency of regional and local authorities, which are lagging behind even more and block the way for competition. The main challenge for the next period is to introduce competition in the political field, as well as in the economic and social areas. This is what my voters – with whom I had many meetings – say practically every day: It’s impossible because there is no social mobility. I think this is a common problem for everyone in this country and, considering the changes in the world, everybody has problems: America has problems, Europe has problems. So, if our country is to be strong, an equitable system of social mobility must be put in place. These doors are closed at present. People want to make a career, to better themselves in a society of equal opportunities, to raise families, and be happy. That is why in my opinion a key litmus test for the authorities will be the creation of a competitive environment for the most talented people

And I would like to mention one more thing. I think you would all agree with me that there have been irregularities during these elections that were often ignored. I think everything should be done to look into every single documented case, so that every person who has broken the law of the Russian Federation should be punished. We need this, it is essential if we are to move our country forward. More than 5.5 million people have voted for me, this is a reservoir of credit and I will try to live up to this credit of confidence by creating a new political force. I think a strong new political party that will be seen as committed to the development of the country and promoting our country to the foremost positions, I think such a political force is very necessary today, and that is why I want to work on it.

Vladimir Putin: Great. You know my position in general. I was an active supporter of the Right Cause party when it was being created, I even backed them for the Duma – not the previous one, but an earlier Duma. Many of these people are working in government structures and doing a fairly good job.

As for the mood among your voters and your ideas on social mobility, it is indeed very difficult to make one’s way to the top at the municipal and even regional level. I fully share your position, yours and that of your voters. That is why we are attempting to create such mobility through special structures such as the Strategic Initiatives Agency. But that is not enough. You will have noticed that I wrote in one of my articles that, for example, young men who have served in the army must have an opportunity to acquire a good education at the government’s expense. Free education. We should set up something like Workers’ Faculties that existed in Soviet times. But that is only one aspect of the work to bring down the wall that often separates members of the public from the executive bodies, which you have mentioned. I fully support this idea and I will work together with you in order to solve these and other issues.

Mr Mironov, I saw that you focused on certain proposals in my programme, and you believe that they are leftist in nature. They are not leftist; they just reflect people’s aspirations.

Sergei Mironov: They are the correct ones.

Vladimir Putin: Please go ahead.

Sergei Mironov: Mr Putin, the Russian citizens have made their choice. That’s a fact. The Russian citizens elected you president. Your victory is convincing. Given this, certain obsequious actions by low-ranking and occasionally high-ranking local officials who wanted to make things look even better for you than they already are appear absolutely baffling. If this is really the case and violations really took place, then I believe… Unfortunately, the fact that violations actually took place provides ground for doubting the election result. When I called you last night I told you that my monitors observed violations and have them on tape. I have mentioned this publicly as well. However, I have no doubt that the actual election results are just the way they are. This is a genuine expression of the will of the voters. In this regard, I have a proposal and a request for you. Given that you won the elections with such a large margin between votes for you and votes for the candidate in second place, and your victory on the first ballot is obvious, perhaps it would make sense to annul voting results at certain voting stations without even taking these matters to court, because annulling these results won’t affect the final outcome in any way. However, chairs of district election commissions and other implicated executives should be punished. No one was penalised after the Duma election campaign, and some people took it as a signal that smoke and mirrors is an acceptable way to conduct elections. I believe that this is a matter of principle.

You told me last night in our telephone conversation and mentioned it today as well that our programmes and our approaches have something in common. Indeed, the point is not even about approaches being leftist or whatever… This is something that most of the people need today. I’d like to make you aware that A Just Russia party submitted to the State Duma another draft law on building and loan associations and a revised draft law on taxation of luxury goods. We have submitted a revised version of the Electoral Code. I’m preparing an alternative draft law on elections to the State Duma. I will make all these materials available to you. Anyway, we need the government to issue an expert opinion, especially with regard to the law on building and loan associations. I hope that you will look into it carefully and issue proper instructions, because we have worked on this draft for five years now, and it’s ready to be signed into law. If there are any other opinions about mechanisms that will help our people move into new flats – since it’s very important to resolve this social problem – we would appreciate such cooperation. I’m just making you aware that this work is underway, and I’m prepared to continue doing it, because this issue has to be resolved…

Perhaps we will see more rallies, since both your supporters and detractors are willing to rally, with the latter saying that the elections were unfair. I’m now back to the idea that since violations did take place, and we are all aware of that, proper measures need to be taken immediately. However, I believe that we should wrap up the rallies and begin doing some constructive work, because voters expected changes to take place when they made their choice. With this in mind, A Just Russia and I are prepared to join in this work, come up with new ideas for your consideration and move forward together.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. As for potential violations, they should of course be thoroughly investigated and acted upon. I can act within my powers: If such violations were committed by officials under the jurisdiction of the Russian government, then we will respond accordingly. However, I hope that the Central Election Commission and other government authorities will react in the first place. I haven’t spoken with Mr Churov over the past several days. I have seen election results on television, but I haven’t talked with him in person. We will certainly have a conversation, and I will let him know that all reports about potential violations that come from your campaign offices should be investigated. You were right when you said that no one is interested in rigged elections. I myself didn’t want this to happen from day one. As you are aware, I was the one who came up with the idea of installing web cameras at voting stations, and I believe they have played a significant role in making the election process more transparent.

Sergei Mironov: Yes, they have.

Vladimir Putin: I have spoken with our foreign partners, and they told me – and this is an undisputable fact – that this has never happened anywhere in the world, and we have pioneered this. I hope that we will keep improving our electoral procedures, increasing transparency and minimising any and all potential violations.

Concerning our coordinated effort, I agree that we should go ahead and begin doing constructive work together. Of course, we will have disputes, because we occasionally have different approaches to addressing the challenges confronting our country, but we will be looking for compromise solutions. I hope that such compromises will help us find the best solutions for our people. We can elaborate on this later without the press. Thank you.