Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes questions from the press following a meeting of the Strategic Initiatives Agency’s supervisory board
3 may 2012
Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Remarks: Good afternoon.
Vladimir Putin: Do you have any questions for me?
Question: Mr Putin, the government has done a great deal to improve the conditions for doing business in Russia. Not all of the measures taken have produced the desired results, though. In the power industry, for one, there are examples of grid workers’ reluctance to introduce new rules, which they see as undermining their sectoral economic interest. How would you comment on that?
Vladimir Putin: There are a lot of problems to address. Just now we had a meeting of entrepreneurs, young and old, who are already involved in the Strategic Initiatives Agency’s work. Since it was set up a year ago, this agency has come a long way. I’m pleased to see it up and running as a mechanism for promoting business initiatives. They have long maintained a direct dialogue with business associations such as the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Opora Russia and Delovaya Rossiya. But these organisations were set up by activists of the business community, and are therefore aimed at protecting its interests. So there’s a constant tug of war here between the interests of business groups and those of the state.
As for the Strategic Initiatives Agency, we’re the ones who set it up. We took some young businesspeople on board and established communication channels between them and the government right from the start. I’m pleased that in our roadmaps for the power industry and three other industries all the participants have achieved consensus, although there were fierce debates, including on issues related to connecting to electricity grids. A range of concrete solutions have been proposed, and, as I said in my opening remarks, these should lead to a double-digit reductions in connection fees.
But how can this be achieved in practice? A lot of measures have been proposed, including transitioning to a notification principle of some approval procedures, among other things.
Unfortunately, we failed to come to an agreement on certain issues. The Customs Service, for one, doesn’t agree with the proposal of ASI experts that it should switch over to a new mode of payment for customs services on imports, thus speeding up customs clearance. Entrepreneurs have suggested adopting procedures that are already used quite effectively in other countries, such as revolving guarantees by top-tier Russian banks. But our fiscal bodies and customs authorities fear that this may hold up revenues on their way to the treasury coffers. As of now, goods cannot be cleared until after duties on them have been transferred to the treasury. But I’d rather side with the entrepreneurs on this. That’s something to be done with care; procedures upholding the state’s interests, fiscal or otherwise, should all be meticulously worked out, but they should also be acceptable to the business community and beneficial for the national economy as a whole.
Another customs-related issue, a more system-wide, has to do with the work of state unitary enterprises. Unfortunately, such enterprises tend to serve either their own purely commercial interests, or those of their head companies or administrative structures. Those interests often clash with the needs of the national economy and, by extension, with the needs of the state. This is why at our meeting today, we decided to eliminate some of such companies or privatise them. Let them operate on the market without distorting it.
Also, we spoke of what should be done to provide a dramatic increase in construction, housing construction above all. ASI members suggested a whole set of measures to make that happen. They present their measures as soft.
One thing I’d like to emphasise here is that all the issues, except for the two customs-related ones, have been approved by regulatory agencies, ministries and departments. And we’ve agreed that in three months’ time (I’ve personally suggested the latter half of September), we will get together again and see how the implementation of the roadmaps is progressing.
Question: Is there a hope that some dramatic changes may come in the foreseeable future, sending the prices of housing down, making it more affordable?
Vladimir Putin: We need to build more. We need to build a lot more than we do at the moment. We need to bring our output up to 100 million square metres. Today we discussed ways to lift construction restrictions. Well, I wouldn’t want to talk about each of the roadmaps at length now. You can ask the guys about them if you want. They and I spent two hours just now, discussing this in detail. There were a lot of proposals up for discussion, some of them quite radical, others soft.
One of the problems we’re facing is a lack of interest on the part of municipal authorities in expanding housing construction. We should create incentives for them. Whatever the number of housing facilities built – one, two or a hundred – municipal authorities always end up having to cope with a heavier burden on the infrastructure, but they don’t benefit in any way. More money has to be spent on the development of the road network, on power and gas supplies and so forth; additional social infrastructure facilities also have to be built. But their incomes don’t grow accordingly. So we spoke today of ways to motivate municipal authorities. Among the proposals made are those related to taxation, to taxes on real estate and on land. We talked about allotting land plots for construction. Well, I don’t want to say the same things over and over again. So if you have some specific professional interest, please feel free to ask my counterparts. They’ll tell you all about it.
Question: May I ask you a tactical question?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, sure.
Question: How are we going to work beyond May 7?
Vladimir Putin: We’ll work as energetically as before, even a bit more.
Remark: Thanks a lot.
Vladimir Putin: As for ways of going about this, I suggest we discuss them right after Victory Day, at some event on the 10th or the 11th. I think all the accredited journalists will be attending. We’ll then choose a venue and an hour to talk.
Question: Mr Putin, there’s a scandal in Ukraine surrounding Yulia Tymoshenko, and tensions are running high. Many European leaders have even chosen to boycott the 2012 UEFA Cup over that controversy. What is your reaction to that? Are you personally going to attend?
Another question I’d like to ask, if I may, is about her health, which, some say, has worsened dramatically, so she must be urgently taken abroad for quality medical treatment. But the gas agreement for which she was put on trial and sentenced to prison, it was signed with you. Given this, are you going to step in and help her out somehow?
Vladimir Putin: I’ve already voiced my position on the case. Before signing the agreement on the supply of natural gas to Ukraine, our lawyers double-checked everything, of course. So the deal signed was in full conformity with the laws of both Russia and Ukraine.
When we sign agreements with a country, with any country – and Ukraine is no exception here – our lawyers meticulously study the other party’s legislation so as to protect us against any risks in the process of implementation. As I said, according to our lawyers, there was no breach of law – neither Russian nor Ukrainian.
As for the UEFA championship, I believe that politics and business should by no means be linked to sporting events. Let sport be sport. I adhere to the same principle as the International Olympic Committee does: sport is outside politics.
Speaking of the humanitarian aspect, we’re willing to have Ms Tymoshenko undergo treatment in Russia, at any Russian medical institution she likes and whenever she likes – provided, of course, that she wants this and that the Ukrainian authorities do not object.
Thank you very much.