December 24, 2009, Moscow
Konstantin Ernst, Director-General First Channel: Good day, Mr. President! You have had a lot of meetings with our colleagues this year – journalists from different TV-channels – to discuss pressing economic and political issues. We are grateful to you for the opportunity to discuss the results of this year on air with three federal TV channels – NTV, Rossiya and First Channel.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev: Good day, colleagues! We do have a lot to discuss, a lot to look back on.
KE: Mr. President, 2009 has been a difficult year, as the country has faced new challenges. What is your view of the year? What are the main achievements and failures?
DM: The year has been very difficult indeed. It has seen a lot of dramatic developments. I think that the year has been difficult for all our citizens. The major result is that we got through it, we continued to develop, and I think that we have paid a relatively small price for the global economic crisis.
Among our achievements are at least three points. First and foremost, we have maintained social stability. We met our commitments in the area of social benefits. Not a single social program has been halted. We are now shifting to a new pension payment scheme. We have raised retirement pensions. And it is not just a nominal increase, it is a real amount. One third constitutes nominal growth, while two thirds constitute real growth. Next year we are going to continue working on this. This is the first point, and probably the most important one.
Secondly, we managed to ensure financial security. We have had problems here. The beginning of the year was very alarming. The government and the Central Bank had to take all possible measures to put things in order financially, to ensure stability of the national currency, to provide for the normal operation of our banks, to prevent them from collapsing and to avoid a repeat of the 1998 scenario.
We have taken all these steps. The financial situation is stable, it is normal. Moreover, I think that inflation this year will be much lower than a year ago. Last year it was around 13 %, while this year it will be around 9%.
And finally, the third point. We managed to put in place mechanisms of support for strategic enterprises. Not a single big enterprise has gone bankrupt. All of them have our support; their employees have jobs even if the work of the enterprises was interrupted. They are getting allowances or other social benefits.
These are the three key points. Frankly, I believe that these are our achievements.
Now to our failures: first of all, we still have our old economic system based on raw materials, on sales of raw materials, primarily, of energy resources. This problem definitely cannot be resolved in the course of one year, but it is obviously halting our development. On the one hand, we get big money by selling our raw materials, but on the other hand, it is impossible to develop our economy on the basis of raw materials alone. All the more so, because drops in the price of raw materials affect our economy immediately – and painfully.
Secondly, we have a lot of uncompetitive companies which have to be re-equipped and modernized. It is crucial to make innovation a key component of the development of our companies.
And our last complete failure is that we did not deal with unemployment. This is a very serious and complicated issue. We have worked on it; we drew up a program, which curbed unemployment growth. But we failed to cope with this problem completely. We will continue our progress in this area.
KE: Mr. President, most of the world’s key media have been practically reporting the end of the financial crisis. But nothing seems to have changed globally; the initial causes haven’t been tackled. Only cosmetic repairs have been done so far. What do you think about this?
DM: I am afraid this is so. Nothing has really changed globally. We had several meetings with our colleagues as part of the G20 and the G8 summits. Ways to resolve global economic problems were proposed. We started building a new financial architecture. But it is not true that the crisis has been overcome, and that we will see no problems in the coming year.
On the contrary, practically all analysts agree that we will come out of the crisis slowly, and we should not indulge any hopes regarding next year.
This year, our economy shrunk by 8.7% or even more. Therefore, our GDP has decreased by 8.7%.
Next year, we hope to see GDP growth. It is hard to estimate now, but analysts are talking of a growth of 2.5% that may reach up to 5%. This would be wonderful. But it shows that we will get out of the crisis slowly. The burden of the problems with the world economy is too big. Plus there are problems weighing upon our economy, because the global financial crisis has been coupled with our own economic backwardness. That’s a fact.
Oleg Dobrodeev, All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company CEO: Coming back to what you just said, Mr. President. Why are we talking about modernization now, when Russia is going through the most difficult economic period?
DM: That explains it. If the period of rapid and positive development fueled by energy prices had continued, the decision to totally modernize our economy and shift to innovative development could have been postponed. But now all of us are absolutely sure that without modernization our country has no future, even despite its huge natural resources. They give us our bread just as they did with our ancestors. But we must not simply eat up our resources, though we have lots of them.
First, we should learn how to use them. We sell a lot of oil and gas. There is nothing bad about that. But it would be much better if we sold gas and oil that had already been refined, in other words, if we sold better processed products. We should develop gas and oil chemistry, build oil and gas refineries within our borders. If we don’t shift to a modern hi-tech economy, we will never be able to overcome our technological backwardness. Ee won’t be able to change our economy radically. And we will become more and more dependent on the fluctuations of the global economy.
Any drop, any change in the global economy, any tiny unpleasant development will have a direct impact on us. There is a term used when talking about the securities market, of our securities market, as it is very dependent, economists call it volatile, when it fluctuates greatly. That’s what our economy will be like if we base it on trading raw materials alone.
That is why modernization is essential; we should have started this process earlier. We have already come up with certain solutions. A Presidential Commission to deal with these issues has been set up. We’ll continue this action across the country.
Five modernization priorities have been pointed out. These are: energy efficiency and development of new fuel types; nuclear energy; information technology; space technology; and health care – primarily production of pharmaceuticals. We must make a breakthrough, a huge leap forward in all these areas.
Vladmir Kulistikov, Director General NTV: Mr. President, for Russia to move forward, as you wrote in your article and as you said in your address, we should move away from some Russian traditions, such as age-old corruption and excessive reliance on government. But Russian modernization itself has some scary traditions. As you may remember, Peter the Great shaved beards and cut off heads, while Stalin exterminated millions of people.
When talking about modernization, you point out the need to develop social institutions, civil society, reliance on the rule of law and economic stimuli. Do you really believe in humanistic and democratic methods and the non-use of force while shifting to efficient modernization in a country where people have not expected anything good from changes for centuries?
DM: Yes, I believe in all this for several reasons. Firstly, our people are strong, experienced and smart. They are able to change not because of pressure, but because they are deeply motivated.
Secondly, most of our neighbours have gone the same way. Yes, we all have our own history. Some countries experienced more dictatorship, others – less. Some developed smoothly, others – more dramatically. But on the whole, other peoples have found strength and the will to develop and pursue their own goals, and became stronger, more effective and powerful. So, why can’t we?
I believe that forced modernization is a thing of the past. I do not rule out that it can bring benefits, but the method itself is unacceptable.
So, we will go our own way, as the saying goes. Modernization must be based on efficiency and on people’s inner wish to change. That’s the most important thing.
OD: Mr. President, what’s your assessment of the latest local election held in Moscow and in other regions? The victory of United Russia is beyond doubt, but we still recall our meeting with the Duma faction leaders and their critical remarks which were aired live on Russian TV. We discussed violations during the election campaign. As far as we know, a large number of lawsuits are now being considered by courts. What do you say to that?
DM: I did meet with the leaders of our political factions in the State Duma. We had an absolutely frank and straightforward discussion. They voiced their complaints. I think that they are at least in part justified. They are being investigated at the moment.
What does this situation point to? Well, there are not as many lawsuits as you might have thought. There are a total of 450 – 460 claims across Russia. Moscow has also seen a lot of complaints, but only around 20 lawsuits have been filed, and if I am not mistaken, the Prosecutor’s Office has taken action in 37 cases.
It rings alarm bells of course, because the overall legal situation points to the fact that the election was marred with violations. Dagestan’s Derbent experienced the most difficulties. Rulings on that were made several days ago.
OD: That was yesterday.
DM: Yes, yesterday Dagestan’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling passed by a lower court which declared the election returns void. New elections will be held. You know, it’s unpleasant, but still it shows that the democratic institutions do work, it shows that if people are not happy with a result, if they think there were violations, they can obtain a court ruling: the election will be held again next year. But on the whole, the number of violations, it certainly wasn’t on a massive scale, and it certainly doesn’t indicate that the voters’ will has essentially changed. No. The elections have confirmed the existing line-up of political forces. But we must do all we can to prevent the problems we have faced from recurring. In this respect, I absolutely support the position of all our political parties.
Incidentally, United Russia which won the elections is also in favour of this, because they also had grievances of their own. They also filed lawsuits; everyone’s displeased with something in fact. But this is normal. These are teething troubles, if you will. We must sort them out.
This is why in this year’s Address to the Federal Assembly I emphasized regional issues, including regional elections and the democratic institutions that are taking shape at the regional level. Last year’s Address was devoted to the Federal level. Incidentally, I’d especially like to note that this year saw some good work done. Let me thank the Federal Assembly, all deputies, and all political parties. The ten political initiatives I put forward have been accepted, all laws are in effect. I believe our political system is better as a result. It is not yet entirely a modern system, but it has become better – that’s for certain. It requires streamlining, but it is changing. And now we will do the same at the regional level. We will take the election outcome into account here – the voting procedure, to be more precise.
Our citizens voiced grievances about how voting was organized in some cases. They have doubts about how the counting is done, or what ballot-boxes look like. No problem! We must simply make budget allocations for these purposes, and we will do it. I talked to the Chairman of the Central Election Commission. In the final analysis, in the short term, I hope, all our polling stations will be furnished with automatic voting systems. The result will be known as soon as the last ballot-sheet falls into the box. It is normal. It is democracy. Considerable funds will have to be paid. But other countries do engage in this kind of spending and we will have to do the same.
OD: And for party representatives to get air-time, which has started working at the federal level.
DM: Yes, yes. Everyone who so wishes can enjoy this sort of opportunity. Incidentally, chances to use regional media gave rise to questions as well. The use of premises… I remember being told by some parties that they were unable to hire premises. These matters should be set in order. I will make a point of keeping an eye on this.
KE: Mr. President, there are four parliamentary parties in Russia. But the way I see it, you are quite skeptical about their ability to adequately reflect the mood and opinion of the whole of society. Otherwise it is hard to explain your meetings with the leaders of non-parliamentary parties and representatives of non-governmental organizations, many of which have a critical attitude towards the authorities. What do these meetings mean for you?
DM: You know, democracy can never be all-embracing. There is not a political system that would cover all citizens’ preferences. There is not a political system where all parties would completely cover all political preferences and all interests of the people. Four parties are now represented in our Federal Assembly. All in all there are seven political parties working in our country that are registered. This means these are the officially recognized Federal parties.
When I meet with representatives of those parties that have seats in the Parliament, and those that don’t, my key goal is to understand what is important for people who give them their votes. I want to find out what preferences these parties have, in the hope that they honestly and adequately reflect the views of their electorate. This is the aim of such meetings. By the way, sometimes they include some really rough discussion of the most complicated issues, but they always end positively. Based on the results of those meetings, I always give orders to the Presidential Administration and to the government, whether it is to make some amendments to the law, or to deal with particular situations. Sometimes I even give instructions to law enforcement agencies to launch an investigation.
I believe that the four political parties represented in the State Duma, and the three other parties are the foundation of our democratic political party system which is still developing. None of us knows how many parties there will be say in 10 or 15 years. Perhaps there will be 7, or more than 10 parties. Or maybe we will choose the path of the American democracy based on two parties. It is up to our citizens to decide; and the parties that are a genuinely efficient element of the political system will help them make their choice.
KE: And what place in Russia’s political life do you see for representatives of the so-called “non-systemic” opposition, people like Kasyanov and Kasparov?
DM: You know, this kind of opposition does not see itself as part of the political system. That’s why it’s called “non-systemic”. But they have chosen this niche themselves. This is their right and I respect it so long as they do not breach Russian legislation – the election law and laws on public association, meetings, etc. In other words, if this “non-systemic” opposition acts in full compliance with the law, let them do what they like. They must be reflecting someone’s preferences, though, frankly speaking, I find it hard to say whose interests in particular. But this is my personal assessment and I would not like to offend anybody.
As for the two individuals you just mentioned, they are very famous in this country. One is a former prime minister, and the other used to be a well-known chess-player.
VK: Mr. President, I wouldn’t put all parties on an equal footing in terms of their election claims. I think that a party which is really the main ruling party, a party that has the support of the majority of voters, bears special responsibility for the purity of democratic processes in Russia. And it should, like no other, be able to quickly react to any manifestation of administrative zealousness which leads to ugly consequences during an election.
This party also has another big area of responsibility – state government. I will start with an unforgettable incident, when I was listening to your Federal Assembly Address in the St. George Hall – my impressions from your speech and from everything else that was going on in the hall. What surprised me was that a lot of people seemed pretty indifferent – some were talking to each other, some were playing games on their mobiles, some just looked like they’d had a heavy night! You know what I thought at that moment? You set tasks and make decisions. But this country is vast. It stretches over several time zones, broader than any other country. But there is an army of bureaucrats lying between you and real life. Could you please tell us what you’re going to do, to get your decisions implemented at the local level, and to prevent them from turning into a parody of themselves?
DM: Vladimir, after this programme, would you give me the list of those you remember, who were present when I made my address to the Federal Assembly?
VK: Without fail.
DM: We will attend to those people later.
VK: Gosh, that will make me popular with the civil servants….
DM: It will. You’ll earn some serious brownie points (laughs) or else you’ll really lose out.
VK: I’ll probably do both.
DM: On a more serious note, you know, this country is not homogenous, and its administrative corps is not either. Those who are ready to accept change and those who understand that without economic modernization, without modernization of the political system this country has no future, they should and will continue to work. And those who believe that they can drift with the tide (we have such people both at the regional and federal levels, no one is perfect), will simply have to make a decision: maybe it is time for them to retire? That is why this process will continue.
I can tell you one thing. I am not an advocate of any vehement personnel shake-ups. It is simply incorrect, unethical with regard to people and even dangerous for the country. But at the same time, renewal should be realistic. Over the past eighteen months, almost one fifth of the heads of Russian regions have been replaced by governors of a new generation. It does not mean that they do not have shortcomings. But they are new people, people ready to work in new conditions. They should be given a chance to prove themselves in their new jobs. That is why we will keep pursuing this personnel policy.
I have drawn up a list of a thousand promising, decent and interesting people, in my view, who could occupy high positions in this country: not only in politics but also in business and other structures that are crucial for the existence of our state. Out of the first 100 people, 28 have already been appointed to various positions. To be honest, I did not expect this to happen so quickly. It is good that almost one third of them have already been appointed. They are really modern, relatively young people who want to work in a whole range of areas.
And the last thing you said was about the responsibility of the main political force. I cannot but agree with you. Political parties should be accountable to people, to their voters; a political party that holds the dominating position in the country, a political party that has won the election and is, as we put it, the party of power should certainly be responsible for everything. This is both its advantage and its burden, and it should make good use of this advantage. This party is responsible for everything, including the results which it obtains at elections.
Therefore, I will certainly continue my contact with our political parties, including our leading political party, which today is in a position to form bodies of power in the regions and territories of the Russian Federation and which nominates candidates to head each region and submits their names to the President. This is a big responsibility.
OD: Mr. President, the police has been a painful and difficult topic this year. It has brought up the fiercest discussions in our society and our media. We understand that there have been very serious causes for this. What do you think has to be done about it?
DM: There were serious causes, and our people have accumulated quite a lot of complaints about the work of the Interior Ministry. There is one thing I want to say: today I will sign a decree on improving the Interior Ministry’s operation which will make changes in organizational and financial issues, as well as in some legal and personnel issues.
Indeed, there are many complaints, some of which are certainly valid. People want to be protected by police who are impeccable in terms of morality and lawfulness. People want to be able to trust them. I am convinced we will be able to form such a structure. But at the same time, the majority of the Interior Ministry’s employees are honest and dedicated to their work.
You know, people in our country as well as in others do not always like the way police work. But when something happens they still go to the police, and there is no other way. And often police officers, people in uniform are at the frontline of fighting crime. This year, more than 300 policemen died in our country. This is a very sad fact.
Some of these people have given their lives to ensure order on the streets, protecting all of us, for us to live and work in proper conditions. Strict and serious changes are required, and they will take place. But at the same time we have to preserve the core of the Interior Ministry, which is capable of efficient and responsible work. The Russian Interior Ministry has enough professionals on the staff to fight crime properly, ensure order on the streets and protect our interests in different regions.
OD: But there are departments, in which you did organize a personnel revolution. It was not the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but another core office – the Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS). At the beginning of November you laid off 20 FPS heads in one go. That’s a very significant number of people. Moreover, many directors of FPS regional offices (including those in Moscow and St. Petersburg) and even heads of major penal institutions like Butyrskaya prison and Matrosskaya Tishina were fired as well. Why did you make such a tough decision?
DM: We have no order. We need to establish it, and that includes the penal system as well. Our penal system has remained the same for dozens of years. It has significant flaws and, unfortunately, quite often it does not really welcome change. So, we must establish order and invite new people, who are able to bring about change.
As for what needs to be done within the penal system and the system of penal practice in general – you see, punishment is not all about retribution. We need to make sure that when a person gets released from prison or a corrective labour establishment, he or she is able to lead a normal life. We need to make sure they will not become crime-lords or set up new criminal structures only to return to prison later on. In order to do this, we need to change both, the penal system and the penal practice system.
With crimes against people and especially dangerous crimes, the penalty must be very strict. Such cases need to be thoroughly investigated. We must punish violence that intends to harm the life and health of people. Punitive measures must be exceptionally strict for people, who commit such crimes.
But at the same time, we must understand that in some cases of economic or tax-related crimes, there is no need to put people in prison at the stage of preliminary investigation – especially given the fact that we would need to let them out anyway. This poses questions as to the quality of investigation. People need to provide quality work, carry out investigative measures in line with legislation and get quality evidence, instead of using other methods.
That is why there should be several processes in place. On the one hand, we must improve the penal system. On the other hand, we must consider which punitive measures better fit this or that offence. For example, all over the world people are handed out punishment which is not necessarily imprisonment. There are different ways to limit freedom or simply control the actions of the person who is to be punished.
OD: Like electronic tags?
DM: Yes, electronic tags, for example. Why do we not use them? I am sure we can. I received several petitions for pardon. It is sad, really. A person stole a hat, which was worth 500 roubles, and was sentenced to two years in prison as a result. But why? Is he going to come out a better person?
We really need to examine this. We need to change our legislation. There are those law-breakers and offenders, who are aggressive, dangerous and completely anti-social, who must be strictly punished. But those, who can be corrected outside of custodial restraint, need to be punished in a different way. This is the focus of reforms of the Federal penal system, criminal legislation and criminal procedure. We will definitely work on this. It is a very important part of social and political peace, of normal life in our country and order on the streets. That is why I shall put things right in this area.
KE: Mr. Medvedev, you mentioned a decree that you are going to sign today. Is this the beginning of reforms of the Interior Ministry?
VK: And could you give some outline of this decree now?
DM: Let’s wait till the decree is passed. Of course, I understand that you are curious.
KE: News is going out live now.
DM: Yes, this is live news. But as for the purpose of that decree, it is of course to optimize and reform the operations and functions of the Interior Ministry. That’s the point.
KE: Mr. President, do you know what “Basmanny justice” is? Have you heard this term?
DM: Yes, I’ve heard this term. I am not sure that it’s accurate or correct. But if “Basmanny justice” means the passing of unfair decisions by any court in the country, or the so-called perversion of justice, if lawyers’ language is to be used, then it is an evil which should be fought by prompt legal reaction to these wrongdoings. Such decisions or sentences should be reversed, and if they are made under the impact of factors such as money, or political pressure, the people who pass such sentences and make such decisions should be prosecuted and held responsible before the law and the country.
KE: The flu outbreak has brought to the fore various problems including that of medicine. All TV channels have been showing numerous reports about this. And we have to give credit to the Russian authorities who responded efficiently and adequately. Nonetheless, when should people, especially the needy, expect improvement in this area?
DM: You know, our situation with medicines is not very good, as people discover for themselves when going to pharmacies. Prices have risen as well, especially during the flu epidemic, and both President and government have had to respond by giving instructions to the prosecutor’s office and to the Health Ministry. Thanks to those channels which really showed the enormity of the situation, so to speak.
So what do we have? Only 20% of our key medicines are produced domestically; we purchase the remaining 80%. This is very dangerous. If an epidemic happens, we can have our air supply shut off. We are capable of producing many simple medicines, but for some reason we lost this ability after the post-soviet development period. We have to revive our pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceuticals should be developed with mixed funding from both state and private sources. We will certainly deal with this issue.
It is sad that our country produces only two or three out of the 20 most popular medicines, like arbidol, while we purchase the simplest things from abroad.
But in order to tackle this situation, besides investing in pharmacology, we also have to monitor prices and the situation on the pharmaceutical market. We cannot allow manufacturers and pharmacy chains to get overzealous with pricing. If they start supplying medicines to the market at outrageously high and totally unjustified prices, it could simply lead to a riot. We will ensure order in this area. The Prosecutor’s Office and Health Care Ministry have done their work.
We are also implementing special regulations, control over pricing, prime cost and manufacturers’ cost, and over limits of pharmacies’ mark-ups. I believe we will manage to handle the pricing issue through these two means. But we need investment in order to ensure an absolutely modern pharmaceutical industry. Only then will we have good medicines and reasonable prices.
For your information, large investments are required for the creation of new medicines. In general, up to ten new medicines are indented per year. We may think it is not much. But every new invention costs perhaps about a billion dollars. What does it mean? These are really large and important investments, these are investments into people. If we manage to develop our own pharmaceutical industry, we would gain a better quality of life and a reasonable situation on the market.
This is why the pharmaceutical industry is among the five priorities.
KE: Some more remarks about health. The holidays are around the corner… Clearly it is difficult to fight drunkenness in Russia on a global scale, but there is a kind of resignation here. The New Year celebrations – we all know full well that there will be a huge number of accidents and that people will die. We know it, but nothing happens. To my mind, it’s a resignation that must be fought.
DM: Yes, we must fight. Much depends on each of us.
VK: You mean we must give up drinking alcohol?
DM: You know, many people, who are not indifferent to this, should in the first place look at their own health. At some point one should come to one’s senses and see where it all leads.
Where the celebrations and the situation on our roads are concerned – you are right. It is very grave, we are not very careful drivers generally, while those who take a drop or two tend to lose their head altogether. Well, we all know how it usually happens: first they have a shot (this is still allowed), next another two or three, and then they get behind the wheel. Drink driving must be banned, and I will introduce the appropriate amendments to the legislation. We do not want to allow any drink driving, even in small, limited amounts, because, regrettably, this provokes real drunkenness before a person gets behind the wheel.
KE: People don’t know how to count the units.
DM: They do not know how to look after their health. It is a very important. It must be learned. When we are ready, we will see what is what. For now, however, I believe that this norm must be abolished. I will see to it that a bill is drafted to modify the traffic regulations.
KE: Yet more news live on air.
DM: I don’t know if it is going to please everyone, but this must be done.
KE: …It’s good for the country.
OD: Speaking about development, I would like to raise one sensitive social issue, migrant workers. It is clear that the influx of migrant workers, the labor force, is absolutely essential for this country. But what is no less apparent are the colossal costs, including social tensions, caused by the influx of these people who are often unprepared and poorly adapted to life here. The situation varies from region to region. For example, the problem may be quite urgent in Moscow or in the Far East… It is clear that these people come from CIS countries and some Asian states. What can be done about it, do you think? How can we solve this problem and can it be solved?
DM: It should be solved because this country is enormous. In a vast state like ours there is a shortage of workforce in some places. Therefore, we are forced to attract workers from abroad. About twelve million people come to work in Russia on average every year. They do a very important job. It may be unnoticeable and, to be honest, not very prestigious, the kind of work not every Russian citizen would agree to do. But they solve a problem.
However, immigrant workers’ activities in this country should be strictly regulated. About twelve million people enter Russia but no more than nine or ten million get officially registered. The remaining two million make up a grey area. And this may be the most optimistic estimate of people who come to work in Russia. The registration of migrant workers should be strict and clear-cut. Their health should be overseen, and measures to socially adapt them to the conditions of life in this country should be taken. All immigrants should be able to speak Russian because they come to work in Russia. They should engage in their commercial activities and make their contribution in accordance with our rules and laws. They should pay tax and abide by sanitary norms. If we manage to settle the situation, then the whole process will be absolutely transparent, clear and very much needed for our country.
But I think that there are jobs which simply cannot be done by people who receive their papers and documents in foreign countries. Mr. Ernst and I have just talked about accidents. These are absolutely mad and horrible, and very often they are caused by drivers who get their driving licenses in other countries. I do not know how they issue driving licenses there. Things are not totally normal in this country, but I do not know how they do it in other countries. So, immigrant workers who come to work in Russia should go and get a Russian driving license if they want to drive a vehicle and carry passengers. Only then should they have the right to sit behind a steering wheel. I think that this is going to be the right solution. I am going to discuss this matter at the Ministry.
KE: Mr. President, not so long ago, you described the state of affairs in the North Caucasus as the gravest domestic political problem. What, in your view, needs to be done to achieve stability in this important region of Russia?
DM: Yes, it is a very difficult problem indeed. If by and large we have learned, over recent years, to fight bandits, even though terrorism does rear its ugly head periodically and crimes are committed, this problem has not yet been removed from the agenda either. At least we have learned to react to it with sufficient precision and speed. The main seats of terrorism in the North Caucasus have been routed.
But problems remain, problems linked to the unsettled way of life. How many unemployed people are there in the North Caucasian republics? They outnumber those in other areas of Russia by a large margin. And it’s as much as 50% of the population in Ingushetia’s case.
DM: In Dagestan, some 10-14%, but we have yet to see the precise figure. In the Chechen Republic – around 30%. It is necessary to create jobs and to attract business and economic projects there.
As soon as a normal economic environment begins shaping up, people’s brains change, they want to build, to build a house of their own, to send their children to school. But if one is surrounded by dislocation, it is very easy to take advantage of this. People from abroad come, as do local madmen, as well as radicals, and they begin convincing others that the only way to improve their material status is to lose their head and to commit a crime.
This is why economy and the social sphere are key to changing the situation in the Caucasus. I said as much in my Address. We have just approved an Ingushetia development program, and we will be paying close attention to other Caucasian republics as well. The situation over there should be specially watched. I said that we needed a person who would be responsible for that situation. Such a person will certainly be appointed.
KE: Will it be soon?
DM: Yes, soon.
KE: Mr. President, today’s Russian army is not what it was 10 years ago. In recent times, we have had reasons to be proud of it. Nevertheless, there is no end of problems in the army. We would like to know your priorities in this area.
DM: Indeed, our army has changed. I would like to agree with you that the situation is not what it was, say, ten years ago. The Russian army has shown its worth, no matter what might be said about it, including in situations where it was upholding our country’s basic interests and defending our citizens, like in South Ossetia.
Nevertheless, there are many problems. The military equipment is becoming outdated. Servicemen should be given fitting remuneration for their work. The army’s organization should be different.
This year, therefore, if we speak about the legal and organizational aspect, all the necessary decisions have been adopted, some pretty painful. But it is they that are laying the foundation for the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. In keeping with the decisions that I have approved as Supreme Commander-in-Chief, all our units are stand-by units. What does this mean? They are not so-called cadre units (if you ever came face to face with this, you will know what I mean), or units that have three or four officers.
KE: And a lot of equipment…
DM: A lot of equipment plus two or three servicemen.
But you cannot do battle like that, it makes no sense. It is just a waste of money. This is why there have to be stand-by units. This will promote the modern aspect of our Armed Forces that also look different today – for the time being, only on paper but reforms have begun on the practical plane as well.
But what does the transition to stand-by units mean? Based on Order 400, the defense minister has already ordered financial rewards to officers who have performed well. It is a very substantial extra payment, one that makes it possible to pay our best officers a sum that is absolutely comparable with the appropriate payments in Western countries.
I believe this should be finalized shortly. One third of our officers are already in receipt of this financial bonus. Next year, more officers will be, and before 2012 we must convert all our stand-by units, which means all our military units and all our officers, to the new conditions of service. One will not feel ashamed of serving for this kind of remuneration, but it will place different demands.
To my regret, the equipment also requires a very serious overhaul; no investments were made here. It is not that someone wished to induce disintegration in the army. Of course, we all love our country and we love our army. There was no money. The money appeared some time ago, and we started investing. Even during this very difficult crisis year, we did not reduce the funding for the main types of armaments. New equipment will be supplied, portion after portion, and we must replace practically the entire range within some ten years. It is also a very important and a very costly task, but Russia must have powerful armed forces. This country is unable to exist without armed forces, for understandable reasons. And I will be doing all I can to keep this kind of funding.
VK: Oleg’s [Dobrodeev’s] heart is aching for people in places of confinement, and for illegal immigrants, while I, like Konstantin [Ernst], am quite fond of the military.
OD: Thank you, Vladimir.
DM: Live broadcasting costs.
VK: Will the Interior Ministry reform program you are planning pay due attention to the funding of this service? After all, it is no secret that the pay received by the people who on a daily basis put their lives on the line for us can be humiliatingly small.
DM: Do you mean the Interior Ministry staff?
DM: Of course, this system must be changed. No question of that. Of course, again, this is linked to our current financial capabilities. But we have a duty to look at all components of the Interior Ministry’s work, including its roster strength. Possibly we had better slash the strength here or there, and have a better job done by fewer people that will be paid accordingly. The promise of good remuneration is likely to ensure the coming of normal, modern, disinterested and efficient Interior Ministry officers who would show high-quality, high-integrity performance for what they are paid.
You know, I have many friends who took police jobs after university rather than just highly paid jobs, although any person is tempted to do the latter. I feel profound respect for them, because being in possession of a brilliant university education they have chosen a very difficult path. Theirs is a very important and often criticized occupation. They do their job in an honest and decent manner. I believe there are very many police officers of this sort. It’s just that they need to be supported. And this is something that the document I am going to sign today is directed at.
VK: Now, if you do not mind, let’s talk about the tragedy that shook the entire country, about the terror attack on the Nevsky Express train. Could you tell us about the progress of the investigation? Will they find those guilty of this evil deed?
DM: I have no doubt that they will find those guilty. I cannot disclose the information that I have been getting from special services and investigators. The investigation has been going on and it has to be confidential. But there are certain theories which have been made public and been speculated on in various media.
I am convinced that investigators, together with operating officers, are capable of finding, detaining and bringing these people to justice. Our state is capable of handling this issue. But besides the investigation, following this horrible attack we should also think about security, including technical and air safety.
This relates to railways as well. Our country has a lot of railways. They have to be maintained and taken care of.
VK: It’s the largest network in the world.
DM: Sure. But it also has to be at least sufficiently safe. In the aftermath of the tragedy, I have given instructions to the Transport Ministry and the Russian Railroads company. They have prepared their suggestions. They will be funded in full scope, to the very last rouble. This is a mandatory requirement.
VK: I would like to ask about another tragedy that also shook everyone, the tragedy in Perm. When talking about those who contributed to those events, you said they had neither brains nor conscience. You know, this wording of yours was so full of despair. Brains can be replaced with instructions and with punitive discipline to ensure fulfillment of those instructions, but conscience is something people cannot just come up with.
DM: Conscience is a moral concept, and is something we all should be developing. Conscience is not something we are born with. It is a matter of schooling, family upbringing, or even faith.
But talking about the horrible tragedy, this is definitely a consequence of slackness and lack of discipline that had gone beyond control. It is unbelievable how people could even think of doing a firework show in an enclosed space. Even poorly educated people understand it is really dangerous. But they invited a large number of people and made such a mess out of it.
What should be done? Besides banning such performances everywhere, we really have to put things in order. We have to pass a set of legal instruments. Fire prevention services also have to be regulated properly, as it was obviously their fault too. Why had they not closed that place after previous inspections? Did they get bribed, or did they face other problems?
At the federal level, we have to check on whether the laws have been followed in this area. We have to see who is responsible for these processes at regional levels. The entire process of allocating facilities to clubs and other entertainment centers has to be inspected. We have to start with ourselves here. This example is very illustrative.
Talking about the legalities, even though I am not an investigator and should not be the one talking about it, in my opinion, this is certainly a crime, a careless crime which nonetheless brought dreadful consequences, really grave consequences. This is something that has to be looked into thoroughly, in order to avoid such accidents in future.
OD: Mr. President, you’ve just covered Mr. Kulistikov’s question about the recent tragic events in Perm. A question arises about the entire future of our nation: has it been undermined, does it have the strength and resources for future development?
Looking back at the last 150 or say even 200 years of our history, it is unlikely that any other nation has faced such challenges. For example, the loss of our best people through wars and numerous social experiments. Indeed, one may well think that our strength has been undermined; that the nation doesn’t have the same will or resources to move forward. How would you reply to this question?
DM: Mr. Dobrodeev, our country has never had it easy. I am absolutely convinced this has formed our national character. The fact that we live in a large country in very harsh climatic conditions where one often has to perform acts of bravery to provide for absolutely basic needs: it is cold, it is hard to grow crops… all these things, including wars and social cataclysms, have been forming our national character over the centuries. So I believe it would be absolutely wrong to say that the events of the last 150 years have radically changed our people’s attitude to life or undermined their will to live. Had it been so, we would have lost World War II, we would not have revived the country and we would not have been able to manage the new state either.
It was a really difficult and dramatic period, when our country changed. Parts of our former territories became territories of other states. Families and contacts fell apart. The economy collapsed. It looked like subsequent events would crush us. But this did not happen. We managed to remain standing. We started developing. After all, we are living better now than 10 or 15 years ago. We are capable of tackling some really large issues. We do have many problems but we are capable of meeting our challenges.
Therefore, I am convinced that our national character, our willpower and our energy have not changed.
KE: Mr. President, prior to becoming the president, you have always had a very special relationship with Mr. Putin. Has it changed in any way now? What’s your relationship like at work and beyond?
DM: We still have a special friendly relationship. It has not changed, and I am convinced it will not.
VK: Mr. President, the change in The White House became one of the key events of the year with the arrival of a new president, a fascinating and intriguing one in many ways. How is your relationship developing with him? Have you developed mutual trust and understanding?
DM: Indeed, I talk with the new US president quite a lot. I believe he is a strong politician and a fascinating man. It is easy for me to communicate with him. He knows how to listen and to respond to arguments. We have often heard Americans say: “We hear your opinion but we have already decided everything.” Well, he doesn’t talk like that. This in itself deserves a positive evaluation. The US remains the largest economically developed state on our planet. However it has its share of difficulties.
Working with President Obama is pleasant, and we have developed a trusting relationship. I hope everything will go well in the future too.
VK: So what has been causing such a delay with the new START treaty? Are the Americans pressurizing you? What is your response? Or perhaps you are pushing them? And what is their response?
DM: This is a very difficult issue. This is not a simple contract between two small companies that can be drawn up in 15 minutes. This is a treaty that lays the foundation for the reduction of strategic offensive potential for the two largest nuclear countries! We have indeed been progressing very rapidly. We’ve settled practically everything.
How is it happening? It is happening almost in the way you have said. In some areas we are pushing our partners and telling them certain things are unacceptable for us. In other areas, they are pushing us. This is a normal process of negotiation.
We must come up with a high-quality document. And I believe we will. This document has to determine the basis for our co-existence as the two largest nuclear states for a decade – quite a long period of time. Therefore, every tiny detail has to be considered here.
Also, even after we prepare and sign this treaty, we will still be developing our strategic offensive forces. Without them we would be incapable of defending our country. This is obvious to both Americans and us. This is normal in modern life. It does not mean we cannot talk about a nuclear-free world. This is a beautiful and a right goal. But we have to approach it gradually. Also, not only Russians and Americans should be involved, but other countries as well, those which have been trying very hard to join the nuclear club, which has caused so many problems.
KE: Well, reduction is one thing, but nonetheless, we have the nuclear shield that was developed during Soviet times; isn’t it getting a bit rusty?
DM: No, it is not. Our nuclear shield enables us to tackle all the challenges that it is supposed to tackle. We will certainly be developing new systems, including for delivery, I mean missiles. This is normal, something the entire world has been doing. Of course it should be done within the conventional limits, considering our future settlements with the Americans. But this process will continue, and our nuclear shield will always be effective and sufficient to protect our national interests.
OD: Mr. President, talking about the closest and most crucial international subjects, a presidential election will take place in Ukraine in January. Let us step aside from the START issue. I would like to ask who would be Russia’s candidate in this election campaign in Ukraine, if there is one.
DM: Perhaps, this is Viktor Yushchenko, if we proceed from the fact that most of my speeches regarding Ukraine were about the actions of the current president!
On a more serious note, Russia does not have and cannot have its candidates there. Ukraine is an independent sovereign state, where a president is chosen by the people. I am sure they will gain an understanding of political declarations and the process of the difficult political race that has been going on – I think they have almost 20 candidates. We will definitely accept any choice of the Ukrainian nation; this is an obvious standard of international law.
The only thing I would really like to see is a Ukrainian president bent on developing kind, heartfelt and even brotherly relations with our country. One that won’t persecute people for speaking Russian and will develop bilateral relations, so that joint economic projects can flourish; so there won’t be this strange determination to enter a foreign military bloc that would make a large number of people nervous.
I would really like to see such a partnership, and I really hope and count on Ukrainians to make the right choice.
KE: Mr. President, last week you visited Copenhagen where the entire world was discussing climate change. What did you think? Is the Earth getting colder or hotter?
DM: I would have to be an expert in this area to answer your question, to say whether it is cooling down or warming up. In my opinion, this is not the most important thing, strange as it may seem, whether it’s cooling or warming, there are cyclic theories and really different viewpoints. What is important is how we respond.
Whether it is cooling or warming, we still have to change the planet’s ecology; we still have to develop energy-saving technologies and work on “green energy” and produce alternative types of fuel. This is absolutely obvious. And we have to work on energy efficiency. Frankly speaking, I am not satisfied with the outcome of the Copenhagen summit, it had an empty result. Unfortunately, we did not reach a deal and, putting it politely, this was not Russia’s fault.
Therefore, whether or not any new agreements get signed, we will still work on energy efficiency, developing modern energy, reducing power consumption by our economy and, as a result, reducing emissions into the atmosphere.
VK: This also raises the question of how decisions get realized. Here is an example from a different area. The casinos were closed. And what did we end up with? Game zones that had been promised have not opened yet. People are in no rush to finish building them, hoping things will return to the way they used to be. There are grounds for this, as we have seen the opening of sports poker clubs and instant lotteries, things that only a Prosecutor would find different from the actual old gaming machines.
DM: Do you play these lotteries?
VK: No, I actually play different games, you know. But I don’t play poker either.
So, Mr. Medvedev, people are actually saying that this business has gone underground or been disguised, and is deceiving the authorities in general. What lessons do you think we should learn from these decisions?
DM: You know, I think that is an exaggeration. We have, to a significant degree, cut off oxygen to this business which previously used to operate along different lines. The four gambling zones have not yet begun working. I would say that the whole thing requires huge investment. We are not going to pump state funds into this business. But we would welcome private investors if there are such. But no one has revoked these decisions. They will remain in force. As for the huge number of casinos and gambling houses, there are none now left in the country. Yes, it is true some people are trying to mimic them by looking for loopholes in the legislation. I mean instant lotteries and similar things, all this nonsense. In essence, it implies the same kind of gambling for money but only under different names. Such clubs must simply be shut down. Since you are talking about it, I will give an order to go through the legal system to exclude these opportunities. Of course, our people are inventive. They gamble on the Internet. We have no control over them because these gambling websites are, as a rule, opened in offshore zones or in foreign countries. But gambling on the Internet is as illegal as instant lotteries and other forms of evading the law. We will comb through the legislation. We will have to make amendments and close this subject. Will that be enough? We shall see. If they invent anything else, we’ll shut this business down and punish those who are engaged in it once again.
OD: Let me ask you a slightly different question. If I do not ask it, millions of football fans will be disappointed. This year has been a year of great football. There have been various assessments of the role of the head coach of our national team. There can never be two similar points of view. How would you assess the role and place of Guus Hiddink in our history and the history of Russian football in particular?
DM: Are you a fan yourself?
OD: No, I am simply fond of football.
DM: Then I am also fond of football. Nevertheless, I closely watch all the key football matches on television or live. You know, no matter what they say, after that sad and regrettable defeat of our team, I would say that after the arrival of Guus Hiddink our team started playing different football. I am not saying that as the president of Russia. This is my personal point of view. It is my opinion as a football fan. There were many events which quite simply raised my spirits. They injected more adrenaline into my blood. I hope you remember our team’s brilliant game against Britain. The match was held here in Moscow. We just saved that match. That was great! And there were other interesting matches. For example, the match against the Dutch at the European Championships. It was simply fantastic. We looked on, and we wondered if it was really our team playing on the field? Who was it, running there in those sport shirts? Both the coach and the players deserve a thank you – at least for this. Well, yes, we have not realized all of our chances. But we have moved up in the world football rankings and we have made good progress in our bid to become a top-level team in Europe. And if we speak about club football, things are not bad at all. We have won the UEFA Cups. There’s CSKA and Zenit… Zenit has recently won a super cup. Rubin has shown a very good performance. We should not thank Guus Hiddink for that, of course, but nevertheless it reflects a new quality in Russian football. Therefore, I think that we should calm down, draw the necessary conclusions and continue supporting our football teams and football clubs so that they start playing better.
KE: Since we’ve mentioned football, then may I ask you some personal questions? Mr. President, when do you usually wake up and when do you go to bed?
DM: I wake up according to my schedule. I go to bed quite late as a rule. At two o’clock in the morning or even later. I usually have a lot of stuff to finish. I often finish signing papers too late. I have to do that late at night straight before going to bed. It is not very good, but what can I do?
KE: Do you have time left for reading?
DM: Yes, I have some time left for reading. I try, even on a normal working day, to find 15 or 20 minutes to read a book before I go to bed so as to read myself to sleep.
KE: What books do you have on your table now?
DM: Like most book lovers, and I think that we in Russia really love books, reading has always been our national habit, I have several books lying on my table. I always try to read several books at once. It is really much more interesting, although sometimes, if I come across something incredible or very interesting, I certainly can read it in one gulp. But that is only during my vacation. The books I am reading now include “Historical Portraits” by Klyuchevsky. Strange as it may seem, I have never read this book and I like it. I am looking through it slowly and thoughtfully. I am reading the electronic version. It is the first electronic book I have read. I found it rather inconvenient but, never mind, I have got used to it and now it seems normal.
KE: Do you regard it as “technical” literature?
DM: Yes – in part. There are some other books lying on my table too. Like a new opus by Pelevin, but I have not opened that yet. There are also several novels by Remarque translated over the past ten years. I love Remarque. I have liked his books since childhood. He is very romantic and even sentimental in some ways. But at the same time, in my view, he has always been a contemporary writer, a foreign writer.
KE: Is it nice reading before going to sleep?
DM: It sometimes lifts my spirit.
VK: Mr. Medvedev, what are you missing most in this life?
DM: It’s a simple question, Vladimir. Freedom, of course, I am short of time. I am not sounding very original here. It is true of any head of state. You feel it from the first minute of taking office.
VK: And what about your family? How do your wife and your son carry this burden of being the wife and son of the head of state?
DM: You know, I think they are carrying it well. They are doing well in my view. They do not worry me. But at the same time, all this is taking its toll on their lives in some way. It is not a sweet life because they are facing restrictions which they did not know about before. In fact, the life of the first person in the state and other top government officials is always full of restrictions. The saddest thing is that you feel them only at the moment when you take up this job for the first time. You will not know or feel that in any other capacity, although one can make a guess.
OD: Mr. Medvedev, all of us present here are in the television business. We constantly watch TV – it is our everyday routine. The burden of presidential responsibility has changed you a lot over the past 18 months. Do you feel that at all?
DM: I feel that I have changed. I am not going to be sly. I have changed because, as you have just said, and you are absolutely right, it is a special responsibility. I used to hold high and responsible posts before. I tried to be honest and do a top-quality job. But even the positions which I held were different. And maximum responsibility tends to change your character, your outlook and many other things. But I hope that I have not changed that much in human terms.
KE: Mr. Medvedev, you’ve often shown your love of rock. You’ve even attended a concert of one legendary group. And what about your son? He probably listens to different music. Do you like anything he listens to?
DM: It would be strange if my son listened to the same music as I did forty years ago. At least if we speak about classical rock. However, my son sometime listens to it. You know, he, just like many other young people (my son is 14 now) is fond of alternative rock, he is fond of alternative music. I do not know much about it, but I know some of those rock bands. I sometimes listen to them. For example, there is a group called “Linkin Park”. My son also listens to some Russian groups. He listens to “Splin”, for example. He sometimes surprises me by listening to “Mashina Vremeni”.
KE: Where will you see the New Year in?
DM: At home.
KE: Will you visit your friends or relatives on January 1?
DM: I probably will.
KE: Our time on air is running out.
DM: Do you mean you’re hurrying me up? (laughing)
KE: But it’s running out nonetheless. I would like to ask you who you would name “Person of 2009” in Russia?
DM: Good question. You know, I would name about one and…?
Looks like he was cut off…
Windows to Russia!
comments always welcome.