03 December, 2009, 15:05
Russia is determined to fight terrorism and do its best for the security of the people, said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during his live call-in show on Thursday.
“We’ve always said that the threat of terrorism is still great. Throughout the world we are still encountering acts of terrorism. Our country wasn’t an exception, it also suffered from the international terrorism especially in the mid-1990s. We’ve already done a lot to break the back of terrorism, but the threat has not been removed completely. We can act efficiently in combating terrorism. What is necessary for this, we, all society – I’d like to stress that each and every one has to realize the threat, which has been with us for years – has to be vigilant and pursue large-scale preventative work,” Putin said.
“Nonetheless the big question is: can we prevent those acts of terrorism. We have vast territory in Russia and the installations, and infrastructure. We must act efficiently in combating terrorism – the security services realize what I’m talking about here. We must give them credit: the Interior Ministry quite often achieves their objectives in this respect. But the tragedy you mentioned [the derailment of the “Nevsky Express” train] indicates that the work in this particular direction must be upgraded. We must act with firmness and resoluteness against people who attempt to kill people – we have enough of this firmness and resoluteness,” the Prime Minister added.
Crisis – overcome or not?
“We can say with a great degree of confidence that the peak of the crisis has been overcome, although the turbulent phenomena both in Russian and world economy are still there. And the way out of the crisis will require from us time, effort and massive funds,” Putin said.
“Certain experts expected that the drop of GDP would be 10%, but it happened to be less 8.5-8.7%. That’s still a lot – the drop in industrial output will reach about 13%.”
At the same time he noted that the country “is coping with the problems”. This year there has been growth in several spheres, including the agriculture and space industries:
“But in those branches of industry, which the state considers its direct responsibility, we are observing a more or less acceptable level. In the defense industry the output will rise 3.7%. In certain branches – like the space missile industry – there is a 13% growth, although it has problems, which we are monitoring.”
As for agriculture “which in previous years used to be dubbed, the black hole of economy, today we can observe a 0.5% increase, with the growth in certain areas reaching 10%,” Putin said.
Putin mentioned several positive financial indicators:
“We are restoring our gold and currency reserve, which is the third in the world after the Peoples’ Republic of China and Japan, at $444 billion. We have a positive trade balance. We had the best inflation indicator in 2006, but this year it will be 9%. ”
And an increase in the birth rate (around 3 per cent) shows, according to the Prime Minister, that “people believe in the positive development of the country.”
With regard to the economic crisis, Putin received several questions about the so-called monocities – single-industry towns.
Last summer and autumn were marked by protests in the city of Pikalevo in Russia’s northern Leningrad region. Many of its 22,000 residents, employed at the city’s three main plants, were supposed to be laid off, which resulted in mass rallies. Prime Minister Putin made a visit there, ordering some drastic measures to be taken.
During the Q&A session, Vladimir Putin told Pikalevo residents that he is monitoring the situation and is going to meet the region’s governor to discuss the overall strategy for the development of the city and its industry.
Asked about the structural reform of Russia’s industry Putin said:
“The authors of the reform planned that, after selling some assets, we would have the money to modernize the energy industry. The new owners are burdened with responsibilities. I fully agree that they must honor these obligations. They received certain benefits during this process, and they have taken certain responsibilities. Now the time has come for them to honor these responsibilities, which have been recorded in official papers.
Of course we know that we are living in times of a crisis. The economy is down for objective reasons, and the need for energy has dropped, so it became ineffective to invest in the energy industry as was planned originally, because in this case we will overproduce energy.
However, I think these arguments are not well-founded. I mean the rate of recovery in our and world economy is high and we need to enter the recovery period fully supplied with energy. So we need to carry out these [modernization] plans.
At the same time, when working with the new owners – I need to tell you that – plans to develop energy assets definitely will be carried out. They are significant, they are great. During the previous 10 years we built 13,000 megawatts worth of new facilities. In the following two years we plan to build 10,000 megawatts worth. So the progress is significant,” Putin admitted, adding that the plans would have been implemented already if not for the increased attention to environment protection.
WTO – strategic goal
One of the rather popular questions received via SMS and web regarded Russia’s accession to the WTO.
Putin called it Russia’s strategic goal but noted that:
“It is our strategic goal to enter the WTO, but we have the impression that, for unknown reasons, certain people in the US are obstructing our entry to WTO.”
One of the obstacles for Russia’s joining the organization is the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment to the US Constitution, designed to restrict exports from the Soviet Union and some other countries.
The Prime Minister called the law “an anachronism”:
“The Jackson-Vanik amendment was introduced back in the Soviet time and it was connected to the US bringing in economic sanctions against the Soviet Union, as a reaction to Soviet restrictions on Jewish people moving on permanent residence to Israel.
As we all understand, today there are no restrictions whatsoever, and the Soviet Union doesn’t exist, but the amendment is still there – it is obviously an anachronism, which the representatives of different lobbying groups in US Congress are trying to use in quite selfish economic interests, like those connected with increasing quotas on US poultry meat. […] Such are the realities of today, and we are compelled to live with them.”
At a time when the key priority for the country is closer economic integration with the former Soviet countries rather than the WTO:
“The main priority for us is to integrate with the post-Soviet space. That is why we are happy about the processes that are going on with the formation of the customs union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. But after the organizing the customs union, after it is established, there is a new quality we can come up with: we are joining the WTO together with this customs union, coordinating our positions with our partners in the customs union.”
Customs Union with Belarus
In a related, but separate matter Putin stressed that “Russia’s help to Belarus has to be in sync with the integration process within the Union state”.
“We have very warm feelings towards all Belarusian people, the entire country of Belarus. Of course, the Belarusian authorities would like to have more from us. But let me remind you that the year before the last, we gave Belarus a $1.5 billion loan, a $1 billion loan last year, and a $5 billion loan this year. There was also a loan from Gazprom.
Belarus exports its meat to Russia. Dairy exports account for about 80 %, agricultural machinery also. We take a lot of Belarusian exports. Energy carriers get discount for oil. They get the lowest price in the world except for Russia. They get the lowest price in the CIS. In other areas of our cooperation, say social sphere, we treasure them a lot. But I repeat, the Belarusian leadership wants to get more. Perhaps it is possible, but I firmly believe this: it has to be in sync with the integration process in the union state. The deeper the integration is, the more possibilities we’ll have to offer Russian prices for Belarus both for energy carriers and other things as well.
Recently our Belarusian colleagues asked us to keep prices at the same level as this year. Even though we had signed a contract beforehand and it says the price should go up. It’s a slight increase, but still it’s an increase. The same applies to loans; our experts believe the loans we have offered are sufficient. Especially since Belarus receives support from the International Monetary Fund. And it’s the fund that Russia sends its money to. We always emphasize that this money should be used to support our neighbors.”
Answering one of the questions about the fate of the former head of the Yukos oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin said that the man was serving his sentence in accordance with a court ruling.
In this respect, the prime minister also said that the money gained from selling the company has been used in the creation of a 240 billion ruble fund for communal services.
“Ten million people have already felt the results of this fund’s work, whose houses and flats have been repaired. Another 150,000 will be moved to new houses from slums,” Putin explained.
“If this money was once stolen from people, it must be returned to them directly. Not to some abstract people but some concrete persons who have found themselves in the most difficult situations,” he added.
In recent months Russia has seen several scandals related to corruption in police, and even crimes committed by police officers. One of them took place in April, when Major Denis Yevsyukov went on a shooting massacre in a Moscow supermarket, killing three and injuring six.
When asked about the problems within the Interior Ministry, Putin pointed out that the response to crimes should be tough but “it is unacceptable to paint all policemen black”:
“Our neighbors in Ukraine have had such an experience. They liquidated the road police, but nothing good came out of it. They got more bribery and less order on the roads after the functions of road police were passed on to other departments, who were not ready for the job.”
Continuous battle with corruption will become efficient
The summer closure of Eastern Europe’s largest market was another question that concerned many. It was obvious to many enquirers that such an enterprise would be unable to work without the support of corrupt officials.
Despite the market’s having shut down, the corrupt partnership survived in other places. Another enterprise owned by the Cherkizovsky Market’s proprietor – luxurious Mardan Palace Hotel in Turkey was labeled “a monument to Russia’s corruption” in one of the questions.
“If the illegal partnership lives, we will continue working on this matter. As for the hotel in Turkey – by itself I don’t see anything criminal in building it, so long as the investment is done according to law. However, if there are resources for investment, it would be a good idea to invest them inside Russia, creating more jobs and a wider tax base. For example, nobody prohibited building hotels in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Regarding all the rest – any suspicions in smuggling or corruption have to be proved in court first,” Putin said, proceeding afterwards to bring about the issue of a lack of efficiency in combating corruption.
“We will continue to combat corruption. Russia’s President has spoken about this many times. Though this is a very deep-routed problem, Russia is not unique in suffering from it, as it affects most countries with transition economies, because there are plenty of grey areas not covered by law. Yes, our battle with corruption is not efficient, but we have certain results, and if we consistently work hard on it, the efficiency will pick up. On the contrary if we do nothing, the problem will persist.”
Lamborghinis no different to gold teeth
A phone call from Tatarstan raised another recent controversy: the road accident near Lake Geneva.
“People who got rich during the turbulent 1990s or later – of course we cannot blame all successful businessmen. But there is a term for it – nouveau riche. People who got rich quickly and cannot use their money properly, they boast of it. During the Soviet period, some people boasted of their richness by putting in golden teeth, especially at the front. Today’s people with Lamborghinis and other expensive fripperies are no different from them,” Putin said notably mispronouncing the name of the car brand.
Personal relations with leaders
The prime minister once again assured that his working relations with President Medvedev are good.
“We’ve known each other very well for many years. We studied at the same university, learning from the same teachers, who not only gave us knowledge, but also similar attitude to life,” he said.
Good personal relations make their working relations more efficient, Putin added.
Another example when personal chemistry helps politics is the relations with George W. Bush, the Russian Prime Minister said. Cordiality and mutual affection helped the two former presidents maneuver through situations of conflict between the two countries.
While Putin doesn’t have contacts with the former American leader, he said he would be pleased to do so if the opportunity arises.
Another leader about whom the Russian prime minister spoke during the Q&A session is his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko. Putin denied suggestions of his involvement in the presidential campaign currently underway in Ukraine.
“I don’t support Yulia Timoshenko in the election. We cooperate with her as the prime minister of the Ukrainian government. We have a large sphere of cooperation, a joint work plan, and we are following it,” he said.
He added that Russia also has good partisan relations with the Ukrainian Party of Regions. The party is headed by Timoshenko’s key rival in the campaign, Viktor Yanukovich.
The prime minister received numerous questions concerning low salaries and pensions, and affordable housing. Most of them dealt with the concrete personal problems of those calling.
However, there some were anxious about other people’s needs and difficulties.
One pensioner was anxious about the fate of an old woman living near the railroad in the Tver region where the “Nevsky Express” derailment occurred.
This old lady greatly helped the rescue team, saving people injured in the incident.
“I saw a lot of men by her falling fence. Now that they have gone, what is going to happen with the old lady, her fence and the house?” the question was put.
Putin assured that the 78-year-old woman will be alright.
“The head of Russian Railroads has already met her,” Putin said. “This woman will get a life pension from the company, in addition to the pension of 4,000 rubles she is getting now.”
Her house will also be restored, the prime minister informed.
The Q&A session wasn’t all serious business. Some interactions made the public and even the prime minister smile.
Not everybody can brag about having a president or a prime minister among his friends. Aleksandr Astrakhantsev from Komsomolsk-on-Amur is one of the few.
During a live talk-session with Vladimir Putin, Aleksandr reminded the prime minister of their meeting in May of 2009. Aleksandr was then one of a group of workers who were lucky enough to talk to the head of the Russian government. Putin was visiting the Amur Shipbuilding Plant, which had been renationalized for a token sum and was to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid.
Aleksandr Astrakhantsev said that since former Russian President Vladimir Putin invited him to take part in the conversation he’s been nicknamed “Putin’s friend” among his colleagues.
When will you quit?
Dinar, from the southern Russian city of Kransdonar, surprised the prime minister with a straightforward question about when Vladimir Putin is planning to quit politics, so that Dinar could take over the office.
Vladimir Putin replied laughingly, “Not in your lifetime. But if you have a desire to work together, we can discuss your proposal and offer you a good job to realize your potential.”
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