Thursday, June 15, 2017

President Putin Direct Line 2017.

The annual special Direct Line 2017 with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin Direct Line 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin Direct Line 2017.
Tatyana Remezova:

Good afternoon, we are live. This is Direct Line with Vladimir Putin, a joint project by Channel One and Rossiya 1 TV channels. You can also watch the broadcast live on Rossiya 24, and listen to a live radio broadcast on Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.

The anchors of Direct Line are Tatyana Remezova and Dmitry Borisov.

Dmitry Borisov:

Good afternoon,

First of all, I would like to introduce our colleagues who will be helping us today. Maria Gladkikh and Natalya Yuryeva are in the call center; and here in the studio we have Vera Krasova, Nailya Asker-zade, Olga Pautova and Olga Ushakova.

They are surrounded by people who were in the spotlight of the last year’s most dramatic news reports, people who arguably have shaped today’s Russia in one way or another.

Now to Tatyana Remezova.

Tatyana Remezova:

President of Russia Vladimir Putin is here, in the studio, live.

Maria Gladkikh:

Good afternoon,

We are in the call center, which plays a key role in Direct Line. Our center has already received 1.1 million calls. You can submit your question to Vladimir Putin right now. The telephone number has not changed: 8 (800) 200 4040. You can also use 04040 for SMS and MMS messages.

Natalya Yuryeva:

In addition to SMS messages and telephone calls, our operators also accept video questions that can be submitted either from the moskva-putinu.ru website or by using a special mobile application called Moskva Putinu (Moscow to Putin).

You can also submit questions using the program's official accounts on the VKontakte and Odnoklassniki social networks. For the first time, you can talk to the head of state by direct video link via OK Live, as well as the Moskva-Putinu application. This way, not only will the President hear you, but he will also be able to see you.

Go ahead, make a call. We will be taking questions until the end of the broadcast. You still have time. Maybe it will be your question that Vladimir Putin answers.

Maria Gladkikh:

Another innovation in this year’s Direct Line is the SN Wall communications platform that enables us to monitor, in real time, how the audience is discussing the program on social media. More than 300,000 comments have already been posted on Facebook, VKontakte, Instagram and Twitter.

Those who need sign interpretation can watch the broadcast on Public Television of Russia and on our website.

Dmitry Borisov:

Good afternoon, Mr. President.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin:

Good afternoon.

Dmitry Borisov:

Our call center has been receiving phone calls for 12 days, and 2 million messages of various kinds have been received to this point. The top five of the most sensitive issues for Russians includes growing prices, declining living standards, housing and utilities, healthcare and of course, there are many personal requests.

Tatyana Remezova:

That said, I would like to highlight a major difference from previous Direct Lines.

Most of the messages we have received are not about the present, but about the future: how will our country live in the years to come, what will its relations with other countries be like? This could be due to the fact that we are in a pre-election year, when people have more questions to their leaders, to you primarily, of course.

Dmitry Borisov:

However, before we start talking about the future, let me begin with the present.

We have been hearing many optimistic assessments of the state of the Russian economy lately. Can we say, would it be right to assume that the economic crisis is over?

Vladimir Putin:

You have started with a core question, whether the economic crisis is over. I would very much like to give an affirmative answer, thereby sending a positive signal to the people. However, in the back of your mind you cannot stop thinking that something could still go wrong, something could happen.

Nevertheless, when it comes to drawing conclusions of this kind we should be guided by objective data. What are the hard facts telling us? They are telling us that the Russian economy has overcome the recession, and moved into a growth trend. I will get back to this later to explain how this conclusion can be reached and on what data it is based.

But I would like to start by making a different point and highlighting the most pressing issues that have yet to be resolved. You mentioned them in your question, by the way. What are these issues all about? Real incomes have been declining over the last several years, and what is even more alarming is the growing number of people below the poverty line with incomes below the minimum living wage.

In this regard, Russia hit a low in the early and mid-1990s, when almost one third of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, almost 40 percent or 35 to 37 percent, according to various estimates, almost 40 million people. This was the all-time low, while the highest indicators in this respect were reported in 2012.

In 2012, 10.7 percent of the population was below the poverty line. Unfortunately, since then this number has reached 13.5 percent. It may not seem like a lot, just a few percentage points, but we are talking about tens, and hundreds of thousands of people, their lives, so this is a matter of serious concern.

There are economic issues that have still to be addressed, above all regarding real incomes. What are these issues? They have to do with the structure of the economy that we find unsatisfactory. In this connection I have to mention low labor productivity. There will be no new jobs, and incomes will not increase, unless we improve labor productivity. This is a major issue.

We will most definitely come back to these matters and I am 100 percent certain that people will have further questions and we will go into greater detail and look further at all that makes it possible for me to say now that the recession is over and we have seen economic growth for three quarters in a row now. GDP growth is modest, but it has nonetheless held steady from one quarter to the next.

GDP growth was plus 3 percent at the end of the fourth quarter of 2016, plus 5 percent in the first quarter of this year, and up 1.4 percent in April this year. This makes for GDP growth of 0.7 percent overall for the first four months of 2017.

Industrial production is also on the rise. We had growth of 0.7 percent in the first quarter of this year. I have brought along some of the latest figures, so as not to forget anything, and I can share them with you too. These are the latest statistics.

Investment into capital assets is up 2.3 percent. We see an increase in car sales and mortgage loans, which all economies consider a clear sign of growth, and non-resource and non-energy exports are up by 19 percent.

Finally, another important macroeconomic indicator is inflation, and we have brought it down to a record low in modern Russian history. The figure today is 4.2 percent. This is an unprecedented result and it gives us reason to expect that we will reach our target figure of 4 percent by the end of the year.

The Central Bank’s gold and foreign currency reserves, our international reserves, are growing. We started 2016 with $368 billion and ended the year with $378 billion. Today, the figure is $407 billion. One of the most significant indicators that I must mention is investment into capital assets, which is growing at a faster pace than the economy as a whole.

The economy grew by 0.7 percent over the first four months of this year, while investment into capital assets was up by 2.3 percent. What does this mean in simple terms? It means that investment in developing production facilities is up by 2.3 percent, and this is laying the foundations for growth in the short term. This, of course, is a positive development that will have an impact on various aspects of the social sector too.

Which aspects? The main social sector achievement that I want to mention once again is the substantial drop in infant and maternal mortality. Infant mortality has undergone a three-fold decrease since 2000, and maternal mortality has seen a close to four-fold drop. Probably no other country’s social sector has achieved such results. This has contributed to increased life expectancy as well. The figures here are now up from just over 70 years to 72 years. Overall, these results give us reason to say that we have overcome the crisis.

Tatyana Remezova:

Mr. President, you yourself spoke about people’s declining real incomes, and the official statistics confirm this. When will people feel the benefits of the reviving economy?

Vladimir Putin:

You know, the decline was rather steep, and so it will take some time before people will feel an improvement. As I said at the beginning, I consider this to be the most important and serious problem.

Real wages started increasing in July or August 2016 and increased 0.7 percent by the end of the year. This increase is rather difficult to see, although it reached 2.3 or 2.4 percent in April this year.
As you know, we made lump sum payments of 5,000 rubles to pensioners early this year and increased pensions for non-working pensioners by 5.4 percent starting from February 1 and later brought the overall figure to 5.8 percent. We have also indexed social pensions.

We are working with employers to increase the minimum wage. We increased it by over 20 percent last year and have also raised it this year. Overall, we are working at this so that people can feel the improvements.

Tatyana Remezova:

Still, many people complain about low wages. Here are many text messages and photos of wage slips. For example, a preschool teacher at Kindergarten No. 111 in Astrakhan is paid 7,935 rubles. The slip is for May 2017. Can you live on this wage?

A medical nurse at the Vostochny Space Launch Centre received 10,246 rubles in May.
“Should a firefighter risk his life for 8,000 rubles a month?” asks Alexander Melnikov, head of a fire team from the Saratov Region.

“When will postal workers’ wages be raised? You cannot live on 3,600 rubles.”

Vladimir Putin:

We will have to check the situation with salaries of 3,600 rubles to understand how this is possible. After all, there is a minimum wage in Russia, and it is more than 3,600 rubles. However, all the people you have mentioned are public sector employees who did not benefit from the wage increases under the May 2012 executive orders.

As for public sector employees who did benefit from these increases, their salaries are going up as planned, more or less. In other public sector jobs that were not covered by the May 2012 executive orders, the situation is more challenging. Their salaries were not adjusted for inflation, even though prices have gone up, and the inflation rate was quite high at 12.9 percent in 2015. Still, their wages were not adjusted for inflation. If you are telling me that this is not fair, I agree. I have raised this issue with the Government, and issued instructions to this effect. These salaries will be adjusted for inflation starting January 1, 2018.

Tatyana Remezova:

Thank you.

Dmitry Borisov:

We have received many calls on this subject. Let us ask the call center to join our conversation.
Natalya, you have the floor.

Natalya Yuryeva:

Mr. President, we have just received a call from a medical nurse in Primorye who asked how she could survive on her salary. Socioeconomic issues are always the most sensitive, and they worry Russians the most.

I also see a question on another sensitive issue, the low salaries of teachers in the regions.
Here with us, via video conference, we now have Alyona Ostaltsova from Irkutsk.
Alyona, good afternoon, you are on, you can ask your question.

Alyona Ostaltsova:

Hello, Mr. President.

Vladimir Putin:

Hello.

Alyona Ostaltsova:

My name is Alyona Ostaltsova, and I am calling from the city of Shelekhov, Irkutsk Region. The question I have is quite common. Why are teachers paid so little? I am an elementary school teacher. I have been working for one year, but my salary has never exceeded 16,500 rubles per month. I have not received the allowance young teachers are entitled to. I love my job, and I love working with children, but with a salary like this, I have no choice. How can I live on it? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin:

Alyona, you are from Irkutsk Region, is that right?

Alyona Ostaltsova:

Yes.

Vladimir Putin:

Shelekhov is probably a small town. I do not know whether your school is fully staffed. You and I know, and so do all other teachers across the country, that there is an objective to bring teachers’ salaries up to the regional average. If I am not mistaken, since I may not recall the exact figures, the average salary in Irkutsk Region is slightly above 30,000 rubles. The average salary in Irkutsk Region is above 30,000 rubles. And teachers’ salaries are even slightly higher in Irkutsk Region.

What happens in reality? The teachers’ money and the level of wages are managed by the school itself, and it determines the payroll and extra payments in addition to the salary. The school itself does this. Again, the payroll and additional payments. It is clear that young specialists, and you are a young specialist, usually make somewhat less than experienced teachers with longer service and all. It is unclear though why it is so much less, 50 or 70 percent – I do not understand this either. I hope that the region’s administration, the authorities that supervise education, will pay attention to this.

This is what I'm thinking: as I said, such a difference in income is unacceptable. Therefore, if this is happening, it would probably be reasonable to establish a minimum wage or a minimum ratio between the income level of young specialists and those who have a long record of service. We probably need to think about this.

Alyona Ostaltsova:

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin:

About 11,000 rubles, it is certainly strange. I repeat: wages should not differ so dramatically. We will deal with your specific case.

Tatyana Remezova:

Before this broadcast, we talked to people who sent in their complaints, including complaints on this issue. Indeed, the situation is very different in various regions and largely depends on who is in charge of the region.

Over the past year, many changes have taken place in the leadership of Russian regions, something that never happened before: Buryatia, Kaliningrad, Karelia, Kirov, Mari El, Novgorod, Perm, Ryazan, Sevastopol, Tver, Tula, Udmurtia, and Yaroslavl. Why? Are all the newly appointed governors coping with their duties?

Vladimir Putin:

You know, in many places the governors’ tenure in office simply ended, as many of them had worked for 10 and even more years. Frankly, it was their own idea to try working in other areas.

In other regions, we just felt that people want change, and therefore initiated the process. As to whether they are competent or not, this is primarily a question for the local people. Some of the elected regional leaders had already served for six months or a year before running for the position, so when they did, people voted for them because they knew they could trust them with managing the region, so we can say that people – the voters – believe these candidates were doing a good job. But, of course, any election, the results of any election are an upfront trust given to candidates for leadership at any level at the beginning of their work at this new high office.

Whether they succeed or not – I will return to this subject now. They have to succeed, they have everything to make it despite the fact they are relatively young. They have extensive state work and life experience; of course, you can blame it all on them – but the financial situation is not easy in the regions.

In this regard, the Federation helps for them, supports them. To solve these social issues and level wages, 40 billion rubles have been allocated in this year’s federal budget. What is more, I asked the Government to provide additional finances, and they have allocated another 10 billion rubles. Therefore, they have the support; they also have their own social programs. They have to work and achieve results.

Tatyana Remezova:

We received the following question online: ”Two weeks ago, Europe extended the anti-Russia sanctions for another year. Do you think we are ready to live under these sanctions for decades?”

Vladimir Putin:

In fact, the history of Russia shows that we have usually lived under sanctions whenever Russia started to become independent and feel strong. Whenever our partners in the world saw Russia as a serious rival, they imposed various restrictions under various excuses; this has been the case throughout our history, not just in Soviet times; this was the case even before the 1917 revolution. So no surprises here.

We now know that the US Senate has drawn up another draft law on toughening these sanctions. What are the reasons for this? Nothing extraordinary is taking place. Why have they started talking about sanctions again, for no particular reason? This, of course, testifies to the ongoing domestic political struggle in the United States. In any case, this is happening and I can see no real reason for it. If it had not been Crimea or some other issue, they would still have come up with some other way to restrain Russia. The policy of containing Russia has always been presented like this.

So, what is the situation with these sanctions and what impact, if any, have they had on us? They have had an impact. Has this been fundamental in nature? I do not think so. We have been affected more by the global situation and the drop in prices for our main traditional goods – oil, gas, metals, chemicals, and so on. What view do our partners take?

The US State Department believes that these sanctions have lowered our GDP by 1 percent, the Europeans give a slightly higher figure, and the UN has calculated that we lost around $50–52 billion, and that the countries that imposed the sanctions have lost $100 billion. In other words, sanctions have proven to be a double-edged sword and harm everyone, including those who impose them.

Strange though it might sound, however, there have been advantages too. What are they? For a start, we were forced to concentrate our intelligence, talent and resources on key areas and not simply rely on oil and gas revenue. What result has this brought? We have seen real production growth in important and complex economic sectors.

We have rebuilt substantially our skills in the radio-electronics sector, and we made good progress in aircraft engineering, rocket building, pharmaceuticals, and in heavy engineering. That is not to mention agriculture. We all know that agriculture has posted growth of around 3 percent and Russia is now a leader in exports of grain and wheat. That is the result we have to show.

We have reduced substantially imports and developed our own production of pork and poultry and cover practically our entire consumption needs. What’s more, we are now looking for sales markets abroad.

We are in talks with our Chinese friends on opening the Chinese market to our pork and poultry producers. So, there are positive aspects in this situation.

But this is not a normal situation, of course. All of these restrictions do not produce anything good, and we should work towards a global economy that functions without these restrictions.

Dmitry Borisov:

If possible, I would like to return to the issue of public opinion on the performance of regional authorities. We have been collecting questions for the past 12 days and have noticed that journalists have used some of these questions as themes for their reports, citing people’s complaints and requests. Miraculously, asphalt was laid, walls painted and building facades repaired the next day after the stories appeared on Channel One or Russia. This seems to have solved the problem, or has it?

And there is also a different trend. Tatyana Remezova can correct me if I am wrong, because this story was aired on her show. It is about people complaining over long queues in outpatient clinics while doctors say that this is not true. Then, there is the issue of pseudo-assistance, when people pretend that there is no problem, and simultaneously, the issue of the pseudo-problem, when people try to make a mountain out of a molehill.

I would like to say that we record all these cases. Mr. President, we will forward the list of issues that have been allegedly resolved and also pseudo-problems to you and the Presidential Executive Office.
Vladimir Putin: It looks as though holding this event once a year is useful after all. Those who were sitting on their hands will do something good, like build a road or settle matters with healthcare or social facilities. But these are only separate elements. What matters for me is the ability to gauge the public mood, to see what worries people most, the whole range of issues. Of course, it is impossible to answer every question. It would be unrealistic to even try. But we can answer some of them today – I can do this with your help. And this will help us – me, the Government and the Presidential Executive Office – to see the main, and I would even say the most glaring issues, which we must deal with as a priority. I would like to thank our television audience, and those who sent their requests online, for taking part in this work.

Tatyana Remezova:

I know that the subject of sanctions has found a response among the guests in this studio.
Olga Pautova has the floor.

Olga Pautova:

Mr. President, there are many agribusiness representatives in this room. They are more concerned with our response to the sanctions and the related import replacement.

Standing next to me is Sergei Korolev, head of the National Vegetable Union. He says the past three years have taught our farmers to grow delicious and, most importantly, wholesome tomatoes and cucumbers.

Mr. Korolev, do we have productive harvests?

Sergei Korolev:

We are growing by about 20–30 percent a year.

Mr. President, you mentioned the sanctions earlier. We see the measures introduced against Russia as a gift and an additional tool to support our agro-industrial sector. The retaliatory measures that were introduced have produced an effect.

Vegetable production is growing at a rate unprecedented both in the Soviet Union and in recent history. I can tell you that we grew by 50 percent over the year when the retaliatory measures were introduced. We have invested 150 billion rubles in vegetable farming. You mentioned these figures today – 150 billion over a short period – [as an example] of growing investment. This is without a precedent. More than 10,000 new jobs have been created. And we are certainly ready to continue this work.

But all of us are concerned with the following issue. The US Senate adopted a decision yesterday, and Europe declared that their sanctions would be extended and even expanded. Will we extend our counter-sanctions in response to the West’s decisions?

And a second question: When, God forbid, their sanctions are called off, can we hope for your support in protecting the domestic market, as was the case with Turkish tomatoes, for which Russian vegetable growers owe you a special thanks?

Vladimir Putin:

This is not a peripheral question, since it is relevant to the whole country. Why? Two years ago, as you and I know all too well, vegetable and fruit production was the most challenging issue. Prices jumped which could not help but affect household incomes. In fact, we blocked or substantially reduced imports, but were unable to meet the needs of Russian consumers on our own. We did everything we could, and I will not go through the whole list of initiatives we undertook. You know them better than I do, and I hope that you have benefited from them. These initiatives were aimed at helping our producers expand vegetable and fruit production, primarily vegetables. Two years ago, the inflation rate reached 12.9 percent, and vegetable and fruit prices were one of the main reasons behind this surge, although there were other reasons that also pushed the inflation rate up.

What we believed was that Russian agricultural producers, meat producers and those growing fruit and vegetables, needed to expand their operations to such an extent as to be able to satisfy domestic demand. You have been successful at this, and I would like to thank you. Not only you, but all those who live in rural areas.

The inflation rate is now at just 4.1 percent. This is a tangible result that benefits the entire industry. After all, almost one third of the country’s population lives on agriculture, if we include the rural population working in social services. This is a very positive development. You were right to say that your products have superior quality.

The Government has extended the sanctions until the end of 2017, to December 31. We will see how our relations evolve with the countries that imposed these restrictions on the Russian economy.

As for the question of keeping the restrictions in place indefinitely, if our partners lift the sanctions they imposed on us, we will have to do the same. Otherwise, Russia will face issues in the WTO. What I want to say is, first, we need to promote competition on the domestic market so that it benefits consumers, including those who live in major cities. Secondly, we very much hope that you will succeed in expanding your operations and enhancing your competitiveness, and we are doing everything we can to help you succeed. If you reach the same level of quality and labor productivity as your competitors, you will always have an advantage on the domestic market due to lower logistics costs. For this reason, we are providing indirect support, which is not prohibited under WTO rules. As a matter of fact, there are many loopholes that can be used, and we will continue to do so. However, you should not expect any massive, direct, or, should I say, aggressive support measures from us. Now is the time when you have to do everything it takes in order to become competitive in the near term.

Tatyana Remezova:

Let’s cross to the call center and hear a telephone call. Maria, you have the floor.

Maria Gladkikh:

Yes, thank you.

Mr. President, many people call about issues that they have been attempting to resolve at the local level for a long time. Finally, when they get desperate, they turn to you in a bid to get something done quicker. We have a call now from Trans-Baikal Territory.

Hello, you are on air. Please introduce yourself.

Natalya Kalinina:

Hello,

Mr. President, I am Natalya Kalinina, a resident of Olovyanninsky District, Trans-Baikal Territory. My village, Shiviya, was burned down entirely on April 29, 2015. I remain homeless to this date.

We were offered housing, but it was unfit for habitation. I have a small child and am a single mother. I have turned to all possible levels of authority, but have received no response anywhere. Our district officials have taken no action at all.

My daughter is set to begin school this year, but we have no place of residence registration. We are living in an old abandoned house. Mr. President, please help us to obtain a decent place to live.
Thank you very much. God bless you.

Vladimir Putin:

Ms. Kalinina, please stay on the line. Which region are you in?

Natalya Kalinina:

Olovyanninsky District, Trans-Baikal Territory.

Vladimir Putin:

Trans-Baikal Territory? This is strange.

Yes, Trans-Baikal Territory was indeed hit by fires in the summer of 2015, and we disbursed in full federal money for providing the fire victims with new housing.

I do not remember the exact figure now, but I think it was a bit over half a billion rubles that we allocated, including over 300 million for resolving these housing problems, and this money was to have been spent on either buying housing or on building new homes for families such Ms. Kalinina’s.
The region has a new governor, true, she arrived only in 2016. I will ask her to look into this situation and will also ask the prosecutor’s office to investigate where the money went and how it was spent. Whatever the case, we will resolve your problem. This is the state authorities’ duty. We promised to provide everyone affected by the fires with housing, and we will do this.

Dmitry Borisov:

Maria, what are the updates? How many calls per minute is the call center receiving? How busy is the line?

Maria Gladkikh:

Of course, Dmitry, I can give you the updates. But first, I would like to show you how questions for the Direct Line are taken. Our operators fill in forms for every caller with their name, gender, age, occupation and, of course, their question.

For example, here we have a form for Ella Pavskina from Moscow Region who asked a question about kindergarten waiting lists. Every minute we receive 106 SMS and MMS messages. Our operators take around 127 calls per minute. The line’s maximum capacity is up to 456 calls.

Right now, we have a call from Ivan Tarkin in Vladivostok. Good evening to you, since it is already evening in your city. You are on. Please ask your question.

Ivan Tarkin:

Mr. President, this is Ivan Tarkin from the free city of Vladivostok.

Mr. President, can you explain what is going on with the One Hectare program? Mockery is the only word that describes it. You have to spend months on the website to register your plot and nothing happens, the website crashes all the time.

By the skin of my teeth, I managed to get a cadastral number, print the contract, sign it and submit it to the Vladivostok Land Committee, last February.

Since then, I have not been able to get it back for ever new reasons. A hundred years ago, Stolypin with his primitive tools never made such mistakes. Why is that?

Vladimir Putin: The Stolypin reference is appropriate here, of course. Do not forget that there were also so-called Stolypin trains that people were forced onto, and so-called Stolypin ties, which were nothing but gallows. But it is true; we must remember all the positive things that Stolypin did for our country. This is why there is a monument to him outside the Government House in Moscow. We do not have a death penalty now as you know, although sometimes, you know what I mean.

As concerns the hectare program: first of all, the program is going fairly well overall. I will speak about this in a minute. Primorye Territory is struggling with it the most, I will explain why.

Last February, we made a decision that any Russian citizen who wants to move to the Far East will be given one hectare.

The number of applications rose immediately. There are 92,000 applications now. Even the system that was designed to process them has glitches. About 27,000 of the 92,000 applications have been granted, which is more than a third. This is the first thing.

The second. In the European part of Russia, it takes up to three years to obtain a land plot, as disappointing as this sounds, while in the Far East it takes a little over two months to get this one hectare.

Your case is, of course, discouraging. What could be the matter is beyond my knowledge, but we will certainly try to help you. I am sure that the relevant ministers in the region are listening, as is Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev. They will certainly respond.

What is the problem? The problem is that they do not have a proper cadastral register. This is their first problem.

The second problem is that too much land belongs to official agencies, like the Defence Ministry, the Academy of Sciences and all the departments involved in environmental protection. And so we have one figure on paper and a different one in reality. You have been issued a cadastral number, but when you started checking the data you found a disparity, and now you need to settle it with various departments.

I will try helping you in this. I will try helping my colleagues, the governors, coordinate these issues so that nobody else has these problems. I am sure that you will receive your hectare of land. Good luck.

Tatyana Remezova:

We do receive many complaints from the Far East about the allocation of land under the One Hectare program. At the same time, people from other regions demand to know when this program will be spread around Russia. Vasily Denisov from the town of Blagoi in the Tver Region wonders if the One Hectare program will also be applied in other regions, which must surely have unused land too.

Vladimir Putin:

There is enough unused land in Russia. For example, over 43 million hectares of farmland is not being used for its intended purpose. This is a huge amount.

But first we need to complete the experiment in the Far East. As you can see, there are some problems, such as the one we heard about on the phone, although the situation is mostly favorable. In other words, we first need to test this process in the Far East. And we also need to settle the problem of cadastral registers.

Overall, I believe that the person who asked this question is right, and we do need to make use of this land. However, we should do it carefully so as not to create a secondary market for the land we allocate under the One Hectare program because our people are very creative, you know: they can take several hectares first, then there will emerge a secondary market, and we end up with those hectares being resold many times without any tillage. Although the corresponding law says it all. This land is not being allocated as property. The land holders must show good result during the first five years, after which they will be able to receive either a long-term lease for this land or appropriate it. But they may not sell it to foreigners. In short, we need to test every detail of this program in the Far East. But overall, it is the right idea.

Tatyana Remezova:

Thank you.

Dmitry Borisov:

This year, the call center editors, and all of us working on the Direct Line, selected a number of questions not only to let a person ask it live over the phone, or to record a video message, but to immediately send a film crew to the scene to see with our own eyes, through the eyes of our colleagues, what is happening there, on site. The first such place is Balashikha, outside Moscow. Our colleague Dmitry Kaistro is there now.

Dmitry Kaistro:

Hello!

It is raining today and visibility is not great, but giant rubbish heaps are clearly visible in the heart of this neighborhood of Balashikha. This dump has been here for more than 50 years, poisoning everything around it, and rubbish trucks bring more all the time, day and night. This dump is even visible from outer space – it takes up about 50 hectares and is closing in on the surrounding houses.
We have worked here for several days, but when we arrived at the landfill, strong young people emerged wearing “environmentalist” T-shirts with ‘Environmental Control’ written on them. They showed us some kind of facility for processing rubbish, even decorated with balloons in the colors of the Russian flag – it looked like some proactive move. This was a perfect illustration of the place and the disaster that has rallied tens of thousands of people here. We did not even have to ask – people came to us to talk about the burning matter and ask their questions.

Yelena Mikhailenko:

Hello!

We live here in the neighborhood of Kuchino, in Balashikha, and some of us are from Olgino and Pavlino. The situation here is terrible, simply unbearable in fact. There is a huge landfill, the biggest in Moscow Region, within our town, just 200 metres from residential areas, kindergartens and clinics, and only 20 kilometres from the Kremlin. This is a violation of Federal Law No. 89.

Fires occur on the landfill daily; it is impossible to breathe, and there is a constant release of gases, methanethiol and sulphur dioxide. They become converted to hydrogen sulphide, and we breathe it. Many suffer from nausea and vomiting, all the time. It is unbearable.

We have appealed to many government agencies at various levels, receiving only formal and noncommittal replies; we have it all documented. We do not know what to do. This is not only our problem; it is a problem for the whole country. We do not know what to do in this situation. Turning to you is our last hope.

Vladimir Putin:

This is a very sensitive and complicated issue. I know full well what you are talking about. I have seen this waste disposal site. As the reporter said, it has been there for 50 years. By the way, I see that you are standing by a building that was clearly built less than 50 years ago. Someone did decide to build housing near a waste disposal site that has been there for 50 years. So let’s not forget the people who took the decision to build residential buildings in this area. The dump has been there for 50 years. Nevertheless, we have what we have, and it is our duty to respond. Of course, we are aware of the problem. There is special urgency to deal with it in the Moscow Region, Tatarstan, Tula and a number of other regions.

What measures will be taken? First, a decision was made to build recycling plants. Four of them will be erected in the project’s initial phase, and three of them will be located in the Moscow Region. By the way, advanced Japanese technology will be used, provided by Hitachi, if I am not mistaken, and the Rostec Corporation will be in charge of building these units. This should be done as quickly as possible. This is the first point.

The second point is that 5 billion rubles were allocated from the federal budget, which is a substantial amount, to resolve the most pressing issues we are currently facing in this area. This is clearly your case. I will ask the Governor of the Moscow Region and the federal Government to use these allocations to resolve the most pressing issues like the one you are facing. I hope that this will be done.

The law on waste management was adopted quite a while ago, but its enactment has been delayed time and again. I think now it is expected to come into force on January 1, 2019. Why was it rolled back? Because manufacturers have to pay recycling fees under the law, so during the crisis, manufacturers asked us to postpone these fees in order to lessen the burden on the economy. This is the first thing I wanted to say about this law.

Secondly, with regard to individuals, this law stipulates that certain environmental fees must be paid by individuals as well. However, the effect of paying these fees will not be visible right away, because it is first necessary to build something using these funds, after which the effect will become visible. All this time we had doubts: will the people understand this, and should it be done at all? I want to ask everyone who will engage in this work or is already engaged: the people will certainly understand if they see where the money is going, and to make sure they do, we need public oversight in place.

By the way, I would like to thank Russian Popular Front, which created the corresponding map. Hundreds of people are already working on this as they identify the most critical issues. With regard to Balashikha, we will look into this issue separately and try to fix it. I can understand perfectly the critical importance of this problem. It has been building up over decades. We will try to fix it as soon as possible.

Dmitry Borisov:

By the way, Balashikha is one of the places I was talking about. We were choosing locations in the regions for these reports and these questions arrived on every one of the 12 days that we were taking messages from different regions. We chose Balashikha, and went there. You can see everything and get a good sense of what is going on.

Vladimir Putin:

Well, of course. People are standing there, and it stinks to high heaven.

Dmitry Borisov:

Unfortunately, the screen cannot convey the smell. You just saw what Dmitry Kaistro showed us. It looks like they have spruced things up a little, and built some kind of a line there in one day. However, we have a photo taken the day before. I just want to show it to you, if I may.

This is modern-day Balashikha, the picture was taken yesterday. In a matter of one day, the balloons suddenly appeared. It looks like the matter is being addressed. They are saying there is no problem whatsoever.

Tatyana Remezova:

We now have Irkutsk Region online. Lake Baikal and its biggest island, Olkhon Island. Our colleague Pavel Zarubin joins us from there.

Pavel Zarubin:

Hello, Moscow! Olkhon Island sits in the middle of Lake Baikal. Look how beautiful it is here. Shamanka Rock is one of the main attractions of the lake.

Later, we will see that almost all trees here are covered with beautiful ribbons, as, according to local legends, Shamanka Rock and Cape Burkhan are believed to be a special sacred place, a place of worship.

Of course, many tourists come to the Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. Just imagine that 10 years ago there was no electricity in Khuzhir, from which we are broadcasting now, while now this town with a population of 1,500 has two or three thousand tourists every day in the summer – every single day!

The Yordynsky Games have begun in the Olkhon District. The games are a beautiful ethnic and cultural festival. Let’s take a few seconds to watch and listen.

Foreign tourists flock here to see the festival by the thousands; there are so many of them around! But the locals have complained that they live as if in a reservation.

The Russian nature conservation legislation was seriously tightened several years ago. The water conservation zone of Lake Baikal has been expanded inland by dozens of kilometers, and locals say that they will be unable to do anything here if they comply with the law.

They say that it is a major problem. Nearly all the residents of this town have said so, but Viktor was especially expressive.

Viktor, over to you.

Viktor Vlasov:

Good afternoon, Mr. President.

Let us begin with the road. The road from the ferry to Khuzhir is so bad that it is almost non-existent. Many people come here by car, and these are expensive cars, and so people drive off from the road, trampling vegetation so that it will take a decade for grass to grow here again.

Nobody takes care of this road. The last time the road was filled was 10 or 15 years ago. Local and regional officials always fly in by helicopter, and so they do not see the road and do not know what it means to drive on a road on which vehicles easily turn upside down.

Pavel Zarubin:

Indeed, the regional bosses arrived here by helicopter an hour ago. There it is, the helicopter, you can see it.

Viktor Vlasov:

A few words about the water. We live on water. Look how much water there is all around us, but we get our drinking water from wells. It is incredibly bad! You fill a three-liter kettle and think that it is full of water, but it turns out there is a layer of hard water build-up two fingers thick in the kettle. Our drinking water is not filtered, and they cannot even build a good water tower.

Pavel Zarubin:

As I understand it, you cannot build a road there, or can you?

Viktor Vlasov:

No, we cannot build a road because the law prohibits quarrying on the island. Quarrying is allowed only on the mainland. But it would be impossible to transport all the materials by ferry, which runs strictly on schedule.

Pavel Zarubin:

So, is it also because of this law that you cannot build a road?

Viktor Vlasov:

When the Baikal National Park was established, a reserve was set up on our island. When we met at the club with the representatives, they promised us the moon and said that no one was going to infringe on our rights and nothing bad would happen.

In reality, everything happened: we are not allowed into the forest, not allowed into the fields, and things have reached a point where even our cattle are arrested and we are told that if we let this happen again, our cattle will be shot.

Vladimir Putin:

We were in Balashikha only recently and we saw there the conditions in which people are living. This is the result of the fact that environmental norms were ignored at one point and people built housing in places where this should not have been done.

We certainly must resolve this situation now. I would like to get back, because what I have seen made an impression and we must do everything possible to help Balashikha and help the people living there.

Your situation is the other side of the coin, but these are two sides of the same matter. You said that environmental norms and legal provisions were toughened, but these territories are no doubt protected by our international obligations as well.

What can I say here? Of course, everything should be within reasonable limits. The protected water reservoir zone that you speak of should conform to Baikal’s status and significance and meet the needs and demands of the people living in the area.

Of course, we cannot force people to carry buckets and cans of water for several kilometers. Water quality should be guaranteed and roads should be built. We must amend the current regulations and laws in such a way as to allow for economic activity, coordinated with the environmental organizations, in order to ensure normal and civilized conditions for the people living in these areas.

We need to make amendments to these laws. I have taken note of the matter. We will work together with you. I will say again that together with the environmental organizations we should do everything to ensure that things stay within reasonable limits. This is definitely necessary work.

I do not think this will have any negative impact on our commitments to international organizations. These organizations make people the primary focus of their work, so why should we not do the same? I see no reason not to. We will address this problem.

Tatyana Remezova:

Thank you, Olkhon.

We received many questions from young mothers. This is why we went to a perinatal center that has recently opened in the Republic of Bashkortostan, where our colleague Ivan Prozorov is working.

Ivan Prozorov:

Colleagues, good afternoon,

We are in the Mother and Child clinic, a state-of-the-art multi-purpose center, where high-technology surgery is performed, including under government quotas.

Of course, the main purpose of this center is obvious from its name, Mother and Child. We are now in a ward for newborns, where mothers take care of their babies. By the way, we know that this mother and her child are about to leave the clinic. They will be home in a matter of hours.

This child was born less than two days ago. Both the mother and the child feel great, which should be credited among others to Ruslan Garifullin, who is an obstetrician-gynecologist. He has been working at this center since its first day.

More than 2,000 babies were born here in almost three years. Doctor Garifullin submitted a written question to Direct Line, and now he can ask it himself.

Doctor Garifullin, go ahead.

Ruslan Garifullin:

Good afternoon, Mr. President.

I am an obstetrician-gynecologist, and have been working in maternity centers for 15 years. During my career, I had a chance…

Ivan Prozorov:

Excuse me, my colleague is telling me that behind us you can see a ward where a young father has just entered with a newborn. Is that right?

Ruslan Garifullin:

Yes, his child was born only a few moments ago.

Ivan Prozorov:

Sorry for improvising. We knew that the operation was underway, but did not expect it to happen when we would be live.

Hello, you may not believe it, but this is Direct Line with Vladimir Putin. Millions of people can now see you. Congratulations on behalf of all of them. This is an incredible moment. What is your name, and how do you feel?

Artyom Sukharev:

Hello, my name is Artyom Sukharev. This is actually my second child. He was born only 20 minutes ago, and I got to hold him right away. My wife is still in the intensive-care ward, while I get to know my child.

Ivan Prozorov:

Were you nervous just as with your first child? Or was it less dramatic?

Artyom Sukharev:

You know, I was less nervous, although there were still a lot of emotions.

Ivan Prozorov:

Is it a boy or a girl?

Artyom Sukharev:

It’s a boy. This is the second boy in the family.

Ivan Prozorov:

Great, congratulations! What is his weight and height?

Artyom Sukharev:

He is 3.8 kilograms and 54 centimeters long.

Ivan Prozorov:

Have you chosen a name?

Artyom Sukharev:

Yes, his name will be Mikhail.

Ivan Prozorov:

Amazing. Can you show us the baby? Is he sound asleep right now?

Artyom Sukharev:

No, he is trying to open his eyes. Everything is interesting for him.

Ivan Prozorov:

Thank you, and once again congratulations. Please send our well-wishes to your spouse. We will not disturb you any longer. Thank you, and congratulations.

(Applause)

We are returning to the question. Ruslan, I am sorry we were interrupted. Can you repeat your question?

Ruslan Garifullin:

This was a good reason for interrupting, great news. I will continue.

Mr. President, here it goes. Over the 15 years of my career, I have seen the birth rate both in decline and on the rise, the latter in the past seven or eight years. However, right now we are actually afraid that the birth rate will begin to drop again as a backwash of the birth rate drop in the 90s. There are literally fewer women these days who are ready to have children.

In this regard, my question is, will the maternity capital program, which expires in 2018, be extended? And will it cover the birth of a third child and further children?

Also, our new mothers are certainly concerned with the child allowance they receive once the child turns 18 months. At the moment they get paid a pathetic 50 rubles. It think it is a measly amount. Will anything change?

Vladimir Putin:

First, I would like to congratulate Mikhail and his parents on his birth and the boy himself on coming into this world. It is a wonderful event for his family. We wish the parents and the child the best of luck and happiness.

Now to the demographics. Indeed, we have done a lot to turn the demographic trends towards stable growth. We have achieved a very positive result.

The birth rate in Russia is growing faster than across Europe. When I say that, many of my counterparts are surprised and honestly happy for us. Now, what I want to say about the trends is the following.

Russia suffered the biggest loss in terms of population and demographic development during the Great Patriotic War in 1943 and 1944. In 1943, the birth rate fell by 60 percent compared to the pre-war years.

During that time, fewer than one million children were born in Russia, in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In the 1990s, also due to difficult events, we had 1.2 million children borne, which is similar to the demographic loss during the war. The drop was around 50 percent.

Surely, we must take into account that the second case was also a repercussion of the Great Patriotic War to an extent, added to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the social welfare system, the drop in the quality of life, and massive unemployment. All these factors together resulted in a catastrophic birth rate decline, and it comes back every 25 years.

First the war, then every 25 years, and in the mid-90s the collapse of the Soviet Union and everything it entailed affected the picture. Eventually, we almost fell back to the level of the Great Patriotic War.
And what do we have as a result? The number of young people, primarily women of childbearing age, as professionals say, has plummeted. The generation that was born in the 1990s has entered this age.

The number of young women aged between 20 and 29 has decreased by 34 percent and the number of women aged up to 38 or 39 has dropped by 25 percent. Women aged between 30 and 40 continue to have children, and these are healthy kids. We should be grateful to medical advances for this. But still, the decline is tremendous. The number of people who can become parents has decreased.

We must do something to prevent the demographic gap from becoming wider still. What can we do? First, we have a number of tried and tested systems. You have mentioned one of them – maternity capital. By the way, over 7 million families, over 7 million mothers have received maternity capital, and nearly half of them have used it. This is our first achievement.

Second, allocations for a third child have been introduced in the regions with an unfavorable demographic situation. As a result, the birth rate has increased by 37 percent there. Yes, we have achieved the desired result. Our measures are effective, although they are also expensive. But we are talking about our people, our citizens, and our future. We must analyze all aspects of the problem very carefully. Of course, we must not squander funds, but neither should we be stingy with them. Therefore, we need a set of various measures, such as the extension of the maternity capital program as it exists or in a new form.

We must think about encouraging young women to have their first babies, probably by allocating funds to them. Why so much attention to young mothers? Because they are still young, and so we should help them by giving them a start in life. We must also think about encouraging older mothers, that is, mothers aged 30 or more, to have their second and third children.

We have resolved the problem of kindergartens for children aged between three to seven. It is a major achievement of our social policy in the past year. As far as I know, there are places for 89 percent of children in this age group in kindergartens. But we do not have enough day nurseries.

We must have nurseries for young mothers who do not wish to interrupt their careers or would like to have one. We need a program and a package of measures. I can tell you that we have plans for a government meeting to discuss this issue. I will not speak here about the measures we will discuss, but they are on the agenda.

Tatyana Remezova:

Thank you, Ufa, and congratulations on the birth of a new citizen of Russia. It is a wonderful event. While we were answering your question, we received a question from Tatyana Prokopenko in Kabardino-Balkaria. She is asking about your grandchildren. How old are they, and what are their names?

Vladimir Putin:

You know, my children, my daughters, despite all the rumors, live here in Russia, in Moscow. I have grandchildren and they live a normal life too. My daughters are involved in science and education and they stay out of the public eye, out of politics and live normal, everyday lives. As for my grandchildren, one of them is already in kindergarten.

The thing is, you see, I do not want them to grow up like some royal princes. I want them to live like ordinary people, and for this, they need to have a normal environment and ordinary interaction with other children. The minute I give their names and ages, they would be identified immediately and would never be left in peace, and this would be quite simply detrimental to their development. Therefore, everything is fine, and I ask you to understand me correctly and show understanding for this position of mine.

Tatyana Remezova:

We understand you and we congratulate you on being a grandfather.

Vladimir Putin:

Thank you. My second grandchild was born recently.

Tatyana Remezova:

Congratulations!

Dmitry Borisov:

You said that the maternity capital program should be expanded. We have received many messages from mothers in the regions asking for the new law to allow them to spend the maternity capital on purchasing a car, which is often an essential thing for large families.

Vladimir Putin:

Yes, there have been frequent discussions on the possibilities of spending the maternity capital, which today comes to slightly more than 450,000 rubles. The maternity capital was not indexed over the last couple of years, the last three years even. This is something we must do and we will come back to this.

As for whether this money could be put towards other purposes, this is something we can reflect on. The only thing that has always worried me is that the money will be simply wasted and the mother, family and children will not receive the benefits of this state effort. This money is destined above all for improving housing conditions. Yes, this money is probably not enough to buy housing, but it can help towards buying it. Young families can also join one of the regional programs for supporting young families and spend the money through these programs. Alternatively, it can be spent on health or education. These are the main priorities.

Given the main issue people face today – the drop in incomes – we could perhaps take the simple approach of making it possible for part of the maternity capital to be given directly to the family, only part of it, to support families with two or more children. Perhaps this would be more effective than allowing people to spend it on something that is not a priority and then see it wasted, possibly the item being sold, and even at a loss. Perhaps it would be better to let people have part of the money in today’s circumstances. We will reflect on this.

Dmitry Borisov:

Still, maternity capital is a lot of money – 450,000. But child benefits, as they report from various regions, are paltry: 183 rubles or 200 rubles.

Vladimir Putin:

I am sorry. One of our colleagues, a doctor, has already asked a question about benefits. Yes, they are small. Indeed, they are, but we had a choice: either to increase the benefits or keep maternity capital. We opted for keeping maternal capital. It is a major financial commitment for the government, but it is a more effective tool. Still, we need to think about benefits, too.

Dmitry Borisov:

I would like our guests in the studio to join in the conversation. Nailya Asker-zade. Please go ahead.

Nailya Asker-zade: There are representatives of small and medium-sized businesses among our guests, and they complain about problems with financing. One of the business leaders here, Alexander Kychakov from Novosibirsk, develops residential neighborhoods.

Mr. Kychakov, your question please.

Alexander Kychakov:

Hello, Mr. President!

The business community is often confronted with one and the same problem: although banks declare interest rates of 11–12 percent, the actual rate in our particular case reaches almost 19 percent – 18.75 – through additional mark-ups and charges required to open credit lines, to maintain limits, or to meet restrictions. With such rates, as I mentioned, we will not be able to build a new economy, and unfortunately, business is unlikely to be as profitable as we would have liked. I would like to ask a question. My colleagues will confirm: we just sat here and talked with Maxim, who owns an equipment-making business. I would like to know: do your ministers report to you on the real state of affairs with the financing of small and medium-sized businesses, and whether the Government plans to do anything with the level of interest rates and take steps towards solving the problem of ensuring growth and access to financing.

Vladimir Putin:

Excuse me, what is your name?

Alexander Kychakov:

Alexander Kychakov.

Vladimir Putin:

Alexander, this, of course, is one of the key problems – the interest rates and the availability of loans. We have the head of the Higher School of Economics here, who would probably explain this to you, even more professionally than I would, especially since he is close to the Governor of the Central Bank.

Why does this happen? Of course, the interest rate always corresponds to the level of economic development. This is one of the key things that affects the country’s macroeconomic stability. We had to act based on inflation, which surged to 12.9 percent. The Central Bank was forced to raise this rate, otherwise it would have sent the economy tumbling, but it is reducing the rate gradually, as you know, it is now 12.5, and the rates of commercial banks are also falling. True, the Central Bank promised us that this year the volume of financing from commercial banks will be increased to around 6 percent.

What is happening today? Today, the average weighted rate for corporate borrowers is 11.5 percent. Small businesses probably have to pay a higher interest rate, 11.5 percent is the average figure. Incidentally, regarding this and other subjects we will be discussing, I would like to apologize right away to people who say, “What does the average weighted indicator mean for us? This is like calculating the mean temperature of hospital patients. Some people have bigger loans or lower incomes, and few are what you call average.” We need some kind of reference point. What does an average weighted interest rate mean to us? Clients whom the banks view as reliable, stable, transparent and with a good credit history can borrow at even lower rates, while at-risk borrowers can take out loans only at a higher interest rate. As I have already said, we are talking about an average interest rate of 11.5 percent for corporate borrowers and 15.5 percent for individuals. Nevertheless, mortgage lending is on the rise, through all the initiatives to facilitate lending.

I very much hope that the Central Bank continues to move cautiously towards reducing the key interest rate.

Why has the Central Bank adopted such a cautious approach? Unfortunately, the Russian economy still depends on oil and gas. The price of natural gas depends on the price of oil, and a special formula is used to calculate it. The price of oil has recently exceeded $50, and today it is only $48, I think. The Central Bank believes that if it declines, the key interest rate would have to be adjusted. What matters most for us right now is not the key interest rate itself, but avoiding any sharp fluctuations in the key interest rate. We need to ensure a stable exchange rate for our national currency, the ruble. This is what underpins the Central Bank’s cautious approach. Some may like it, others may not. I am simply trying to explain the Central Bank’s logic. It deserves respect.

There is no doubt that small businesses should be supported. I will not go through all the mechanisms we have in place for supporting SMEs, you probably know them, and these mechanisms should be further improved.

We also have to create incentives for the banking sector to act more aggressively. One thing to keep in mind is that profits of private banks are on the rise and have exceeded 650 billion, which is a substantial figure. At the same time, this kind of growth does not translate into more lending. In fact, corporate lending has increased by only 0.7 percent. The rise in consumer lending was somewhat more pronounced, but this is not enough. We have to work together and be cautious so as not to shake up the macroeconomic landscape. This is the foundation of Russia’s financial system and its entire economy.

Tatyana Remezova:

Let us hear from the call center. Maria Gladkikh.

Maria Gladkikh:

Thank you.

Mr. President, the geography of calls is all over the map. We get many calls from the CIS and beyond. Our editors are telling me we have a call from Kiev.

Dmitry, please ask your question.

Question:

Good afternoon. My name is Dmitry, and I live in Ukraine.

Why did you abandon us? Not everybody in Ukraine supports Bandera and Shukhevych. We honor the memory of our ancestors. We march with the Immortal Regiment. Why does Russian television smear us all with one color?

Vladimir Putin:

Thank you very much for your views and for valuing our shared history. You just mentioned the Immortal Regiment. We do see and appreciate that, believe me. And I cannot agree with you that Russian television smears everybody with the same color, black.

Overall, we make sure not to paint anyone black. But we are cautious about giving you excessive public support, which could actually harm you. We try not to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
Once again, trust me, we can and do highly appreciate your stance. Thank you for your call.

Tatyana Remezova:

Mr. President, what do your friends say on this topic? For example, Viktor Medvedchuk, who was actively involved in the exchange of POWs in Donbass?

Vladimir Putin:

You know that we have many allies in Ukraine. You just mentioned Viktor Medvedchuk. I met him when he was Chief of Staff of President Kuchma’s Administration. He mainly cooperated with Dmitry Medvedev, who was Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office. They are still on very good terms.

Medvedvchuk has his own beliefs. My opinion is that he is a Ukrainian nationalist but he does not like this description. He considers himself to be an enlightened Ukrainian patriot. It is not a secret that his father was an active member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and was convicted by the Soviet court, went to prison and then was exiled to the Krasnoyarsk Territory, where Medvedvchuk himself was later born.

He has his own views on Ukraine’s independence. He is, of course, an ardent supporter of Ukraine’s independence but his belief system is based on fundamental treatises of those whom we can hypothetically describe as Ukrainian nationalists and who wrote their treatises in the 19th century and later on. These are Grushevsky, Franko, Dragomanov and the like. Then comes the man of our time, Chernovol.

All of them – I would like to emphasize that all of them proceeded from the premise that Ukraine should be independent but as a federal state. Moreover, one of them wrote that excessive, “mechanical” centralization, as he put it, would lead to internal conflicts in Ukraine and this is, actually, what we are witnessing today.

But Viktor Medvedchuk is upholding their view; he is doing this on-the-record in his public speeches and papers. He is involved in scholarly studies. He writes articles and he does all this publicly. Probably, some people in Ukraine do not like this but such is his position.

Incidentally, these fundamentalists of Ukraine’s independence and Ukrainian nationalism – some of them did not see Crimea as part of Ukraine at all, but this is apropos. At any rate, all of them favored federalization, greater freedom of the individual and democratic development of the Ukrainian state.

Mr. Medvedchuk shares this viewpoint but that said, he stands for very good relations with Russia, for economic integration, if not for some form of union. He says it is absurd to destroy the advantages we inherited from the past, referring to the common infrastructure, common energy grid and common financial and technological potentials and cooperation. It is absurd to destroy all this.

He believes economic cooperation is not only possible but also rational. He is acting or rather formulating his ideas proceeding from the interests of his people, the way he sees them. So he is not alone.

We have just heard from Kiev or from Ukraine anyway, from a man who told us that he is taking part in campaigns linked with our common memory. Such people as Medvedchuk are also doing this. He also thinks we should cherish our common past and all the positive events of the past.

Yes, he is involved in the exchange of detainees, prisoners of war, if we could call them that, and he is doing this on instructions from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Dmitry Borisov:

We have a follow-up to the Ukraine theme.

Here is a question that came through VKontakte social network. “Ukraine widely celebrated the beginning of visa-free travel with Europe. President Poroshenko referred to this as bidding the final farewell to the Russian Empire. After that, he quoted Mikhail Lermontov’s poem, “Forever you, the unwashed Russia! The land of slaves, the land of lords …”

Would you like to answer him?

Vladimir Putin:

No, I did not see his remarks on this account. However, I was told about them yesterday, I will not hide this fact. Indeed, Mr. Poroshenko thought it fit to read this excerpt from Lermontov’s poem, “Forever you, the unwashed Russia! The land of slaves the land of lords, and you, the blue-uniformed ushers, and people who worship them as gods.” First, this tells us that he is familiar with the Russian classical literature, and takes an interest in it. I commend him for that. However, this is not the end of this poem. There is the second part, which runs as follows: “I hope, from your tyrannical hounds to save me with Caucasian wall, from their eye that sees through ground, from their ears that hear all.”

Mikhail Lermontov was a forward-looking man, and he wanted the political situation in Russia to improve. He was smothered by the atmosphere that prevailed in Russia at that time. And he talked about it openly.

First, if it was Mikhail Lermontov who wrote this poem, he wrote it approximately in 1841–1842, if memory serves, when he was headed for the Caucasus to join the active army. He was an officer and defended the interests of his homeland. He was a brave officer.

Further, at that point, the regions that are considered Ukraine today were Russia’s regions, and if the President of today's Ukraine quotes Lermontov as saying that he is leaving for some other place, Lermontov referred to entire Russia, including the areas that today are known as Ukraine. So, there is nothing special to brag about here.

Also, Lermontov was going to the Caucasus, which was part of the Russian Empire at that time. He moved from one part of the empire, St Petersburg, his native land, to another part of the Russian Empire. He was not going anywhere outside of Russia as a matter of fact.

Perhaps, Mr. Poroshenko is thus sending us a message that he is not going anywhere, either. However, he does it so finely, looking over his shoulder at the jingoists and the real nationalists, numbskulls running around waving swastikas. However, he is telling us: guys, I have my interests in Russia, and I am really not going anywhere. This may be the case as well.

Of course, this is nothing but conjecture. In fact, most likely, Mr. Poroshenko wanted to show his voters that he is delivering on his promise by making a civilizational choice, as the Ukrainian leadership puts it, by leading the country towards Europe.

By the way, remember the line, “the blue-uniformed ushers, and people who worship them as gods?” The place he is taking Ukraine to has more blue uniforms than our country. So, he should stay alert to keep out of harm’s way and look around carefully.

To be sure, we have nothing against these guys. I want to say: we have nothing against you, live in peace and harmony, and good luck to you, especially with new recruits.

As for the core of the matter, you know that incomes fell here a few years back, and this is something we speak about frankly. Our average wage, if we put it in dollars rather than convert between rubles and hryvnia, was around $540 a month. Wages in Ukraine were similar, with an average of somewhere in the range of $450, $457, or $460. Wages here have not grown much, but they have grown, and the average was $624 a month in April this year, while in Ukraine, they have dropped to $251 a month.

At the same time, gas prices have at least tripled, and households are paying even higher prices. Cold and hot water costs have also risen, by 200 percent each, and pensions have decreased by 45 percent. If this situation continues, many people in Ukraine will face sanitation and hygiene issues.

Who gets to wash, where, and how often will become a big issue. Of course, Russian and Ukrainian literature both offer memorable and blunt examples that I could use to respond to Mr. Poroshenko, but I will not do this out of respect for the Ukrainian people and for our common history and common faith.

If someone wants to become a European, they should first close their offshore accounts and then talk about the good of their people. In this respect, one quote comes to mind. I cannot quote it exactly, word for word, but I can convey the message.

Close to 170 years ago, Taras Shevchenko said, “Ukraine has fought to the point where it suffers more at the hands of its own children than it ever did at the hands of the Poles”. I hope that this period in the life of Ukraine and its people will end.

Tatyana Remezova:

We have a question from the Stavropol Territory. One of our crews went to the author of this question in Krasnokumskoye, a village that was badly damaged by the May floods this year. We have our colleague Mikhail Akinchenko there.

Mikhail Akinchenko:

Good afternoon.

The weather has created many problems for people in the Stavropol Territory. Even today we have been bothered by rain. Of course, it is much lighter than the showers that hit the region in late May and resulted in the worst floods in 50 years. Krasnokumskoye was one village that was badly affected. The overflowing Kuma River flooded some 400 buildings and household plots.

Locals recorded the flood on their smart phones. You can see what happened at the site where we are now. It was flooded for about three days, and the water was about a meter deep or even more. Three weeks later, many people still cannot return to their houses. They are damp and the walls are cracked, so it is unsafe to live in them or even go inside, like this house. The owner, Valentina Sokovskaya, called Direct Line to ask a question. Valentina, what are you doing now?

Valentina Sokovskaya:

I am putting away the children’s stuff because it will get more damp and smelly if I leave it here. I will move it to save at least some of it.

Mikhail Akinchenko:

Valentina, I know that you have been promised financial assistance for repairing this house or for buying a new one. I see that you are not doing anything yet. Why? You can share your problem with the President, who can see and hear you. Tell him.

Valentina Sokovskaya:

Hello, Mr. President. There is not much to tell. I have not received any money from the government. The walls are cracking, the ceiling is shifting, and the plaster is crumbling. The house has cracked on all sides.

We are waiting for the inspection commission; we cannot do anything until it comes. But the commission will not come until we pay an architectural fee of 6,000 rubles. Also, we must pay 1,800 rubles for certificates to prove that we have nowhere to live. But there are four owners in this house, which we bought with maternity capital, and the total we have to pay is high, about 15,000 rubles. We don’t know what to do. We are living with friends, and we have sent our children elsewhere. I have three children, but I only have the youngest with me. My daughter is in a health camp and my son is with my relatives. But I don’t know how long this can last. It’s good that it’s summer and we have friends, but what will we do in the autumn and winter? Frankly, we are at a loss.

Vladimir Putin:

I see.

Valentina Sokovskaya:

We hope that maybe you will be able to help us in one way or another.

Vladimir Putin:

Excuse me, what was your first name?

Valentina Sokovskaya:

Valentina.

Vladimir Putin:

Valentina, what you have just said is very strange. I simply cannot get my head around it. Can I ask you whether you received the 10,000-ruble allocation and 50,000 rubles for partial loss of property?

Valentina Sokovskaya:

No, we have not received anything so far.

Vladimir Putin:

Nothing at all?

Valentina Sokovskaya:

I am not the only one in this situation. There was no aid.

Vladimir Putin:

This is very strange, since the funds for helping the affected families were transferred from the federal budget to Stavropol Territory. I would like to ask the Governor of Stavropol Territory, where did the money go? This is the first thing.

Secondly, I would like to ask the Prosecutor General’s Office to check how the work is proceeding.
Thirdly, the fact that you are asked to pay fees to architectural agencies or for receiving certificates of some kind is total nonsense.

You are entitled to 10,000 rubles for your immediate needs, another 50,000 rubles for partially lost property, and 100,000 rubles for unrecoverable property. The municipal, city and regional authorities must deliver all the relevant certificates free of charge, without shifting the burden on to you. We have decided on these allocations of 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 rubles in order to help people, and did not intend to get the money back by charging people for certificates. This is complete nonsense. Be assured that we will look into this.

Valentina Sokovskaya:

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin:

I hope that the Governor visits you as soon as today.

Valentina Sokovskaya:

We hope so too.

Vladimir Putin:

He should look into this situation.

Tatyana Remezova:

Thank you very much. We will wait for a response.

We are now travelling from the Stavropol Territory to Rostov-on-Don. Our colleague Anton Vernitsky is reporting from outside the new Platov Airport.

Anton Vernitsky: Platov Airport, which is currently under construction 30 kilometers from Rostov-on-Don, was named after Matvei Platov, a prominent chieftain of the Don Cossack Army and hero of the 1812 war. The airport is 90 percent completed and will receive its first flight in December.

Why is this project unique for Russia? While other Russian airports were upgraded or restructured, this airport was built from scratch. Only three years ago, there was nothing here. Now there is a facility that can receive up to 5 million passengers a year. It is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. Nine jet bridges. Those who saw the old Rostov-on-Don airport where our crew arrived will notice the difference immediately. The old airport does not even compare to this.

Why are we here? Almost 3,000 construction workers and engineers are working here on a daily basis. Alexander Serov is a future member of the staff. He will be receiving passengers. For now, he works at the old airport. He sent his question to Direct Line, and we called him away from his work and invited him here to ask his question to the President in person.

Please, go ahead.

Alexander Serov:

Good afternoon, Mr. President.

Before I ask my question, I would like to invite you to the opening of Platov Airport next December. We really hope that the completion of such an ambitious and perhaps unique project will not go unnoticed by you.

Now, let me ask you a question. My colleagues, my friends, a large number of passengers and I cannot fly directly between Russian cities. The itineraries require transit via Moscow airports. Passengers have to make a stopover in Moscow and lose precious time or instead travel by train or by car. Are there plans to expand the domestic flight network to connect our regions directly?

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin:

Alexander, you have raised one of the most urgent issues both as regards transport accessibility and preserving the unity of our territory. Our people must have the opportunity to move within regions not via capital cities. You are absolutely right.

However, regrettably, this network collapsed completely here in the 1990s and early 2000s. As you know, for several years we have been working to restore it and put it on an entirely different footing. However, distances in the Far East and Eastern Siberia, where this issue is particularly urgent, are great while the population is not big enough to fill up large airliners. So the economics of interregional flights is difficult. Everything has to be subsidized. But we have set up, I think, seven public enterprises to organize interregional domestic flights. This is the first point. They are operating and I am hoping we will expand their activities and number to other regions of the Russian Federation. This is the first part.

The second is the expansion of the airport system, the number of airports. I think we have 230 or 232 airports in all, and a whole program to develop the airport network. We will continue working on it and funding it.

The third matter is the availability of adequate equipment because, let me repeat, even if you build an airport… By the way, we will have an absolutely new airport that will be built from the ground up in the open country for the first time in Russia’s recent history. Importantly, it is being built using the latest methods and technology. This is vital for transport infrastructure both at the national and regional levels.

However, for a flight from Rostov to Sochi, for example, neither a Boeing nor Il-96 could be filled up. We need small planes and they must be of different haul – those that cover 400–500 km, 1,000–1,500 km or from 2,000 to 4,500 km. We are now localizing the production of small modern aircraft that have earned a good reputation with a view to producing them in Russia.

We also want to bring back a slightly bigger aircraft – the Il-114, I think. Regrettably, the Government did not find the money and I will reprimand them for this. They did not find the funds to develop this aircraft that is critical for us, considering our vast territory.

Nevertheless, we found an opportunity and earmarked several dozen billion from Rosneftegaz for the relevant program designed for several years. This aircraft will be manufactured at a modern facility in the Moscow suburbs and I hope very much that everything will be done on time. In any event, I am almost certain that we will make it. At any rate, we know about this and will continue working to fulfil this extremely important task.

Tatyana Remezova:

Thank you, Rostov.

Now let us give the floor to our guests again. Olga Ushakova's section, please.

Olga Ushakova:

Thank you.

Mr. President, we have representatives of the creative intelligentsia here today, our favorite actors, directors, who certainly have questions for you, things they want to ask.

I would like to give the floor to Sergei Bezrukov, National Artist of the Russian Federation and artistic director of the Moscow Gubernsky (Provincial) Theatre. Please go ahead.

Sergei Bezrukov:

Good afternoon, Mr. President!

First, I would like to thank you for your work on children's issues. On May 29, you signed the Executive Order On the Decade of Childhood. We are grateful for this, and for the support of children's theatres. We have discussed this at the forum in Omsk. Thank you so much. I hope that it will be annual, because they do need support.

So, the question that really worries us, my colleagues and me, I cannot help but ask it. Something monstrous is happening, as I see it, with regard to Alexei Uchitel’s film – I am sitting next to him, but I will take it upon myself to explain – the film Matilda.

At first, we thought it was a joke. But then, when checks and inspections began, when people who have not even seen it tried to ban it…

Also there was the Gogol Centre and the incident with Kirill Serebrennikov. Kirill’s place was searched, then the theatre, and in no time rumors started about attacks on freedom of speech, freedom of artistic expression, freedom of creativity.

Who needs this? Certainly not you. But it looks like someone is trying to create negative feelings toward the authorities among cultural figures. I would like to hear your opinion on this matter.
Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: We have a big and complicated country, with many people with various views, various points of view, various assessments. There used to be many films featuring the imperial family in former times, I mean they concerned, in one way or another, the imperial family, Rasputin and so on.
There was a lot of that. Those films were much more hard-edged, I would say, than what your neighbor did, Mr. Uchitel. I know him personally, and respect him as a person who is very patriotic, for all I know about his views, and who does very talented things. But I would not like to interfere in his dispute with State Duma deputy Poklonskaya. She also has the right to her point of view.

You said that they are trying to ban the film. No one is trying to ban it. She has a stance, she is trying to defend that stance by appealing to various authorities, but no prohibitive decisions have been made on this matter, as you know.

I am really counting on continued open dialogue in our society, but I urge everyone to maintain dialogue within the bounds of decency and, most importantly, within the framework of the law.
Mr. Uchitel wants to say something. Yes, please.

Alexei Uchitel:

I will not criticize or praise anyone.

Mr. President, the absurdity is that – well, one certainly can express their point of view, when they see something. But when I saw Ms. Poklonskaya on June 12, I invited her to see the film. She refused. This is what I see as absurd.

I would think that the Duma has, for example, a Committee on Culture headed by the amazing director, Stanislav Govorukhin, where they could deal with this issue. But sending … Why waste government money on sending the Prosecutor's Office, the Treasury, the Accounts Chamber to inspect us first? They all do the same thing. We show the document that everything has already been checked and everything is in order, and they are doing the same thing.

I would say incitement to this is unacceptable.

Vladimir Putin:

Yes.

Dmitry Borisov:

Natalia Yuryeva is ready to join us.

Natalia Yuryeva:

Thank you colleagues.

This year, for the first time in real time we can see how social network users are reacting to our program.

NTV launched the hashtag #watching the line a few days before the program, and we now have 120,000 messages. Another 365 messages have come in as I was speaking.

People say that the internet audience does not watch TV, but we see here that this is just an opinion and nothing more. The most active users live in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod Region, and Krasnoyarsk Territory.

Let us see now on the screen the post that drew the biggest number of likes. Here it is: Krasnoyarsk residents are waiting to be resettled from khrushchyovki [Khrushchev-era 5-storey apartment blocks]. If Muscovites oppose the plan, try the experiment on us. Hashtag #watching the line.
I suggest we now take a video question that has come to the call center.

This is a video call via the OK Live service. Hello, you are on. Please put your question to the President.

Question:

Hello, Mr President.

I have a category-one disability. My name is Klavdiya and I live in Orel. Could you tell me please why those entitled to federal benefits in this area are not receiving their medicines in full? Why are we forced to fight for our medical provisions in courts? For six months now, I have not been receiving the medicines I need: Cinacalcet, paracalcitol, and mircera.

Vladimir Putin:

I heard your question. This is odd to me too, because the federal authorities have ensured full funding for the acquisition of these medicines. There could be some problems related to delayed purchases and delays in…

Remark: I have appealed repeatedly to Vadim Potomsky and Alexander Lyalyukhin, but I am always told that under Federal Law 422, federal beneficiaries will again receive 707 rubles and 22 kopecks and they cannot provide us with the full range of medicines for this money.

Vladimir Putin:

We will look into what they can and cannot provide. There are some medicines and some illnesses, the so-called orphan diseases, which I know for certain receive federal funding and are covered in full. Let me say again that there can be glitches due to delays in holding tenders and purchasing these medicines. But there should be enough money for all of these medicines. I promise – the main thing is to remember where you are, I understand that you are in Orel –we will definitely look into this situation.

Remark: Thank you very much.

Can I ask another question?

Vladimir Putin:

Go ahead.

Question:

Mr. President, could you please enact a law so that patients can be transported for haemodialysis from their homes and back?

Vladimir Putin:

I remember that this issue was raised last year, including the possibility for providing this treatment at home.

As for transporting patients, I have to be honest that this is the first time that this issue has been put to me this way. I promise you that we will definitely look into it. We will also think about the transport issue. Of course, this will require additional spending, but this is a very sensitive topic and a very important thing for people who are suffering from diseases of this kind. Be assured that we will look into this and do our best to find solutions.

Remark: Thank you very much. It was a great pleasure and honor for me to be able to talk to you.

Vladimir Putin:

Thank you, Klavdiya, for this call.

Dmitry Borisov:

I would like to thank the call center.

And now we are live at the Baltic Shipyard in St Petersburg with our reporter Dmitry Vitov.

Dmitry Vitov:

We are at the Baltic Shipyard’s outfitting quay, where the construction of a unique vessel, the Arctic nuclear icebreaker, is about to be completed. It will be a successor to the legendary Soviet icebreaker which was the first surface ship to reach the North Pole in 1970s. This new icebreaker was floated out last year, and the nuclear reactor has already been installed.

Mr. Ryzhov, as you were telling me, what is its overall propulsion power?

Yury Ryzhov: The icebreaker’s overall propulsion power is 60 MW.

Dmitry Vitov: So the foreign newspapers are right when they call it the biggest and the most powerful icebreaker in the world?

Yury Ryzhov: This is the largest and the most powerful icebreaker in the world with the highest icebreaking capability.

Dmitry Vitov: Mr. Ryzhov works in the shipbuilding department. I hope that you will not take it as an offence if I call you an elder of this plant. How many years have you been working here?

Yury Ryzhov: I am one of the oldest employees here. I have been working at this plant for about 50 years.

Dmitry Vitov: The history of the Baltic Shipyard goes back 160 years. Your career lasted one third of its history.

Mr. Ryzhov has told me that the Baltic Shipyard has always been regarded as a unique experimental facility. It built the first metal ships and the first Russian submarine a hundred years ago. It also built gunboats and battleships. It did not stop working during the Great Patriotic War, when it built barges for the Road of Life. In the 1990s, which was yet another difficult period in Russian history, the shipyard built heavy nuclear-powered missile cruisers such as the Pyotr Veliky, which are serving in the navy.

The people I have talked with told me that the most difficult time in the shipyard’s history was the early 2000s, when private owners almost bankrupted the shipyard, because they only wanted the land on which it stands on Vasilyevsky Island in the center of St. Petersburg. They probably wanted to build luxury housing or malls here. But the government has saved the shipyard. Right?

Yury Ryzhov:

Yes, you are right. The early 2000s was probably the most difficult time for the plant and its personnel. The number of people working at the plant dropped from 12,000 at the best of times to 3,000. The shipyard stopped building high-tech nuclear-powered battleships and only turned out unpowered bulk oil barges. The situation is improving now, thanks to the state and the President. We have a thick portfolio of state contracts until 2021.

Dmitry Vitov:

Mr. Ryzhov, you can ask the President your question.

Yury Ryzhov:

Good afternoon, Mr. President.

Vladimir Putin:

Good afternoon.

Yury Ryzhov:

I have a question from the Baltic Shipyard staff and myself. What will happen to the plant? What could we do in light of the Government’s Arctic development plans and Arctic projects? Will you use the shipyard’s rich, unique experience of building nuclear-powered vessels? Do you have modernization, construction or further development plans for the plant? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin:

The Baltic Shipyard is a flagship of our shipbuilding industry. You just spoke about the history of the shipyard. I know about the difficulties the plant faced in the 1990s and the early 2000s. When I worked in St Petersburg, we tried to support it and make sure it got orders. By the way, we managed to keep the plant going, and it was also helpful for the Navy. Those rough attempts to privatize the Baltic Shipyard are, thank God, in the past. I am talking about rough and fraudulent schemes.

Nowadays, the United Shipbuilding Corporation is growing, and the shipyard is developing. And it will keep developing. We saw you near the new Arctic nuclear icebreaker. Our plan is to build four icebreakers of this class. I think you know about this. The first one is the Arctic; then there will be the Sibir and the Ural. They all have a high power of 60 MW. By 2025, another icebreaker class will be developed, even more powerful, twice as powerful as those that I just mentioned, one of which you are finishing. The new class will have a power of 120 MW. If the first class breaks ice up to three meters thick, the Lider will be able to deal with unlimited amounts, any thickness. All this is due to the latest technology which the Baltic Shipyard is mastering very fast thanks to its prior experience and the opportunities of modern developments.

Therefore, what can I say? We have included the necessary funds in the budgets. The prospects for the Lider are more distant and the funding options are not yet clear, but I am certain we can accomplish this.

I want to point out that nuclear icebreakers of this class are not built anywhere else in the world. Russia has them because we need to operate in the Arctic. As you said, we need to establish ourselves there, and we will do it. There will be plenty of work for the shipyard. I am certain the plant will not only retain its team but also expand it. I wish you all the best.

Tatyana Remezova:

Mr. President, I have a question coming from the website of our program: why are we so focused on the Arctic? For the past 20 years, no one spoke about it, and today we see Arctic troops even at the Victory Day parade. A lot of money is spent on the Arctic. Why is this being done?

Vladimir Putin:

While we are on this subject, what else can I say? I have already started talking about this. The Arctic is an extremely important region, which will ensure the future of our country. Mikhail Lomonosov once famously said that Russia would expand through Siberia. I can say with confidence that Russia’s power and capabilities will expand as we develop the Arctic region.

As I mentioned at a meeting held in the Arctic, by 2050 about 30 percent of all hydrocarbons will be produced in the Arctic area. Some of our major projects are already being implemented there with NOVATEK building a plant, a company town, an airfield, and a port in the Arctic zone. Production has already begun in the Arctic.

Therefore, from an economic point of view, this is critically important. Especially so if the climate is going to change. Despite a cold spell in Moscow, the global warming trend will continue, meaning that the navigation period in the Arctic zone will get longer. In turn, this means that the Northern Sea Route will be used much more actively than now. The navigation period will go from the current one or two months to four and even five months.

The so-called non-regional powers are showing an active interest in this region. That is a good thing, and we are willing to cooperate with them, but we must ensure our priority interests.

I went to Franz Josef Land recently. The people who work there told me that many tourists go there, including those from other countries, and some tour guides have already told tourists that these islands used to be part of the Soviet Union.

This should put us on alert, as it is our territory. So, we need to ensure the use of these routes, develop our economic activity in these areas, and ensure our sovereignty over these territories. Let us not forget about the purely military aspect of the matter: it is an extremely important region from the point of view of ensuring our country's defense capability.

I do not want to stoke any fears here, but experts are aware that US nuclear submarines remain on duty in northern Norway, the time it takes a missile to reach Moscow is 15 minutes, and we need to have a clear idea of what is happening there. We must protect this shore accordingly, and ensure proper border guarding.

On top of everything, from the point of view of strategic weapons, the flight route of the ground-based missiles located in the United States passes precisely above the North Pole. I hope it will never come to that, but since we are aware of it, we just need to make sure that the missile warning system and the missile launch control system are in place.

This is what the Arctic means to us. We had not engaged in this work before not because it is unimportant, but because we were unable to afford it. We just let it go, as, unfortunately, we did many other things that are critically important for our country. Now we are back to it, I hope, for good.

Dmitry Borisov:

We can now go back to St Petersburg so that you can ask a second question.

Dmitry Vitov:

We have been able to get a glimpse of people working at the plant. These are incredible people. Not everyone would be able to work in these conditions.

For example, welder Alexei Bogdanov has been telling me that while you can learn the welding profession elsewhere, it is only here that shipyard welders work, on the building berths and the outfitting quay.

Apart from professional matters, local workers, just like St Petersburg residents in general, have questions on broader issues. Ivan Brattsev is a worker who builds icebreakers. Ivan, you have a question. Go ahead.

Ivan Brattsev:

Good afternoon, Mr. President.

We work in the Baltic Shipyard, where we build the most powerful and the largest icebreakers in the world. However, my question is not related to industrial matters. Many residents of this wonderful city, myself included, are eager to hear your personal perspective on the future of St Isaac's Cathedral.

As someone who was born and grew up in St Petersburg, do you think that it would be right for the city to keep the cathedral and preserve it as a museum and an architectural landmark or transfer it to the Russian Orthodox Church?

Vladimir Putin:

I did not expect this question, especially from the Baltic Shipyard.
What I can say is that Russia is a secular state. This is the way it was created, and it will stay this way. This is my first point.

Second, after the October Revolution, the state went to great lengths to destroy our spiritual and religious roots, and was unwavering and cruel in pursuing this objective. Many churches were razed to the ground.

Back then the state attempted to come up with a quasi-religion and replace the Bible with the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism. It did not work. Many cathedrals were demolished; many priests perished, were killed, sent to camps or executed by firing squads.

And the traces of what happened back then are all around us. Here in Moscow, not far from where we now are, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was razed to the ground. It was not uncommon for churches to be used as stables or workshops. Thank God St Isaac’s Cathedral was spared.

You know, of course I looked into this issue. It is true that this cathedral never belonged to the Church. Throughout its history it was operated by the state. However, the Tsar used to be the head of the Church, so if we see it this way, the Church did own the building. It was built as a cathedral, as a church, not a museum. It was intended for worship, for people to pray there.

And what did they do there in the Soviet days? They set up Foucault’s pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. In fact, it was a museum of atheism, a quasi museum of atheism. In a sense, it was a subtle mockery of people’s religious feelings. However, hundreds of thousands, millions of people, including foreigners, visit it. There is no getting away from this fact.

So yes, we have a law passed, I believe, in 2010 on the transfer of religious buildings to religious organizations, and we are supposed to enforce it. At the same time, we have international obligations and other laws that ban the transfer of architectural landmarks under UNESCO protection. There are some disagreements, but I believe we can easily overcome them if we ensure both museum activity and the exercise of religious beliefs. I do not want to jump ahead of myself, but such solutions have been found in other countries. Say, St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican – people go there and there are guided tours.

Therefore, it is important to depoliticize this problem, to stop thinking about it as such, to respect people’s religious feelings and never forget that this building and structure was built as a church, not as a museum. Nevertheless, it should retain its function as a museum, of course.

How can these interrelations be fostered? As a matter of fact, it is not so difficult. Simply, there should be no agitation, no exploitation of this issue. People should not be provoked and used as a tool in some petty internal political squabbling.

Dmitry Borisov:

The call center again, Maria Gladkikh.

Maria Gladkikh:

Yes, colleagues, our statistics show that women are more active: 62 percent of those who have called are representatives of the fair sex. And now an urgent question from Svetlana Romanova in Chelyabinsk.

Good afternoon, you are on. We can hear you.

Svetlana Romanova:

Good afternoon, Mr. President,

I have a vegetable plot. I have been using it since 1981. A cottage was built there. No construction regulations were violated. A natural gas pipeline is more than 100 meters away from the plot.
In 2014, a bylaw was passed extending the exclusion zone from 100 meters to 150. As a result, many vegetable gardeners received a court summons and were ordered to tear down their houses without compensation. Is that legal? Will there be a law to protect us?

To be continued...

Link: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/54790

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