This week President Putin answered questions from Russians across the country for 2 hours and 54 minutes. Citizens submitted their questions via e-mail, radio, television studios, and cell phone text messages. People had a chance to ask questions live from across the country, starting in Russia's Far East and continuing to Western Russia, with Russians also participating in the program from outside the country. Putin addressed different issues - Russia's low birth rate, abuses in the army, North Korea's recent nuclear test, and whether he would run for a third term.
Putin once again insisted that he had no intention of amending the Constitution to permit a third term in office. However, Putin also hinted that he planned to continue playing some role in Russian public life, "Even when I no longer have governing power and the levers of presidential rule, I think that without adjusting the fundamental law to my personal interests, I will be able to keep the most important thing that anyone engaged in politics should cherish: that is, your trust. And using that, together we will be able to influence life in our country so as to guarantee its progress and exert influence on what is happening in Russia."
Putin with the former German Chancellor
Russia Blog reported in March 2006 that President Putin planned to resign and name a successor before his term of office ends on December 2, 2007. Most Western analysts speculate that his choice will be either First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev or Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and have speculated that Putin will join former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at Gazprom.
Transcript of the Hot Line with President of Russia Vladimir Putin
original transcript on Kremlin.ru
October 25, 2006,
Moscow, Baltiisk, Bryansk, Irkutsk, Kaspiisk, Kondopoga, Naberezhniye Chelny, Nakhodka, Tver, and the village of Podgorodnyaya Pokrovka in Orenburg Region
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Good afternoon, this is a live broadcast by Channel One and Russia television channel of the Hot Line with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
SERGEI BRILYOV: The broadcast is being hosted by Yekaterina Andreyeva.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: And Sergei Brilyov.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Good afternoon once again. We are here in the Kremlin and we will be linking up with cities and towns across the country. Our mobile television centres have been set up in ten different locations across the nation. Incidentally, four of them are located by a sea or a lake.
People in these places can put their questions live to the President.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: You can also put your question to the President by calling 8 dial tone 800 200 40 40. Calls are free from anywhere in the country.
We are also taking SMS messages via our special centre, and the number here is 04040. Messages are free for all mobile phone operators.
And so, here, live from the Kremlin, is the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.
SERGEI BRILYOV: While we get the equipment ready, I would just like to add that we also have a special Moscow number for our compatriots living abroad -- 645 10 10. Please don't forget to first dial the country code for Russia -- 7 -- and the code for Moscow -- 495.
And in addition to all of this, Internet users can put their questions to the President via the special site -- presidentline.ru.
It seems that everything is ready now and we can begin.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Good afternoon once again, Vladimir Vladimirovich. We have already established a sort of tradition during these Hot Line broadcasts in that we, the hosts, ask the first question, which is about what has been achieved over the last year and what still needs to be done.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The success or failure of any country in the modern world depends above all on what happens in the economy, and one of the most important indicators of the economy's state of health is the economic growth rate.
Here, I will have to repeat some things that I have said already on various occasions. I remind you that our economy has been growing at a rate of around seven percent a year more or less over these last years. This year, the growth rate currently stands at 6.6 percent. Is this a lot or a little? The growth rate in Europe is around 1-1.5 percent a year, in the United States it is closer to 3 percent, and in the Asian countries it is around 10 percent. Overall then, we are somewhere in the middle. But if we look back at the problems our economy faced five, seven or eight years ago, we have to recognise that this is a good growth rate for our economy. That is the first point.
Second, we are managing to bring down inflation, not as fast as we would like, but it is coming down, and this is also very important. I am sure that this issue will come up over the course of today's discussion, because rising prices, inflation, have an impact on social issues, on housing and other issues that are very sensitive for our people.
We reached an important milestone this August when we paid off practically in full the foreign debts accumulated by the Soviet Union and by Russia in the early 1990s. This is a sign of our economy's health and it raises confidence in Russia. We are now free of debt and this means that our debt to GDP ratio is one of the best in Europe. Investment in basic capital is growing at a rate of 11 percent and we have also seen a considerable increase in foreign investment with figures up 41.9 percent for the first three quarters of this year.
This general improvement is making it possible for us to tackle and resolve social problems. I do not want to overload viewers with figures, but people's real incomes rose by around 11 percent, if we deduct inflation, and wages were up by 12.8 percent. Pensions rose by 6.1 percent in real terms. There are, however, some problems I must also point out.
First, we have noted a slowdown in industrial output growth, which has been decreasing over recent years. The current figure is 4.2 percent. This is partly due to a reduction in natural resources production, a reduction in the growth rate in the natural resources production sector.
Second, I mentioned real incomes. Wages have risen by 12.8 percent, but labour productivity, which is one of the most important indicators of economic development and the quality of economic growth, has risen by only 6 percent. This is not good. We need to pay attention to both these points given that when people's purchasing power increases and economic actors have greater possibilities and financial opportunities, imports begin to rise and this impedes the development of our own industries. But overall, I would say that we can be happy with the way the country has developed, the way the economy is developing.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Let's begin the 'direct' part of the Hot Line then and move onto the questions from around the country. Katya, which is the first town we will be going to today?
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: We have a linkup now with Nakhodka in the Far East, where our correspondent, Yevgeny Popov, is working. Yevgeny, go ahead please with the questions for the President.
YEVGENY POPOV: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich, good afternoon, Yekaterina and Sergei.
It's midday in Moscow but here, seven time zones away, it is already evening in Nakhodka, a city that fully lives up to its name as Russia's eastern maritime gateway to Asia.
People wanting to ask the President a question have gathered here on the main square. Let's get straight on with the questions then. Who wants to go first? How about you?
VLADIMIR LUSHPAI: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. My name is Vladimir Lushpai and I'm an intercity bus driver. There's been talk for a long time about building a road to link the Far East to the rest of the country, but the road still isn't there. My relatives live in Kazakhstan and I would like to drive from Nakhodka to Kazakhstan in my car to visit them, but there's no road, and without a road, there's no unified country. Can you tell us when the road will be built?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The correspondent working in Nakhodka noted that when it's morning in Moscow, it's already evening in the Far East, and that just illustrates what a vast territory our country has. Incidentally, they call Japan the land of the rising sun, but New Zealand is even farther east than Japan, and even farther east than New Zealand is our region of Chukotka. To be precise then, it is Russia that is the land of the rising sun.
Now, to get to the substance of your question, we are putting considerable sums of money into road construction, but this is still not enough, just as the state is still not paying enough attention to this issue. Infrastructure limitations in general, be they in the energy sector, in aviation, port facilities, in river and railway transport, are all becoming serious factors limiting the country's economic growth. We will therefore give these issues greater attention, and not just in the Far East. We have made it a priority today to expand transport capacity on export and import routes, mainly in the northwest, through Kaliningrad Region, Leningrad Region, St Petersburg, with its access to Scandinavia. This also includes the Don Highway, linking Moscow and Novorossiisk, and also Dzhubga in Sochi, because the roads between our southern cities are also not in the best condition today.
Then there is the road you mention, the Chita-Khabarovsk highway. At 1,800 kilometres long it is no small road. It will be built in several stages, two stages to be precise, and this work has already begun. First of all, an unsealed road will be built by the end of 2007. I don't want to get my road terminology wrong, I'm sure you know it better than I, but the first stage will see the completion of this unsealed road, and then it will be sealed with asphalt by 2010. Financing is stable for the project and I have no doubt that it will be completed.
Overall, we are increasing funds for road construction. Last year and this year, around 100 billion roubles were allocated for road construction, but this will increase next year to 130 billion, plus various subsidies that come to around 65 billion. Overall, we will be spending around 200 billion roubles on road construction next year.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Yevgeny, we have time for another question for the President.
YEVGENY POPOV: Alright, let's take someone from the other side, yes, you, please, go ahead.
Y. MILOVANOVA (President of Nadezhda environmental foundation): Vladimir Vladimirovich, it is good that you personally intervened in the route for the new oil pipeline along Lake Baikal. Checks are currently being carried out into companies in our neighbouring region of Sakhalin, including into foreign companies. But Russian oil and gas companies also have their share of environmental problems. I'm thinking here of the recent television reports on fish stranding on Sakhalin. My question is: who will take responsibility for our nature, the greatest of our riches?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: All countries, both industrialised countries and developing economies, face the challenge of ensuring development while at the same time preserving the environment, and are always trying to strike a balance between the two. As far as we are concerned, we have always placed paramount importance on environmental protection and will continue to do so.
You mentioned the project to build a new oil pipeline network to link Siberia to the Pacific coast. I must say that this is no easy task in technical terms and it will not be cheap. I don't know if you have heard these figures before but the change in the pipeline route will cost us an additional $1 billion. The change in route will also take the pipeline closer to the oilfields, however, and the oil companies will thus be able to save on auxiliary routes. Overall, the costs are not so huge, and we will preserve Lake Baikal, which is a priceless resource and our national treasure.
The same goes for our work in other areas. And this applies equally to foreign companies and Russian companies. The environmental agencies, together with the support of the environmental protection NGOs (and I think we are all allies in this work) will be very thorough in monitoring compliance with the legislation in force.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Yevgeny, let's have another question.
YEVGENY POPOV: Yes, go ahead, please.
VIKTOR BUKHALSKY: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon.
VIKTOR BUKHALSKY: Viktor Andreyevich Bukhalsky. Just recently, North Korea conducted a nuclear test. This happened right next door to us and we don't like this. What are we going to do now?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I understand and fully share your concern. You no doubt heard our reaction immediately following this nuclear test. We think this was an unacceptable act, and not only because it damages our relations with North Korea or because the test took place in close proximity to our border, only 177 kilometres away. It is lucky that the winds blow in such a way as to carry everything off out to sea there and not over our territory. We have been monitoring the environmental situation there and will continue to do so very thoroughly. We have the national monitoring equipment we need to do this. But we have to try to understand together why this event took place. I think that one of the reasons was that not all the participants in the negotiating process were able to find the right tone in holding these negotiations. It's important never to drive anyone into a corner, never to put one of the parties to the negotiations in a position from where there is no exit except to escalate the situation. The exit from the situation we are in now is to return to the six-party talks with Russia, China, and other countries, including the United States and North Korea itself. We have heard that North Korea has signalled now that it is ready to return to the negotiating table if it can obtain guarantees for its national security and development of its civilian nuclear programme. I think that with the good will of all the parties to the negotiations, we will be able to find a solution.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Thank you Yevgeny, and thank you to the people of Nakhodka for taking part today in the Hot Line with the Russian President. Sergei, let's move on.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Yevgeny is himself from the Far East, though he has spent the last few years working in Ukraine. Now we have someone else from the Far East, Maxim Kiselyov, who will present Irkutsk. We have a linkup with Irkutsk and with our correspondent, Maxim Kiselyov. Maxim, the floor is yours.
MAXIM KISELYOV: Good evening, and we say evening, because it is already going on for six p.m. here. We're here on the banks of the Angara River, where a statue of Alexander III has his gaze fixed on the east of Russia, but we're all looking to the west right now and are ready to put our questions from Siberia. Let's start right here, I'm sure you have a question.
YEVGENY YELOVSKY: Good afternoon, I'm Yelovsky, Yevgeny Lvovich. Vladimir Vladimirovich, I am a former civil aviation pilot and spent 30 years flying. My colleagues and I are worried today about the flight safety issue. Flight safety means having modern aircraft and qualified, professionally trained flight crews. My son is now a captain and flies the same planes that I flew when I was young, that is, planes that are already 30 years old. In 1990, our flight training schools had around 600-700 graduates a year, but now there are only 70-80 graduates a year. The average age of pilots in 1990 was 28-29 (in civil aviation), while now it is 40-42. This raises the question, when our aircraft manufacturers begin producing good modern aircraft, who will fly them for us? Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is a very serious issue and it is a problem that worries not only professionals but is of concern to practically everyone in Russia, given that the number of flights is increasing. For a huge country like ours aviation and airports are obviously a priority and I fully agree with you on this. I also agree that we do have serious problems in this regard. It's not by chance that a question about flight safety comes from your city. We remember the terrible disaster that killed so many people in Irkutsk. So, what can we do to address the problem?
First of all, the plane crash in Irkutsk was most likely not due to the state of our aviation sector. The disaster involved a French-made aircraft equipped with an American engine. The plane had served only two thirds of its service life and is a type of aircraft used not only by our airlines but by foreign airlines too. The plane still had plenty of flying time left and had undergone all the necessary service and maintenance procedures according to schedule. I won't go into all the details of this disaster now because the specialists still have to identify the actual cause of the accident: a technical problem or human error. Let's leave it to the experts to say the final word and deliver the verdict. What's needed in your region, of course, is a new airport. The regional government has lengthened the runway and made the airport safer, but overall, the best thing would be to build a new airport. Airports are one of the priority areas in infrastructure development. We spent only around two billion roubles on airports in 2004 (1.9 million), but next year we are allocating more than 20 billion to airport development.
Regarding your region, if we build a new airport, it should be built in a completely different location and should serve several cities at once: Irkutsk, Angarsk and perhaps some other towns as well. In other words, there should be joint funding of the project. Around 15 billion will be needed from the federal budget. You can see the difference when you compare the figures. We are allocating a total of 20 billion for airport development next year, but building just one airport in one region already requires 15 billion, true, this would be spread out over 4-5 years. We would also need to attract private investment, at least for the airport terminal itself, and we would need to attract money from the region in order to develop the surrounding infrastructure, the roads and so on.
The government has not taken this decision yet but I am sure that it should. We cannot skimp on flight safety and we simply must develop our infrastructure.
As for our fleet of aircraft, there are also problems here, and very big ones. I think that the solution lies in creating a powerful aviation holding. You probably know already that the government is working on this. I think that all the procedures should soon be completed and, taking this opportunity that your question has raised, I would like to send a signal to the people working on this project. At the moment everyone is haggling like at an oriental bazaar over whose assets are worth more and whose are worth less, but it is time to end these discussions and start making constructive decisions. Time is already running out.
As you rightly pointed out, we also have to pay attention to training for flight crews and to maintaining discipline. As someone with long experience in aviation, I'm sure you remember the level of discipline you had then and know what it's like now. This is an area we also have to work on. If we take a comprehensive approach to all of these problems I am sure we will be able to resolve them.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Let's have another couple of questions from Irkutsk. Go ahead, Maxim.
MAXIM KISELYOV: Moving along a bit this way, would you like to ask a question? Please introduce yourself and be clear and concise.
V. SHIPAGINA: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. My friend recently registered a plot of land and it took her six months and 8,000 roubles to do it. Are you happy with the 'dacha amnesty'? If not, what aspects are you not happy with? We are not happy with it.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The 'dacha amnesty' was a necessary step. The instruction that I gave to the government some time back was motivated by questions of a similar nature.
There are some 40 million different private plots of land in people's hands in the country today, 37.8 million, if I remember correctly. Of these, a third are registered under the old laws, that is, with inheritance rights, life-long use and so on. One million of these plots of land are not registered at all, and this, of course, prevents people from being able to use and dispose of their property, especially in cases of alienation, buying and selling or handing down as inheritance. This is why we decided to carry out what has become known as the 'dacha amnesty'.
What is the logic behind the decisions taken at federal level? There are two main objectives.
First is to reduce the red tape involved in these procedures and lower the costs people pay to go through all the registration procedures. I can see from your reaction that neither objective has been reached yet. I can explain what the problem is here. The law itself, I think, is quite liberal and it can resolve the problems we are talking about. For a start, it aims to minimise costs for people. In this respect, I want to draw your attention and the attention of my colleagues in the regions, in regions where the valuation market is highly monopolised, that they have the right to bring it down to the lowest threshold. The local legislators should do this.
Second, as far as reducing red tape goes, the law does make this possible. The government still has to approve some regulations, including at local level, but you have the right to go directly to the registration bureau, and if you are refused this right, then you can go to the courts. Everyone has an obligation to do this because the law states clearly that this is what must be done. Previously, a lot of paperwork was required to register a dacha. I can say something in detail about this today because on my way to work this morning I was reading the newspapers and read a large article about just this issue, saying that people don't need a technical inventory bureau passport to register a dacha. But I think this information is incorrect. Registering a dacha does require a technical inventory bureau passport, but for other types of building, people can just fill out a declaration independently. These kinds of decision clearly do reduce the red tape involved and the law sets many things out clearly. There is not time to look at everything in detail right now. I ask you and everyone with an interest in resolving this problem to read the law and demand that the local authorities implement it. Everything is set out in the law. But if you think this is not enough and local officials are not fulfilling the law's provisions as they should, and I agree with you and can see that this is the case, I will definitely instruct the Presidential envoys in the regions to monitor the implementation of this law.
SERGEI BRILYOV: So far, both questions from Irkutsk have been about national rather than local issues. Let's have another question from Irkutsk.
Maxim, go ahead.
MAXIM KISELYOV: One of the people who've come here this evening immediately caught my eye because he's wearing a uniform. Let's get him to ask a question. What is your job and do you have a question for the President?
SEMYON USTINOV: Of course I do. Good afternoon.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon.
SEMYON USTINOV: My name is Semyon Klimovich Ustinov. My work means that I spend a lot of time in the taiga and in our forests and I can see how our conifer forests are being depleted very rapidly. When you look at the railway, you see whole trains carrying this wood to be sold. We're not managing this natural resource competently.
Vladimir Vladimirovich, does the government have some kind of plan or project to change this situation? We know that this is a real problem for the forested parts of our country.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Semyon Klimovich, I fully agree with you. I am sure you have noticed the discussions in the media on this issue. I am not happy with the situation in this sector. Five or six years ago now, I set the government the task of improving the situation and there have been changes, but they have had little impact and this worries me. I am also worried by the fact that our forests are being chopped down, especially in border regions and in places where it is easy to get the wood out and take it out of the country. It is very sad, of course, to see that valuable conifer forests are being depleted like this.
What can we do to change the situation? There are solutions and we all know them. We need to take action. There are many areas in which action is needed, but two of them stand out as priorities. First, we need to raise export duties on round wood and at the same time, or perhaps even earlier, the government needs to make a decision on ensuring the import of equipment and technology for processing timber inside the Russian Federation. That is what we need to do. I am not sure that all of this has been done the right way and I take this opportunity to signal to the people working in this area, the people doing business in this sector, that you should stop lobbying for preferential conditions for exporting round wood and should start lobbying instead for reduced duties on equipment and technology. Start creating jobs in Russia itself, pay your taxes and encourage the development of the relevant branches of the machine-building sector in Russia. This is what we need to do. There needs to be an end to lobbying and the government should move away from sector-based lobbying. I spoke about this just yesterday. The government is to present an action plan to me by the end of the year, a plan precisely for raising export duties on round wood over the period through to 2009, and I will ensure that we have the 2009 duties in places already by the start of 2008. At the same time, we must resolve the issue of making it easier to import equipment to develop the timber processing industry inside Russia. There is one problem in this respect that you know as well as I do and that worries everyone in the industry, and that is the fear that this will lead to job losses in this sector, but if we do everything at the right time, this will not be the case.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Thank you to the people of Irkutsk and the national issues they raised. Now let's move on to a town that has become known throughout the entire country.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Yes, now we have a linkup with Kondopoga. Our correspondent Igor Kozhevin is in the centre of this little town that made the headlines around Russia after the recent tragic events there. Igor, the floor is yours.
IGOR KOZHEVIN: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
Good afternoon, Yekaterina and Sergei. We are indeed here in the centre of Kondopoga outside the Palace of the Arts, and this little Karelian town, which made the headlines after the dramatic events here in September, sends its greetings to Moscow. The town's people want to put their questions to the President and I think we have no shortage of volunteers. Who wants to ask a question? Let's begin here. Please introduce yourself.
TATYANA KONASHKOVA: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. My name is Tatyana Ivanovna Konashkova and I am the director of a municipal education establishment, the Young People House of Arts. This is my native town. You know what happened in our town and what worries me is that people were killed during these events and the authorities showed that they were unable to respond. Do we need such authorities and what can we ordinary people do in a situation like this when the local authorities are unable to protect us and are very weak?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Of course we do not need such authorities, I fully agree with you on this point. You have probably heard what I said in this respect. We do not need provokers, and nor do we need corrupt officials. We need to bring order to trading at agricultural produce markets and we need to bring order to migration and labour. These problems are all priority tasks for the government, which is to present a comprehensive series of proposals on these issues by mid-November.
Regarding the authorities, as you know, decisions have already been made regarding the prosecutor, the director of the Federal Security Service and the director of the Interior Ministry. I think that similar decisions should be taken at local level. The residents, like people in any municipality in the country, should pay very careful attention when voting for people seeking to head this or that agency or department within the municipality. I have tried several times to get in touch with the prime minister of Karelia's government, but first he was in a plane and now he's on holiday, but I certainly will have a very serious discussion with him about these issues.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Let's have another question.
IGOR KOZHEVIN: Thank you, we will make use of this opportunity, all the more so as there are plenty of people eager to ask their questions. Let's hear from you.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
Like Tatyana Ivanovna, I was also born in this town. I have been working in agriculture for more than 30 years now. Recently, you instructed the government to bring order to the produce markets. I've been talking with my colleagues, with farmers, and I can assure you that we cannot sell what we produce at the produce markets because they are not equipped for the sale of meat and dairy products, and as for our vegetables, they are bought up by people who come in from elsewhere and who often benefit from the protection of our local authorities. The farmers have no choice but to sell their produce for a pittance, at very cheap prices, and some are so desperate they give up production.
In your answer to the last question you said the government would propose measures by November 24, but my question is, can the government inspect all the markets and formulate the necessary measures and recommendations in such a short time?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, it can, it has to. There are several problems we need to take into account, and I want all the population to know about them. Of course, first of all, we need to ensure the interests of our agricultural producers. This was why the produce markets were set up in the first place, so that people could sell the produce they or their companies grow, and not so that others could come in and fill their pockets by buying up and selling on the produce. But today, in most cases, this is what is happening. The markets were not created to sell processed goods such as smoked salamis that were produced under who knows what conditions, or to sell clothes brought in from China, and this is what is going on today.
Regulations passed by the government will enable us to resolve all these problems quite quickly, and you can rest assured that I will ensure this is done. The question is to make sure that people still have access to all the different goods they need, and in sufficient quantity, and there should also be a move towards having some kinds of goods traded in the civilised retail sector. We will most certainly take action on these issues and, as I said in my reply to the last question, we will bring order to the migration situation so as to ensure jobs above all for the citizens of our country.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Thank you, Igor.
Continuing our programme, we have another correspondent, Dmitry Petrov, also working in Kondopoga. We decided that it in a town where such serious events took place we should set up two mobile TV centres in order to give more people the chance to ask the President their questions. Our second mobile TV centre has been set up at the Kondopoga Pulp and Paper Mill, the town's biggest employer. Dmitry, go ahead with your questions.
DMITRY PETROV: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Good afternoon, Katya and Sergei.
We are here in the foyer of the pulp and paper mill, the town's biggest company, employing almost half the local labour force. This is a strategic company for Karelia with its huge forest resources, and I propose that we hear the questions of people who work in this industry.
Who would like to ask the President a question?
ILYA SHVETSOV: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. My name is Ilya Shvetsov and I work as a lumberjack in the forestry industry here. My question is the following.
Debate on the Forest Code has been going on for a long time now, but the code has still not been passed. There are proposals to allow the transfer of forests to private hands, but I think that this will damage the interests not only of the logging companies but also of ordinary people, who won't be able to just go into the forest to gather mushrooms and berries. I would like to hear your point of view.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: My point of view is straightforward. Liberal economists think that putting the forests into private hands is a more radical and economically efficient method of developing the sector. At the same time, I agree that the concerns you have voiced are not groundless. In our current situation it is still too early to transfer such an important national resource as our forests to private hands, and I will not sign such a law. What we could today, in my view, is allow for the long-term rent of tracts of forest large enough to organise production and supply companies such as yours with the raw materials they need for processing. We can develop modern means of guaranteeing the interests of companies. Such instruments do exist and this is the road we shall follow.
Incidentally, there was a question about forestry before, too. I must say that if we limit exports of round wood, we would be able to ensure we have the necessary raw materials to keep companies like yours up and running.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Dmitry, let's have another question.
DMITRY PETROV: Yes, how about giving the floor to a woman this time.
LYUBOV CHEREKHOVICH: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. My name is Lyubov Sergeyevna Cherekhovich, and I am deputy chairwoman of the company's trade union committee.
Article 133 of the Labour Code, published in December, 2001, states that the minimum wage should not be lower than the survival minimum for the working age population. Five years have passed now and this law is still not working. My question is, when will this law start working and when will the survival minimum be at least as high as the minimum wage?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The other way round, so that the minimum wage is not lower than the survival minimum.
The problem for the government is that the minimum wage is pegged by law to various social and other payments, and everything is calculated on this basis. And when the government starts calculating overall expenditure in the economy, it turns out that it cannot fulfil this commitment. But the minimum wage will rise and will become closer to the survival minimum. The main thing is (and this question is being examined specially) to move over to a system of sector-based wages in order not to impede the resolution of social problems. This is the development path we will take. The government will have to work on this question in close contact with the employers and the trade unions, and I hope for your active involvement in this work.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Thank you to the people of Kondopoga for taking part in the Hot Line. And now let's move on to the village of Podgorodnyaya...
SERGEI BRILYOV: Podgorodnyaya Pokrovka in Orenburg Region, where our correspondent, Sergei Semyonov, is working. What an amazing name, let's hear your questions.
SERGEI SEMYONOV: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
Good afternoon, Katya and Sergei. The weather here is fantastic and even the village old-timers say they cannot remember when it was plus 15 degrees at the end of October. They say it is holiday weather. We've got quite a crowd here and they have plenty of questions for the President. Go ahead please, but introduce yourself first.
M. KRASNIKOVA: I'm a teacher at Orenburg Agrarian College.
Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Teachers in village schools often have to teach several different subjects, physical education, technology and history, for example, and medical personnel find themselves having to perform the duties of doctor, registrar and medical assistant. How does the state intend resolving the problem of attracting qualified specialists to schools and hospitals in rural areas?
And a second question: Orenburg Agrarian College is one of the oldest and best vocational education establishments, but we have not been included in either the national project for education or the national project for agriculture. Why is this the case and is this fair? Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Which subjects do you teach?
M. KRASNIKOVA: I teach the humanities.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is indeed a serious and important issue, the problem of attracting young higher education graduates to rural areas. We are working in several different areas in this respect. First, as part of the national projects for housing and education, and also as part of the rural social development programme (this is a separate federal targeted programme). The government is working in these areas to address these issues. You said that your vocational college is one of the best and that it has not been included in either of these programmes, so you are not seeing the benefits of these programmes, and this is obviously an oversight and the relevant officials should take note. At the same time, I want to say that under the Education project, we have begun making payments to teachers who are also class directors in schools, and we have chosen 10,000 schoolteachers who will receive additional grants of 100,000 roubles. Particular attention is being given to schools that are introducing innovative technology, and funds in these cases will go mostly towards equipping laboratories and buying other technical educational equipment. We think that all of these measures together should have an impact.
Regarding the issue of attracting young higher education graduates to rural areas, primary healthcare services are now receiving additional funds in order to boost wages, and this also concerns the medical assistance and midwife centres that operate mostly in the rural areas.
The biggest problem is to provide young families with housing, especially in rural areas. What steps are we taking to resolve this problem? There are mortgage loans, but they are quite expensive. What other countries do and what our agencies are trying to implement now is a system whereby we will subsidise interest rates, thus providing assistance to people who buy housing by taking out mortgage loans and have to pay the bank's interest rate. Interest rates are quite high, but the subsidies cover up to 90 percent of the cost. This is money from the federal budget, and then there is also 5 percent from the regional budgets. Young families are eligible for a subsidy of 35-40 percent of the cost of the housing itself, and if they have a child, this makes them eligible for a further subsidy of 5 percent.
Overall then, the mechanisms have already been developed and I hope that they are working in many parts of the country, and working effectively too. We need to step up the state's efforts in order to ensure that this programme reaches out to everyone who is in need of it.
As for the particular case of your college and perhaps that of other vocational colleges too, I can say that was to a certain extent an oversight on our part, because vocational colleges were not initially covered by the Education project. The government has since made a decision, however, that includes vocational and some other types of educational institutions in the general programme and makes them eligible for general funding. I hope that you will see the benefits of the programme.
And regarding your college in particular, I promise that I will speak about this issue with the education minister.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Let's stay in the village of Pogorodnyaya Pokrovka. Sergei, it seems the sound went funny for a second and we didn't hear here what subjects your previous interlocutor teaches.
SERGEI SEMYONOV: What subjects do you teach?
M. KRASNIKOVA: I teach two subjects, sociology and political science.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: These are related subjects, so I don't think this should be too difficult for you.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Sergei, let's have another question from you.
SERGEI SEMYONOV: Who wants to be next?
VLADIMIR CHERNEYEV: Vladimir Petrovich Cherneyev, I'm a chief agricultural engineer.
Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon.
VLADIMIR CHERNEYEV: My question is as follows: people used to talk a lot about how farmers would feed the country, but they haven't done so. They get new equipment, for example, but there are only jobs to go round for part of the population, and the rest of the population ends up with no job, leading a pitiful existence and turning to drink. Is there a state programme to overcome the crisis in agriculture? Are there some new forms or methods of agriculture that would give people in rural areas a decent life? Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Vladimir Petrovich, of course such programmes exist. Let me begin by saying that farmers and small private plots produce half of all the agricultural produce our country consumes. That is quite a lot. As far as individual farms go, what they produce is not a large share of the overall volume of agricultural produce. The farmers play the part that is theirs, but you are right, and in our country, as in countries with a developed agricultural sector, it is large producers who play the biggest part, and this is an obvious fact. We have drawn up a whole number of programmes to develop agriculture. You have no doubt noticed that we have recently begun focusing on helping to develop the livestock industry. The poultry industry, for example, has been getting support. The cycle in the livestock industry is much longer than in the poultry industry -- five, seven or eight years. Incidentally, after my meetings with people working in rural areas, the government was given an instruction and there are programmes making loans to this sector, making loans to develop Russia's livestock industry. I can tell you that this programme is already having an impact. I am sure that people are seeing it for themselves, because it is not by chance that they are queuing at the banks at four or five in the morning. The number of loans made over the last year has increased not by five, ten or even twenty percent, and has not even doubled or tripled, but has shown a 20-fold increase!
Of course, another important aspect is to address social problems in the rural areas. I mentioned the housing programme in my response to the last question. But we also have a rural social development programme. Starting from this year, the programme is being funded in full, that is, all the funds allocated by the budget are finally being allocated in full. The money is being spent on building roads, social infrastructure, and on providing housing for young higher education graduates. I remind you that under this programme, the federal budget subsidises 30 percent of the cost, the region 40 percent, and the person themselves pays 30 percent, if he is not a higher education graduate, in which case this 30 percent is also subsidised. In addition to these measures, we are also putting in place a clear customs policy in order to protect the interests of our producers.
Finally, there is the most serious problem today, and that is the disparity in prices for agricultural produce and industrial goods, above all, of course, for fuels and lubricants. I am aware of this problem and have spoken about it many times with the government. I see that you are nodding and you no doubt feel the effects of this problem yourself, as everyone in the countryside does. Recently, I instructed the government to take this issue under their control. I can tell you and everyone else in the countryside who are waiting for decisions to be made that 7.5 billion roubles from additional revenue this year will be allocated to the countryside in order to cover the unjustified expenses linked to the high prices for fuels and lubricants. These costs will be calculated by the hectare and in accordance with particular crops. I hope that the government will finalise this decision in November and that it will receive the support of the State Duma deputies.
SERGEI BRILYOV: I think it's only fair if we stay in the countryside a bit longer because so far everyone in the towns has been raising national issues, while the people in the countryside are really addressing their specific local issues.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I apologise to our correspondent, but I would just like to make one further point. Oil and gas revenues have indeed been increasing, and the government takes these windfall profits from the oil and gas companies and redistributes them, and this where the 7.5 billion roubles for the countryside is coming from. The government is redistributing this money in order to compensate for the unjustified expenses people in the countryside are having to pay. This is a natural mechanism for redressing the balance between the different sectors of the economy.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Let's stay with the agriculture sector for now. Sergei, can we have another question?
ARKADY KOKAYEV: My name is Arkady and I'm a driver. Vladimir Vladimirovich, as we all know, your term of office ends in 2008. What will happen to us, to the country after 2008?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Arkady, I think that everything will be fine, indeed, I am certain everything will be fine. I am deeply convinced that Russia will enter an entirely new stage in its development, a stage of sustainable economic growth that will provide the foundation for resolving social problems, the biggest of which is to reduce the gap between people who live very well and have huge incomes, and people who are still living in a lot of poverty. We can and will reduce this disparity in incomes, but we will not be able to do this unless we also develop our political system, which is based on democratic principles. This is also one of the main tasks for the future. We are working on this now and we will and must resolve it in the future.
As for me personally, as I have said before, even though I like my work, the Constitution does not allow me to run for office three times in a row. But even once I no longer have my presidential powers, I think that without trying to shape the Constitution to fit my personal interests, I will be able to hold on to what is most important and most valuable for any politician, namely, your trust. And building on this trust we will work together with you in order to influence our country's life, ensure that it follows a consistent path of development and have an impact on what happens in Russia.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Thank you to the people of Podgorodnyaya Pokrovka in Orenburg Region for taking part in the Hot Line. Sergei, what do we have next today?
SERGEI BRILYOV: Let's join the telephone centre and prove that our correspondents today are not all men. The charming Yulia Pankratova will present us the questions coming into the call centre.
YULIA PANKRATOVA: Good afternoon and welcome to our call centre where we have the entire country represented in this one not very big room. People can call here from any part of the country. We have already received 2 million calls, and that is without any rounding up of figures. As we talk, this figure will keep growing. Most calls -- 500,000 -- have come in from the central regions. In other words, if we do a bit of simple arithmetic, we see that one in four callers is in this region. Our centre has been working for the fifth day in a row round-the-clock. Our operators have been working shifts. The difference in time zones means that we have been getting just as many calls at night as during the day. Now we have our first caller on the line and I am told the call is from Novosibirsk Region. Hello, we are listening to you.
NINA KOROTITSKAYA: This is Nina Dmitriyevna Korotitskaya from the town of Berdsk.
There is an increasing number of people who have invested in housing construction schemes and been cheated. People have lost their savings and been left with nothing. Why do the authorities not put an end to these construction 'pyramid schemes'? And will the officials who give these swindlers the green light be punished? But the main question is, will people actually ever get their promised apartments? Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Nina Dmitriyevna, the problem you raise is a serious issue. This issue came up in the early and mid-1990s when the legislation did not yet regulate this sector effectively. Some people involved in business in this sector made use of loopholes in the law to create the kind of situation that has you so concerned. There are around 300 sites around the country that are in this situation, around 300 sites that have come to our particular attention. It is not quite true that this number is on the rise. It has long since stabilised, because a new law was adopted (the 214th law, I think) that regulates this sector.
We need to concentrate now on what to do about the situation that arose in previous years and how to help people who have ended up in this difficult position. I won't talk now about how some officials tell people that it is their own fault for getting into this situation. I think that this is not right and is not the right message to give people. It was the state's duty to think earlier about ensuring that such situations did not arise in the first place.
What steps can we take now? Of course, those who really did violate the law and cheat people need to be held criminally liable for their actions. There are such cases and criminal proceedings have been launched and will be seen through to their completion. But what is most important is to ensure that people get their promised apartments or at least do not lose their money. In this respect we need to ensure that construction companies keep their assets in order to be able to fulfil their commitments. The government is working in this direction and has created the relevant organisation and programmes in this area. We will keep watch over the implementation of these measures.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Well, Yulia, you have a real flood of calls there and we can see that the two-million mark has already been left well behind. Let's take another question from amidst this ocean.
YULIA PANKRATOVA: Yes, we now have Primorye Region on the line.
YELENA YOVICH: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. My name is Yelena Yovich and I am deputy chief editor of the newspaper 'Severnoye Primorye' in the village of Kavalerovo, in Primorye Region. I would like to ask my question not just on behalf of the people of my village, but on behalf of many thousands of people in our region.
Watching the TV news has become a fearful thing of late, when we see that in Moscow well-known people like Andrei Kozlov and Anna Politkovskaya have been killed. Last week, in the neighbouring town of Dalnegorsk, a young and promising politician who was running for the post of mayor of the town, was shot in broad daylight. Everyone realises, I think, that these are contract killings. There's an impression that we're heading back to the early 1990s. What are the authorities doing, Vladimir Vladimirovich, and where are we going to go from here?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, it's not by chance that you have mentioned these crimes that have been in the headlines. They grab public attention, and it is only legitimate that brutal crimes of this kind grab the public's attention in this way. But I can tell you that the number of contract killings in our country has decreased, and this is an objective fact based on the statistics. Of course, crimes of this kind always cause a particular stir among the public, with the help of the media, and it is absolutely right that this should be the case. We must not close our eyes to events of this kind. This goes for crimes in the political arena, and in the economy. I think that what is happening in the economy, for example, is due in large part to the fact that the state has become more active in combating economic violations and is being more energetic about stepping on the toes of those who are trying to line their own pockets at the expense of millions of people. I think that this is the situation. As for what is happening in politics, unfortunately, political battles here have not yet become more civilised in form. But it is the state's duty to conduct full investigations into all crimes of this kind. This goes for the murder of journalists and for economic crimes. You have probably heard that the people who actually carried out the killing of the deputy head of the Russian Central Bank have been taken into custody and an investigation is underway. I hope that full investigations will also be conducted into the other crimes of this kind.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Yulia, I can see you smiling at one of the questions that has come in. What is it that is making you smile like this?
YULIA PANKRATOVA: I don't actually know what the question is, I only know that it is from Kaliningrad Region.
Hello, we are listening.
ANNA OLTERMAN: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
My name is Anna Valeryevna Olterman and I am very happy: I am expecting my second child. My question is, will I receive the 250,000 roubles that you have talked about, and if yes, then what can I spend it on?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Anna Valeryevna, I have spoken about this many times, but I can go over it again briefly now.
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on this news that you are expecting your second child and wish you happiness, good fortune and everything else that one wishes on such occasions.
Regarding the maternity capital, which, as you know, has been set at 250,000 roubles, it will be paid to all women who give birth to a second or subsequent child as from January 1, 2007. Unfortunately, this law will not apply to children before this date. I say this quite deliberately because I know there have been many questions in this respect, but there is a hard and fast rule in all legal systems throughout the world that laws are not retroactive. Laws take effect from the moment they are passed or from the date that has been set for their coming into force.
You will certainly receive this 250,000-rouble payment and to do so you need to go to the regional Pension Fund office and get the corresponding certificate. You will be able to spend the money in three years time, that is, as from January 1, 2010. Why this delay? I think that you will understand the reason. Unfortunately, we have a lot of cases of parents giving up their children, and the lawmakers and the government decided that three years is enough time to make it clear whether or not a child will stay in the family. I am being frank about this, although this subject is not so nice to discuss, but this is a fact of life and something that we need to take into account.
How can you spend this money? In three different ways. First, you can put it towards your child's education at educational establishments if you provide the adequate paperwork. You can use it to buy housing or pay off a loan or add it to the family's money and spend it on buying a home. You can also add it to the individual account part of your future pension. All of these options are possible. Furthermore, childcare benefits are being raised to 3,000 roubles a month for looking after children until they are 18 months old. This is overall not bad money, especially in the regions, given that the average old age pension is currently 3,100 a month. And now childcare benefits will be 3,000 a month. We realise, too, that it is important to get women as quickly as possible back into the workforce, and this means helping to get children into pre-school establishments. We will compensate 20 percent of the cost of pre-school expenses for the first child, 50 percent for the second child and 70 percent for the third. These and other measures should help families that want to have two or more children and should help raise the social status of women.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Vladimir Vladimirovich, we will come back to Yulia Pankratova at the call centre, but I can see on the running subtext here with the frequently asked questions, that there's a question related to the one you just answered. The question is, if a woman has twins, is this considered to be having a second child?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Of course it is. The law states that the measures apply to second and subsequent children.
SERGEI BRILYOV: We will come back to Yulia Pankratova. Katya...
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Yes, questions are also coming in via the special site, www.presidentline.ru. One of the questions is quite sensitive. The problem of corruption has become rampant and is something we encounter at every level of life, from opening a business to paying bribes to the traffic police. It is no secret that often quite senior police officials provide protection to gangs and I know about this not from hearsay.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As a member of a gang, or ...?
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: No, as the victim of a gang. There is constant talk about the fight against corruption, but the results of this fight have yet to be seen and the situation is only becoming worse. The participants in our Hot Line are asking, should we just resign ourselves to this situation, and what can we do about it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This, unfortunately, is one of the most serious problems we face in our life today. This is a problem not just for Russia but for many countries in the world. Countries face this problem in more or less acute form at various periods in their development. At the moment this issue is a serious one for our country and we need to take immediate and comprehensive action to fight it. We need to do this by tightening control over the work of the law enforcement agencies and the executive authorities. We need to improve the material situation of civil servants and the personnel of the law enforcement agencies. We need to put in place conditions in which people will value their job more than they value the money they could make by taking bribes. We need to put in place the right economic conditions, and we need to create an attitude of public intolerance towards corruption.
Under no circumstances should people begin a discussion on the streets with the traffic police by proposing money, and under no circumstances should people begin their dealings with civil servants by offering a bribe. I want to remind you that the law punishes equally both the person giving and the person taking the bribe. We need to put in place a whole system of state measures including making the incomes of civil servants and their families transparent. This will take time and hard work by public organisations and the entire state. Of course, we also need to develop the institutions of civil society and a free press.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: A lot of different questions are coming in via the Internet. One of the frequently asked questions is about how the Duma has been talking a lot lately about introducing a tax on childless people. What is your view on this matter?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We had such a tax during the Soviet years. It is my conviction that a law cannot be amoral. A law always has to be moral otherwise it is a bad law. I think that imposing a tax on childless people has no moral basis and that such a law cannot be passed.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Thank you.
Now, continuing our Hot Line, we have our TV centres set up in ten different locations, and we now have a linkup with the town of Nabarezhniye Chelny in the Republic of Tatarstan. Our correspondent Ilya Kanavin is working there.
Ilya, you have the floor, we are waiting for your questions.
ILYA KANAVIN: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
Good afternoon, Yekaterina and Sergei.
This is a town that was built for a plant. The KamAZ Plant was built 35 years ago, and so the town of Naberezhniye Chelny was born. We are at the KamAZ Plant, right in front of the main assembly line. The vehicles here include the best truck in the world, the KamAZ-Master team truck that won the Paris-Dakar rally for the sixth time. And I'm sure this vehicle will be familiar to you, Vladimir Vladimirovich, because you sat behind the wheel of it.
I think it will be only natural if the first question is about cars. It would be strange if this were not the case. Does anyone have a question about cars?
VLADIMIR KARABTSEV: Yes. Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon.
VLADIMIR KARABTSEV: My name is Vladimir Sergeyevich Karabtsev and I have been working at KamAZ for 25 years now. It pains me to see that South Korea has now become one of the leading car-manufacturing countries, and this because they impose protective measures and duties on the import of assembled cars and only allow cars to be assembled on their territory. But here in Russia, people import and usually sell used cars that are no longer fit for use in Europe. My question therefore is, is it not time for us to also impose protective measures on the import of used cars and stop making Russia a dump for these cars, and drive instead our own cheap and competitive cars?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Vladimir Sergeyevich, it is good that your question is being broadcast live to the country, because there are a lot of people here who object to the adoption of measures restricting the import of foreign-made cars, especially used cars, into Russia. This is because for a large percentage of the population wanting to drive a car, in Russia as in many other industrialised countries, a car is not a luxury but is a means of transport, and we can see this more and more clearly as there are more and more people driving. The question is, how can we organise our own car-making industry? I don't think we need to envy the South Koreans; we simply need to carry out a clear policy to develop our own automobile industry. Overall, I am happy with the government's policy in this area. There are some problems, of course, but overall I am happy.
What are we doing exactly? As you know, the government has restricted the import of used cars older than a certain number of years. But I think it would be wrong to impose a total ban on the import of used cars because people should have the possibility of buying the kind of car they are able to afford. We have also made decisions, however, and foreign carmakers know about these decisions, that duties will rise further and it will be more advantageous for them to produce their cars here on our customs territory, here in Russia. Fifteen of the world's leading carmakers have already announced their plans to assemble cars in Russia. I want to draw your attention, and the attention of everyone interested in this issue, to the fact that the government has set certain conditions in its agreements with the carmakers. What are these conditions? They have to do with what specialists call localisation. That is to say, that part of the components, units and parts used in the assembly of these cars will have to be produced in Russia itself, at our companies. As a rule, these contracts state that at least 50 percent of components will have to be produced here, with a deadline set for reaching this 50-percent level. I think that ultimately the level will be higher because the economic situation will be such that it will be more profitable to produce up to 70 percent of components in Russia, and this, I think you'll agree, is a serious figure, because it enables us to raise the technological level and production culture at our companies and so on. This is one way for us to develop our automobile industry.
Another method, and one being used now by some of our national companies, is to acquire production licenses, and this means that the decision-making centre and development philosophy for this or that vehicle will also be located here in Russia. In the first case, the production is located here but the development policy is still located abroad, while in the second case, when a Russian company acquires a license to produce a particular kind of vehicle here, the development policy also moves here. These are the two roads we will follow in this sector. I hope that in a few years time we will be producing around 2 million cars a year. This would be a good result that would enable us to meet the growing demand from our population.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Ilya, let's have another question.
ILYA KANAVIN: Who else has a question? Please, go ahead.
GARI GULUSANI: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. My name is Gari Shotovich Gulusani. I have been living here for more than 30 years now and I moved here from Abkhazia. My parents and my brother still live in Abkhazia. I was there just a week ago and so I know for myself what kind of tension there is there today. People are waiting for war. Is there not a way for Abkhazia to become part of Russia? South Ossetia and Trans-Dniestr also want to be with us. The referendum in Kosovo was recognised, and why should Abkhazia be any different?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, it seems you have already heard what I have said on this issue and have formulated your question accordingly, Gari Shotovich. Indeed, people in Abkhazia and in South Ossetia are very worried by the military build up in Georgia, and we in Russia are also very worried by this. The worsening in relations between Russia and Georgia is linked precisely to this issue, to the attempt or preparations to try to settle the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia through the use of force. If the Georgian leadership does decide to follow such a path this would be a big mistake, and I do not think it would benefit the Georgian people. Under no circumstances should events be allowed to develop in this way. If people want to live together, they need to find peaceful means of settling their problems, through consensus and finding compromise solutions.
As for the question of any other territories becoming part of the Russian Federation, I must say that we do not seek to expand our territory. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia remains the biggest country in the world. We have enough territory of our own. But we cannot allow bloodshed in this region. The action that we have taken with regard to Georgia lately has nothing at all to do with plans to join NATO or anything else. Every country has the sovereign right to decide its own security matters. The only motive behind our action is a desire to prevent any bloodshed.
We know the background for the relations between the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We know that the Georgian armed forces carried out three punitive operations against the Ossetians in 1920. These are the difficult pages of history that are part of our inheritance, and we need to remember these things and be very careful in our action.
There are some contradictions in international law. On the one hand, international law states the need to uphold the principle of territorial integrity, and Russia abides by this principle, also in respect to Georgia, of course, and in respect to all other countries. International law also defines the concept of a nation's right to self-determination. We therefore need to find a solution to the situation in spite of all the contradictions. But we will, of course, follow with attention the international precedents in this area, including that of Kosovo.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Ilya, there's time for one more question for the President.
ILYA KANAVIN: Thank you. Please don't forget to introduce yourself.
ALSU SABITOVA: Hello, my name is Alsu Sabitova and I am a third-year student. Vladimir Vladimirovich, why do we sell oil and not petrol? And why is oil getting cheaper but petrol is getting more expensive? And what will happen if the oil runs out? Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I will start from the end. Speaking to you and everyone out there who is worried about our excessive dependence on the current high world prices for oil, gas and coal, yes, we still are very dependent on these sectors, but at the same time, our main priority is to diversify our economy and the government is taking consistent steps to achieve this objective. I note that we have already established the Investment Fund and the Venture Fund. We have developed high-technology zones and are putting more money into education. All of this, and also the government's tax regulation measures, show that the authorities are working consistently towards achieving this goal of economic diversification. We are becoming less dependent on high oil prices. The dependence is still high, but it is decreasing, and this is a very good trend. Furthermore, we have accumulated large gold and currency reserves and reserves in the Government Stabilisation Fund. This fund exists precisely to enable us to continue fulfilling our social commitments to the population in the highly unlikely event of a sudden fall in oil prices. Today we have the confidence that we will be able to meet these commitments.
As for real prices, they are indeed high, and prices for oil products within the country have risen by a little more than 17 percent over this year. This is a sharp increase and it has contributed to the rise in inflation in general in the country. But it is not growing the whole time and in fact came down a little in October as compared to September. This is because there was a drop in oil prices on world markets. The reality is that the situation in Russia today depends a lot on what happens in the world economy, because we have an open market economy.
As you can see, this situation has its positive sides, because our economy is growing, but it also has its drawbacks. The government has to take the appropriate measures in response and keep the situation under control.
Earlier, when I answered a question about the agriculture sector, I mentioned that the government is drawing up a decision on redistributing windfall profits from the oil and gas sector in favour of the agriculture sector. In this way, the government needs to respond to what is happening in other sectors, in the defence sector, for example, where costs of fuels and lubricants have also risen sharply. Rapid action needs to be taken in some sectors and steps taken to influence price formation.
It has also been decided that excise duties next year will not be higher than they were this year. This is a clear step in this direction.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Thank you to the Republic of Tatarstan and the town of Naberezhniye Chelny. Sergei, what do we have next?
SERGEI BRILYOV: Our next linkup is with another republic, the Republic of Dagestan, where we will be going to the town of Kaspiisk. And there, on the square in Kaspiisk next to the Caspian Sea embankment, is our correspondent, Olga Kiriy. Olga, the floor is yours.
OLGA KIRIY: Hello Moscow. Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Greetings from the land of mountains, Dagestan, and from the border town of Kaspiisk, a town of hard-working people, who greet you with plenty of Caucasian passion. It is a real holiday for the people here today and you can see how many people have come down here to the square to put their questions to the President. We have many volunteers, but we've decided to show respect for the wise elders of the community and give them the chance to speak first. So, introduce yourself, please, and put your question to the President.
MUSA ABACHAYEV: I am the chairman of the Kaspiisk Council of Elders. Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. It is painful and difficult to see how our relations with Georgia, or rather, with the Georgian leadership, are worsening by the day. It is painful to see how [Georgian President Mikhail] Saakashvili is only aggravating the situation by his behaviour. We in Dagestan are far from indifferent to this situation, and so my question to you is, what rational steps can we take to improve this situation and live with Georgia as good neighbours as we have done for so many centuries?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I send my greetings to you, Musa Magomedovich, and to all the other elders gathered there. Thank you very much for coming to take part in this meeting. And thank you also to the young people who have come to take part in today's discussion.
The question you raised is a serious one and I spoke in some detail about it just a few minutes ago. It is no surprise that this issue worries people in Dagestan, because many people in the Russian Federation have family and friends and are closely bound to people in Abkhazia and in South Ossetia, and this is all the more true in North Ossetia and also in Dagestan, and in the North Caucasus in general, where these ties are very strong. This is only natural and understandable. Furthermore, there is a tradition of solidarity between the mountain peoples of the Caucasus and this is an objective factor that we also need to take into account, and that we certainly will take into account.
Regarding Georgia, the Georgian people were always closest to Russia. I remind you that Georgia voluntarily became a part of the Russian empire. At that time, it did not include the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But this is not important now. What is important is that we have immense respect for the Georgian people. This really is the case and it is borne out by the entire history of our existence together. In military affairs, in the arts, in any area we look at, Georgians have made an immense and sometimes simply invaluable contribution to Russian statehood. It is not by chance that we have raised monuments to Georgians in Moscow and in other parts of Russia. This is all part of our common heritage. We are very worried by the Georgian leadership's current policy of trying to resolve its territorial problems by the use of force, and we must prevent this from happening. We are doing this through contact with our Georgian colleagues, and at international level, in the OSCE. We are playing an active part in peacekeeping operations there and are trying to prevent conflict. I remind you that many of our servicemen have lost their lives while performing their peacekeeping duties, have lost their lives for the sake of preventing conflict.
Finally, just recently, as you know, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution. We hope that that the Georgian leadership will not follow the example of other countries that have ignored the international community's opinion. We hope that they will listen to the international community's opinion and take all necessary measures to resolve their problems through peaceful means. We for our part, as before, would like to see our relations with as close a people as the Georgians return to normal.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Olga, let's hear another question from Kaspiisk.
OLGA KIRIY: Yes, who would like to go next? Introduce yourself, please.
SABIR ALKHASOV: My name is Sabir Alkhasov and I'm a university lecturer.
My question is as follows: there is a high level of unemployment in Dagestan. A programme has been announced to help Russians abroad resettle in Russia. Vladimir Vladimirovich, could you please say how you will provide these people with housing and jobs if even today's Russian citizens do not have jobs and housing?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Sabir, I understand your concerns, but you should not be worried about this particular issue. In this case, as I said just yesterday at a congress of Russians abroad in St Petersburg, we are referring to those of our compatriots who found themselves outside our borders through no desire of their own. They woke up one day to find themselves outside Russian territory. It is not their fault that this happened and it is our moral duty to help them if they wish to return to their historic home, no matter what the ethnic group they belong to. This applies equally to Dagestanis, Russians, Tatars, all the ethnic groups in our country. But we do, of course, have to take into account the reality of the situation in our country and this is why the plan is to help resettle people above all in regions that are facing labour shortages. We are not talking here about the southern regions such as Dagestan, where unemployment is very high and we need to be looking at ways to create new jobs. We have brought down the national unemployment rate, and this is one of our achievements, but the number of new jobs in the Caucasus is small, and Dagestan, unfortunately, has also not had good results in this respect. But, as I said, the plan is to help people resettle in regions that face labour shortages.
The government has drafted a whole programme and it includes 12 regions of the country. These are above all the border regions such as Primorye Region and Khabarovsk Region, and some of the central regions where there are labour shortages. Next year, the budget will allocate 4.8 billion roubles to this programme, and this money will be spent on helping to pay for the people who want to return to travel to these regions, help settle in, provide them with social services and give them a small amount with which to get started in their new lives. This amount will depend on the region's need for workers. If the region has a high demand for workers, this sum will be bigger, and if the region does not have such a great need, the sum will be smaller. But this programme will not be extended to parts of the country that face an unemployment problem.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Thanks to Caspiisk and to Dagestan. And we have some other cities coming up.
Now a question from the Internet. Vladimir Vladimirovich, I would like to explain why this question struck my attention. Our television programmes talked about this theme in the last few weeks -- I am referring to the anti-Georgian sentiment at the household level. We already said that it was next to Okudzhava's books disappearing from shops. Our programme talked about how Moscow policemen looked very zealously for Georgian kids in schools. And the question somewhat intersects with these issues, even if it's a little bit different. It seems as if a hunt for Georgians was declared. But there are real stories here. Mafia bosses, snipers, car thieves and pickpockets are being caught by the hundreds, casinos that were owned by Mafiosi from that country are being closed. With which other country do we have to spoil our relations so that our law enforcement agencies start doing their jobs? And along with this I emphasise that in this case their jobs involve fighting real criminals and not with the unfortunate schoolchildren we talked about.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You even know the terminology better than I do, for snipers and so on. Of course the law enforcement agencies must constantly fight against criminal activities. Ethnic criminal communities existed in the Soviet Union, exist in Russia today, and the fight against them has already been going on for a long time. There should be no selectiveness here. There is a well-known Russian saying that goes: 'Do not force a fool to pray to God -- he will bang his forehead on the ground'. Of course I cannot approve of actions that are ethnically motivated. On the contrary, I call on all law enforcement agencies and administrative organs to refrain from taking these actions. I consider that these actions are inadmissible, especially since they affect people that are living legally in Russia and, moreover, are Russian citizens. This must be absolutely forbidden.
And the struggle against criminality must take place permanently and at all times. And in the Georgian case it has simply drawn a great deal of attention because the problem is particularly acute. At the same time I want to say something in connection with, shall we say, expelling citizens from other republics who were illegally in Russia, in infringement of Russia's migration legislation. I am not even going to name names but the citizens of one republic that were expelled from Russia numbered 15,300 and those from another republic numbered, I think, around 13,400. And the number of Georgian citizens were five thousand. Do you see the difference? And therefore to say that this process is merely selective is wrong. That is not true. And this work should continue. But of course we need to improve legislation -- and I have already spoken about this -- so that we can categorically protect the priorities and interests of Russia's indigenous population both in the labour market and in trade.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Thank you. Let's return to the telephone centre, to the centre that processes information from telephones. Yulia Pankratova is still on duty there.
YULIA PANKRATOVA: Yes and to begin I am going to bother you with a few statistics. This year we are receiving calls from outside of Russia for the first time. And our compatriots abroad have already sent the President about 20,000 messages. And from the beginning of our first link up we have received yet another 80,000 calls. Now we have approximately 2,080,000 calls. And according to our technicians our centre is now operating in so-called peak mode. We are receiving 30 messages per second. And here is one of the calls. This caller reached us from St Petersburg.
Please introduce yourself and ask your question.
EVGENII RADKIN: Hello Vladimir Vladimirovich.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Hello Evgenii Aleksandrovich.
EVGENII RADKIN: I have the following question for you. The authorities have introduced a new land tax. And now for 600 square metres one has to pay almost several thousand rubles. This is horrible for ordinary dacha owners, gardeners and represents a huge amount of money! We grow our own cucumbers and tomatoes for ourselves and not to sell them. The government could have thought of this when they took this decision. Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Evgenii Aleksandrovich, I must say that you asked an unexpected question because, as far as I know, these taxes should not be so burdensome.
Of course paying taxes in general is never pleasant but it is something the state needs. In this sphere every one should some how make a contribution to providing for the state's corresponding expenses, expenses that are only possible after receiving the income part of the budget, in other words, after receiving taxes. But with regards to this part and according to the present legislation on land prices, the land tax must be defined by cadastral evaluation, by the cadastral price of the land. And the cadastral price is determined by the quality of the site. And first and foremost one has to take into account infrastructure such as access roads, commuter trains, highways, electricity availability, gas, the water supply and so on. All of this together must determine the land's cadastral price. And the tax is determined according to this price. And the price can be correspondingly high or low.
But what you said surprises me a little bit because, shall we say, in the Leningrad region -- and you probably have land in the Leningrad region -- and in the Moscow region the tax for 1,000 square meters will be about 500 and some odd rubles. Or even less: 460-470 rubles. As a whole this is not such a big sum. I already said that the average pension in Russia is approximately 3,100 rubles then with a much lower income, with 2,000 rubles, this land tax amounts to -- let's calculate now how much this comes to -- it comes to 2,5 percent. That is not big money. Moreover, federal law stipulates that the tax rate can be determined at the local level. For that reason the local legislature can make additional decisions and even lower the tax rate that I talked about. I repeat that in the Leningrad region and in the Moscow region these decisions have been made, but I will definitely look into this one more time in the most careful way possible.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Before Yulia puts one more caller on the air I want to draw your attention to the fact that today in the phone centre we are not merely receiving telephone calls -- we also have a centre that processes SMS messages. And the running line that you see is permanently receiving new messages and these SMS messages can be sent by phone to 0-40-40. Yulia, please go ahead.
YULIA PANKRATOVA: Yes, and we have the next phone call from the capital. We are listening to you.
ALEKSEI NOVOZHILOV: Hello, I am Aleksei Aleksandrovich Novozhilov from Moscow. I would like to ask Vladimir Vladimirovich a question. In Moscow apartments are now very expensive and our family would like to take out a mortgage credit but the rates are very high -- around eleven percent or more. For us this is impossible. I heard that even in America the government started to pay for part of the mortgage credit. Maybe we could try to do the same since Russia now has enough money in the bank. Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Aleksei Aleksandrovich, I already mentioned this issue in my answer to one of the previous questions. It is true that in North America and in some other countries there was and there is, at different times and in different ways, a system of mortgage credits that help citizens obtain housing. In general, it was the interest rate that was subsidized. In principle, we are now proceeding along the same lines. Subsidized rates are possible, as I already said, especially for young families in rural areas. And this is the case up to 95 percent and with another 5 percent from regional budgets. Of course today the 11 percent mortgage credit rate is high but I want everyone to understand where this rate comes from. Over nine months in 2006 our country had an inflation rate of 7,7 percent. By the end of this year this rate will be up to eight percent, to eight and some percent. It is natural that if a bank grants a loan then they must receive an income that is slightly higher than inflation or this operation would be not be worthwhile for the bank. I repeat that the state subsidises this rate, especially for young families, and will continue to do so. And the number of people that are taking advantage of this favourable rate are consistently increasing. I don't know how old you are but I think that it is quite possible that you can become part of this category. And only a well-balanced state economic policy can really resolve this problem, by lowering inflation and increasing the number of citizens that will be able to benefit from loans.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Perhaps one more question from the telephone centre before we return to our hotlines with cities. Yulia, please go ahead.
YULIA PANKRATOVA: Yes, we have a call from Tatarstan, from Kazan. We are listening to you.
QUESTION: Hello Vladimir Vladimirovich. I would like to ask the following question. Look, over the last while financing for the army has substantially increased. Can you tell us why we are doing this and who we are planning to fight against? Seeing as we have good relations with the USA.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, this urges me to say that it is very difficult to please everyone because just recently at similar such events I received totally different questions. They were more or less as follows: when are we going to pay attention to the army, when are we going to start financing the army and provide it with new technical equipment, when are we going to start resolving servicemen's social problems?
But the fact that you are now asking your question is evidence of another tendency, namely that society has started to notice that the army is being revived and that the state is spending more and more money on the army. This is the case. In the past few years, from 2000 to 2005-2006 we increased the financing that the army receives by three and a half times. I consider that these are well-founded expenses and I will explain why. First of all because even though we are increasing financing for the army, the army is getting smaller. Between 1991 and 2006 the army's numbers have been reduced almost threefold. Today the army numbers 1,131,000 people. This is not that many and we are not planning any other large-scale reductions. We are only going to have small reductions. With people's natural release from military service the army will become even more compact and, I hope, more effective and better equipped. Our expenses amount to about 2,6 percent of GDP and this is about as much as other NATO countries spend. But in absolute terms this represents significantly less than other countries spend. In the Address [to the Federal Assembly] I already spoke about the fact that compared to the USA we spend about 25 times less. 25 times! Next year we plan to allocate approximately 30 billion (US dollar equivalent). This is less than China (that spends a little more than 65 billion) and less than France (about 45 billion). Can you imagine the difference in these levels of financing? But we proceed from the fact that this is enough because we can base ourselves on military industrial complex that thankfully was preserved, on the newest achievements in this sphere, and on the fact that our responses will always be effective and asymmetrical. We can ensure -- and with such financing this is certainly true -- our security in a long-term historical perspective, and this without any undue exaggeration. And as a whole I am pleased, I am happy with how both the General Staff and the Defense Ministry are proceeding, because they are basing themselves on what the department needs, they are actively protecting the Defense Ministry's interests, they are working together with other colleagues from the government, and working in accordance with our country's real economic possibilities.
Along with this we are going to pay attention to solving servicemen's social problems. The most important of these problems goes beyond increasing their well-being and the money they receive -- the most acute problem concerns housing. By 2010 we should resolve all problems linked with permanent housing and, moreover, we will act in several directions. And in 2012 we will resolve problems the problems of military service housing.
SERGEI BRILYOV: We will probably come back to the centre that is processing SMS messages today. But now let's return to the cites. Who do we have now?
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: We now have a hotline with the city of Tver. Our correspondent Ivan Blagoi is working there. Ivan, please go ahead, we are waiting for questions.
IVAN BLAGOI: Hello Moscow. We are beside the monument to probably one of the most famous inhabitants of Tver, to Athanasius Nikitin.
But I must say that it's raining buckets here. And for that reason we are going to try to start the questions a little bit quicker. Please introduce yourself and ask your question.
NADEZHDA MIKHAILOVA: Good afternoon Mr President. My question is the following. They increased the salary for pediatrics and general practitioners. This was done very well. It became easier to see the doctor, there are now more of them. But why the increase only for this category of doctors? Why is there no increase in the salaries of other specialists, specialist doctors, since in the majority of cases our health depends precisely on these people? Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Nadezhda Vasilevna...
NADEZHDA MIKHAILOVA: ...And I would still like to say.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Please, Nadezhda Vasilevna...
NADEZHDA MIKHAILOVA: May I continue?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, yes.
NADEZHDA MIKHAILOVA: I still wanted to say this. I have heard that doctors' salaries are considered to be decent. Our pension is also considered 'decent' but in reality it is not the case. I want to say that the salary for doctors and for people who protect us, and I am referring to policemen, should not be merely worthy but very high, because one category protects us and the others cure us.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Nadezhda Vasilevna, first and foremost, I agree with you that of course the level of our citizens' well-being, including those who work in very sensitive fields and help millions of people, must be worthy. And this is one way to fight against corruption in the law-enforcement sector. It is also in this sphere that we are trying to reduce the population's expenses for public health services, I mean expenses in the black or grey sectors of the health care. And we both understand what we are talking about. The additional expenditures the population makes are still very high.
But Nadezhda Vasilevna I think that you will also agree with me that we had to start somewhere. And the government made the decision to begin with the sharpest, most acute problems. The personnel deficit in primary care was huge and verging on a catastrophe. And it is precisely these people that are first and foremost directly linked to the population. Along with this we needed to enlarge this category by including a number of medical and midwifery stations -- and first and foremost in rural areas. And now the situation really is changing. It is impossible to tell whether cardinal changes have taken place but, nevertheless, positive tendencies are visible. Look at what is happening in medical schools. There is already a competition for general practitioners whereas before this wasn't even close to being the case. And I repeat that this is simply a signal to society, to regional authorities, to all of our financial and administrative structures, that all together we have to pay attention to problems in health care services. There are thousands of new pieces of equipment coming there -- if I remember correctly, than something around 18,000 units. New people are entering the sector. And what is happening in the emergency services? Just recently this sector was in an awful state. And now a lot is changing there, even before our very eyes. But you are certainly correct -- we must ensure that there is no disparity between incomes, especially for highly qualified people, for specialists. I agree with you. The problem mainly consists in the fact that we had to start somewhere.
With regards to experts, there are ways to increase their incomes and wages. First and foremost they should be linked with the quality of service. This should proceed along the lines I already spoke about, through branch payments. This must proceed by granting medical institutions the opportunity to receive government funds that they can then use independently, to resolve all other problems linked with maintenance charges of a given establishment or to increase the wages that specialists receive. And such work is now proceeding in 10 regions of the Russian Federation. We must act very carefully. We will look at what will happen. We already have garnered positive experiences in this field and we are going to expand this all over the country.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Ivan, one more question please.
IVAN BLAGOI: Yes, of course. Please introduce yourself.
SVETLANA SHINKOVA: Hello Vladimir Vladimirovich.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon.
SVETLANA SHINKOVA: My name is Svetlana Shinkova. I have the following question. Gazprom makes declarations about new gas pipelines that will lead to the West. It turns out that Russia is going to become the West's raw materials appendage. Why are we selling gas abroad when at the same time in Russia, at home, there are lots of places where gas is in high demand, but pipes do not run there. Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Sveta, you are mistaken. Pipes run there. Moreover, Gazprom made a declaration about an additional programme of gas service installation in Russia. In the next three years they plan to allocate another 35 billion rubles, about 12,5 billion per year, to these purposes. And this additional gas programme will affect 11 million people in 53 regions of the Russian Federation. To a large degree this will affect small cities and rural areas. Along with this I want to draw your attention to what happens to the income that Gazprom gains from exports abroad. Gazprom sells its resources, your and my resources, abroad at prices that are several times higher than those within our country. If inside Russia it costs 50-60 dollars per thousand cubic metres (in US dollar equivalent) than abroad the same amount is sold for 150-170 dollars per thousand cubic metres. And from this revenue the additional 35 billion rubles are allocated to provision of gas supply in Russia. This is being done, has been done, and will absolutely continue to be done in the future, I have no doubts on this account.
You know, we have another problem. Our problem consists in the fact that the cheap internal prices encourage other economic actors -- not the population -- to use only gas rather than other energy resources -- coal, fuel oil and so on. This creates a well-known distortion in the economy and we must absolutely resolve this problem because we need to find a natural balance for energy resources within the country, inside the Russian Federation. We are going to carefully move in this direction, especially so that this does not impact on household consumers and utilities. We are going to work in this direction.
And now with regards to being the West's raw material appendage. I agree with you that we cannot accept this and that we cannot permit such an eventuality. Therefore I shall return to one of the answers that I already gave at the beginning of our meeting today. Our economy's main task and the government's main task in the next short while consists in diversifying our economy. To make it modern and ensure that it relies on the most modern technologies available. This is a huge task for the next decade and we are going to consistently implement this by using all the instruments we have, by redistributing incomes between various branches of industry with the help of taxes, by using administrative and financial levers. I already said that we have created venture funds, investment funds, high-technology zones in various fields, adopted a law on concessions and so on. All of this is linked to just one task, to diversifying the Russian economy. I repeat once again that this is the most important task for the next decade.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Ivan, you still have the chance to ask one more question.
IVAN BLAGOI: Please.
VLADIMIR SKRYLEV: Vladimir Ivanovich Skrylev.
Good afternoon Vladimir Vladimirovich. I have this question. I belong to the generation of people whose fathers died fighting against fascism. And we are very sorry and saddened to see that today in Russia these degenerates are rearing their heads under the fascist swastika. And how many crimes have already been carried out by these degenerates! Just recently in Tver there was massive vandalism in the cemetery. Already one court case has been heard and a sentence was given. But how do they explain it? It seems that this was an ordinary act done by hooligans, and that's all. But in fact this is not hooliganism -- this is a genuine fascist crime!
So I have this question: are you planning more drastic or stricter measures to eradicate this phenomenon, one that is shameful for our country?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, it is bitter for me to talk about this especially since when we look at what happens in other countries we are very quick to condemn similar displays (making heroes of SS armies, rehabilitating Nazism) but inside our own country we face a similar problem. It is bitter to talk about this. And certainly the judicial system, the law-enforcement agencies must react to this adequately and operatively. I do not think that what you said deserves encouragement. It is not not a god idea to substitute one concept for another. And wherever responsible people work in the judicial system -- and there are a great deal of those in Russia's judicial system -- then our judicial system develops at a good rate. Despite all the problems that still exist there, nevertheless, verdicts that do not gloss over this type of offence are given. We are going to follow this to ensure that people continue to act this way in the future and that no such things happen in our country any more.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Thank you Tver. We are passing to the following city.
SERGEI BRILYOV: And now we come to a city that is not Russian but where Russian people live, the city of Sevastopol. The Crimea, Sevastopol and Anton Vernitskii. Anton?
ANTON VERNITSKII: The hero city of Sevastopol, the base of the Russian Fleet in Ukraine greets Moscow.
Vladimir Vladimirovich, our line has worked at such a good rate that we are going to pass at once to the questions.
ARKADII CHIKIN: Arkadii Mikhailovich Chikin, senior lecturer in the St Petersburg Trade Union University of Humanities, member of the Writer's Union.
Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich, throughout 2006 in Crimea the ethnic question became appreciably worse. This is not the first or second year that the Crimean Tatar problem exists but, however, we have the impression that our leadership is at a loss to resolve this problem. Can Russia help resolve it?
Thank you for your answer.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is a very sensitive question. Russia is a multinational state with its own culture, a centuries-old culture of resolving interethnic and interreligious problems. And we have a huge amount of positive experience in this. There are about 160 representatives of different peoples and nationalities living in Russia.
As to the Crimea, of course this represents a special territory. We know what Crimea's fate in previous centuries was. We are both perfectly informed about what happened just inside the 1990s, at the beginning of the 1990s, and how Crimea's destiny was affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now we need to proceed from the realities that exist there today. Crimea is a part of the Ukrainian state and we cannot interfere with another country's internal affairs. This is the answer we have to give ourselves. Of course we are not indifferent to what happens there and we think that we can make a contribution only with the help of our own experience in resolving other such questions. Or if the Ukrainian government considers it necessary and asks us for our help then we will be ready provide this help. And not to plunge into these problems, not to drag Russia into resolving such problems, but in order to help our closest neighbour and, without any undue exaggeration, the fraternal republic of Ukraine. To protect Ukraine if any outsider intends to interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs and to give the possibility to the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian leadership to resolve these problems on their own. But they are very acute, we see them, and they worry and disturb us. This problem certainly does exist.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Anton, please, another question.
NATALIA MEKERTOVA: Good afternoon! My name is Natalia Mekertova, and I am the head of the Women's Council of the Black Sea Fleet. I know that we have the following saying: 'we are on foreign territory, but on our own ground'. And with regards to the former Soviet republics, do they continue to have ties with Russia or are they all already under American control? Is the CIS alive or has it already died? Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is hard for me to say exactly what happened during the collapse of the Soviet Union but one must ascertain that to a large degree the disintegration of the Soviet Union was brought up by Russia's own political stance. For that reason, speaking about the fact that Russia has some sort of imperial tendencies linked with possibly reviving the Soviet Union is absolutely groundless. This is the first thing.
The second. I do not know what they thought in Russia while these processes were taking place. Perhaps some people expected a transition period and then a revival of a state or quasi-state formation based on the Soviet Union. But we must say directly and honestly that in the former Soviet Republics the CIS itself was perceived as the mechanism of a civilised divorce. And all these republics did everything they could in order to strengthen their statehood. But what of that? Russia gave them this opportunity and did so consciously -- this was Russia's choice. The question of whether it was bad or good aside, these are today's historical and political realities. But we understand that for centuries Russia and the peoples of what are today independent republics existed within the boundaries of one country, and this is necessarily reflected on the human level, on the economy, on the deep cooperation between industries, on the interdependence of transport and communications systems and so on. No matter what people say this was nevertheless a special event in global affairs, in international relations, and in international economic ties. For that reason I consider that we must use this absolutely obvious competitive advantage that we hold over our other partners and competitors on world markets. We must proceed towards not just coordination but also integration and, first and foremost, in the economic sphere. And in this respect we already are establishing these mechanisms. We are discussing the integration processes that are taking place at different speeds, namely the common economic space, the Eurasian Economic Community and, in the defence sector, the Collective Security Treaty. We cannot neglect all of this. On the contrary, we intend to pay the utmost attention to this. And we must once again confirm that cooperation with the CIS countries is an absolute priority of the Russian Federation's foreign policy.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Anton, one more question please.
QUESTION: Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich, I represent the trade union of 13 th ship repairing factory of the Black Sea Fleet. More than 26 thousand Ukrainian citizens work for the Black Sea Fleet. You should have no doubt that they are Russian patriots. We were obliged to become citizens of Ukraine. The Black Sea Fleet creates jobs and about one third of jobs and social guarantees go to the residents of Sevastopol. But recent changes in the state leadership of Ukraine may possibly raise the issue of removing the Black Sea Fleet's base from Sevastopol. And for us this is a very big question and therefore I want to ask you: would it be possible to prolong the agreement on keeping the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The competence to resolve such questions undoubtedly lies with the sovereign Ukrainian state. Russia does not aspire to remove its fleet from the Crimea ahead of term and, as you know, the agreement is set to last until 2017. Russia will also be ready to engage in talks to prolong the fleet's stay.
I would recall the question that was just asked recently, that one of your colleagues participating in this conversation just asked, about the difficult internal political processes that are taking place in the Crimea. And what I said about the fact that Russia would provide guarantees under the condition that it were necessary and if there was a corresponding request from the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian leadership, if some outsider had intentions to intervene in Ukraine's internal affairs. In this case, I assure you, the presence of the Russian fleet would not be superfluous. But this is first and foremost the choice of our Ukrainian colleagues and friends, our Ukrainian brothers. I expect that we can resolve all these issues during a constructive dialogue at the government level and between ministers. These talks are underway. Moreover, Ukraine receives a substantial income from having the Russian fleet posted there. I am referring to both rent, and creating jobs that you just talked about, including in the ship reparation business. In general this cooperation has an exclusively positive character and helps us strengthen friendship, cooperation and trust between the people of Russia and Ukraine.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Thank you Sevastopol, thank you Crimea. We are coming back inside Russia.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: And now Bryansk is on the line. And our correspondent Evgenii Rozhkov is working in Bryansk. Evgenii, questions please.
EVGENII ROZHKOV: Hello Vladimir Vladimirovich. Good afternoon colleagues, Yekaterina and Sergei. This really is Bryansk. It is a small city but has a very rich history. As our historians say, it is even more ancient than Moscow.
And we are celebrating an important anniversary here these days, the 65 th anniversary of the partisan movement. And as you see here on Partisan's Square, a great many people have gathered here. It is normally crowded here, and today, though it's raining even heavier than in Tver, there are lots of people because very many people want to ask the President questions.
Let's begin, we are not going to waste time. Please, who has a question? Just introduce yourself at the beginning.
QUESTION: Hello Vladimir Vladimirovich. I participated in the Great Patriotic War and I am now retired. Naturally my question is about pensions. In Russia they do not forget the front line soldiers. And we are happy that our state has always supported us.
But those who worked behind military lines during the war, work veterans, receive extremely small amounts, and they are even embarrassed to discuss this issue. And this is the case. What do you think, can a pension of three to four thousand rubles be enough to live on?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: In this case it seems that there is nothing to say thank you for. Still I will remind you that just recently the state was not able to fulfill even the modest obligations which it took upon itself in the middle of the 1990s and pensions remained unpaid for many months. Now we see a clear tendency towards increasing pensioners' incomes. Of course, these are still very low incomes, very low. But I already said -- and you yourself cited the figure -- that approximately 3,100 rubles per month is the average old-age pension. Of course it is very little. It is even offensive to cite such numbers. Last year pensions were indexed twice and also increased a very little bit, by about 300 rubles. Next year this double indexation will take place again and the increase will be more substantial. It will amount to approximately 450 rubles.
With regard to workers in the military rear then we should certainly pay special attention to this category of people. But I want to say, Sergei Alekseevich, that in this respect we must work together with veterans' organisations, organisations that you probably know better than I do. And they always raised the issue of how the level of income and the level of pension services for those who, as they say, fought and were in the line of fire must be a little bit higher than the pension incomes of those people who had an exceptionally important function during the war years, worked, didn't spare their health, and often even their own lives for the common Victory but, nevertheless, were in the rear. But you certainly are right that this category of our citizens, pensioners, made an enormous contribution to our Victory and I assure you that we must not and we will not forget about this.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Evgenii, another question please.
EVGENII ROZHKOV: Please introduce yourself
MIKHAIL SAFONOV: Mikhail Stanislavovich Safonov, an entrepreneur.
Our business partners are Belarusian. And we would like to continue to develop this cooperation with our neighbours. I would like to understand whether it is possible to establish the Union State that people have talked about so much? Aleksandr Lukashenko said that establishing such as state is now impossible. And what do you think?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: To be fair I must say that Aleksandr Grigorevich Lukashenko is nevertheless a consistent supporter of creating a Union State. Of course it is easy to take any phrase out of context but the really important thing is a given politician's attitude to the whole issue. That is the first thing.
The second. We support speeding up this process. But the sequence of steps must be as follows. First, we need to talk about economic integration. And in connection with this, I think that transferring to a common currency is the most important thing. And for you, Mikhail Stanislavovich, just as for your Belarusian colleagues, this would undoubtedly play a very useful and progressive role, would encourage the development of common business enterprises and economic ties between the two countries. And in connection with this I draw your attention to the fact that we are not able to achieve common standards in customs issues, or in imports, or in exports. And there are several things that really worry us. We look at, shall we say, the volume of our crude oil that is delivered to oil processing plants in Belarus, we look at Belarus' actual requirements and we look at how many oil products are being delivered abroad. And here of course we need to improve things in our normal dialogue with our Belarusian colleagues. And if we are not able to reach agreements then we would be forced to impose some restrictions, even though we are very much loath to do so because in a significant number of other such issues we are able to reach agreements.
We are now in the process of coordinating our positions on political issues, including with respect to the Constitutional Act. But I will tell you very openly and frankly that the economy still remains the priority. That is the first thing.
And the second. To pass to creating, shall we say, a common parliament and so on we must have an economic base. We cannot create conditions in which we once again put Russia into a confrontation -- do you remember the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s? There was confrontation between both a union parliament and a purely Russian parliament, both having approximately the same competences. This created the conditions for a tug of war. And I shall say even more openly that it will be difficult to do this in a situation that is becoming a political struggle in the run-up to State Duma elections. But time will tell the degree to which our Belarusian colleagues are ready to engage in the widest range of cooperation -- integration, economic integration -- and to a large degree this depends on them.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Evgenii, you still have the opportunity to ask a question. Please go ahead.
EVGENII ROZHKOV: To be fair we should probably allow a lady to speak.
MARIIA KOZHULINA: Hello Vladimir Vladimirovich. Maria Semenovna Kozhulina.
AS a mother, as a grandmother, I have the following question. I am worried about slot machines. We all know that casinos in Moscow are being closed. And here we have gaming halls where they have installed slot machines that are mainly used by young people who lose their money, destroy their psychological health, aggrieve their parents and so on. I would like to know, will these slot machines eventually be closed or stopped? Thank you for your attention.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Maria Semenovna, I -- and a lot of people know about this and have heard about it -- just recently sent a draft bill to the State Duma that, in accordance with my proposal, confines all gaming activities and business into four special zones allocated for this type of activity and business. Unfortunately, it is not only young people but also retirees that lose their last penny and pensions through gambling.
Experts say that dependence on games and gambling is far stronger than an addiction to alcohol. This is a serious problem and comparable to what would happen if the whole country were to become alcoholics. And of course the government should have already paid attention to this sphere of activity and this business a long time ago. I believe that this is a civilised solution. We are going to give a certain period of time to allow all those who participate in this business to react in due time, make the corresponding decisions, and then direct their efforts and the considerable capital they already have to developing these four special zones. Incidentally, in any region where they happen to be they will act as an essential help in supplementing regional budgets.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Bryansk, thank you very much. Thank you to all the city residents who are participating in our hotline today.
SERGEI BRILYOV: This is probably the last time during the hotline that we will have a direct link up with the phone centre. Yulia Pankratova, can you hear us?
YULIA PANKRATOVA: I hear you perfectly. We are already in our third hour on the air and the number of calls has gone over the 2,100,000 mark. The number of themes that callers want to address is so huge that even to name them takes several minutes. But perhaps the one thing that unites all these calls is that people want to get through and personally ask the President a question. And we are now going to try and do this. To do so I need special equipment. They are telling me that we have a call from the Rostov region.
Hello, we are listening. Please ask your question.
VALENTINA SAVENKOVA: Valentina Iakovlevna Savenkova. Vladimir Vladimirovich!
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon.
VALENTINA SAVENKOVA: Hello, I am a housewife. When they introduced the new rules on selling alcohol, wines and hard liquor disappeared from the shelves. And then it all came back but now the prices, we can say honestly, hurt. Everything is more expensive. It turns out that we are paying for the incompetence of officials who make hasty decisions from our own pockets. And others profit from this. Or do you think this is fair, Vladimir Vladimirovich?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Valentina Iakovlevna, it is unfair, just like the huge problem linked to the fact that substandard and counterfeit products dominate our alcohol market today. And in my opinion, even today we had examples of people who have been poisoned by bad-quality alcohol. This not only causes people huge health problems -- the number one problem in this respect -- naturally it also has a very negative impact on public finances. And it was for precisely these reasons that we made the decision to change the way alcohol production functions. As of July 2007 new excise standards, new ways to protect the quality of alcohol products should have and did come into force.
Valentina Iakovlevna, you are absolutely right that officials and the government, including the most high-ranking officials, seemed absolutely unprepared, did not consider all the problems and the scale of work in front of them. And they did not take any correct measures to restore order in due time. And the Prime Minister paid a great deal of attention to this issue. Moreover, I shall tell you confidentially, though I am actually telling the whole country, that he tried to find the guilty people and to punish them. I think that he was not able to do so because nobody wants to bear the responsibility for making ill-prepared decisions. And a great deal of problems arose in this respect. I am not going to list them off here. They are connected with the production schedule, with sending new excise duty stamps to avoid the inflow of low-quality production to manufacturers both within the country and abroad in an untimely way. Of course unprincipled manufacturers also took advantage of this and after certain goods disappeared from the shelves then they took advantage of this and raised the prices, incidentally, without having any reason to do so. And by taking advantage of this a deficit appeared. Of course there are no grounds to be worried on this account in the medium or long-term perspective. What happened in the 1980s, when we used prohibitive measures to prevent alcohol usage, will not take place -- these measures are not being considered nor being planned. The issue lies in taking timely decisions and in making sure that these decisions are correctly implemented. And here this was undoubtedly a failure. As far as I can imagine, this is now being corrected.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Yulia, please, more questions from the phone centre.
YULIA PANKRATOVA: We have a caller from Moscow. Hello, hello!
TATIANA INGAIAN: Hello, good afternoon! I am Tatiana Ingaian.
Mr President! Harassment or sexual harassment and violence against women exists in many countries and is also a serious problem in Russia. Sometimes certain facts about sexual violence and harassment become known, such as in the case of the Israeli President. You recently spoke about this but, unfortunately, I did not quite understand your position on this problem. In your opinion, is it necessary to fight this ugly phenomenon, violence against women? What do you think about this? Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Violence should always be punished, any kind of violence -- concerning women, concerning men and especially concerning children. It is always criminal law that regulates these serious crimes.
With regards to women, their rights require special protection. Incidentally, in connection with resolving the demographic problem we emphasised that we must elevate women's social status -- I already said that today. Of course it is absolutely inadmissible to use a position of dependency to force a woman into sexual relations, excuse me, or other things (and we do not need to be uncomfortable here, we must talk about things directly as they are).
With regards to what happened in Israel, then this is a special case. Ten women have declared that the President raped them and just recently corruption charges were brought against the Prime Minister. With what is that connected? In my opinion, it is connected with the fact -- and many experts will agree with me -- that a significant part of Israeli society is unhappy with the way their leaders handled the conflict with Lebanon. Many people consider that what happened amounts to a defeat and they immediately started to attack President, the Prime Minister, and the head of the General Staff. In my opinion, using instruments such as protecting women's rights to resolve political issues that are unconnected with this problem is absolutely inadmissible. And this is because it actually discredits the struggle for women's rights, an important task in and of itself.
And with regards to the event that you just mentioned, it is true that I did address this issue when the Israeli Prime Minister was here as my guest. However, journalists had already left the room and heard in passing something that was said there. Then they started to discuss it. To prevent any further discussions I have just now openly stated my position to you. With respect to the media representatives I can say that when I worked for a completely different organisation at the time we joked that: they are sent to spy but they eavesdrop. Not so nice a behavior.
SERGEI BRILYOV: Thank you to the phone centre and to Yulia Pankratova. Probably this is the last link up with the phone centre during this Direct Line. Although perhaps, Yulia, you have something coming up?
YULIA PANKRATOVA: Yes, perhaps I would add something. We have been receiving SMS messages only today, but we have already received more than 150,000. Our editorial group selected some of the most interesting ones and if you allow me to I would like to just ask one question. Unfortunately they are not signed so we don't know where these messages come from and they are very short. They ask the President why, despite the efforts of the coach Guus Hiddink, does the national football team not produce good results.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This question seems to be an easy one. I think that the problem is not the new coach but the way football is organised in Russia. The coach who took on the contract and came to work in Russia is an expert, and has shown this in practice, by working in a number of countries. And our problems... There are many problems. One is that we do not have enough good fields. There are a lot fewer good fields in Russia than in developed football countries. Another problem is that we have not paid enough attention to young people, to children, who want to play sports in general and football in particular. And the next problem is that there is an excessive number of foreign legionnaires in our football clubs, there are simply too many. In my opinion, we must limit that number. Because when we have to choose a national team then we do not have anyone to choose from and this excess amount of legionnaires prevents young and talented players from developing their talent.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: And during our hotline I read the following question in the roll captions -- your spectators want to know, do you have a mobile phone?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have a lot of mobile phones and none of them work and I never use them because a) I don't have time and b) while I have other opportunities and means of communication then I use them instead.
SERGEI BRILYOV: ...no less mobile.
Thank you very much Yulia.
Katia, what do we have coming up?
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVNA: We now have Baltiysk. Our correspondent Oleg Groznetskii is working in Baltiysk. Oleg, please ask the President your questions.
OLEG GROZNETSKII: Hello Moscow. Today we are in Russia's westernmost city, in Baltiysk. Baltiysk's history is a chronicle of the glory of Russian weapons. Petr I studied the artillery business here at the beginning of the 18 th century and by the mooring wall there was a whole fleet of ships sailing under the Russian flag. It is precisely Russian soldiers and officers that freed this city from Napoleon's armies. And finally, one of the most dramatic events of World War Two, the storm of the fortified city Pillau, took place here. At that time one out of every four Soviet soldiers perished during the fierce fights.
Today Baltiysk is the Baltic Fleet's main naval base and for that reason it is no surprise that a great many naval officers and their family members have gathered here on the quay. You have the opportunity to ask the President questions.
Please go ahead.
S. STUPNIKOV: Commander of the large landing ship Kaliningrad and Captain Third Rank Stupnikov.
Hello Vladimir Vladimirovich. Last years the Navy's fleet began to revive, new ships are being built, long-range campaigns have been renewed. As the Supreme Commander in Chief, what tasks would you assign to the Baltic Fleet seeing as it plays a special role?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: What you said was correct and I am pleased to see that in addition to being clear to seamen, and especially military seamen, it is increasingly clear to all Russian citizens that we are paying attention to developing the whole Armed Forces and the Navy in particular.
In the near future we are going to put new nuclear submarines into action, namely 'Vladimir Mononmakh' and 'Iuri Dolgorukii' and several other installations. We have thought about and studied a construction programme for building naval vessels until 2030, according to the requirements of the Russian Navy. And I do not doubt that this programme will be implemented.
With regards to the Baltic Fleet, than obviously the waters of the Baltic Sea, from the Gulf of Finland towards the west, the part of the Atlantic Ocean that is connected to the Baltic Sea, down to Gibraltar, are key. But we are not setting any excessive or unsolvable tasks before the Fleet.
The Baltic Fleet also has the task of ensuring our economic interests in the Baltic Sea. We have enough of them. The Baltic Fleet has the task of ensuring the security of sea communications. And this is a very evident thing -- I am referring to the fact that somel countries are limiting military transport in the Kaliningrad region. But now since we are launching a train ferry which will undertake this transport over the sea with the help of railway wagons and ferries, this problem has been totally resolved (first and foremost I am referring to the problem of military transport). And the task of the Baltic Fleet is to ensure their safety.
And not only this. In many countries of the world the navy also accomplishes purely economic tasks. Shall we say, the deep-water vessels owned by the British naval forces are used to extract minerals from the ocean shelf in deep-water and to accomplish other tasks.
And here, you know, one of our major priority projects is constructing the North European Gas Pipeline that will run under the Baltic Sea and ensure that our energy resources go directly to our west European consumers. This is a major project, very important for the country's economy, and indeed for all western Europe. And of course we are going to involve and use the opportunities offered by the navy to resolve environmental, economic, and technical problems because since the Second World War no one knows better than seamen how to operate on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Nobody has similar means to control and to check the bottom, nobody can better accomplish the task of ensuring environmental security. All of this incorporates a few new, yet absolutely crucial directions for the navy's activities and of course, in this case, in the Baltic Sea.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Baltiysk, we are waiting for one more question.
OLEG GROZNETSKII: Probably now there is a question from the fine half of Baltiysk. Who has questions? Please go ahead.
TAMARA SHARKO: Tamara Ivanovna Sharko.
I have the following question: when will the European Union fulfill its promise about a simplified visa regime for Russians?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Tamara Ivanovna, the European Union does not owe us anything, just as we do not owe it anything. But we proceed from the fact that Russia played an extremely important role in bringing down the Berlin wall and in overcoming a split in Europe. This merit belongs first of all to the whole Soviet Union as well as to Russia, our native country. For that reason we certainly have the right to expect that when quite high levels in western capitals discuss the need to create a Europe without dividing lines this will apply to Russia as well. And that these principles and these policies will be implemented in practice.
I must tell you that we are engaged in quite a positive dialogue with our European partners. We have reached agreements and made decisions about simplifying the visa regime for certain categories of citizens. This applies to youth, first and foremost to students, and also to academics, politicians, including at the regional level, it affects athletes and certain other categories of citizens. Such problems were solved, are being solved, and can be solved only on a mutual basis. What they propose to us we shall also do for them and vice versa. But we need to say frankly that a significant part of the work must be done by Russia itself. First and foremost, this concerns ensuring the security of our southern borders -- that is the first thing.
And second. Putting our immigration policies in order. Incidentally, we have a number of illegal immigrants here that according to different calculations -- even if it is impossible to have an exact figure -- amounts to between 10 and 15 million people. This is a huge figure. It is approximately the same, a little bit less -- perhaps there are 10 to 12 million -- in western Europe. We must ensure that our southern borders are reliably protected and put things in order in our immigration procedures and policy. This is our task. We must invest resources there and we are spending huge money. Just to ensure security in the Caucasus, from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea, we are going to spend about 500 million dollars. And this requires a little more time. By the end of 2007 we will have closed the border entirely. But we still have a huge border in Central Asia. This is the most dangerous direction -- it is becoming the most dangerous because of drug trafficking and organised crime. This is our common task, our responsibility and this requires time and money. There are plans and we are going to implement them.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Thank you, Baltiysk.
Vladimir Vladimirovich, I know that as we prepared for this hotline you looked at the questions that came in during these days over the telephone, over the Internet, and by SMS. Have you selected some that you want to answer?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, I chose quite a few. But I will try to answer them quickly.
"Which criteria do you apply when choosing a candidate for the head of a region of the Russian Federation?" -- Sergei Borisovich Tarasov, Samara region.
Sergei Borisovich, first and foremost I am guided by personal and business qualities. A person who is going to hold such a high post, that of the head of a region -- and regions in Russia are huge -- a person with great powers, must first and foremost be a decent person in the most direct, humanistic sense of the word. Of course, one must be professional and have good organisational skills. And third and no less important for the whole situation in which the decision is made -- this person must be acceptable and unobjectionable to the region and for the deputies in a given region.
It has already happened that we proposed a candidate that was unacceptable to the regional assembly. And I did not react negatively to this. On the contrary I consider that this acts as proof that the mechanism whereby a candidate must be intrinsically linked with national interests and sensitive to regional problems functions. And in the cases that I mentioned we had to propose another candidate and this candidate was accepted. And I consider that all these components are equally important. And we take all of them into account.
And now further: "When will the illegal sale of hard liquor stop?" I have already answered this question in enough detail, I won't repeat myself.
Â« Why aren't schools in smaller settlements specialised?Â» And here the question goes on about computers in schools. This is a question from Natalia Galliamova from the Cheliabinsk region.
You know that in schools with low enrollement it is quite difficult and very expensive to ensure that there is an adequate level of education and for that reason I perfectly understand the problem and wording of this question, which presupposes that there should be a school in each village or else life will simply die out there. But judging from what occurs in the country as a whole, taking into account the justice of formulating the question in such a way, and aspiring to save schools in rural areas wherever possible, we must not forget about another possibility. And that is the possibility to concentrate efforts, finances, administrative forces, creative forces, and the creative efforts of the teaching staff by establishing fairly big, major educational centres to improve the quality of education, to minimize expenses, and to improve the technical equipment that these schools have. And we are going use a combination of these two directions in the near future -- it is already being used.
Â«What do we need to do to make sure that Russia is not involved in any military conflict? Â» - Vitalii Viacheslavovich Zheleznov, Moscow.
It is necessary that nobody ever desires to involve Russia in any conflicts. I must say that Russia certainly does not have such a desire. But it is necessary that, along with this, all know that we are going to consistently, persistently and rigidly defend our national interests.
Galina Alekseevna Shkurkina: Â«In January there was a decision made to pay class supervising instructors a thousand rubles. I work in a correctional boarding school and as of yet we still are not receiving this money. Why?Â»
This question was discussed at one of the sessions of the Council for National Projects. At the time I already drew attention to the fact that this is unfair and we need to make the corresponding amendments to this programme. The government accepted these decisions and the corresponding extra payments have been made.
Galina Alekseevna, you should receive this money sometime in October, November -- everything starting January 2006. I am confident that all this will be realised and I will absolutely follow this through.
Â« In our city, Bor, people are constantly dealing drugs, everybody knows this and our city has become famous in the whole Nizhny Novgorod region for its drugs. What can we do if the police are complicit in this? Â»
Work actively on the police. And for this reason we established the corresponding service. It employs more than 30,000 people. And it is one of the major such services in the world, the so-called drug control service.
I shall absolutely charge the leadership of this service to pay attention both to the region and to your city.
Â« What part of the country's budget is used for exploring near and outer space? - Aleksandr Vladimirovich Lebedev. -- Will a new space station that orbits the Earth be created? Â»
I chose your question and here is the figures to help me answer it. In Russia there are a few programmes, namely the Federal Space Programme and the separate federal target programme Global Navigation System (counterpart of the GPS). I think that we must accelerate start of operation of our national global navigation system and I very much expect that economic actors will shift to the national global navigation system as soon as it starts working. We already have, I believe, 14 satellites in orbit. We still need to put some devices into orbit and the system will start operating all over the country. And later on we are going to make the next step and make it global. In this respect we are considerably ahead of our European partners.
With respect to general expenses, the federal target programme will increase its expenses in the near future and additional money has been allocated to speed up the programme. This amounts to 41,88 billion rubles. And the Federal Space Programme until 2010 (from 2008 to 2010) amounts to 129,9 billion rubles. A total of 171,7 billion rubles.
"I go to a patriotic club -- and the name of this club follows. We search for remains of dead soldiers, care for monuments and we help veterans. Now they are preparing to close the club. Please help", -- Marina Shitikova, Ekaterinburg.
Marina, I promise you that the Presidential Executive Office and President's plenipotentiary in the region will necessarily attend to this issue. And thank you for raising it.
Further. Â« I address you on behalf of the convicts Â», - further on is the name of a corrective labour establishment. It is a question of abuse (it is the Permskii Krai), as the author of this note writes, it is a question of administrative abuse, of a corrective establishment and about the infringement of the law. This is not the first such signal. I am not going to read this here in detail, it is quite long to list all these infringements of the law. I simply promise you that all the issues that are listed here will be looked at extremely carefully by the Prosecutor General. Not by the Perm Office of the Prosecutor General (you write here that the Perm Office does not respond) but by the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation.
Dina Petrovna Kalchenko: Â« Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich! I am writing to you on behalf of stage veterans: front-line soldiers, blockade survivors, prisoners of Hitler's and Stalin's concentration camps, national and honoured artists of Russia living in the Petersburg house of stage veterans, which in itself is a historical and cultural monument of federal value. This house monument is unique in the world. Now they are threatening to destroy our historical territory. We wrote to you asking for help three times alreadyÂ».
I must admit that, unfortunately, I never received those letters, Dina Petrovna. Â«How can we make sure that our letter reaches you, - now it has, - and not be readdressed to other authorities and to Mr Kaliagin who is creating this tragedy and illegal situation? Please help usÂ», - and so on.
This is the issue of trying to change this territory's status and using a part of this territory for commercial development. I think that the Union of Theatre Artists, and moreover the commercial structure -- I am referring to the company Sistema, a major company --could proceed without using the houses for stage veterans and, if necessary, help restore houses where veterans live. For this company this would represent a minimal amount of money. It is a large sum, somewhere around five million dollars, but for the company this is not a lot of money. To simply use this and help, not by taking what belongs to the theatre veterans by right and what they have owned for many decades. But if the company is too poor to do so than we will allocate funds from the budget for this, I promise you.
Aleksandr Vladislavovich Nazarenko. Â«I live with my grandmother, my grandfather and my father. We live well, I study in second grade, we have a farm unit where we grow vegetables and so on. Probably, in the new year all people near a Christmas tree should make a wish, not forget it, and work well throughout the year. What else do we need to do to make sure that all our wishes come true and that everyone lives well, are healthy and happy?Â» This is Aleksandr Vladislavovich Nazarenko.
You need to believe in all the good things and to show strength and will to achieve this result. Without this nothing will turn out. I am confident that the Russian people as a whole and that you yourself have this strength and desire.
YEKATERINA ANDREYEVA: Vladimir Vladimirovich, we thank you for participating in our hotline.
We also thank everyone who participated in this hotline with us today, the people who came to where our television crews were, everyone who contacted us through the Internet, through SMS messages, and who took part in this programme.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much.