Working Day

1 august, 2011 18:43

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks with participants of the Seliger-2011 youth educational forum

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks with participants of the Seliger-2011 youth educational forum
“I am happy to be among those who seek, propose, and achieve their goals, both for their own personal development, and to make their country stronger and more majestic.”
Vladimir Putin
During conversation with participants of the Seliger-2011 youth educational forum

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Hello everyone. Thank you for your applause and for such a wonderful welcome. I am very pleased to be at Seliger with you, and to be surrounded by those who share common views with me and with us. This forum has been organised with the support of the United Russia, together with youth movements. It's so nice to see that such a large wave of young people think and feel as we do. I'm so pleased that people have gathered here who seek, propose, and achieve their goals, both for their own personal development, and to make their country stronger and more majestic. I am very proud of you, and I want to thank you for this. What we have seen here today - the ideas that you have put forth  with your colleagues - is both simple and effective. As you know, not long ago we established the Strategic Initiatives Agency. Andrei Nikitin, who has been here twice, has been selected to be the agency’s general director. I did not know that he had already been to Seliger. After winning in the open competition he told me that he had visited Seliger twice. And not only did he visit Seliger, but both times he managed to find those who would implement his ideas, which made me especially pleased, because as a result… I have just talked to one of your colleagues that he found. He said, “After finding such talented and interesting guys here, I gave up Dutch technology because what they offer us is cheaper, more effective and better.” You are the best of all!

Honestly, I don't want to go off on a long speech, to avoid wearing you out. And if it's possible (and the organisers have told me that it is), we could just talk with each other. Thank you very much for your attention.

Fyodor Bondarchyuk: I feel like I'm at a film premier: “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon, Mr Putin."

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Fyodor Bondarchyuk: Mr Putin, please have a seat. In order to avoid turning this into a question-answer press conference, let’s give each other a chance to make some comments. Mr Putin, I think you can ask questions easily as well. Let’s quickly jump right in – question after question after question. Please, introduce yourself.

Ani Alaverdyan: Good afternoon. My name is Ani Alaverdyan, from Armenia. I represent the party Prosperous Armenia. Mr Putin, we'd like to invite you personally to the CIS youth forum in Tsakhkadzor. On behalf of the Armenian youth, we’d like to ask you to support us and visit Tsakhadzor.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. And when will this camp take place?

Ani Alaverdyan: August 20th.

Vladimir Putin: Starting on August 20th? So you will go straight there from here? Well done! Do you hold this kind of forum every year?

Ani Alaverdyan: No, this is the first time such a forum is held in Armenia. I'd like, on behalf of the Armenian youth… Please, come.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I’ll consider it.

Yevgeny Ignatyev: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. Yevgeny Ignatyev from Svetogorsk in the Leningrad Region. I work in the municipal centre of culture and sports. I'd like to say that the people who work there with talented and athletic young people are truly enthusiastic. I’m involved in union activities and I’d like to bring up the issue of salaries. Coaches and those who do cultural work (this is a long list, which includes social workers, the municipal press, and so on) earn very little money in the municipal sphere. I’d like this issue to be addressed, especially since the Sochi Olympics are not far off. I think that our Russian coaches, who are so devoted to working with teenagers and young people, should make no less than 20,000 – 30,000 roubles. And I have a second question, if I may.

Vladimir Putin: Your first was not a question. It is a persistent and justified demand. I agree.

I should mention that I also went into sports when I was a young boy. I attended the Trud sports society, the Turbine Constructor sports centre and a factory club. Everything was very primitive, but it was all there. Of course, such conditions are unacceptable today. Our goal is not just to have the greatest accomplishments and records in sports, which is very important, but even more important is to promote grass-root sports run by municipal coaches and teachers.

We are now restoring the system of training world-class athletes that must defend our colours at international competitions – and from there, it trickles down. Every level should have its own area of responsibility. The sport of records is at the highest, federal level; next come the regional and municipal levels. We will encourage your municipal colleagues to create the conditions necessary for effectively addressing your challenges. In the end, the success of our national teams depends on your effective work. I wish you success, and all the best.

Vlad Mazurin: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Vlad Mazurin. We’d like our forum to become an international platform where the world’s future elite can be acquainted with the real, modern Russia for the first time. We are inviting the presidents of student societies of the world's best universities to visit us, along with their students and postgraduates. We want them to learn about Russia from us rather than from the media. We want them to see our beautiful nature, our lovely girls and our best people, who gather at this forum. We want our forum to outbalance the negative information concerning Russia that the world media imposes on them. Do you think we need such a platform?

Vladimir Putin: There's no need to show our girls – they are our national treasure! But seriously, we do need such a platform indeed. Youth camps and such venues exist in many countries. They appear in Armenia, as you can see. They are standard practice in Europe. Different parties have their own venues there.

It seems to me that the Seliger camp has become rather large-scale. And it’s not really a matter of the scale, of the fact that more than 20,000 people attend this camp each season. It’s important how this work is organised. You’d be a better judge but this seems interesting to me. One of your colleagues just presented his ideas on developing the camp and improving its conditions, although it’s a field camp, but making it more comfortable, and on setting up other camps like this…

I won’t talk about money but of course, this is a question of money. We will absolutely help, and we will develop and support the Seliger camp. We want it primarily to be a venue for our talented young people, and a magnet for your peers from abroad.

Fyodor Bondarchyuk: Mr Putin, I have a question as well, that may be a little sensitive. You're speaking about inviting young people from abroad, but you know that there are so many bloggers on the internet that criticise us and what is happening here. Can we conduct a dialogue at the next forum? Has anyone invited them to come?

Vladimir Putin: You’re absolutely right. It is a good thing that we have people who can express their views and criticism on any issue, but it is not good when they do so without knowing what’s actually going on. And, I think, there’s no point in snapping at people and bickering. Instead you should invite these guys over here so that they can see for themselves what’s going on. If they come up with some interesting and constructive ideas and proposals, I am confident that the organisers will be there to accommodate them.

Remark: Excuse me. Seliger is a venue open to all young people without distinction. We are inviting these young people for a reason, which is to stimulate this discourse.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: This was a question. There’s an answer to it. We would like to see it again next year, because, like I said, there are such people. They are not organised, but each of them leads one or two thousand people. Take 100 people and you’ll have a great variety of opinions. Let’s move on.

Darya Petrova: May I? Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I’m Darya Petrova, Nashi movement. Both you and President Medvedev have on many occasions mentioned that kindergarten buildings that are now being used for other purposes need to re-open as kindergartens. My team and I have put together relevant information into a book, which features 189 kindergartens in Moscow and another 257 kindergartens from 15 Russian regions where Nashi has a presence. And this is just a fraction. I know that the president instructed governors to monitor this issue personally. We organised public events in all cities and towns where we collected materials in order to remind the governors about their commitments. For example, in Bryansk (population 415,000), there are 6,000 families on kindergarten waiting lists, in other words, every 70th Bryansk resident, including old people and infants. Over the past six months, two out of 62 kindergartens were put back into operation. Certainly, things have gotten off the ground, but in order for the process to gain momentum we would like to ask you to monitor it in person. I am confident that this will accelerate the process and make local authorities take right decisions. Thank you. Here’s our book.

Vladimir Putin: Together with you. First, it is very good that you are addressing this issue. Second, we have mostly young people here. However, I’m sure you know that just five to six years ago our country took such a demographic nosedive that things looked almost desperate. The population was abruptly decreasing and the birth rate was extremely low. This is a major challenge, to use modern parlance, a big problem for any country. Almost all European countries are facing it. Back then, we spearheaded a major demographic project, including the well-known maternity capital and a host of other measures to stimulate childbirth. Surprisingly, it had a positive effect. Not just that, of course. Primarily, and I think that you will agree with me, this is the result of economic improvements, including poverty reduction and increase in real income levels, although we still have a long way to go and we have many problems with individual incomes.

Just now a young man spoke about the low salaries paid to municipal coaches, to put it mildly. Same thing goes for school and kindergarten teachers. However, the effect was noticeable. Now, we have to deal with shortages of places at kindergartens. This issue needs to be addresses across many areas. We need to put back into business kindergartens that were earlier restructured for different purposes. It’s not always possible to do so, because unfortunately you can’t get anything back from new owners if the property documents are in order. Kindergartens still owned by municipal or regional authorities should be reinstated as such. That’s my first point. Second, we need to build new preschool facilities. Third, there’s a need for private and family-run preschool facilities.  

Overall, all Russian regions have adopted relevant programmes, but they need to be pushed forward constantly by public organisations like yours and federal authorities. We will continue this work together. We will make sure that the situation in this area is improved through our efforts. This is particularly important for young women with university education and careers. If they are forced to leave employment for extended periods of time, getting their careers back on track can be a real problem. This is a deterring factor for starting a bigger family. Indeed, this is an important and acute problem. We will absolutely keep on tackling this issue.

Darya Petrova: Thank you very much.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. We are very glad to have you here. My name is Natalya and I’m from Penza. I’m not really sure if it’s a good question for a girl, but I wanted to ask you about the Russian Armed Forces.

Vladimir Putin: It’s just right for a girl. Is your boyfriend serving in the army?

Answer: No, not quite. My dad is a retired Lt.-Colonel, artillery. Accordingly, being a family member, I have seen a lot of places and know the military lifestyle. Actually, I liked the status enjoyed by servicemen back then. Even now, I’d like to marry a serviceman…

Vladimir Putin: Let’s give it up for Natasha! Way to go!

Question: My question is: what prospects will I have if I get married to a serviceman in the future?

Vladimir Putin: You will certainly have two or three kids, no question about it.  This popular line from a pop song about a girl loving military men is definitely about you.

Question: You’re right. What’s the best service arm for my purposes?

Vladimir Putin: The arms should be masculine, and the branch of the armed forces doesn’t really matter. You just need to find the right guy.

Answer: Thank you.

Darya Ivantsova: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Darya Ivantsova. I am from Kursk. There’s a lot of talk about America facing a financial meltdown.

Vladimir Putin: Not any more. They’ve made the decision already. They have reached an agreement. Just played around a bit and reached an agreement.

Darya Ivantsova: Have they? What if they had a major crisis? How would it affect the Russian economy?

Vladimir Putin: There’s certainly nothing good about it, because in the global economy all countries depend on each other.  The American economy is a driver of the global economy, that’s a fact. If it has a systemic failure, it affects everyone. The thing is not only about countries like Russia and China keeping their gold and currency reserves in US treasuries (they would be affected and that would be bad for us). However, this is not the point. The point is that such a systemic failure would affect the global economy. Some experts believe that the United States is even interested in such a crisis becoming a reality, so that they can devalue the dollar and create even better and more favourable conditions for their export-oriented industries and thus resolve their problems (they have major problems with China and they wouldn’t mind moving aside their competitors in Europe, either).

Fortunately, this didn’t happen. They showed enough common sense and responsibility and made a balanced decision. I think this morning or last night the Democrats and the Republicans reached a compromise in Congress and the Senate on how to address the issues.

However, on the whole the situation is not good. They have just postponed the adoption of other more systemic measures, because this huge debt – 14 trillion or more – means that the country is living on borrowed money. This is bad news for an economic leader. It means that they are living beyond their means and shift part of their problems on the global economy, thereby taking a free ride, to a certain extent, on the global economy and their dollar-printing monopoly. This means that other reserve currencies, other than US dollar, should be introduced. The euro should get stronger. Asia should have its own regional reserve currencies. The rouble may become at least a regional reserve currency. We are fully aware of today’s reality. The ability of a certain national currency to act as a reserve currency doesn’t depend on paper but on the quality of a particular national economy. However, with due account taken of the post-Soviet space and the use of the rouble as a legal tender in the former USSR countries, this is quite possible. The rouble is a fairly reliable and stable currency. Unlike the yuan, it’s also a convertible currency. Even during the economic turmoil in 2009 we didn’t impose restrictions of capital exports. We sent a signal to the global economy and our partners that we wouldn’t restrict capital exports even under such harsh economic conditions. They brought in their capital here despite the ravaging financial crisis (but they can withdraw it) – we made it possible for them. Indeed, we lost some of our gold and currency reserves, but I think that our reputation is more important. This is absolutely justified in this particular case.  

In our dealings with Belarus, 90% of noncash settlements are conducted in roubles and 60%-65% of cash settlements are also conducted in roubles. In other words, the rouble is becoming a reserve currency in our bilateral trade relations. The same applies to other countries: we have created a common customs territory and a common economic space with certain countries, and the rouble will certainly fight for a place of its own. Let me say it again: the crisis in the US is over for the time being, but we shouldn’t just observe passively how they are coping with their problems. We should strengthen our national currency and economy.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Oleg and I’m from the Transdnestr Region. First of all, let me thank you for everything you are doing for us. I have the following question for you. There used to be a Russian consulate office in Tiraspol, and they issued Russian citizenship papers there. This practice was discontinued some time ago and the operations were moved to Chisinau, Moldova, where they have made the procedure extremely complicated. You now need anywhere from six to twelve months to obtain a passport. I am a Russian citizen, but other people of my age don’t have such an opportunity anymore. Why is that?  

Vladimir Putin: I didn’t realise that this is the way it is now. I’m hearing this for the first time now. I think this has to do with the settlement process and with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s desire to improve Chisinau’s trust in Russia as an intermediary in this long-lasting conflict. I will look into it. Perhaps it’s just a technical glitch. However, I think that this is most certainly due to the Foreign Ministry’s desire to show Moldova that Russia is a reliable and unbiased intermediary that takes views of all sides under advisement. However, people shouldn’t suffer in the process, of course. We will think about straightening things out.

Remark: Thanks a lot… This is really a very important issue for us.

Vladimir Putin: All right, I hear you, we’ll think about it.

Yulia Novikova: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Yulia Novikova. I am a journalist, participant in the Information Flow project. First, I would like to thank you on behalf of all those present here for visiting our forum this year. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you for inviting me.

Yulia Novikova: Second, I would like to ask if you plan to come to Seliger next year, and if the answer is yes, in what capacity? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: May I ask you a counter-question? Do you plan to come here next year?

Yulia Novikova: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Tell me honestly, are you interested in having me here, talking with me, in hearing my questions to you and my answers to your questions?

Yulia Novikova: Certainly.

Vladimir Putin: Interested?

Yulia Novikova: Absolutely.

Remarks: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Does it really matter to you in what capacity I’m here today?

Remarks: No.

Vladimir Putin: Here’s my answer to your question.

Yulia Novikova: Thank you.

Arina Labikova: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Arina Labikova. I am from Moscow. I have a question for you. What do you think is the most important thing for Russia now?

Vladimir Putin: That’s a philosophical question. You know, we are having some nice weather right now; we are sitting together here at Seliger; you have spent a few days, even weeks here; you have good prospects, good ideas and projects; you are all oriented towards the future. And this is excellent. However, not so long ago in the early 1990s, our country fell apart. We just don’t really think about it right now when we say that the Soviet Union collapsed. What is the Soviet Union? Russians and the other peoples living in Russia have spent one thousand years building the state within the then-available borders. This made geopolitical and economic sense, because these territories complemented each other. In some cases, the Russian empire just stopped short and chose not to expand, for example, further south, on a belief that some particular place would make a better border. Then this country collapsed. I will not discuss the details, but it was a real disaster, when trade and economic ties that took centuries to build were severed. Twenty-five million people who thought of themselves as Russians suddenly found themselves living outside Russia. Everyday nationalism reared its head. This wave is on the wane now, thank God. The scum and the wave are now receding. However, it brought about really big problems. The established economy and the social security net followed in the wake. A large number of people became impoverished. The previously available social security net just vanished. This had devastating consequences. I am not sure about you, since you are mostly young people, but if Russians found themselves abroad back in the mid-1990s, they tried to speak Russian in a subdued tone of voice, because they felt bad about being from а country that fell so low. On top of everything else, there was a humiliating bloodbath in the Caucasus. However, this is not a sign of decay, this is a symptom of illness, and the convalescing Russia is emerging even stronger, because it has developed greater immunity to problems.

The consolidation of society is very important given such circumstances. I am very pleased to see young people with a positive outlook on current developments in Russia get together here. People with clear understanding of what they want to do in life, with their own ideas and proposals regarding future development. The implementation of each of your projects is a small but substantial input in making Russia a stronger and healthier country. This is exactly the medicine that our country needs most. The most important thing is the consolidation of people with different political views and ideas about the future. Their consolidation based on love for their homeland is the most important thing now.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Mr Putin, I just remembered that my grandfather and grandmother used to say on various occasions: “Things will be fine no matter what as long as there’s no war.” I grew up hearing this, and this belief was passed on from generation to generation. And I have just realised that I haven’t heard these words in a while. That’s interesting. I’m just drawing attention to the phrase “bloodbath in the Northern Caucasus.” Just the fact that people don’t think about war now,  that’s a big achievement.  

Viktor Levanov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Viktor Levanov. I am a journalist student at Moscow State University and I’m in charge of the Information Flow shifts here. I have two short questions for you. Here’s the first one.

Vladimir Putin: What’s an Information Flow?

Viktor Levanov: The Information Flow is a community of journalists. Specifically, I am in charge of promotion through social networks. I have two questions. The first one is: pseudo-intellectuals and oppositionists from my department say that you have established the Popular Front with the only objective to help United Russia win the Duma elections. My second question is: Will you hire me to work in your press service?

Vladimir Putin: That’s the spirit!  A go-getter, as they say. Answering your first question: your colleagues who say that the Russian Popular Front was created to secure United Russia’s success are right to a great extent. Indeed, the Popular Front is called to broaden United Russia’s socio-political base, get on board new people with interesting and feasible ideas and proposals to address problems facing our country. What’s wrong with that? I believe that this is quite a positive development. There’s no ambush or double play here. I always say it upfront that we want to broaden United Russia’s support base and rejuvenate United Russia making place for interesting and personable young people with ambitious and promising ideas, which they can and want to put to work. That is why we created the Popular Front.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: What about the employment chances for the young man?

Vladimir Putin: Fyodor will never let anyone slip away. Come talk to me later.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Mr Putin, I have a question. It’s all clear about getting new people aboard United Russia. However, at the end of the day, I am a member of United Russia. Recently we have all become bad guys: we all use the administrative levers; we are all in power, and so on. It’s now bad manners to say yes even to yourself. And it’s just hushed up… Listen, what’s wrong with it?  You said at the party congress in St Petersburg: “You don’t have to be involved in politics, but you are using the party as a tool.” Don’t dump your old party members; you might just forget about us.

Vladimir Putin: No.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Just remember all bread is not baked in one oven. Being a United Russia member is not fashionable now.

Vladimir Putin: Remember the line from a popular film? By the way, there are people who offer constructive criticism and we should listen to what they have to say. Then, there are die-hard fault-finders, and their job is to condemn. Remember that film: “Bug off! Bug off now”! That’s all you can say to them.

I must say that Fyodor is implementing a very interesting and important idea of building cinema networks in Russian towns with population under 200,000, right?

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Yes, in small towns.

Vladimir Putin: Fyodor, tell them about it, it’s an interesting and useful idea.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Since we are using digital technology, it’s more than a mere feature presentation. You can draw hallways and crosswalks of a vast number of libraries and museums in the comfort of your own home, to scan good paintings. You can do it as early as 9 a.m. – before the cinemas open. It is going to be an educational programme for children and it enjoys tremendous success. However, the market-based approach doesn’t work there. There are such head-on business plans… That’s why we are trying to implement this project with United Russia’s support. We have conducted cyber-sport competitions and 3D online football premieres in Novosibirsk, where this system is up and running. We told them: “Listen, guys, let us know beforehand, because they’ve knocked down all the doors.” So, we are working in small towns …

Vladimir Putin: What is the idea about?

Fyodor Bondarchuk: The idea is to bring everything into one information field, because…

Vladimir Putin: He feels like he owns the place there, but he has to explain things. Let’s listen to him.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: All right, Mr Putin. One information field; everything is linked to a satellite. Accordingly, everyone can see each other; everyone can talk to each other. Plus everyone is fighting piracy, because the signals are encrypted. This will reduce the number of pirated copies, because they won’t be able to make screeners. If we talk about the cinematography as something different from educational programmes, then it’s certainly a powerful tool. I can talk about it all day, Mr Putin. Let’s move on. Thank you for mentioning it.

Vladimir Putin: I can say that this is really an excellent idea that will take Russian products to small towns that unfortunately don’t have such networks now.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: That’s right. Your recent meeting with the animators… One hall can always show Russian movies. If a network is large then it can really make a difference.

Vladlena Samovarova: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Vladlena Samovarova. My question is: What’s your favourite TV series?

Vladimir Putin: You have such a rich and beautiful last name.

Vladlena Samovarova: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I can’t say I have a favourite TV series. Honestly, I don’t watch them. I can name my favourite films, but they date back to old times. I like War and Peace by Sergei Bondarchuk a lot.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Bondarchuk Senior.

Vladimir Putin: I think this film is one of the world’s masterpieces.  A real major masterpiece of international importance, both in terms of its scale and acting. I love our old comedies like Ivan Vasilyevich: Back to the Future; Kidnapping, Caucasian Style, and so on. More recent films include At Home Among Strangers, Stranger at Home by Nikita Mikhalkov and his other film The Barber of Siberia.  It just shakes you to the core. Literally.

Vladlena Samovarova: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: The Island is another film I really loved.

V. Samovarova: A Pavel Lungine film.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, Lungine’s. You know, at one point I had the impression that Russian cinema was no more. There seemed to be no good Russian films to watch, and I was so unhappy about that. But then the new wave of films that emerged after a while gave me an immense sense of pride. I felt like shaking the filmmakers’ hands and giving them all a thankful hug. I haven’t been able to express my gratitude to everyone as filmmakers and actors have hectic schedules. So I’m using this occasion to declare my appreciation for them. They are doing a great job!

Alexei Anisimov: My name’s Alexei Anisimov, I’m from Novosibirsk. Here’s my question: Do you believe the Americans landed on the Moon?

Vladimir Putin: Sure they did.

Alexei Anisimov: There’s a theory claiming …

Vladimir Putin: I know this theory, but I just don’t think such an event could be falsified.

Likewise, there’s a theory that the 9/11 explosion of the [World Trade Centre] twin towers [in New York City] was masterminded and staged by U.S. authorities themselves. But that’s absolute nonsense! In my view, the September 11th attacks, which left thousands of victims, are a huge tragedy for the nation and for the entire world, and it would be crazy to assume that U.S. special services were behind it.

You know, only those who have no idea about special services’ modern techniques can come out with such theories. With hundreds of professionals involved in intelligence activity, it’s impossible to avoid leaks in those quarters, doing something on the sly. 

Admittedly, we don’t always see eye to eye with our American partners, but I just cannot imagine such an idea would occur to any U.S. political leader, incumbent or former, or to an intelligence chief. One would be mad to think of killing his or her fellow countrymen.

The same is true of the Moon landing. Such an event is just impossible to falsify.

Alexei Anisimov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We could just as well say that Yury Gagarin didn’t go on a space mission. You can always cook up an alternative history. But let’s not forget that in reality, our fellow countryman was the first person to have ventured into outer space.

Grant Abelyan: My name’s Grant Abelyan, I’m from Krasnoyarsk. We won the Informpotok journalist competition at Seliger and now we’ll run a federal programme, expanding a magazine nationwide, one that I’ve launched in three Siberian cities. It may sound overambitious, but I hope Mr Putin agrees to give an interview to our new edition in ten cities across Russia.

Vladimir Putin: I’ll ask him to do so.

Alexei Anisimov. Okay.

Vladimir Putin: He may well agree, I think.

Alexei Anisimov: A photo of you will appear on the cover of the magazine’s second issue, coming out in Siberia. Could I ask you for an autograph?

Vladimir Putin: Sure.

Yevgenia Kutsoyeva: My name’s Yevgenia Kutsoyeva; I’m from Ufa, in the republic of Bashkortostan. Here, at Seliger, I won a grant from the National Prospects foundation, for the implementation of the Blogging School project.

President Medvedev is known to be a Twitter fan. What about you Mr Putin? Is your heart with Twitter or with Live Journal?

Vladimir Putin: “I’m with the Internationale.” Do you remember that line from the old movie, which came as a reply to the question “Are you with the Communists or the Bolsheviks?”

Me, I advocate the advancement of modern technology and its use as a tool for development, not as a weapon in criminal hands. This should be a development vehicle. And I’m really glad our younger generation uses modern communication technology and that many older people embrace it, too.

It’s important for this country, which is the world’s largest in area and has a poorly developed transportation system. The road and airport infrastructure has incurred serious losses in recent years. We’re now working to restore it, but we cannot do the job overnight.

Modern means of communications enable us to solve a number of important socio-economic problems. First of all, problems related to territorial development. Secondly, issues having to do with educational programmes. And, thirdly, tele-medicinal-related issues. I’ve already seen remote surgery in action. It’s incredible, but it works. It’s becoming a reality. And, of course, there are many other applications for modern IT devices.

So I fully support this, and my colleagues and I will work to promote innovative technology. We’re running a programme called Government Online. Its purpose is to create an online platform for all kinds of administrative interaction. This is the way we’ll do things in the future.

Alexander Serbin: I’m Alexander Serbin, from Tomsk. I’m a student at the University of Tomsk. First of all, I’d like to thank you for saving our Premier League football club Tom from oblivion. And my question is…

Vladimir Putin: And what’s your club’s current status?

Alexander Serbin: It ranks 12th at the moment.

Vladimir Putin: That’s a happy number.

Alexander Serbin: We’ll get to the top with a little momentum.

In Tomsk, we often have cybersport tournaments. Are there any plans to advance this sport nationwide?

Vladimir Putin: Cybersport will catch on in Russia like many other things. We, Russians, may be slow at building speed, but once we’ve gained momentum, there’s no way to stop us from progressing.

Alexander Bezikov: I’m Alexander Bezikov. I took part in the Informpotok competition. I have two small questions for you, Mr Putin. One is about the role of young people in the Popular Front. Also, being an active Twitter user, I wonder whether you are going to get yourself an account there?

Vladimir Putin: Do I have to?

Alexander Bezikov: I think you should.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s begin with your first question. A young person’s role in politics should not be limited to the Popular Front. This is just a tool to set things in motion, to encourage fresh talent to get involved. The ultimate goal is to find creative ways to respond to the modern challenges facing the nation.

They say the greatest discoveries are made by young people. As far as I remember, Victor Hugo remarked that spectacular wins come as a reward for audacity. It is young people who have the audacity to do things because they care about their country’s future as well as their own. In this sense, I’d be happy to see more and more young people devote themselves, like you, to social and IT activity. To see them proceed, through the Popular Front, to public youth organisations and other parties consistent with their idea of what this country needs now and in the long run. 

I spoke earlier today with people your age. On my way here, I met with activists from public organisations. One girl spoke of how her group struggles against shops selling food products past their expiration date. I can now see smiles on your faces, but it’s no laughing matter, in fact. This is about stopping dishonest shop managers from profiting at the expense of shoppers’ health. This is a serious issue and it’s quite hard to tackle in everyday life. You could get beaten up if you try to call dishonest managers to task. But those guys aren’t afraid. They are ready to run the risk.

Another guy told us about efforts to eradicate illicit garbage dumps. This may look like a minor issue, but it’s not as insignificant as it may seem. I think it’s great that young people are interested in such important issues, that they take risks in order to make a difference. Me personally, I’m willing to support these kinds of endeavors in any possible way.

Alexander Bezikov: Will you become a registered Twitter user any time soon?

Vladimir Putin: I’m registered in so many places already!

Alexander Bezikov: What’s your nickname if I may ask?

Vladimir Putin: Come up later today and explain why you think I should go for it. Okay?

Alexander Bezikov: Okay.

Viktoria Sultanova: I’m Viktoria Sultanova from Smolensk. I have a serious question to put to you. The crime rate in Russia is very high at the moment, and it has been that way throughout the past decade. Also, there’s massive corruption and huge problems with road traffic. Perhaps, Russia should return to a totalitarian form of government? All this criminal activity was non-existent under Stalin because people feared punishment. Maybe, an iron fist is needed to restore law and order in this country?

Vladimir Putin: Is this what you really believe?

Viktoria Sultanova: Well, partly.

Vladimir Putin: Really? That’s a pity. Because this isn’t a particularly efficient model of governance. And under modern-day conditions, it would inevitably lead to a deadlock. In the Stalin era, millions of people died in gulag camps. That loss of life is horrible. But totalitarian rule also kills individual freedom and creativity – things that no state can offer a substitute for. A country built on such a model becomes unviable economically, socially and politically, and will eventually collapse. This is what happened to the Soviet Union. We don’t want our recent history to repeat itself, do we? We’d better steer away from totalitarianism then.

Vladimir Yan: I’m Vladimir Yan, a winner in youth primaries in the Chelyabinsk Region. I’m currently running in the Popular primaries. I hear that Russian politics needs ambitious and motivated young activists with a strong sense of responsibility. My question is: how can young people make their way into big politics.

Personally, I’ve got through four election rounds already. I didn’t achieve much on the first three, and thought to myself I was still young and would have many more opportunities come my way. But then a friend came over to support me through the fourth round. He was sitting in the second row and the head of the electoral commission was sitting right in front of him. A commission member came over to the chairperson and asked: “Is Yan taking part in today’s round? It’s me who monitors him today.”

Vladimir Putin: Hold on a minute. I didn’t get it. Who monitors whom? Please explain once again.

Fyodr Bondarchuk: And don’t be nervous.

Vladimir Putin: Don’t worry, just concentrate.

Vladimir Yan: Well, I had a hard time going through the youth primaries, but I made it in the end.

Remark: So keep moving.

Vladimir Yan: So, as I said, the commission member came up to the chairman. I wasn’t in the audience, but my friend was there. The two men didn’t know him, though…

Vladimir Putin: Were they talking to each other?

Vladimir Yan: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: And your friend was eavesdropping?

Vladimir Yan: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Good for him!

Remark: They talked rather loudly.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Vladimir Yan: One of them said: “Yan must take part because I’m inspecting him today.” I think I am getting too few votes, but what can I do about it? I asked the organisers to appoint their own observer but they answered: “How can we appoint an observer to supervise another observer?”

Vladimir Putin: That’s clear.

Can I tell you a story from my own life? It isn’t about politics but sports. I saw this kind of pressure on several occasions when I was an active wrestler. Our meets were announced on a notice board. One day, I see a notice reading: “Putin vs. Ivanov”. Two guys are standing near the board, talking: “Who’s Ivanov meeting with?” “Putin. He’s in for a proper thrashing!” and they exchange the gory details of the beating I can expect. That’s  psychological pressure, something you should shrug off. But when these things are cooked up for forgeries, you should fight them.

Vladimir Yan: How?

Vladimir Putin: By posing the question openly. When a friend of yours hears something unscrupulous, go to them and say: “We heard you say thisand that. Let’s address the information board and write in detail what you are doing here.” That’s what the media are about: we’ll never have real democracy unless we say things out loud. We should work for that.

Vladimir Yan: I was working for orphanages during the youth primaries, and arranged the first city badminton competition. It needed publicity, but when I addressed the media, my rivals blocked my contacts with all the outlets even though it was a charitable event.

Vladimir Putin: Know what? I can say this now: “Let’s see what’s what. I’ll inquire about the people who were doing it.” But that will be just a tiny improvement of one particular situation while I want you and other young community activists to see that things must be fought for. You can’t appeal to the big bosses in every predicament. You should organise things on your own and promote deserving people.

Vladimir Yan: I think I deserve promotion as I follow in my grandfather’s steps.

Vladimir Putin: I also think you deserve it.

Vladimir Yan: My grandfather was appointed manager of a collective farm when it was working at a loss. He soon raised its profits to 1.5 million roubles. Even though he had two official cars at his disposal, my father used the school bus – that was a 10 km ride – and walked the rest of the way. I would like to see officials like him, true public servants and not...

Vladimir Putin: That’s right. It reminds me of a story – I don’t know whether it’s true. When the great-granddaughter of a Decembrist was attending some public event, one of the Communist Party leaders said to her: “We are fighting the rich like your great-grandfather,” to which the lady answered: “But my great-grandfather fought against poverty.” Today’s politicians might use expensive new cars, twitter and the Internet but they should still see to the dynamic development of their neighbourhood, district, city, region and the whole country. That’s what their job is about. But they should also be modest and not abuse their office. That’s clear.

Svyatoslav Ledin: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Svyatoslav Ledin. I study at the Political Science Department of St Petersburg University.

Vladimir Putin: Political Science? What disciplines do you have there?

Svyatoslav Ledin: Philosophy, history, contemporary politics, and even a science called political mathematics.

Vladimir Putin: Political mathematics?

Svyatoslav Ledin: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: What exactly is that? Some sort of anti-science?

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Wait, Mr Putin! I’m afraid you’ve just written a science off.

Vladimir Putin: No, no!

Fyodor Bondarchuk: You say “anti-science” today, and it will be banned tomorrow.

Vladimir Putin: No, the name sounds strange. But don’t close it – I’m just joking.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: The department will be closed tomorrow!

Vladimir Putin: No, no! Let it be!

Svyatoslav Ledin: Mr Putin, we heard a lot about you last week, and saw many clips about you.

Vladimir Putin: Did you hear good things, I hope?

Svyatoslav Ledin: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Thank God! I know there are lots of clips with a contrary viewpoint.

Svyatoslav Ledin: We have no doubt that you’d win the 2012 election, but we are not sure whether you want to run for the presidency at all. If you do, why? And another small question: what, do you think distinguishes you from Mr Medvedev as president? Thank you.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: What department are you studying in, did you say?

Vladimir Putin: Mathematic political sciences, if I got it right. I don’t think the discipline is any use at all.

I can hardly answer all your questions now – you have asked too many. At any rate, I have known Mr Medvedev for a long time. We have worked together a lot, as you know, and we share opinions on the critical aspects of national development and foreign affairs. But tastes differ, which is natural, and each of us has his own ideas of how to do this or that. What matters most, however, our work style allows us to listen to each other and make balanced decisions within our rights and duties. Overall, our tandem, as people call it, is an effective approach, and I think that’s good.

As for the future, it is coming soon. We will ask your advice quite soon on what to do next.

Svyatoslav Ledin: Thank you.

Vasily Pugachyov: My name is Vasily Pugachyov. I am a Muscovite, a member of the Zyuzino district council and president of the University Students and Graduates Association. We have analysed your Strategy 2020 programme, and we find it relevant. We conducted opinion polls at universities all over Russia, and collected initiatives for the Popular Front. However, we realised that a majority of Russian young people have no vision. Young people don’t know where to go. So in response to this, we drew up a concept for Russia’s development, that is, for the formation of a new model for Russia.

Vladimir Putin: You mean, nobody knows what you know?

Vasily Pugachyov: We would like to do it together, that’s why I want to ask you a question. The Popular Front is creating a Popular Programme. Why not also create a new concept of Russia within that programme? This concept should be the people’s concept, giving everyone the chance to fulfil his or her dream – the chance for a vision and for self-fulfilment? Meanwhile, too many young people have no plan or idea of what will become of them in five, ten or twenty years.

Vladimir Putin: This is really a deep question because, despite its good wording, the concept of national development up to 2020 is a sizeable book, and I suspect that an overwhelming majority even in this audience have not looked it through. But then, we all need clear and relevant reference points. That’s how you should proceed in rewriting the programme. I’ll be very grateful to you if you do.

There is moreto it. We created this programme. You said: “My programme.” That might be so in a sense, but it was prepared by a large think tank – the presidential staff and the government. We designed it even before the global economic and financial downturn, which certainly changed Russian and global economic development. Many other problems have and will arise, as well, and we should necessarily take them into account as we implement the programme. So amendments are absolutely necessary, and it would be good of you to take up the job.

Vasily Pugachyov: I would do it with pleasure. That is why I dare hand you a letter I’ve written you.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s have it.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: I also have a question to ask you: what’s your own personal dream?

Vasily Pugachyov: To see Russia among the world’s leading countries – to see Russia full of dignity, and to live in a good city and district. We should take pride in our country, and I want to be proud of it.

Vladimir Putin: That’s good, and nothing can be added to it.

I’ll give it to Nikolai Fyodorov (head of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies), okay?

Sergei Yegorov: Good afternoon. My name is Sergei Yegorov. I am an actor from Tambov. Mr Putin, I am speaking for all young actors.

Vladimir Putin: Where do you work?

Sergei Yegorov: At the Tambov Drama Theatre. Incidentally, you supported Karina Lomakina’s project last year for the musical “The Master’s Manuscript” [after Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita]. We staged it, and we’ll have guest performances in September. I am playing the cat Behemoth. The cast asked me to thank you for your help.

Vladimir Putin: Did I really help?

Sergei Yegorov: Yes, you signed...

Vladimir Putin: Wonderful! What did I sign?

Sergei Yegorov: Karina Lomakina’s project for the musical “The Master’s Manuscript”.

Vladimir Putin: Great! So I signed something worthwhile!

Sergei Yegorov: That was back in 2009. Now, I want to ask you about Federal Law No. 94 [concerning contract bids]. It strongly impairs what Stanislavsky called “the education of the people”. It’s hard for the theatre to educate its audiences with obligatory bids for any work and any item of equipment. I am sorry for our directors: they have no time for creativity or the promotion of cultural heritage as they file no end of papers and make no end of analyses of our competitiveness.

Vladimir Putin: Don’t pour salt on my wound, Sergei! It’s really a problem. We have instructed the Ministry of Economic Development to make major amendments to this law. It will be drastically rehashed or, possibly, a totally new law will be endorsed. It certainly doesn’t work accordingly in the world of the stage. All our leading theatre people said this when I recently met with them. We will certainly amend the relevant parts.

Sergei Yegorov: Thank you very much, Mr Putin. Allow me another light question: what do you think should be  staged?

Vladimir Putin: You know, one day Maxim Gorky went up to Leo Tolstoy – though I’m not sure it was Gorky. Tolstoy asked him: “What are you writing?” “Nothing,” Gorky replied. “Well, why?” “There’s nothing to write about. Life’s so drab.” Then Tolstoy said: “Then write about why you can’t find anything good to write about.”

Now, you should determine independently what you regard as the most important direction. We no longer have a special department of the Communist party Central Committee to decide what should be staged and written. You must make your own decisions and offer it to audiences. I hope you will learn something here at Seliger, something that inspires your decision. I wish you every success.

Sergei Yegorov: Thank you very much.

Yevgeny Kudryavtsev: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Yevgeny Kudryavtsev. I am a businessman from Izhevsk. We gather every year for the Seliger forum’s programme “You Are an Entrepreneur” for discussions. We promote new ways to improve Russia’s business climate. I am speaking for 1,500 young private entrepreneurs from Udmurtia, 300 participants in the programme “You Are an Entrepreneur”, who are here this summer, and programme supervisor Yelena Bocharova. She is not here because she is helping us with the Popular Front and is taking part in the primaries.

We have a proposal. We think that employment record books, the way they are kept now, are outdated and redundant because personal work records are made by the Pension Fund and record books are a lot of red tape and a nuisance to employers and employees alike because they must be filled in, confirmed and registered. We think they should be abolished. What’s your opinion?

Vladimir Putin: As you know, we are implementing new services with the help of Sberbank. These new services can be applied to the pension sphere, too. The accumulation of a citizen’s labour rights is a very subtle matter, sensitive and essential to everyone. This audience might be sceptical about the latter statement: young people don’t care about future pensions. But several years will pass, and then everyone will be thinking about it.

Accounting must not only be reliable but also technically up to date. I have already said that we are implementing the e-government, where we envisage the use of cutting-edge accounting and information applications in every field, pensions are no exception. I repeat that we and Sberbank are building an ambitious project for a unified format reflecting all aspects of people’s work and health. We will introduce the latest techniques. You are absolutely right when you complain that there are too many bureaucratic problems.

Anna Likhanova: Good afternoon. I am Anna Likhanova, I have two kids.

Vladimir Putin: Come on, I don’t believe you. How old are you? You look great.

Anna Likhanova: I’m 26, and [I look good] thanks partly to my husband.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, both of you have contributed.

Anna Likhanova: Thank you for the maternity capital. I have a personal question: How can a stubborn workaholic be convinced to take up healthy eating and living?

Vladimir Putin: Why ask me?

Anna Likhanova: I am asking you because I see that you are a workaholic too, yet you look very good, you look young, and you have to work hard not only for your family but also for the whole of the country. I want my husband to look as good as you as long as possible, and to protect our family as you do. I’m sure that all loving women, all loving wives want this too.

Vladimir Putin: Do you love him?

Anna Likhanova: Yes, very much.

Vladimir Putin: This is the main guarantee that he will always be well. On the other hand, this is a question of discipline and above all, more discipline. If you  help him, he will look great and maintain his ability to work hard.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I’m Alina, I have come from the town of Kirov. I have always lived in military settlements because my mother worked at a Defence Ministry research institute for 30 years. In the last few years…

Vladimir Putin: You are from Kirov, you said?

Response: Yes, from a military unit in Kirov. We received our flat from the Defence Ministry, from the government. But we have a problem now: all the residents of the military settlement may lose their housing because the institute has been closed and 90% of its researchers, laboratory staff and officers have been fired. As if losing their jobs were not enough, they may also lose their flats. Instead of…

Vladimir Putin: The settlement should likely be turned over to municipal management, or am I wrong?

Response: The area is being privatised. I don’t know if this is true, but people in the settlement and in the city [Kirov] say the new owners will be the defence minister and his wife. This may be a bad joke, but the question is very serious and I wish you would consider it as seriously as we do.

Vladimir Putin: Do you remember a song by Vladimir Vysotsky about rumours? He wrote that rumours spring to life and are carried around by old hags. I think what you said is such a rumour, but still, give me the address and I will look into the matter.

Question: I asked about the law. That this housing was qualified as social rent, but it has now become special housing and so these people may be told to vacate their apartments in two or three years. Tell me, what can we do in this situation to keep our housing, to have a guarantee that we will not be thrown out?

Vladimir Putin: What is your name?

Response: Alina.

Vladimir Putin: So Alina, the general rule is that when the Defence Ministry closes a facility or military settlement, the property is turned over to municipal ownership. In this case you will have only one problem: the municipal authorities will not want to take over property that is in disrepair, because they will have to invest in improvements. This is what I wanted to say first.

The second problem is purely bureaucratic. Unfortunately, the transfer of land from the Defence Ministry to municipal authorities has not been properly formalised. But we are working on this problem. The Defence Minister has received several instructions on this, both from me and from President Medvedev. He is considering the problem; we expect him to submit some proposals.

And third, regarding your particular problem: Let’s look at the matter seriously and forget the rumours that the land and property on it will be turned over to the private ownership of Mr Serdyukov (Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov). This is nonsense! What does he need this property for? I can’t imagine what he would do with it.

Remark: Sorry, but this has happened not only in our military settlement but, as far as I know, also in the town of Khimki and in Sverdlovsk. There are over 70 military settlements across Russia like this.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know that there are problems with them, but the defence minister is not to blame for this; the problems appeared because of inadequate legislation and because there are problems between the ministry and the municipal authorities, who do not want to take over property in disrepair. There is one more problem – the enterprise’s infrastructure (for example, power plants and water supply systems) should at least partially work in the interests of the defence facilities that remain the property of and are managed by the Defence Ministry. This brings us to the problem of who should take them over and how this can be done. If the municipal authorities do, they should maintain them in proper order and also ensure utilities for the remaining Defence Ministry facilities. But if the Defence Ministry keeps the infrastructure, it must ensure that it also supplies electricity, water or whatever to the assets that have been turned over to the municipality. Another question is who will pay for what? These are purely bureaucratic problems, but they must not affect the people, they must not aggravate their situation. Give me your address now, no give it to my aides, alright?

Dmitry Panko: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. The following may come as a surprise to everyone, including you, but I may be the only representative of the Republic of Belarus here. I am Dmitry Panko. This is what I want to ask. The situation in Belarus is complicated, what with the opposition and with Alexander Lukashenko (the President of Belarus) scolding and yelling. But still, can we ultimately become a single whole, like we used to be in the Soviet Union? When will we be able to move around freely without being afraid that the police in Russia will come up to you and demand your registration document? Can this ever happen, do you think?

Vladimir Putin: This is: a) possible, b) highly desirable and c) completely, as in a hundred percent, dependent on the will of the Belarusian people.

Dmitry Panko: I can assure you that the people want this.

Vladimir Putin: Then do it.

Dmitry Panko: We will, I promise.

Vladimir Putin: I am not being ironic. You must raise your voice so that it will be heard, because there are different people in Belarus with different approaches to integration. But although there may be intermittent problems – for example, in the economy or the power industry, or we may quarrel about gas or electricity [prices] – the current republican authorities and personally Alexander Lukashenko are working consistently toward integration with Russia.

Dmitry Panko: Thank you. Belarusians love you.

Vladimir Putin: I love Belarusians too.

Milana Rivazova: My name is Milana Rivazova and I am from North Ossetia-Alania. I have a question. Is South Ossetia’s accession to Russia possible? It is our common problem, I mean for North Ossetia and South Ossetia. We are one ethnic group divided by a border now.

Vladimir Putin: I certainly understand your problem. Historically, the border between South and North Ossetia was drawn differently during different periods. There were times when there was no border at all. In fact, Ossetia was divided by this border while being a part of a larger state, the Russian Empire. It was easier to manage that way. We all know about modern realities. And you also know Russia’s policy. Russia supported South Ossetia during the tragic events when the Georgian government used military force against it, which was a provocation and a crime. The future will depend on the Ossetian people themselves.

Milana Rivazova: Thank you.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I am pleased to be here and honoured to ask you a question. Many people are concerned about youth problems, especially cigarette and alcohol abuse, which are provoked by the fact that alcohol and tobacco can be purchased freely. The rise in excise tax was a good decision. We are glad that this is happening.

Vladimir Putin: You are probably the only person who is pleased.

Remarks: No, he is not!

Vladimir Putin: No? I am glad I was mistaken about you.

Remark: I am glad that these guys support me, too. I had expected otherwise. Therefore, I have a proposal rather than a question. First, I would like to make the legal drinking age 21, like it was in the Soviet Union and still is in Europe and the United States. What do we need to do to change the policy? How many signatures do we have to collect? The second proposal is to give harsher punishment to sellers who sell alcohol and tobacco to minors. This problem can be resolved the same way as traffic violations. You raise fines and they stop violating. It’s as simple as that. Could you do that? Please.

Vladimir Putin: I think it’s possible. However, you probably realise that this policy is a sensitive one, so I will ask my colleagues to discuss your proposals in the Popular Front as part of their preparation for the parliamentary elections. This is one of the problems that can and must be discussed on a broad platform like the Popular Front.

As for excise taxes, these should be handled carefully, too, and I can tell you why. I am strongly anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol, but we should not forget the Soviet Union’s painful experience when alcohol was entirely banned. Remember where it got us? There was a surge in home brewing. Therefore, the problem cannot be resolved by simply rising prices and imposing bans. It calls for a comprehensive approach, including educational, administrative and economic policies. This is a gradual process, which should not rush. We should act carefully, moving in the direction that you have just indicated. You are absolutely right. We need more of this… What city are you from?

Answer: Volgograd.

Vladimir Putin: Perfect, let’s start from there. I will inform the governor and our colleagues from United Russia. Who is responsible for this work at the Popular Front? Let’s try discussing it there and bring up the issue for the whole country.

Question: I have some projects. Where can I send them? They concern education and healthcare management – how to use the Web to prevent teachers from taking bribes, and things like that. I have a project. Where should it go? I mean, so it isn’t lost in red tape, and you will have a look?

Vladimir Putin: How about the prosecution authority? No, send it to Fursenko (Andrei Fursenko, Education Minister). I’ll tell him that you will send it.

Remark: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Send it by all means, I’m serious.

Ruslan Sergeyev: Hello, my name is Ruslan Sergeyev and I am from Nizhny Novgorod. I have a very direct question and I want a direct answer. There are Eternal Flame memorials in many cities, which are a tribute to the memory of the soldiers killed in the Great Patriotic War. But not all of them are burning. I want to know if they are supposed to burn.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. Commemorating those who gave their lives to defend their motherland is certainly a national responsibility. Administratively, either regional or municipal authorities must be responsible for this. I don’t know if you are a member of some youth movement or organisation?

Ruslan Sergeyev: Yes. I am from the Stal (Steel) youth movement.

Vladimir Putin: Then refer this issue to your organisation, have the organisation discuss it at both the city and the regional level. I’ll send word to the governor as well, in case there are problems as you might be suggesting.

Ruslan Sergeyev: It’s Nizhny Novgorod. The Nizhny Novgorod Region.

Vladimir Putin: I know.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Mr Putin, I have a story. The guys here have an Eternal Flame memorial, too. They just told me. A strong wind came, almost a hurricane. Some of the tents and pavilions were swept away. The guys were stationed right by the memorial. (To Sergeyev:) Thank you for bringing this up.

Vladimir Putin: That’s true. Thank you.

Remark: Fyodor, I have a question to you. I think everyone is interested to know…

Fyodor Bondarchuk: But I can’t...

Remark: Mr Putin, could I ask Fyodor something?

Vladimir Putin: You are more than welcome.

Question: Thank you. When is your next movie coming out?

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Holy cow! I am only starting to shoot it on August 22. It will be called Stalingrad.

Remark: Thank you! No more questions!

Question: I am Yevgeny, a postgraduate student from Vladimir. The local military conscription boards have been drafting postgraduates to the army because the law can be interpreted in two ways. When will this end? When is this problem going to be resolved? Could you tell me precisely because as a result of this dual interpretation, some people are eventually drafted and others aren’t. Those who are drafted have to go to court, which imposes a moratorium on the draft. When is this going to end?

Vladimir Putin: Indeed there is a problem. The State Duma and the Defence Ministry will draft proposals and make relevant amendments. But I will try to explain where this problem came from. It emerged when we cut the military service to 12 months, and the armed forces became seriously understaffed. So, we reduced the number of categories entitled to deferrals or exemptions. As a result, some of the clauses affected postgraduate students. But I think that any university students, including postgraduate students, should be allowed to complete their degrees. We’ll streamline this issue.

Remark: Thank you.

Anastasia Melnik: Mr Putin, I am Anastasia Melnik and I am from Ivanovo. I am greatly concerned about the Libyan events. In fact, all of those present here are probably just as concerned. Norway said today that they are withdrawing, but NATO is determined to go through to the end. Could you comment on this?

Vladimir Putin: I am not NATO, so it is kind of hard to comment for them. They have indeed announced they were determined to fight on to victory. I am not sure what this means because the UN mandate does not authorise anyone to fight anyone or defeat anyone. This mandate ensures the right to protect civilians from the other side’s air strikes. So, who are they going to fight on to victory? There is something else. As we all know, Iraq has not been properly stabilised to this day, although fighting has continued there for years. Afghanistan is worse still. An air bomb destroyed an entire wedding procession there last year, or the year before – more than 100 people. Things are in fact growing worse. Fighting on to victory in Libya sounds very strange to me. But judging by what is happening in other countries where similar operations have started… The end isn’t victory – it’s rather confusion. I don’t know where Libya would end up. It would have been so much better if those who have stored a lot of weapons used them to restrain aggression instead of using them easily whenever they wish. Using force, and especially military force, never leads to a settlement. A peace process is a political process.

Yelena Vostrikova: My name is Yelena Vostrikova. I am participating in the Information Flow section of the Youth Innovation Forum. I have a more serious question, also concerning Norway. As is known, a nationalist there shot nearly 100 people. Ethnic chauvinism is also a problem is Russia. What will be done about it?

Vladimir Putin: I have said many times – this issue is one of the most serious ones for any modern country and especially Russia. Russia has initially developed as a centralised state. It has always been multi-religious and multi-ethnic too. We have ages-long experience in the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic groups and faiths. We have developed a whole culture of interaction. The inter-cultural interaction in fact gives us strength. Russia’s diversity is one of its strongest points.

Yelena Vostrikova: But how do we keep it?

Vladimir Putin: We must foster tolerance. We must show respect to people of a different culture, different faith or different ethnic background. On the other hand – I have said this on many occasions, but I can repeat it – people who move to a different region within Russia must be respectful of the local culture and customs, the local language and the people with whom they chose to live side by side. This is very important.

Yelena Vostrikova: I agree with you. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let me emphasise that Russia’s diversity gives it strength. It is a source of our grandeur. Thank you very much.