Working Day

3 december, 2009 12:00

Special TV programme “Conversation with Vladimir Putin: To Be Continued”

Special TV programme “Conversation with Vladimir Putin: To Be Continued”
"It can be said with a fair degree of certainty that the peak of the crisis is past, although turbulence in the world economy and, as a consequence, in the Russian economy is still there. It will take time, effort and considerable resources to get out of the crisis. On the whole, however, positive trends are making themselves felt and are clearly manifested."
Vladimir Putin
At a programme “Conversation with Vladimir Putin: To Be Continued”

Transcript of the meeting:  

Maria Sittel: Good afternoon, I am Maria Sittel and this is the annual special programme, "A Conversation with Vladimir Putin Continued", broadcast live.

We all remember how this crisis year began - millions feared poverty, hundreds of thousands worried about getting fired, businesses were pondering future losses, and many people thought the authorities would again leave them in the lurch, just as it happened many times in Russia's history.

Of course, many people lost their jobs, many lost both their savings and their jobs, but the authorities did not try to solve problems at the expense of the people. Instead, they worked painstakingly to pinpoint problems at individual enterprises, forged agreements with business, and helped Russian manufacturers. Where did we succeed and where did we fail? These are the questions we are going to discuss with Vladimir Putin today.

Ernest Mackevicius: There are representatives of all the basic sectors of the Russian economy in this audience, and also those who will replace them - the future graduates of Russian universities. Mr Putin talked with a majority of them during his tour of the country.

Correspondents of the Vesti television channel are now working in Naberezhnye Chelny, Togliatti, Magnitogorsk and many other cities where the country's key enterprises are located.

And so, we are beginning the annual question and answer session with Vladimir Putin broadcast live by the Russia and Vesti 24 channels.


Maria Sittel: Our information collection and processing centre continues to receive questions. We are waiting for your telephone calls and text messages. Call 8-800-200-40-40 free or send free text messages to 0-40-40. You can see the website address, www.moskvaputinu.ru, on your screens.

Ernest Mackevicius and I will work today jointly with our colleagues Farida Kurbangaleyeva, Tatyana Remezova and Alexander Khristenko.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Putin, the Nevsky Express train was derailed less than a week ago. Many people's questions are connected with the tragedy. Here is one of them sent to the website: "We thought the Caucasus war was over and that we drew the right conclusions after a series of terrible terrorist acts. But the terrorists have challenged us again. Will this never end?"

Vladimir Putin: I would like to remind you that my colleagues and I have always said that the threat was still very big. Unfortunately, countries across the world are fighting terrorism, and terrorists have staged similar attacks in many countries.

This country is no exception; it was one of the victims of international terrorism, especially in the mid-1990s and the early 2000s. We have done much to break the backbone of terrorism, but the threat has not been liquidated.

We can act effectively. What do we need for this? We need for the whole of society, for each of us, to become aware of the threat that has been stalking us for years. We need to do so in order to be vigilant. And of course, we should take comprehensive preventive measures.

However, the question is whether such crimes can be prevented. It is very difficult to do it, especially at infrastructure facilities. Our infrastructure network is sprawling because the country is huge and there are very many infrastructure facilities. But still, we must be effective, and we must take pre-emptive actions.

The law-enforcement agencies know what I mean. To be fair, let us bear in mind that the Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry often succeed. But the [Nevsky Express] tragedy shows that they must work still harder. We must take harsh action against the criminals who commit such terrorist acts, who try to take the people's lives and to injure people. We are firmly resolved to stop them.

Ernest Mackevicius: On the previous occasion, in December 2008, when we were starting our conversation in this very studio, we began with the question: Will we survive the crisis? The economic situation was deteriorating fast. Now, one year later, in December 2009, can we say that yes, we seem to have survived the crisis? Or at least that the worst is behind us?

Vladimir Putin: The last thesis is probably more accurate. It can be said with a fair degree of certainty that the peak of the crisis is past, although turbulence in the world economy and, as a consequence, in the Russian economy is still there. It will take time, effort and considerable resources to get out of the crisis. On the whole, however, positive trends are making themselves felt and are clearly manifested. The question you have asked gives me an opportunity to say a couple of words about the results of our work over the past year. I think this audience and the people in the places where you have your correspondents ¬ - which, by the way, are the regions and enterprises that my colleagues and I visited during the year, some of them more than once, that is, these are problem enterprises and problem spots in the country which had attracted particular attention and called for a quick response to the events that were happening there.

Today we will probably discuss a wide range of problems and concrete enterprises and see what has been done there since the time we visited these enterprises. That will give us a chance to discuss the country's problems as a whole.

Going back to your question about what has stuck in memory and what has been done during this difficult year, I would say, first, that it was one of the most difficult years in the past decade - not only for us, but for the world economy in general. These events have hit us hard. We had predicted (though no official forecasts were made), some experts believed that GDP in Russia would drop by about 10%. It has dropped significantly, but not as much as some experts had thought. It is likely to be 8.5-8.7%. That is a lot.

Industrial output has dropped by more than 10%. At the end of the year it will probably be 13%.

At the same time in the sectors that the Government considers to be its direct sphere of responsibility the situation is more or less acceptable. For instance, industry, as I said, is expected to contract by 13%, but the defence industry will grow by 3.7%. And in some areas, for example in aerospace, they have many problems too and we were recently looking at this industry - but they have a growth of 13%.

I mentioned the slump in industry, but agriculture, which some in the previous years called "the black hole" of the economy and so on, is a growth area today. It will grow by 0.5% this year, and in some areas, for example, in livestock, it will grow by 10%. It should have been still greater, but that is how it looks on paper: Last year we had a record grain crop of 108 million metric tons. This year it will be large too, at 93 million tons, but because it is less than last year, on paper the indicators have gone down. But on the whole, I repeat, agriculture will grow by 0.5%.

We are restoring our gold and currency reserves. Today they are the third largest in the world after the People's Republic of China and Japan and amount to $444 billion. We have a trade surplus, and we will probably have the best indicator in this area.

We have a positive trade balance, probably the best figure. We did well in 2006, and the inflation rate is likely to be lower this year. It will be lower than 10% this year, probably even one-digit figure, around 9%. This means that we have coped with these problems.

You want to know how this has affected the social sphere? As analysts say, the influence was multidirectional.

Unfortunately, we see the average wage falling; it is down 3.6%. Why? Because the fall in the commercial sector was considerable, 5.6%, I think. The influence on the public sector became evident in 2009 because the wage fund in the sector was increased in December 2008, and so wages in that sector increased by 4.1%. We have increased pensions considerably, by 13%-14%.

This will explain the result: people's real disposable incomes have decreased by only 0.4%, which is almost nothing. This is a rough average estimate, but still, we have preserved the average real disposable wage.

I think this situation can be compared to similar events in the economy in 1998, which were really tragic. I have said here that inflation will be small, around 9%, this year, but back then it soared to 84% and people lost nearly all their savings. Banks filed for bankruptcy, all large banks closed and people's savings vanished with them. You remember Oneximbank and Incombank. Where are they now?

Ernest Mackevicius: It was like a domino effect.

Vladimir Putin: They simply fell apart. But this time, during the current crisis this year, we prevented that tragedy. We have preserved the banking system, which is still effective. It has its problems, and you may have more questions, but we will return to this issue later.

Speaking about the social sphere, I have told you that wages and incomes have remained almost the same as in 2008, which was a very good year. Even though wages in the commercial sector have fallen, wages in the public sector have grown slightly, and real pensions have been raised.

You know, I think demography is a very good indicator. I would like to say it again, that we said we thought we would never cope with demographic problems. In 2008, the onset of the current crisis, the birth rate fell by 5.5% and mortality reached 8%.

But look at what is happening now: the birth rate is growing at a record pace - it has increased by 3.5% - while mortality is falling. These figures speak volumes, in particular about people's mood.

Ernest Mackevicius: There is hope that is growing into belief.

Vladimir Putin: It means that the so-called planning horizons are expanding. People believe in the positive future of the country. This mood is one of the most important elements in the current situation. It is a pure economic factor, because this mood supports demand. By the way, demand has started growing. This is what I wanted to say about this year's results.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Putin, when we, when people will see that the economy is recuperating, that we have overcome the crisis?

Vladimir Putin: The economy has been growing in the past five months. The growth is modest, an average of 0.5% a month, and some months even lower, 0.3%. Some months the economy grew by 0.8%, but on average the economy has been growing by 0.5% for the past five months. I very much hope that these positive figures will grow by the middle of next year, although we will still feel the effects of the economic skid in the first and second quarters of 2010.

Ernest Mackevicius: Pikalyovo, a small town in the Leningrad Region, has become a symbol of the economic crisis this year. I would like, as the anchor of this programme today, to start a videoconference with the Leningrad Region, where Yevgeny Rozhkov, our special correspondent, is working today.

Pikalyovo, you are on air.

Yevgeny Rozhkov: Good afternoon, this is Pikalyovo, a town with a population of 20,000 located some 250 km (155 miles) from St Petersburg. Few people had heard of it until last spring events hit the town, , and especially after you, Mr Putin, came here to resolve the problems of this single-industry town.

Mr Prime Minister, you know what happened then, and you know the current state of affairs. I will update the audience in a few words. There was one strategic enterprise in the city before 2004, after which it was divided into three units, with their separate owners. As you know, owners do not always agree, and the lack of coordination between them hit the town last spring. This is when you came here.

During the few days we have been in Pikalyovo, local people told me that the mood now is approximately the same as it was then, that there is similar uncertainty.

Standing here, at the gates of this plant, are representatives of the three plants that once were a single enterprise and also their top managers. So, we are ready to begin a long, serious and comprehensive discussion.

I suggest that we start taking questions.

Those who have questions should raise their hand.

Let us begin with you. Please, introduce yourself before asking your question.

D. Nikolayev: Mr Putin, you visited us in June and solved our problem using an individual approach, in the manual mode, so to speak. Six months have passed since then. Our companies have failed to sign contracts during this time period. We do not know what to do. We are unable to objectively plan production or specific prospects. We are working and living only from day to day. Mr Putin, what are we to do? Should we invite you once again to resolve this situation and our problems?

Vladimir Putin: I will visit you and any other place in the Russian Federation if the situation so requires, it's my duty. But in my opinion, there is no need for this. Naturally, signing contracts with raw-materials suppliers is the most important task today. It is important that they launch a normal production process.

Moreover, we are constantly monitoring the situation in one-company towns, including Pikalyovo. I have instructed one of my deputies to establish an ad hoc working group on one-company towns. We are monitoring these processes at expert level, at the level of regional administrations and at government level.

Speaking of Pikalyovo, it is important that a long-term contract for the entire 2010 period be signed. You are absolutely right. According to my information, all the parties to the process will sign such a contract in the near future. I think that all company workers will breathe a sigh of relief after this happens. Everybody will then realise that the enterprise is going to work smoothly.

It appears that the state should not be involved in this process at government level all the time. We must look for other more fundamental and common solutions. At any rate, such solutions should be found for this industry.

Can they be found? It is hard to find them because, as I see it, we had been imprudent during the privatisation drive and split the production complex into three parts, which are now having a very hard time cooperating with each other. Nevertheless, a common solution can be found.

What is the essence of this solution? We are now tackling the issue of processing casing-head gas. The same can be done with your enterprise's feedstock. The extent of processing the so-called apatite concentrate produced by your feedstock suppliers is not being regulated in any way. If we introduce a regulation ordering the concerned parties to process 90% or more of this concentrate, then enterprise owners would be unable to just throw it away and would have to find processing enterprises. This also applies to your enterprise. This will harmonise relations. I hope this will happen in the near future.

I also know that there are plans to build other enterprises that could supply feedstock for the Pikalyovo works.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Putin, why did you decide to go to Pikalyovo at that time? Were you not afraid that this would create a certain precedent and that you would subsequently have to travel all over the country and "put out fires" and defuse tensions everywhere, instead of running the government?

Vladimir Putin: We must recall the attitude in society at that time. The fears about the economy were very real, especially in one-company towns. Although there is a multitude of challenges today, the problems were extremely acute at that time.

I got the feeling that far from all regional, municipal and government leaders perceived the acute nature of those problems. I thought it correct and appropriate to send a message to society and leaders of all levels and to tell them that they would be held accountable for all local developments. True, the problems had evolved over decades. However, we are now responsible for the situation, for people's lives and their financial security, as well as their mental and emotional state. It would therefore be very imprudent to pretend that we know and understand everything, and that the problem will resolve itself.

I must tell you that, although many of my colleagues tried to dissuade me from going there for precisely the reasons you named, I decided after the trip that this must be done in order to persuade all the parties to the process to take part in effective joint work. On the whole, this approach has proved successful.

Ernest Mackevicius: Let's get another link-up with Pikalyovo. Yevgeny, go ahead, please.

Yevgeny Rozhkov: Naturally, we still have many questions here. Who wants to ask another question?

Tatiana Gulina: I have a question about one-company towns. I live in a small town, where all social services used to operatenormally. But now the local technical school has been shut down, and so were the infectious diseases department at a community hospital and the maternity department. The town has no local tax authority, the Pension Fund office has been closed, and there are rumours that the hospital will be shut down as well.

We are not far from the railway, and have a railway station, but trains do not stop there, running from Tikhvin to Vyazimovskaya. Bus service from both of these stations is not very reliable. Buses run at very long intervals. How are we to travel to and from the town? We are being forced out. What are we to do? How do we survive? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Tatiana Anatolyevna, I have just cited plans to sign a long-term contract for 2010. I also mentioned other policies the government can adopt to ensure stable operation of your company, your town's principle employer, the Pikalyovo cement plant.

Therefore, I think the most burning economic problems, such as unemployment, will be resolved; further on, I believe there is a need to diversify the economy at places like Pikalyovo, and to improve local social services.

As regards the social problems you mentioned, let me repeat that there has been some improvement in the housing situation, which is entirely due to the close attention we are giving to this issue. Housing and utilities are being repaired, and local roads are as well. I don't know if you have noticed. I can tell you what I know from reports, and then you can tell me if this is really so from what you know.

A swimming pool is under construction, and so are other leisure and entertainment facilities. However, there are problems here, too.

Tatiana Anatolyevna, you certainly realise that all problems cannot be resolved from Moscow. However, what you have said will be another reason for me to talk with your governor and ask him to submit regional and municipal governments' plans for Pikalyovo development. I believe living standards will gradually improve.

Ernest Mackevicius: I see a hand from my colleague, Tatiana Remezova: We have questions from the audience related to this issue. Go ahead, please.

Tatiana Remezova: Thank you Ernest. Passions are truly running high in the audience. We can see that the Pikalyovo developments involve everyone.

This row here is taken almost entirely by representatives of St Petersburg Izhorskiye Zavody. I see that Alexander here, a foreman at the plant, is eager to speak. Go ahead, Alexander.

Alexander Stepannikov: Mr Putin, we met last June, when you visited the plant. You were standing right near our machine tools and could see the giant metal components we made. You also attended the launch of the DSP-120 steel smelter, which is a unique facility. Unfortunately, it is now only used to 30% of its capacity, because there are no new orders from nuclear power plants. We have rising concerns that we could end up in the same situation as Pikalyovo. We would like to hear what measures are being taken in such situations across the country?

In fact, what we do not understand about Pikalyovo is that if those who are to blame for the crisis have been found, why aren't they in jail?

Vladimir Putin: About punishment -no criminal charges have been brought against them. The problems in Pikalyovo are purely economic, and many issues have not been resolved. It is hard to blame the problem on a specific individual. If we send everyone to jail, who is going to carry on with the work?

What we need to do is not intimidate or jail someone, but organise a stable business process, so that all of the participants - three in this case - and suppliers, too, can function in harmony and without loss.

This holds true for any company. If we support Pikalyovo too much, we could hurt, for example, the company that mines apatite. That company should also be kept afloat, for the sake of people who work there.

Therefore, our goal was not to arrest and punish. We concentrated on restoring a regular production process and resolving the town's social issues.

About Izhorskiye Zavody - it is our biggest plant with longstanding traditions. Power engineering is an extremely important sector of the economy. We have grand plans for the development of nuclear power generation. Whereas during the Soviet years, a mere 35-38 major nuclear power generating units were built, we plan to build 30-32 over the next decade. This is a colossal project. The Rosatom state corporation has enough funds, and we have provided additional support. The only issue here is whether your products will be competitive.

I am aware of the discussion underway between your company owners and shareholders, and the Rosatom management. It is about the price of your products and other factors which make the products competitive. Our sympathies certainly lie with you.

And it also means something. It means that you will have a job. Although the situation is challenging in the economy in general and at your plant, I am confident that the Izhora plant will overcome the difficulties.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you, Mr Prime Minister. Now Pikalyovo, please.

I can see there are people where my colleague Farida Kurbangaleyeva is working who want to join our conversation. Farida, go ahead please.

Farida Kurbangaleyeva: Yes, we've got a question. I would like to introduce Galina Churikova, who has worked for 50 years at the Khrunichev Centre, Russia's leading space research and production company. She started there at 15 and has been working there up to now. In March Ms Churikova talked with Prime Minister Putin when he visited the plant, and asked him a straightforward question about pensions. She has another pending question, I believe. Go ahead, please.

Galina Churikova: When you visited our facility, I asked you why work record is not taken into account when pension rates are calculated. It doesn't matter if a person has worked for 5-10 years or for 50 years, the pension is the same. Some time has passed since then, and despite what you call certain economic difficulties, you found an opportunity to raise pensions. Starting from January 1, 2010 pensions will be increased by 1% for every year of employment up to 1991. Plus, there is a 10% increment, if I'm not mistaken.

Vladimir Putin: 10% in total and 1% for each year of employment.

Galina Churikova: In my case it's 37 years, so I'll get a 47% increment.

We, pensioners, are grateful to you for this. It's a great help for us. Thank you for listening to the opinion of ordinary workers.

This is my question today: Newspapers and magazines have been mentioning the word valorisation a lot. What is it? Pensioners and even young people do not understand it. Could you explain it briefly, please?

Vladimir Putin: Ms Churikova, you have described the essence of valorisation very well, so I have nothing to add. Valorisation is conversion of pension privileges that people earned in the Soviet time: A 10% increment is paid immediately and 1% is paid for every year of employment. That is all.

Galina Churikova: Thank you very much.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Prime Minister, there is another common problem that has been raised by our callers. There are a lot of questions on maternity capital. People wonder whether they can use this money to repair houses, pay off bank loans, etc.

For example, Irina Tsvetkova from Omsk asks whether a law can be introduced that would allow using maternity capitals for the treatment and rehabilitation of children with disabilities.

There is another question, from Maria Zhityayeva from the Samara Region. "Why can't I use the maternity capital to repair a private house?" she asks. And one more question, "Why can't it be used to pay off a mortgage loan?" There are a lot more similar questions on this topic.

Vladimir Putin: When we made the decision to provide support to families with two or more children, we called the project maternity capital. We proceeded from the assumption that it is necessary to support women who bear the heaviest burden if the second child or several children are born into their family.

Experts believed at that time - and their opinion remains unchanged - that these funds must be employed in addressing the most acute problems of the present day. These problems include housing, bringing up children, education, and, if we speak about supporting women, their future pension rights, hence the outlined directions of using maternity capitals.

This money can be used to improve housing conditions, but it's clear that this sum is not enough to buy a flat in Moscow or St Petersburg. By the way, the maternity capital rate is indexed annually. When introduced, it was 250,000 roubles, and has reached 311,000 or 317,000 roubles now, I don't remember. It will be indexed every year, as we pledged. If a woman wants, she can deposit the whole amount in her funded pension account.

A family or a mother may decide to spend it on education. I guess we'll touch on education today as well. We're setting a critical task for ourselves to change the profile of the economy and to make a transition to high-tech development, which requires educated, skilled personnel.

I know how much care our society gives to children, thinking about their future and education. We came to a conclusion based on calculations that the maternity capital can be spent on education and housing. These funds can become part of the family capital, be saved up or spent on a mortgage. We made this decision early this year resolving that women and their families would be able to use this money earlier than planned, namely before January 1, 2010. We authorised the use of this money in 2009 because of the economic downturn, when many people faced problems, such as redundancy or pay cuts. In this case a family could withdraw the maternity capital to repay the mortgage.

The list of possible options for the use of maternity capital may be extended further. Why haven't we done it yet? Only in order to secure women's interests. It's easy to withdraw this money. 317,000 roubles is a considerable sum for people in the regions. It will simply vanish overnight. It won't be spent on education, housing or to replenish pension account funds. What can I say? There is never enough money.

As for repairs, I am not going to make any negative comments about construction workers but we all know their pricing policies. All that will be left from maternity capital will be dust.

As for the opportunity to spend this money on healthcare and a child's treatment, we could consider this issue. We'll discuss it with MPs, who actively participate in these efforts.

Ernest Mackevicius: And mortgages as well?

Vladimir Putin: Possibly, yes.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Putin, one more tragedy that hit us this year was the dam accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydroelectric Power Plant.

When you were there, you said: "We will rebuild the equipment, but the people cannot be brought back." In fact, you expressed the feelings of all people, because everyone felt the pain of the tragedy in Siberia as their own.

We are connected to the engine room of the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant in village of Cheryomushki, Khakassia, where our special correspondent Pavel Zarubin is working now.

Good afternoon, Pavel, we are waiting for your questions.

Pavel Zarubin: Good afternoon, Moscow. We are standing in the engine room of the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant, the location of the biggest man-induced catastrophe in the history of modern Russia.

This equipment near us here is the second unit where the accident began. Investigators are still trying to get to the root causes of the tragedy, but this unit weighing a thousand tonnes will be cut up and removed from the plant.

Our film crew worked here in the first days after the catastrophe. Today, three months later, we see that the situation has changed radically. The reconstruction of the roof of the engine hall is almost complete, and the fifth and sixth units are ready to be restarted. Repairs on the sixth hydropower unit are nearing completion, and it will be restarted soon. The fifth unit will follow suit not long afterward. Within the next several years, the plant will receive brand-new power units, and the plant will again operate at capacity.

Reconstruction work at the plant is still under way, even now, but some people found the time to come here, and I suggest that we talk with them.

Please, does anyone have a question for the Prime Minister? Let's move over here because there are so many people.

Please introduce yourself.

Alexander Chainikov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I am one of those who are rebuilding the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant. I think everyone in the country knows about the tragedy that happened here on August 17. You saw it with your own eyes because you have been here. This brings me to my question: Do you think the ongoing reform of the Russian power industry is yielding the desired results? We continue to use the equipment and technology our fathers used.

The company now has new directors, but I don't think everything depends on management. I would like to know when the big infrastructure projects in the power industry, which we have been promised and which have been promoted, will begin.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: When we planned the reform, its authors proceeded from the assumption that the privatisation of some assets would earn the funds needed to expand and modernise our generating capacity. This reform has been given to the new owners. I agree with Alexander, I fully share his concern and his belief that the new shareholders must honour their commitments. They were granted certain privileges during the [privatisation] process, and they made certain commitments. Now is the time to honour them. These promises, these commitments are sealed in documents.

You know that we are living through a crisis. The economy has contracted and for objective reasons, and the demand for energy, including electricity, has decreased accordingly. Some people now say that it will be inexpedient to invest the funds promised by the new owners into the power industry. If we do, they say, we will have an overproduction crisis on our hands.

I do not think these arguments are substantiated, given the speed of recuperation in the Russian economy and the global economy. We must not delay the development of power generation. We must implement our plans in the sector so that the Russian economy has enough electricity when it enters the revival period.

At the same time, we are also discussing the problem with the new shareholders. I assure you that the plans to develop our power facilities, and these are big plans, will be implemented. In the past ten years, we commissioned 13000 MW of capacity, but we plan to commission 10000 MW of capacity within the next two years. These are challenging plans, and they also concern the Boguchany hydroelectric power plant located nearby, in Siberia.

By the way, these plans would have been implemented by now had we acted in the same way we did in previous decades. But we now pay more attention to environmental protection, studying the problem of forests [that could be flooded by new plants], completing archaeological projects, and the like. Anyway, we will fulfil the plans we have for this power plant.
I repeat that this is a challenging goal, but I am confident that we will attain it.

Ernest Mackevicius: We have questions regarding this problem in the audience. Alexander Khristenko, you have the floor.

Alexander Khristenko: Mr Putin, there are people in this hall who were among the first to reach the disaster area - the relief team and divers. They saved people from the flooded engine room, which was hell. One of them was Alexander Barkovsky, who saved two people. He has a question; we have discussed this.


Alexander Barkovsky: I am Alexander Barkovsky, a member of the South Siberian search and rescue team.

I may be repeating what other people have said here, but this is what I would like to know. The new owners of potentially hazardous enterprises like the profits but think little about the safety of their facilities. What can we do to make them change their mind?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is something we can and must do, and we will work jointly with your department.

As a professional, you certainly know that we conduct inspections at all power facilities, carefully analysing the situation at all hydroelectric power plants and preparing recommendations. But this is not enough. We must also think about controlling compliance with technical regulations and the maintenance of equipment. We should adopt a decision requiring manufacturers to monitor the operation of their equipment throughout its service life, including repairs and technical maintenance. This is first.

Second, the systems operator has a department that compiles data about technical regulations and repairs. We have proposed expanding its functions to include equipment control. Certain proposals to this effect have been made, and we will consider them. I am not prepared today to formulate the proposals, but the technical safety authority, Rostekhnadzor, will also be updated accordingly.

Ernest Mackevicius: Let us hear what people at the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant have to say. Our correspondent Pavel Zarubin is working there.

Pavel, we are waiting for your questions.

Pavel Zarubin: The workers of the plant who survived the accident certainly have many questions. Who wants to ask a question?

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I am Yelena, the wife of Andrei Malik, who worked and died in the turbine room. I have two children. There are many, very many other widows with children. I am speaking on behalf of the families of the diseased.

After the accident, we were issued financial assistance from the state and from RusHydro, the main owner of the plant. But we still have some unanswered questions. We have been given temporary employment at the plant until December 31 this year. Even if we are not fired now, who will guarante that we will not lose our jobs next year or after the complete reconstruction of the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant?

And here is another question that is worrying us. We receive a monthly allowance in the amount of the breadwinner's wage, but the sum is three times smaller than the wage our husbands brought home. Why?

And one more question. We have been promised that our children would receive a higher professional education. Where and how can we get these guarantees? Will it be a certificate, or some other document?

And the last question. We have forwarded to Parliament's Federation Council a letter listing our proposals and requests, I think it was on October 29. But we have not received any answer to this day. Can you help us?

We hope very much that you will. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Please, accept my condolences once again. They, of course, cannot make right everything that went wrong during that tragedy. I am sorry. But now we should think about the future.

You have put all these questions well.

About monthly benefits, payments. Of course they are always lower than the real wages. We might see what can be done to regulate these payments to bring them up, to make these payments more regular, etc., if there are any problems there.

But the key question that worries you, and apparently the other workers at the station as well, is what will happen to their jobs in 2010 and the following years, and after the station has been restored. I can tell you right off that a decision has been taken at government level and at the level of RusHydro, in which the government holds the controlling stake, that all the station workers from the families of those who died or are missing, and in general all the station workers who have been affected will get preferential treatment in terms of jobs for the whole period of its recontrction, as well as after the station has been restored, and you should have no doubts on that score.

Now for assistance to children. We keep these issues under constant review, of course. As far as I know, 11 children from the families of the dead or missing already study free of charge at educational institutions and several more, two or three, I believe, continue their studies at fee-paying institutions, but RusHydro pays their tuition fees.

Assistance has also been given in preparing children for school. There's no need to worry about that: All the wishes concerning the children's education have been taken note of, and more, we are doing everything to fulfil them with a minimum of red tape.

Ernest Mackevicius:  Thank you, Mr Putin. Thank you, Khakassia.

Vladimir Putin: Oh, and I haven't answered the question about the letter to the Federation Council. Frankly, I don't know about it, but I will talk with the Federation Council leadership and there will be a response.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you, we are moving on.
8-800-200-40-40 is the number of the "Conversation with Vladimir Putin" studio. And the calls are being taken and processed by my colleague Maria Sittel. Over to you, Maria.

Maria Sittel: Yes, thank you, Ernest.

Actually things are pretty hectic here, I think our operators will only get a breather after the programme is over because from the moment we went on the air we have been working at peak load. Just to give you an idea: 351 people are trying to get through to our information clearing centre in any one minute. I'll give you rounded figures so as not to confuse you: As we went on the air we had received 1,550,000 messages and calls, SMS messages and e-mails to our website, but now I can give you the exact number of the phone calls we have had: 1,167,844. The operators have their job cut out.
We have someone on the line. The City of Moscow. Hello, you are on the air. If you hear us go ahead with your question.

Question: Good afternoon. My name is Yuri. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been very critical of you recently. But you have not responded. Why?

Vladimir Putin: Maybe it's a sign of love? But seriously, we have also very affectionate and warm feelings for all the Belarusian people, the whole country and its leadership.

Of course, the Belarusian leadership would like to get more from the relationship with us. But let me remind you that the year before last we granted Belarus a 1.5 billion dollar loan, last year, 1 billion dollars and this year half a billion dollars. In addition, Gazprom has paid 650 million dollars, which adds up to more than a billion dollars from Russia.

If you take the agricultural products market, meat, for example, Belarus exports almost 100% of its meat to the Russian market, and about 80% of its dairy products. They export large quantities of agricultural machinery to this country.

Energy. We sell oil to Belarus at reduced duty rates. Belarus has the lowest domestic price in the world, apart from Russia itself; it has the lowest price in the CIS too.

There are other areas of our cooperation, especially in the social services, which we set great store by.

But, as I said, the Belarusian leadership would like to have more. Perhaps this is possible, but I am convinced that it should be synchronised with the integration processes within the Union State. The deeper the integration, the more opportunities there will be to adopt domestic Russian prices and standards regarding energy.

The Belarusian colleagues have again asked us to preserve this year's prices for next year although the price should be raised a little under the contract signed in advance. The price rise is to be minimal, but it will still be a bit higher.

The same holds for loans. In the opinion of our experts, the amount of our loans is sufficient. Especially if you bear in mind that Belarus gets assistance from the IMF (the International Monetary Fund), to which Russia also contributes and always urges the IMF to make sure that a fair amount of that money is used to support our next-door neighbours and allies.

There are also problems with agricultural machinery. In effect we subsidise the purchase of domestically made machinery by our farmers. There are no restrictions on Belarusian machinery entering our market, but for now, considering the crisis in our own and world economies, we are not prepared to allow Belarusian producers to join our programmes of subsidised purchases of machinery. Otherwise our own factories would come to a standstill.

All these are current problems and they may give rise to some frictions. But on the whole the Belarusian leadership and the President of Belarus are in favour of integration, of closer relations with Russia and we set great store by that. We have recently observed a spectacular manifestation of these sentiments and this policy when Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed documents to create a Customs Union. It is an important move towards integration, perhaps one of the most important in the post-Soviet times because it is a truly a path towards real integration. We very much hope that these processes with Kazakhstan and with Belarus will develop rapidly and will yield a tangible result not only for economic agents because the market is being greatly expanded, various administrative barriers are being brought down, but it will make a difference to the actual lives of our people. As I said, we have done much in the social sphere; we have free movement of people. We have very similar standards in the sphere of employment and so on. We appreciate all this. We will continue to move in this direction together with our Belarusian friends.

Maria Sittel: Let us have one more question from a member of our audience. We have Krasnoyarsk on the line. You are on the air, you can ask your question.

Question: Good afternoon. My name is Yekaterin Nikolayevna, and I am a pensioner. I am worried about the pay of our preschool staff. An assistant teacher (nanny) has as many as 30 children in her group. It's a lot of work and responsibility because she is in charge of children. Her take-home pay is 3,800 roubles. She has to pay for her fare, clothing, utility rates, and medicines. What is left for food? Question: How can one survive on 3,800 roubles a month? When will the government tackle poverty among the working population?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Yekaterina Nikolayevna, it is hard and, indeed, practically impossible to survive on such pay. I am sure you are helping your relatives and you solve your financial problems together. It is hard, I agree. The question is, what to do.

I have already mentioned that we passed a decision at the end of last year, in December, to increase the wage fund for the federal public sector workers by 30% at once, but we immediately launched a reform of the budget sector.

I will tell you in a nutshell what these reforms amount to. We have given public sector institutions much greater discretion as to how they spend government money and have enabled them to optimise their spending. In other words, optimisation of expenditure is to a large extent in the hands of the managers of various institutions.

The Russian regions have done the same with regard to their public sector institutions, and preschools and other childcare institutions are under the jurisdiction of the municipalities and partly the regions of the Federation considering the special budget relationships between the regions and the municipalities. Where this has been accomplished, it is obvious - we have objective data - that the remuneration of the employees of these institutions is growing.

If I heard right, you are from Krasnoyarsk. Krasnoyarsk has a young and energetic governor. I will make a point of discussing this problem with him. If this has not been done in Krasnoyarsk yet, it is time to begin.

Ernest Mackevicius: Maria, do you have any more calls?

Maria Sittel: We have a lot of calls.

I would like to ask Mr Putin for a favour. When we were preparing for this programme we got feedback from some of the more active members of the TV audience, choosing the most interesting and pressing issues. Would it be possible to call them back? We have promised some people that we would call them back as the link-up goes on. Can we call them back? If you could join us in a minute or so, we will try to reach them by phone.

Ernest Mackevicius: All right.

While they are trying to reach them, here is a question that came to our message processing centre from Nadezhda Lobkinafrom Angarsk, Irkutsk Region: "I am a diabetic, and I haven't been able to get subsidised drugs for a year. They issue prescriptions at the polyclinic, but the pharmacy does not have free drugs." Mr Putin, we have received hundreds of such complaints.

Vladimir Putin: I'll tell you what the crux of the problem is. Until several years ago we did not have any free drugs. We expanded that list and we were confronted with the problem you have referred to. There is only one way to solve this problem: to increase the range of free drugs and provide timely funding.

Another problem is the rising prices of drugs. But I understand that this is not what you are talking about.
What region is it?

Ernest Mackevicius: It's the Irkutsk Region, the city of Angarsk.

Vladimir Putin: We will take a closer look at what is happening in the Irkutsk Region, in particular in Angarsk. I promise.

Ernest Mackevicius: All right. Just to remind you, Maria Sittel is trying to reach a TV viewer who would like to address the prime minister personally. Have you reached him?

Maria Sittel: Yes, Rostov-on-Don is on the line. Oleg, Vassilyevich, you can ask your question.

Oleg Trusov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

My aunt Nina is 84 and lives in Azov. She is a war veteran and she is disabled.
After your TV appearance my mother went to the Azov administration and asked to put aunt Nina on a housing waiting list. She was turned down. She was told: "You've come here because you listen to all these speeches on television."

We recently got a reply that flats will be made available only to those who joined the waiting list before March 2005.

Is there a chance for my aunt Nina to get a flat? After all, she is an old woman and these visits that get her nowhere are bad for her nerves.

Vladimir Putin: Is your mother a World War II veteran?

Oleg Trusov: No, it's my aunt, my mother's elder sister.

Vladimir Putin: And she is a World War II veteran?

Oleg Trusov: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: The decision has been made and it is final: All the World War II veterans are to be given flats regardless of whether or not they joined the waiting list before March 1, 2005. We are financing this out of the budget for 2010.

I have just one question or request for the veterans and the administrative bodies: determine as quickly as possible the number of people who are entitled to new housing under that decision. This needs to be done so that our construction companies could get government financing in time to buy or build the required amount of housing in 2010.

As for the reply you got, it is clearly a proforma letter. I think the regional governor should look into this and respond adequately. Such negligence, and it is nothing but negligence, on the part of officials should be punished.

As for your relative, as a veteran of the Great Patriotic War she is entitled to that flat. Incidentally, the number of people who had failed to join the waiting list before March 1, 2005 jumped after I made my announcement on television. There are 10,000 people on the waiting list already. But we will keep our promise in any case regardless of the number of people who have got the right to housing.

Ernest Mackevicius: Maria, let's take one more call.

Vladimir Putin: And, I'm sorry but I would like to add that in many regions they put people on waiting lists in the relevant agencies, housing units and other departments of the municipal administrations.

Maria Sittel: Mr Putin, let me explain why we picked this particular question: We have a lot of messages which quote the local authorities as saying: "We hear that Putin has promised it to you, so go and ask Putin." We have got very many such questions that cite the reaction of the local administrations.

Vladimir Putin: Well, if you have such facts, let me know while we are on the air and we will sort out the people who give such answers.

Maria Sittel: Thank you.

Do we have any more questions? The Murmansk Region. You are on the line. Go ahead, please.

Question: Good afternoon, my name is Lyudmila Viktorovna.
The reports from the site of the Neva Express accident showed an old woman near whose house the tragedy occurred and we saw in what conditions that old woman lives. She had given all her blankets and clothes to the victims. And then there was a picture of hundreds of people standing in front of her fence which had fallen to the ground.

I have a hunch that the track was mended, the workers went away and no one bothered to mend the old woman's house and fence. I wish somebody could help her. Thank you.

Maria Sittel: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Lyudmila Viktorovna, you have a kind heart, like that woman. Don't worry, she will be all right. The president of Russian Railways reported to me that he had personally met her and her modest pension - I think it is just 4,500 roubles a month -- will be doubled at the expense of Russian Railways and it will be for life.

Her house will be restored. I had a conversation with the RZD president when he reported to me about that: They will move her closer to her family who live, as he told me, not far from the disaster site, in a small town. Everything will be all right, don't worry. Thank you for drawing our attention to this fact.

Ernest Mackevicius: Our broadcast continues, and our next point in today's programme is Magnitka. My colleague Maria Morgun is hosting the show from the Magnitogorsk Metals Plant.

Good afternoon, Maria. You have the floor.

Maria Morgun: Good afternoon, Mr Putin, Ernest and all participants and viewers of our programme. We are indeed in Magnitogorsk, which is known as the capital of Russian ferrous metals industry. It has always been a single industry city and, by tradition, most of the local residents work here, at the plant or its branch enterprises. I would like to remind our audience that Magnitka is a major metal producer, accounting for more than 20% of the metal manufactured in Russia.

Currently, we are in the workshop where steel plating goes through the final operation - zinc coating. Kilometres of steel sheet are then rolled into coils and sent to retail outlets. The unit next to which we are standing produces 2,000 tonnes of steel a day. Incidentally, it is in operation now. Magnitka, like any industrial centre, was hit by the crisis but tried to counter the blow. Still, workers at the plant have their problems and will speak about them. They have the floor.

So, who has a question to ask? Please, members of the senior generation.

Will you please introduce yourself?

Alexander Nikiforov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Alexander Nikiforov: I work in the coatings workshop. Here is my question. Mr Putin, you have often visited our legendary Magnitka and know our volumes of production. Now, however, we have to reduce them because there are no orders. Therefore, we need your help, assistance from the government, support - not for us, but for our main customers - the construction industry, the motor industry, the engineering industry. As soon as they receive orders, we will also receive them. And these mean work, wages and all the rest.

There is also a second, smaller, question, Mr Putin.

It is an open secret that Chinese metal and metal products - which are cheap but of very low quality - are now flooding the domestic market. We need to take some measures to ensure that Russian metal goes to Russia's internal market.

Thank you very much, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your question, Alexander. I feel you take the affairs of your plant to heart, especially when you speak about the quality of your products, which is higher than in imported items.

I must say that I have been to Magnitka repeatedly and have seen how the plant is developing with my own eyes. I have some positive words to say to the management and shareholders. Mr Rashnikov is a good manager and not only because the company is developing and new technologies are being introduced, but also because a lot is being done to care for the people and to look after the environment. You know better than I do what winters used to be like in Magnitogorsk. Everything was black, including snow.

Today, the situation is radically different. Perhaps, not all problems have been solved, but emissions to the atmosphere have changed cardinally and for the better. You are also adopting new technologies and opening new production setups.

You mentioned the related industries and asked us to support them. But that is precisely what we have been doing. Next year we will direct the required resources to the construction industry, support mortgage schemes, and additionally allocate money for mortgage payments and reduction of mortgage rates down to 10% or 11%. As a first step, we will set aside 250 billion roubles for these purposes.

We have preserved nearly all state construction programmes and even have expanded them in relation, say, to military personnel. We promised the military that in 2010 we would decide all issues connected with permanent housing. We will meet this goal no matter what, although, frankly speaking, it is a real challenge. But that also means support for builders.

We promised to the railways that we would give them subsidies to purchase the equipment, rails and carriages they need. We will do this. And ultimately it means orders for you, as you rightly said.

We will also support programmes connected with the motor industry. It is just wonderful that your plant is proving to be the leader and will turn out the best metal sheeting for motor vehicles. Across the world, there is only a couple of plants that guarantee such quality.

I, therefore, have no doubt that you will not only cope with the current problems, but also show good results in the post-crisis period.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Putin, there are very many questions arriving about our entry in the World Trade Organisation, future prospects, and the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which keeps being quashed, but is never quashed completely.

Vladimir Putin: The Jackson-Vanik amendment was adopted back in the Soviet times. It was a U.S. response, a sort of economic sanction against the Soviet Union, which was restricting the emigration of Jews to Israel. As we all now understand, restrictions no longer exist, nor does the Soviet Union exist, but the amendment still survives.

This is a telling anachronism, which different lobbying groups in U.S. Congress are trying to use to solve sufficiently narrow and branch-specific economic problems. They peg it to the need to increase poultry export quotas from the U.S., or they link it to some other issues. It is even opposed by those who suffered from such Soviet policy and served time in jails for anti-Soviet activity. They do not understand. They emigrated to Israel and made their political careers there. They cannot grasp why members of the American political establishment today tie up the Jackson-Vanik amendment with the current economic situation and with the solution of narrow selfish and branch-specific issues of an economic nature. But this is the reality. We have to accept it today.

Now, concerning the WTO. Our entry remains our strategic objective, but our impression is that for some unknown motives certain countries, including the United States, are hindering our accession to the WTO.

For us, our main priority is still integration across the post-Soviet space, and we are very pleased with the processes going on in the Customs Union, which I mentioned before, and which has been formed by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

But following the organisation of the Customs Union, following its creation, a new quality has come into its own, and we will have to join the WTO through this Customs Union, or individually, but by conducting in-depth nuts and bolts consultations and agreeing all positions with our Customs Union partners. But this process will go on for us, for Kazakhstan, and for Belarus.

Ernest Mackevicius: Maria, we can take one more question from Magnitogorsk.

Maria Morgun: Yes, of course, we have enough questions. Now, who wants to ask a question? Please, go ahead.

Natalia Asatryan: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I am an engineer in the coatings workshop. The other day I was taken to our City Hospital # 1 and, honestly, I was shocked by the conditions I found there.

You just cannot imagine what it all looks like. The hospital was built in the early 1930s and has not been repaired since then. The hospital is a shambles. It was never renovated and all sinks are covered with rust, there is not even a shower room for patients to wash. They have to go home to take a shower. But there are too many patients from villages who simply cannot travel back to take a bath.

A similar situation is with medical equipment which the doctors have to use. Everything is badly outdated.

The same state of things exists in our other hospitals and polyclinics, which all need repairing. There are long queues in the hospitals. Pregnant women have to spend four to five hours waiting in reception. Occasionally, they are examined in the corridor, which is simply unacceptable.

We know about the National Healthcare Project, which is making good progress, and we know about the construction of large specialised medical centres.

But the question I want to ask is this: Are there any plans to repair or perhaps build new hospitals in such small towns as ours?

Vladimir Putin: Natasha, we are really doing a great deal for health services, especially in primary care. As you know, several years ago we massively increased the salaries, on the scale of those days, and allocated considerable resources for the improvement and renovation of facilities. We did so at the federal level to maintain primary care, although that is, legally and actually, the concern of the regions and municipalities. And in many parts of the country we see positive processes going on in the renewal of fixed assets in health services.

If the situation in Magnitka is different, I am sorry.

Today a great concern for us is the flu. In Magnitka, and generally in the Chelyabinsk Region, the epidemic is now over 30% above its threshold value, according to information available to me. This means the hospitals and polyclinics are overcrowded. That, unfortunately, is a fact and nothing can be done about it. In many regions, municipal medical institutions are introducing overtime for doctors and increasing their numbers for this period of time. If that has not been done in your case, it is a pity. This must be done, the flu epidemic must be dealt with promptly.

But the question of renewing fixed assets and purchasing new equipment is, of course, a long-term matter which must be addressed promptly. I can only tell you that I will certainly discuss the situation with the governor and then we will see. If some help is needed from the federal government, we need to understand what kind of help is needed, and no doubt the region itself, the Chelyabinsk Region, should take the initiative and be the first to take early steps.

I repeat: I will certainly speak with the governor. Your governor is an experienced and respected person, and generally an effective manager. We will see what we can do for Magnitka.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thanks a lot to Magnitka. Now we will continue this discussion here in Moscow. Farida Kurbangaleyeva is signaling to me that someone wishes to speak on this issue.

Farida Kurbangaleyeva: Yes, I can see a hand over here. I believe the question is about healthcare again. Please introduce yourself.

S. Kochanovskaya: Moscow Aviation Institute. My question is about health insurance. Russia's healthcare system includes a compulsory medical insurance. This means that every Russian has a health insurance policy and is theoretically entitled to free medical assistance in any region. But this is not the case in reality.

Consider this example. My mother has a bad heart. She goes to her local outpatient clinic where they tell her they have no cardiologist and send her to the city (the region's administrative centre). We go to the city and show her insurance policy, but clinics there refuse to serve her saying that she is not a resident of the city and has to go to her local clinic.

Is this legitimate? If so, then what do we need this insurance policy for?

Vladimir Putin: The problem is that, unfortunately, the system of medical insurance in Russia is at the embryonic stage of development. To cut a long story short and make it clear to everyone - the key problem is insufficient funding for the system. There are shortfalls in funding from every source, including the federal and regional governments.

We have plans to reform this system. But at the moment we are embarking on a major project to improve the pension system, which will require between 500 and 700 billion roubles in 2010, according to our estimates. Our next effort will be to reform the compulsory medical insurance system gradually.

As for the specific case you are talking about, despite the problems I mentioned, they certainly have no right to refuse to help your mother. If the problem really is that bad, we could discuss it in more detail and find a solution.

Ernest Mackevicius: Another videoconference is planned with Komsomolsk on Amur in Russia's Far East. It is getting late there, Mr Putin, so why don't we move to the Far East now and hear from our special correspondent Olga Skabeyeva.

Olga Skabeyeva: Hello, Moscow! Good afternoon, Mr Putin. This is Komsomolsk on Amur here, the third largest city in Russia's Far East and an important industrial centre. Forty major industrial companies operate here. This city is forever young, because it was built by young enthusiasts who once came here to conquer the left bank of the Amur River. This took a lot of courage.

Incidentally, the temperature is minus 25 Celsius here now, which is not too cold - temperatures here are often as low as minus 35 or minus 40 in early December. But we are all warm and comfortable in this makeshift conference room, and we are ready to ask you questions.

We are on the production floor at a local aircraft plant that assembles the famous Sukhoi Superjet-100, the most important aircraft of Russian civil aviation.

We have a lot of questions, but first I will give the floor to representatives of this plant, which is hosting this videoconference.

D. Loshchinsky: Good afternoon Mr Putin.

First of all, I would like to thank you for having fulfilled our requests. You promised us in May that the direct rail service between Moscow and Komsomolsk on Amur would be restored, and so it was. It is difficult to appreciate the benefits of travelling by train across our vast country, but thank you very much.

Now for my question. The aircraft industry in Komsomolsk has indeed stabilized. We have received orders from the Defence Ministry, and additional financing has been allocated for the Sukhoi Superjet programme. However, we are still facing a number of problems that we are unable to resolve without government help. One of them is training qualified personnel for the industry.

The Sukhoi Superjet programme is an innovation project involving technologies that are new for Russia. There is an extreme shortage of qualified professionals such as aircraft designers, technicians and plant workers who can operate the cutting-edge, high-precision equipment.

The reasons for this shortage are obvious - the falling prestige of engineering in general as well as the local schools' inability to supply as many qualified professionals as local companies need. These schools also have problems and need support. Unfortunately, graduates of Moscow colleges and universities are reluctant to come to the Far East.

Mr Putin, does the government have any plans to develop programmes for training engineers for the Far East and other remote regions?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Dmitry, you have raised an extremely important issue, that of the aircraft industry in general and of personnel training programmes.

As far as the aircraft industry is concerned, we have established the sizable United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). You probably know this. Unfortunately, the UAC has inherited all problems from previous years, including massive debt. We have just adopted a decision to provide additional support to the UAC. We will allocate several billion roubles for its authorised capital and will start restructuring its debt worth another 46 billion roubles in the next few years. This will enable the company to clear its balance sheet and will create conditions for normal economic performance and will also help attract the required resources for corporate development and that of the aircraft industry in general.

I have also recently signed documents stipulating additional support for the Sukhoi Corporation itself. As you know, we capitalised the company some time ago, and have made yet another similar decision recently. I am confident that the national aircraft industry, primarily the civilian segment, has a good future despite all problems, and that the industry will be operating to capacity in the next few years.

And now a few words about personnel training programmes. This is, doubtless, a high priority. Although this high-tech sector has a very good tradition, there have been certain problems in personnel training in previous years, and such problems persist. At the same time, I would like to tell you that we have held a tender for 14 higher educational and research schools this September, and that, according to the commission, three specialised schools have submitted quite competitive and interesting programmes. Three of them, namely, the Moscow Aviation Institute, the Kazan Institute and probably the Saratov higher aviation school, have been listed among federal higher research schools. All of them will receive additional funding and resources totalling 1.8 billion roubles over the next five years and will use it to modernise their material-and-technical base and to improve personnel training.

A substantial number of students pay for their training in economics and general specialisations, while not more than 15% of future engineers pay for their courses. On the whole, this shows that the state prioritises the training of top-grade aircraft industry specialists. But the problem persists, and we will follow through on a solution together.

Why should we do this together with you? Because enterprises must take a direct part in training specialists they will need in the future.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr, Putin, quite a few students have been invited to our studio. I'll now ask technical school students to raise their hands. Wow! Is there anyone here who would volunteer to work in Komsomolsk-on-Amur? The number of volunteers is smaller, but they are here.

Farida Kurbangaleyeva: I think it would be logical to ask an aviation institute student this question. Moscow Aviation Institute students, our future aircraft manufacturers, are sitting in my sector.

This young man is among those few who did not lower their hands. Are you really ready to leave Moscow, to go to the Far East and to work there?

Nikita Kubrikov: Good afternoon. I am a five-year student from the Moscow Aviation Institute's aircraft design department.

I plan to defend my PhD thesis and a graduation paper on civilian aviation. I would like to work at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KnAAPO) and to help design civilian aircraft at the company developing the advanced Sukhoi SuperJet airliner family. I underwent advanced training at KnAAPO several years ago. I have some idea of what this company is like, and I would be happy to work there.

Farida Kurbangaleyeva: I have noticed that the girl sitting next to you lowered her hand. Why?

K. Chernyshova: Hello, I am also from the Moscow Aviation Institute.

I would like to say that there are more career opportunities and aircraft companies in Moscow. We can work more, earn more and introduce our own innovations and designs. Moscow is also my home town, and we currently lack the motivation to leave for other places.

Farida Kurbangaliyeva: There are different opinions.

Vladimir Putin: I support Nikita's choice because I have visited that enterprise in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. That enterprise is really interesting and promising in terms of warplane and civilian aircraft production. The Sukhoi SuperJet he mentioned is not just any plane that will be manufactured in Russia. This is the first Russian aircraft designed completely with digital technology. The SJJ programme is also noteworthy for the high cooperation levels with our foreign partners. For instance, our French partners share is 30%.

Russia and Italy have established a joint venture that will market this aircraft in Europe. European carriers have already ordered the first 10 planes. Russia is also cooperating with Boeing on this programme. Overall, this interesting and promising work provides a very good experience.

I support Nikita's choice. If you don't mind, I'll talk to the general director, so that he can help you to get there.

Ernest Mackevicius: We still have a link-up with Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

Pavel Popov from Omsk has just posted the following question on our website. "The police are not very popular today. Each day, we learn about police officers attacking people. Police officers are filming their exploits on video cameras. You understand what I mean. Maybe we should disband the police force and establish a new force from scratch?" This has now become an important issue.

Vladimir Putin: Ukraine, which is our neighbour and friend, recently disbanded the national traffic police force. But nothing good came of it. Bribes soared and traffic safety declined when their functions were delegated to other divisions unprepared for such work.

Today, a lady took part in our conversation and asked a question about the refusal of doctors to treat her mother. I believe that, unfortunately, this is primarily linked with extortion. Also, law enforcement faces many other problems.

Unfortunately, we are also dealing with those violating the law in this area. Instead of protecting citizens and their property, they inflict irreparable damage on their lives and health. This is, of course, unacceptable. Society as a whole and the Ministry of Interior must actively combat this abuse. Police officers violating the law must be severely punished.

At the same time, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Ministry of Interior now employs over a million officers. To the best of my knowledge, their number stands at 1.4 million and exceeds the strength of the Russian Armed Forces. These people are fulfilling an important function. Many of them risk their lives in emergencies and during routine missions, too. Consequently, I don't think it's fair to describe all police officers negatively. But I want to repeat that a sharp, prompt and tough reaction to abuse in law enforcement is essential.

Ernest Mackevicius: I remind you that we still have a link-up with the Far East and Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

Your questions please.

O. Skobeyeva: We have a lot of questions, and we are ready to ask them.

Alexander Astrakhantsev: I represent the Amur Shipbuilding Plant.

We have already met, Mr Putin. You visited our company in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, chaired a meeting and invited me to attend. Thanks to your invitation, they are now calling me "Putin's friend". But this is not the most important thing. We have so far failed to receive the 1.9 billion roubles allocated by the Government for completing the Project 971 Shchuka-B (Akula II) class nuclear-powered attack submarine, now sitting at the Bolshoi Kamen delivery station.

Mr Putin, I would like to know whether our plant will be awarded these defence contracts. You see, the plant simply cannot exist without such contracts because it is the only enterprise manufacturing warships for the entire Pacific Fleet. When will the 1.9 billion roubles, on which the wages of corporate workers depend, be transferred?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Astrakhantsev, I'm also happy that the number of my friends, including those in Russia's Far East, is increasing.

I recall our meeting and your involvement in the meeting. At that time, you heard and saw everything for yourself. I think you came to realise that, owing to the former owners, the enterprise had found itself in an extremely difficult financial situation. Basically, the plant was facing bankruptcy.

We are now implementing the relevant debt restructuring measures and are replacing the plant's owner. Its assets are being transferred to the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) via Sberbank. 60% will be transferred to the USC. This process is now underway.

Contracts are a key issue. We are monitoring this and maintain contacts with the Russian Defence Ministry. The Defence Ministry will cooperate with the concerned Government department and the United Shipbuilding Corporation and will have to decide what orders it will place at your enterprise, as well as the deadlines.

There were plans to build corvettes at your plant. Instead of merely occupying the stocks, we must allocate 1.5 billion or 1.2 billion roubles, rather than the 300 million as planned, for this project, to avoid the stocks being used by just an empty or idle hull because this won't help pay anyone's salary. The Defence Minister realises this. We have repeatedly discussed this issue with him.

If the Defence Ministry is not prepared to award such contracts, then the hulls must be removed and the Ministry of Industry must have an opportunity to place other orders, including chemical tankers and some other types of vessels, at the plant. Such orders can be placed by our shipping companies with our direct involvement. Although they have become accustomed to ordering ships in South Korea and elsewhere, they have agreed to do this at your enterprise after a friendly conversation. The concerned departments are to reach an agreement in the near future.

And now a few words about funding. To the best of my knowledge, they have started paying wages more actively after the conversation you were invited to. But this is not linked with the billions mentioned by me during my visit to your enterprise. I will now explain my point.

All wages must be paid, no matter what. As far as I know, the delivery team has already been paid. Although the funding is available, other corporate workers are not being paid in full. But this will happen in the next few days.

Nonetheless, there are problems. Mr Astrakhantsev, the enterprise is deeply in debt, and creditors and banks could unconditionally write off funding, wages included, as soon as they are transferred to corporate accounts. The company therefore has to find other ways to pay the workers. This will be done in the next few days, and all wages will be paid through December 1, 2009 inclusive. The second part will be paid somewhere starting around December 20, and all wages will be paid by December 31, 2009.

And now a few words about the other substantial resources you mentioned. This decision has been made, and the Government's executive order on allocating an additional 17 billion roubles to the Amur Shipbuilding Plant in several instalments signed. The first 1.9 billion roubles will be allocated by late December 2009. Another 1.6 billion will be allocated next year. The enterprise will receive 3.2 billion roubles in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, as well as another 3.4 billion roubles in 2014. We hope very much that the funding, as well as current efforts to place orders at the enterprise, will facilitate its recovery and stable performance.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you, Mr Putin. We are ending our link-up with Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

I remind you that our text message processing centre continues to receive your messages, including email. Maria Sittel sums them up.

Maria Sittel: The centre is not just working, it is working very actively.

We are approaching a psychologically important, very serious and weighty number - 2 million, telephone calls, texts and emails.

We have received 250,000 telephone calls and messages in the first 60 minutes. Such a beautiful figure. Over 2,000 people are trying to reach us by telephone simultaneously. These loads should not be envied.

As far as parity is concerned, peak-load volumes and the number of telephone calls, text and emails are growing steadily. A review of all the data shows that questions about welfare and social security account for 40% of the total, followed by questions on housing and municipal utilities. Work-and-wage related questions are in third place. In the past 30 minutes, the number of healthcare-related questions has increased sharply and is catching up with the three leading categories.

We have the following text message: "Who is standing behind the Arbidol medication? Instead of 125 roubles, ten pills now cost 275 roubles. 20 Remantadin pills which cost 50 roubles are not being advertised. There is no pressure either. Who is profiting from the healthcare sector? The list of skyrocketing medicine prices is long and not confined to Arbidol. Who controls the prices? Who is profiting from the healthcare sector? Mr Putin, please stop this robbery. You can do it."

Vladimir Putin: What can I say? Who is behind these developments? Of course, this is done by incompetent businessmen and people who have no idea of social responsibility. They want to pocket as much money as possible from every project.

Can we do anything? And what can be accomplished in this sphere in order to prevent medication prices from skyrocketing?

Government experts have submitted the following proposals.

The prices for companies making vitally important medications will be registered. This is the first thing.

Second, the Federal Tariff Service will draft procedures for the constituent entities limiting their authority to regulate mark-ups. On the one hand, maker's prices will be fixed, and, on the other, mark-ups will be limited.

These regulations will be effective from January 1, 2010.

I spoke to the Prosecutor-General a while ago. Both he and I believe that it is necessary to step up our efforts to bring those officials who are guilty of violations to account. There are violations today even despite high retail mark-ups. In some cases a number of business people exceed even these high retail mark-ups, sometimes many times over. They are liable to tough administrative penalties. They may be fined doubly the amount of illegally obtained revenues, removed from their position and disqualified for several years. In other words, a ban will be imposed on certain types of activities. It is possible to apply articles of criminal law as well. I hope that a combination of all these measures should stabilise the situation to a certain extent next year.

Maria Sittel: Excellent, all the more so since the prosecutor's office has already called the actions of some businessmen, as well as local and regional authorities, as asocial. Indeed, we must not tolerate such a difference in prices on a simple facemask - one rouble versus 60 roubles closer to the Ural Mountains, or 30 and 40 roubles, as is the case with us here in the middle of the Volga region. This is an enormous difference, and the result of tremendous corruption in the pharmaceutical market. Mr Putin, there are very many reports on this subject.

Vladimir Putin: It is exactly as you say.

Ernest Mackevicius: Let's take a few questions from the studio in Moscow, although most people here are not from Moscow.

Alexander, there is a question in your sector.

Alexander Khristenko: Yes, we have a question from Yelena Romanova from the Moscow suburbs. We were in touch with her before. Yelena, you were very recently unemployed. Could you please tell your story briefly and repeat your question?

Yelena Romanova: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. You visited us in Podolsk on March 4 of this year and I met you at an employment office. Now I have a job...

Vladimir Putin: I also have a job, so we are both doing fine.

Yelena Romanova: I would like to ask you a question about small- and medium-sized businesses. Much is being said about support for them. But the shutdown of the Cherkizovsky market has shown something different. When it was finally closed down, the Chinese authorities and business people, later followed by the Moscow government, helped Chinese businesspeople get back their confiscated goods and take them to other markets. Meanwhile, our businesses had to face this tragedy without help. It is very difficult for them to grow, and they need support. Taxes on medium- and small-sized businesses are very high.

I have one more example. A man has been working for a whole year, his business is doing well, but he cannot expand it because he cannot get a loan. Not a single bank will issue a loan to him because he is registered in the Krasnodar Territory or the Republic of Adygeya, but conducts business in Moscow.

What could be done to help our businesses develop, and thus be useful for the state?

Vladimir Putin: First, I would like to congratulate you on finding a job. So your visit to the employment office produced results. It means people there are not just sitting around wearing the seat of their trousers and receiving salaries. They have achieved something after all.

As for the Cherkizovsky market and small businesses, we have a public association of small business, OPORA. We maintain constant contact with them and have not yet heard a single complaint.

What was happening at the market? It goes without saying and I'd like to start answering your question with this. Government and management bodies should by all means observe the lawful rights of entrepreneurs, including small businesses. If there were some violations there, they should be sorted out.

At the same time, allow me to draw your attention to the regrettable fact that for the most part markets sell fake or smuggled goods, and if this is the case, nothing can or should be done. Such goods must be destroyed. There is no other way of protecting the interests of domestic producers.

I'd like to say a few words about our light industry after the shutdown of the Cherkizovsky market. Small-scale wholesale traders have begun to focus on domestic producers. The production of knitted goods has grown by almost 3%. The production of trousers and suites has increased by 16% and 13%, respectively. This happened because trade in fake or smuggled goods was discontinued.

Indeed, our foreign partners, including our Chinese friends, drew our attention to the on-the-ground problems at the Cherkizovsky market. Why do you think they did this? This does not require an answer. Yelena understands this. But we must protect the interests of our producers, of the men and women employed by our companies, for instance in the Ivanovo Region, where the economic situation is very grave. If fake and smuggled goods gain the upper hand, our producers will never make it.

One Chinese province was fully devoted to the Russian market, producing commodities specifically for the Cherkizovsky market. We must build relations with our partners, including our Chinese partners. We have developed very good relations with them recently. But these relations must be civilised and based on law, including as far as customs. Nevertheless, we should focus our support on domestic producers.

Ernest Mackevicius: Now for a question we received on our programme's website. It is also on this issue. As with many other questions, we received it in advance. Our television viewers had time to read and even comment on it.

The question is as follows: "The grandiose Mardan Palace, which was built in Turkey by the owner of the Cherkizovsky market, is a monument to corruption in Russia. Smuggled goods worth millions of dollars could not pass through there without assistance from customs and police officers and the Moscow government. The brother of the market's owner was a prefect. Here's an example of successful public-private partnership - the market has been shut down but partnership is prospering elsewhere."

Vladimir Putin: I don't know what is prospering there. We will look into this issue.

As for the construction of this hotel in Turkey, I don't see this as criminal. The question remains whether all this was done legally. This is the first point.

Now the second point. If there are investment resources, it would be good to use them in Russia. For instance, it is possible to invest into the construction of hotels for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. There is no law against that.

All other evidence, if violations of law are suspected, should be proven in court. I don't need to comment on my own opinion on smuggling and corruption. The consistency with which we are putting things in order at the Cherkizovsky market speaks for itself.

I would like to emphasise once again that we will continue fighting corruption. The President has spoken more than once about this, and the Government will do all we can on this issue, although this is a very complicated process. Corruption is a huge problem in this country, but we are not the only ones. Corruption is worst in countries with transitional economies, because they have numerous grey zones which are not regulated by law. However, we will achieve success if all of us, if our entire society works on this issue.

I often hear that our efforts to combat corruption are insufficiently effective. Yes, this is true, but we have achieved results. If we continue to move in this direction, our efforts will be more effective. On the contrary, if we do not do anything about corruption and do not speak about it, it will get worse.

Ernest Mackevicius: Our information processing centre is receiving hundreds and even thousands of calls every second. We are awaiting the latest information from Maria Sittel.

Maria Sittel: Let me repeat that more than 2,000 people are calling us simultaneously. If you are interested in more accurate figures, here they are: By now we have received 1.2 million calls, 97,000 text messages and 612 emails on our website. Women were the most frequent callers, accounting for 65% of all callers. We have also received a lot of questions from Moscow and the Moscow Region. They are followed by the Rostov Region, the Krasnodar Territory, St Petersburg, and the Sverdlovsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd and Saratov regions. These are the most active seven regions.

The question of justice is asked very often. For Russia, it is one of the most important and urgent issues. Now we have Tatarstan on the hotline. You are in the air, please go ahead and ask your question.

Oleg Danilov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I have a question prompted by the recent car crash in Switzerland after races between very expensive cars, such as Lamborghinis. How can we teach our wealthy and arrogant to behave decently? This is a question of justice. Why is it okay to grow rich by someone else's suffering and to steal and cheat? Why isn't it fashionable to bring things into our house and spend money here in Russia, and not the other way round?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Oleg, I have just spoken about this. If someone wants to invest, it would be good to do so in Russia, because investment means more taxes and more jobs.

As for people who have become wealthy recently or during the chaotic period, they cannot be put on one and the same footing. Far from all entrepreneurs acquired their money legally. If fact, for the majority, the reverse is true. But there were certainly those who used loopholes in laws, especially during privatisation in the early and middle 1990s.

But your question is on a somewhat different issue. As you said, it is about "decency". We have a word - nouveau rich - that describes people who have quickly and suddenly become rich, do not know how to behave, cannot use their money properly and show off their wealth. Yes, regrettably, we have this problem. Judging by your voice you are a young man, but even in Soviet times some tried to show off their wealth. Some people would put golden caps on their teeth, preferably the front teeth, to show their level of their prosperity. Lamborghinis and other expensive bric-a-brac are the same as golden teeth. People who are showing off their wealth against a background of millions of Russians living modestly do not differ in any way from those who had golden teeth.

Ernest Mackevicius: Now we move on to the next segment of our programme today. Our correspondent Igor Kozhevin is reporting live from AvtoVAZ in Togliatti.

Igor, we're looking forward to questions from auto workers.

Igor Kozhevin: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. Good afternoon, everyone. Togliatti sends greetings to Moscow. We are now at the city's key company, AvtoVAZ, at the assembly line for Kalina cars. I want to explain straight away that the people standing behind me are also from other AvtoVAZ production lines.

I probably should remind you that as of December 1, AvtoVAZ is undergoing a rather important step in its development - the short work week has been cancelled, and as of December 1 everyone who wants to, can apply for a transfer to the newly established joint venture. I very much hope that the content of the questions will touch upon this crucially important step in the company's development.

Now we only have to find someone who wants to ask a question. Introduce yourself, please.

G. Pivovarov: Mr Putin, I've been working for AvtoVAZ since 2006 as a foreman in the mechanical assembly production department. Everybody knows that you visited Paris recently and signed an agreement with Renault. In conjunction with this, we have some slight apprehensions; namely, when will Renault get here, and will this lead to the loss of the Lada brand and conversion of the plant into a screwdriver assembly facility? As a worker in mechanical assembly production, I am worried about this and I'm not the only one. And won't we have layoffs when Renault comes, just like they have at Opel now?

Vladimir Putin: Everybody knows that I was in Paris, but apparently not everyone knows that I have been to AvtoVAZ several times. I want to remind you that before I went to Paris, I still considered it my duty to visit you and talk with the workforce and management. We formed a special commission essentially on AvtoVAZ's problems and Togliatti's problems as a single-industry town. This is a very important point for us - it's a major city and a single-industry town at the same time.

Almost all the people who live in Togliatti are connected with AvtoVAZ in one way or another. The company was founded back in the Soviet era and lost its competitiveness in the conditions of a closed market. Today, the company can still be saved because it can come out with a new line of models that meet global standards. It has the necessary production capacities for this, but the main thing is that it has trained and experienced people who love their work, developed infrastructure and a brand. Lada is still the best-selling car in Russia.

If we don't do anything, Lada will move down in the rankings for economic reasons and AvtoVAZ will leave the market. Then irreversible processes may come into play - people will just not buy the plant's products, and that's it. Everything will stop dead in its tracks. We won't force people to do this. We cannot revert to a closed market, as in the Soviet times, because our consumer wants to use a quality product and will demand - and rightly so - the opportunity for Russian people to drive modern cars.

Lada must meet this challenge and it is capable of doing so.

You asked whether there would be problems when Renault comes. Renault already arrived a long time ago. Renault bought a 25% plus one share stake, in other words a blocking stake on the wider market. It paid a lot of money for it and was "shafted" because of the crisis.

We treated our partners with a lot of care, and when the first tranche of financial aid for AvtoVAZ was issued, we did this through the state corporation Russian Technology, in order for Renault not to lose its stake. But after that, we told our partners: We consider our debt to you to be paid. Now, let's work with you as with shareholders who hold a large stake - 25% plus one share is a large stake - and let's think about development, and then we can contribute in a consolidated manner in accordance with our stake in the company.

During preparations for the visit to France and during our consultations in Paris we came to an agreement and our French partners confirmed their willingness to continue joint operations. For the time being, their stake will not be expanded to a controlling stake. The state, as represented by Russian Technology, remains the principal shareholder. There is also a private stake that is owned by a Russian investment company. I am not sure, I think it's Renaissance Capital.

But we will make a considerably larger investment - I mean the state - 50 billion roubles, and Renault has undertaken to invest the necessary amount of 300 million euros in the form of technology, in the form of equipment, and in the form of its know-how, in order for AvtoVAZ products to reach global standards in the passenger car sector. Indeed, the new platform should be able to launch an absolutely new car under the Lada brand. A considerably larger number of cars will be released under this brand. I am in full agreement with you, we cannot lose this brand, even if the stake of our foreign partners were to change in the general shareholding. That's the first thing.

The second thing is that we will never agree to the "screwdriver". Lada must be an independent company. The level of localisation, in other words the production of all the components for this car, must be high, not less than 60%-70%. Something could, of course, be taken onto a new production line from our foreign partners; that would be only natural. And even now, Lada buys a lot from abroad.

And now let us move on social issues. Renault itself has good experience in reorganising its companies without mass layoffs. Small and mid-sized subsidiaries are set up around these companies that work with the head firm. People that are made redundant because of new technology go to work for these companies. Pouring in money for no particular reason and generating losses is pointless.

Therefore, the shareholders and the management have developed a gradual and orderly plan for restructuring the company that is not tied to any markets during the crisis. It will be a natural progress, which will also involve Renault. A special board of shareholder representatives has been set up and will meet regularly to monitor the restructuring and make additional investments.

Finally, as you know, we have reached an agreement with Renault-Nissan whereby the Japanese division of the company will build a new production facility in Russia's Far East. This might not affect you directly, but this also has to do with the auto industry, and is therefore in our common sphere of interest in a more general sense.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Putin, many people asked the same questions on our website even before your Q&A session began, such as the question about the old lady who was one of the victims of the Nevsky Express tragedy and about arrogance of the rich.

One of these frequently asked questions is related to this issue: "Why make huge investments in AvtoVAZ when they are unable to produce good cars?"

Vladimir Putin: I believe I have just spoken about the AvtoVAZ issue in sufficient detail. In this case, I am speaking as the company's ardent advocate. I believe AvtoVAZ does have a future, and the future is good. It is worth fighting for.

You must know that General Motors, one of the world's largest automakers, is also facing problems these days. The US Government is making every effort to keep it afloat. We do not even know how much their Government is doing and how much else it is planning to do, or how much money it invested and from what sources. GM employs hundreds of people. Russia's auto industry, including suppliers and other related companies, employs 1.5 million. Are you telling me we should just ignore these people and their families?

Yet, right now, I am not talking about the social aspect of the problem, which should be our top priority. I'd like to draw your attention to the technological aspect. We are trying to encourage innovation-based development. Engineering is the sector of the economy where innovations should be introduced. Our policy should not be to shut down all our companies and import everything from now on. Our policy should be to move our industry to a higher technologic level through evolution and not revolution. I am confident that we will be able to do that.

Ernest Mackevicius: I think someone in Togliatti wants to add something. Please, Igor.

Igor Kozhevin: Thank you Ernest. You know, when you were reading the question, I could guess by the low murmur from the audience that many here would have liked to say a few words to those who suggest that AvtoVAZ will never be able to make good cars.

You were the first to raise your hand, please introduce yourself.

T. Kokareva: Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

I am a test driver. I have worked at the plant for 26 years, and I would certainly join you in defending the plant.

Despite significant criticism, we in fact manufacture very good cars. They are manoeuvrable and practical, especially for Russian roads. And they are suitable for our customers who cannot afford foreign models. In my opinion, we don't buy them because we are loyal to our company and because their price is reasonable and their maintenance affordable.

I believe we should not abandon our plant or our auto industry in general. True, our cars' quality is not very good, but to improve it, we must purchase good parts and design new models.

If you, Mr Putin, really support us, and the government financial assistance helps us survive and improve, we'll make even better cars and export them. I do not think we'll have to be ashamed of our products on the market.

Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with you. Absolutely.

As for government support, I have already mentioned the 50 billion. Now let me cite other figures - 4.8 billion roubles will be allocated to create new jobs and 4.5 billion to support anyone who lose their job during the restructuring. This does not include the additional support package that the Government will be ready to provide if restructuring is successful.

In this case we also expect our French partners to support the plant. On the whole, we have come to an agreement with our French partners whereby Renault-Nissan will also contribute financial resources and technologies. Let me repeat that you and I are on the same side, and we will certainly be able to resolve this problem together.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you Togliatti, and thank you Igor. Now let's go back to our information collecting and processing centre in Moscow, because Maria Sittel is signalling to me that she has something for us.

Maria Sittel: Indeed I do. Mr Prime Minister, would you care to answer a series of rapid-fire questions, because we have many questions and we'd like to give a little time to all of them? These are questions we collected as we were preparing for the programme.

First, what is your opinion on international child custody battles? The cases of Irina Belenkaya and Rimma Salonen are neither unique nor the last of the kind. How do you feel about the issue of "pulling children apart"?

Vladimir Putin: The wording of this question is tricky. "Pulling children apart" is not good in any case. Let me draw your attention to the fact that these conflicts do not arise exclusively in international families. Unfortunately, similar problems are common in many Russian families as well. These are private issues, and it would be unwise for the government to interfere. I also think it indecent and unwise of these people to air their family problems in public.

As for the essence of the problem, here is a rational approach: instead of trying to solve their own problems using the children, the focus should be on how to protect the children's interests.

Maria Sittel: Thank you. Another short question. "What is the Prime Minister's opinion on teachers and teachers' education? What will happen to a country where teachers are poorly educated? Smart and gifted students do not choose teaching careers."

Vladimir Putin: In fact, the "smart and gifted" do choose teaching careers. We have longstanding teaching traditions. President Dmitry Medvedev spoke in his state of the nation address about the New School programme. The government is giving schools and education in general a lot of attention. We have a priority national project in education. We will continue this project, and will make more efforts in this area.

Maria Sittel: Mr Putin, are state-owned corporations good or bad?

Vladimir Putin: They are neither good nor bad. They are a necessity. I would like to stress that national leaders agree on this issue, and that we jointly drafted decisions to set such corporations some time ago.

I would like to emphasise a very important point. State-owned corporations were not established to expand the state's involvement in the economy. They were established in order to gather the fragments of those industries and enterprises that were scattered in previous decades, primarily during the privatisation of the 1990s, and that are also vital to the interests of the state. This includes the aircraft industry and some areas of the defence industry. Our task is to consolidate these assets and bring them up to the required conditions and levels. In some cases, these corporations will actually be dissolved, as is the case with the housing and public utilities corporation, which was established to operate for a preset period. Some of them must be converted into public shareholding companies, which was initial goal.

Maria Sittel: The crisis is like a godsend to corporate raiders. When will the state effectively thwart illegal property takeovers?

Vladimir Putin: I fully agree that this sore spot is due to a lack of regulation and the state's inadequate attention to this issue. It is now proposed to merge various formal crime components in this sphere into one single raider-related crime component. Representatives of law enforcement agencies, including the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Investigation Committee, believe this will make work easier and more effective. In my opinion, there must also be tougher punishment for these crimes.

Maria Sittel: And now the next question. "When will the murderers of the Russian Orthodox priest be found?"

Vladimir Putin: Punishing criminals who perpetrate such outrages is always on the mind of the public and the state. It is not only important that such criminals be found, but that such criminals be found and brought to justice. This is what we will strive to do.

Maria Sittel: "Do you ever want to quit politics with all its problems and to live for yourself, for your children and family, and relax? If the answer is ‘yes,' then I could be your back-up man. Just call me. Linar, from Krasnodar."

Vladimir Putin: Don't hold your breath. But if you want to work, then we will examine your request separately and will offer applicants, you included, a worthy job for realising your potential.

Maria Sittel: Mr Putin, a 12-year-old boy is asking about planned pensions for 2050.

Vladimir Putin: Smart kid. He is 12 years old now, he'll turn 50 in 2050, he won't yet be eligible for retirement, but he is already thinking about pensions.

Maria Sittel: He was probably thinking about somebody else.

Vladimir Putin: Technically speaking, it's always good when people think about the future and pension support.

As you remember, the Dragonfly from Ivan Krylov's fable danced all summer long and thus had no food in winter. Consequently, we must think about the winter season in summer, so as to avoid problems.

We set before ourselves the goal of achieving such a level of pension support that the average old-age pension would not fall below retirees' cost of living. We will certainly accomplish this objective in 2010. And we have further plans to raise pensions at a specific pace, although naturally this will depend on the overall state of the Russian economy. If everything proceeds as planned, pensions will exceed retirees' cost of living by at least 150% by 2050, which is our planning horizon for pension support.

Maria Sittel: Here is one more question, or perhaps even two or three. "What do you think about the Russian language reform? Do you eat yogurt for nutrition and how do you pronounce this word?"

Vladimir Putin: I drink neither yogurt nor yogurt, I prefer kefir [a fermented milk drink].

Frankly speaking, it's up to specialists to decide. Society has reacted to the well-known decisions concerning punctuation marks, stresses, etc. Such decisions were not merely made by the Ministry of Education and Science. They were made on the basis of findings of a commission of respected specialists.

I personally think that any language is a living and developing organism. Naturally, we should react appropriately to this and decide what should be formalised. However, we should do this in a very frugal manner. We must also observe fundamental academic rules of the Russian language.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you, Maria. I would like to once again discuss cars and the automotive industry issue, because this issue worries and affects many people. Another automotive giant, the KAMAZ Truck Plant, is joining our live discussion. Special correspondent Dmitry Petrov is reporting from Naberezhnye Chelny.

Hello, Dmitry. Your questions please.

Dmitry Petrov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. Good afternoon, colleagues. The city of Naberezhnye Chelny greets you.

We are standing in a truck cab assembly workshop. These cabs are the face of the KAMAZ Truck Plant. All this year, the enterprise has been trying hard to cope with the consequences of the crisis and to retain its market share.

During your latest visit to the plant, you spoke with workers and promised to send a film crew for the question-and-answer session, and now here we are. Corporate workers may now ask the Prime Minister questions. I suggest they take the floor.

Y. Solonenko: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I am a forklift operator. Here is my question. You have visited us twice. You have supported and helped us a great deal. Thank you very much for that. We have made it through 2009. We want to know whether next year will be difficult or not. Are you ready to support us in the future?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I want to say that you have very sensible and effective managers. I can never get your director's last name right. Is it Kogogin or Kogotin? Anyway, he is an effective manager who realistically assesses the situation. True, we are supporting your enterprise and virtually the entire automotive industry. We also provided support by regulating tariffs. In effect, we have raised customs barriers somewhat on imported cars and buses and have thus protected your market. Analysts say the domestic market has increased by about 70,000 Russian-made vehicles.

We have also supported the industry directly, including by allocating funds. We allocated 12.5 billion roubles at first, and then another 3 billion later, to purchase motor vehicles for the federal government, including for the Ministry of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief, the Defence Ministry and the Ministry of the Interior.

We have also allocated another 20 billion roubles and started working with the regions to buy equipment for municipal needs. Unfortunately, this programme took a long time to get underway, due to the co-financing, which we had to guarantee from the regions. Nonetheless, the programme got underway in the second half of 2009. Corporate directors and heads of municipal agencies are saying that it has started working.

We will continue to implement these programmes in 2010. We were tempted to cut spending on the purchase and modernisation of municipal utility vehicles, but the mayors, with whom we meet regularly - the last meeting was held in Kaliningrad - have convinced us that the programme would be affirmed for 2010. We will think about possible sources of the money for it, and we will implement it.

We have one more programme, although you are not directly connected with it. It concerns car manufacturers. We have just discussed the problem with AvtoVAZ. We will allocate 10 billion roubles ($344 million) for buying from people vehicles that are ten and more years old. This programme does not directly bear on you, but it is important for the automobile industry as a whole.

In other words, the government will provide assistance. But this is not the only assistance KAMAZ is getting. You have good modernisation programmes and projects aimed at increasing the innovation component of production.

I have recently visited your plant, as you know. You have just commissioned a new line for the production of engines jointly with your American partners. These are very good, highly promising engines, which will be in demand in this country and abroad. Such engines are successfully marketed in many countries.

You have allocated the necessary funds for this programme within a credit facility granted by Vnesheconombank. And you also have other projects.

For example, I was shown a new cabin - you probably have not seen it yet. It is still a big secret. I was shown it only after I had promised them not to tell anyone what the cabin looks likes, so I am not going to tell you. But I really liked it.

There are other spheres of investment, which we will be prepared to support through Vnesheconombank, when they are ready for implementation.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you, Mr Putin, thank you, KAMAZ.

It looks like people in this hall have many questions.

Please, a question from Tatyana Remezova's sector.
Tatyana Remezova: I suggest that we move on to the Orenburg Region, where the harvest was badly hit by a drought last summer. Mr Putin, you visited the region at that time and talked with the farmers. Some of them are here in this hall today.

Alexander Khizhnyak, go ahead with your question.

Alexander Khizhnyak: Mr Putin, we remember our meeting in the fields of the Eksperimentalny (Experimental) farm. The farm's director, Stanislav Moiseyev, is standing next to me. We are grateful to the Government for helping us to overcome the consequences of the drought.

We also like your policy of talking with the people who care and who have the necessary skills in order to find solutions to economic and social problems.

You have mentioned the WTO issue today. [Accession to the WTO] is a difficult trial for Russian agribusiness. It has raised many questions regarding pricing and other issues.

Maybe you will find the time before the spring sowing campaign to meet with the agribusiness leaders to discuss them? You have said today that agriculture has not slowed down its development despite the crisis, which is very important.

Also, the fact that we will compete or are already competing with Belarus under the Union Treaty calls for closing our technical gap as per 100 hectares (247 acres) of farmland. Will the Government allocate additional funds to leasing companies for the expansion of the range of their services to farmers? Last time we supported your initiative regarding farm machinery producer Rosselmash. And will the Government expand the services of state agricultural bank Rosselkhozbank with regard to long-term loans for the purchase of equipment?

And lastly, when you criticised us - I think, absolutely rightly - you also clarified the issue of risk insurance in farming. We have reconsidered the matter and are now insuring our risks commercially, without government support. For example, we have insured 3,300 hectares (8,154 acres) of farmland. Still, my colleagues wonder if we can hope to get government support for such insurance? And what will the government do with the insurance companies that only collect insurance contributions but find reasons not to pay anything in case of the insured events?

Vladimir Putin: I don't even know where I should start because everything you have said is meaningful and important.

First, I would like to once again thank the farmers for their good work in 2009. They have not only supported us and maintained their prestige, but they have also supported the country's economy. Thanks to the good work of the agribusinesses, the results of the Russian economy are better than we expected at the beginning of the year. As I have said, they are impressive in some spheres, for example in livestock breeding, which posted considerable growth. And look at the harvest you gathered in, 90 million metric tons. This is a very good result for Russia.

This result was ensured also - or maybe primarily - thanks to the use of new technology. Look at the situation in livestock breeding - I have already spoken about this - I did not believe this would be possible when we discussed long-term loans, first for five years and then for seven and eight years. But you can see the result in poultry and cattle breeding, and especially in pig breeding. We see them introducing new farming methods, cutting-edge equipment and skilled labour. This is surprising, but this is a fact. The results may be slightly less impressive in cattle breeding, but it has a longer cycle. And if we carry on with these investment programmes - and we intend to - we will certainly get the result. I am confident of this.

We have big support programmes for agriculture, such as tax breaks and subsidies. Last year we issued large subsidies, which covered 60% of spending. Early this year we increased them to 80%, and in livestock breeding to 100%, at the request of farmers and in view of problems due to the economic downturn.

In general, I would like to tell all those present here, including farmers, that in 2009 we have issued 700 billion roubles ($24.1 billion) of loans to agriculture through different channels. This is more than ever before, but then, agriculture has never reported such good results before either. We will continue to implement these programmes.

Of course, this entails spending, and our funds are limited because of the crisis. We must act cautiously, so as not to disrupt the macroeconomic balance.

At the same time, we are working not only in the economy but also in the legal sphere. Agricultural producers and companies that process agricultural raw materials want to settle their relations with retail chains. As you know, a relevant law is being considered in the State Duma. This law covers issues of great importance to farmers.

One of them concerns payment for delivered products. If the lifetime of bread is 72 hours and is even shorter for milk, money for them should be transferred to the producers without delay or else they will have no working capital, no money to produce these products or for their economic operation. But the money was delayed for a month and even longer.

As of now, payment for perishables is to be transferred within ten days, for other products within 30 days, and for spirits within 45 days, but we will reconsider this. We will cancel all bonuses except for those that encourage the chains to develop and to buy products from national producers. There are other clauses in this law which, I think, are designed to improve and harmonise relations in the producer-processor-retailer chain, bearing in mind the interests of both the consumers and producers.

And now I will answer the question you asked first, about the WTO. The automobile industry, and especially steel plants [working for it], have a specific attitude to [the idea of joining the WTO]. Some of our large companies export 60%, and some even 70%, of their output. Planning to export their products, they hired the staff, bought equipment, and made the necessary investments. They were hit very hard when the market slumped. But we cannot change this situation. We cannot buy tens of thousands of tonтуs of metal for the state reserve; we have no storage facilities for this amount. This is an objective process. No one can escape it.

That is why when we consider cooperation with foreign partners, we should take into account the interests of many sectors, for example steelmakers, miners and agricultural producers. Balancing their interests is hard work, but we are always ready for discussion.

By the way, the main issue at the WTO accession talks concerns the amount of [government] support to farmers. We have not yet reached agreement on it. We would like to at least keep such support at the current level, and possibly even increase it.

Of course, we will decide these questions in close cooperation with the unions of agricultural producers.

Ernest Mackevicius: Let us continue. Maria Sittel at the call centre has a few questions we received a minute ago during the programme. Please.

Maria Sittel: We have many questions. Before I read one of them that has to do with current affairs, I would like to talk about the records this programme has set.

First of all, we have exceeded the two-million-message mark, receiving 2.066 million messages by 2:30 pm Moscow time. And we have broken two more records: we received 5,000 more emails and 200,000 more mobile text messages than last year, for a total of 701,000 text messages as of now.

And for the question, here is one of those text messages: "Will the reformed army be ready for conflict?"

Vladimir Putin: The goal of any reform is to update something, be it the economy, society or the military, for contemporary conditions.

Look at what happens in the world if there is a military conflict. We will be celebrating the 65th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War [World War II] soon. How was war waged at that time? It involved fronts, armies, regiments and battalions. They fought head-on. Recall the Battle of Prokhorovka, where two armies of tanks attacked each other head-on.

The essence of contemporary armed conflicts is different because of the development of high-tech combat machinery. Look at what happened during the so-called Operation Desert Storm and the Iraq war. Powerful, high-precision missiles were launched against communication points, while similar attacks were launched against troops and military hardware. Foot soldiers and armoured vehicles were deployed only after the missile attacks were over and the area had been cleared.

War is now waged in all areas of the enemy's territory, rather than only along a front. New weapons, equipment and military tactics are required to operate in this modern environment. This is the goal of the reform carried out by the General Staff and the Ministry of Defence in the defence agencies and the Russian military in general.

I know that experts are not unanimous on these reforms, for example on reorganising the military into brigades and other issues. Why is this being done? One can debate this point, but it is done to make these units more mobile and ensure they can be manned and provided with combat equipment when necessary.

If we fulfil the goals we have set, we'll be able to ensure our security.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Prime Minister, we have a few messages that were emailed to our website. I'll read some of them in turn. One of the most frequently question asked is "How are relations in the Medvedev-Putin tandem?"

Vladimir Putin: They're good. I have said more than once that we've known each other for ages. And we have not simply known each other, but have also worked together. We graduated from the same university, attended lectures by the same professors who not only taught us their subjects but also shaped our outlook on life. These common principles allow us to work together effectively today.

Ernest Mackevicius: Why do you support Yulia Tymoshenko in the Ukrainian presidential campaign?

Vladimir Putin: I do not support Yulia Tymoshenko in the Ukrainian presidential campaign. The two of us work together because she is the Ukrainian Prime Minister and I am the head of the Government of the Russian Federation. There are a lot of issues on our bilateral agenda, including a joint action plan we have been implementing. As you know, we have developed special relations with the Party of Regions at the parliamentary level.

Ernest Mackevicius: When will Khodorkovsky be released?

Vladimir Putin: I've just returned from France, where I was asked the same question. This notorious personage is in prison because of a court decision. It is not important when he will be released, it is important to avoid repeating such crimes in this country.

This is a matter of economic crimes. By the way, the Yukos bankruptcy proceedings were initiated by Western creditors and banks. And all these proceedings were carried out in accordance with Russian law.

I have said this on several occasions, and I will make the point again today: The funds derived from auctioning Yukos assets went to the government budget, but not only to the government budget. When we received the funds - and the majority of assets were received in 2006 - I convinced my colleagues that we must not simply add these funds to the budget and dissolve them there, or channel them into reserve funds - although reserves have turned out very helpful these days - but use them to address the most pressing challenges.

The money that was once stolen from the people must be returned to them. And not to a vague group, but to the actual people who have found themselves in trouble as a result of the difficult, I'd even say tragic, economic developments of the early and mid-1990s. These funds should help the least well-off citizens of the Russian Federation. And so the 240 billion roubles earned from auctioning Yukos assets were used to create the Housing and Utilities Reform Fund.

Ten million people have taken advantage of the fund to repair their houses and flats, and 150,000 people will be relocated from slums into new blocks of flats. The fund will continue to work. Its reserves were also spent on landscaping in Russian towns and villages.

As for the other side, the criminal one, we will also operate within the framework of Russian law.

Unfortunately, no one recalls that one of the Yukos security chiefs is in jail too. Do you think he acted on his initiative and at his own risk? He had no actual interest. He was not the company's main shareholder. It's obvious that he acted in the interests and under the directives of his bosses. How he acted is a separate matter. At least five murders have been proven.

They wanted to include a tea shop building into their office in Moscow. The owner of this small business enterprise, a woman, was requested to give them her business. She refused to do that, and they hired a hitman who shot her just near her apartment, before her husband's eyes.

The Mayor of Nefteyugansk demanded that Yukos pay taxes, and what happened to him? He was killed.

The people, a married couple, who were hired by Yukos' security service to organise contract killings, tried to blackmail the company to get a share in the business, and they were also killed.

All of these crimes are proven, we should not forget about that.

But, of course, the life of Russian prisoners should be governed by the current Russian legislation. And the Government will act in accordance with this legislation.

Ernest Mackevicius: What is your relationship with George W. Bush?

Vladimir Putin: We haven't met since we both left office. But I have to say that we have developed a very warm personal relationship. As I have said before, it helped us to solve some very difficult problems.

George is a very decent man and a good friend. I will be happy to continue working with him if such opportunity arises.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Putin, now let give our studio audience, the people who arrived here from various parts of the country? a chance to ask their questions.

In Tatiana Remezova's sector, I see some people who want to ask a question.

Tatiana Remezova: Mr Putin, let us give the floor to a representative of the Tver Railway Carriage Plant, another problem facility which you visited about six months ago. You have recently mentioned orders for railway cars, and for these people it is a matter of survival. Let's listen to him.

Go ahead, please.

Artur Demenyuk: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I am an electrician at the plant's assembly shop.

On November 12, in a conversation with Vladimir Yakunin, you mentioned that there was an order for the Tver Railway Carriage Plant. We have a preliminary agreement to supply 511 railway cars. As you may remember, for a plant that produces 1,200 cars a year, it is a very small order. If the order does not include more products, every fourth worker may be laid off. The plant needs to make at least 700 cars to survive.

Vladimir Putin: Artur Fyodorovich, we talked about it during my visit to Tver. It was a pleasure to talk to your colleagues because you are real professionals with profound understanding of politics and economics, and our discussion was at a very high level.

All of us understand that the order can be only made by a company that needs your production, and this is, primarily, Russian Railways. But apart from your plant, there are probably even bigger enterprises manufacturing this production, for example, Uralvagonzavod. I have visited your plant and I am planning to visit Uralvagonzavod, too. But regardless of my visits, we need to take care of the transport machine-building industry in general, and the plants that work directly with Russian Railways. We need to improve efficiency and boost economic recovery, which demands an increase in shipments. Improving this will lead to economic growth, and Russian Railways' profits will grow as well.

We cannot support all our infrastructure monopolies from the budget, because we also need funds to fulfil our social obligations, including raising pensions. But we will do that to some extent, like we did last year. We have promised to give 25 billion roubles to Russian Railways but we will manage, ultimately, to increase the sum, as a minimum, to 50 billion in 2010, as it was this year.

I am aware of the situation at your plant, and I keep in touch with your shareholders. We have met in the Moscow Region recently. We discussed some other issues, but I talked to Mr Bokarev about your enterprise, too. Also, I had a conversation with the head of Russian Railways and we agreed that the order for the Tver Railway Carriage Plant for 2010 will be the same as in 2009.

Artur Demenyuk: Well, all right. I think the country needs the railway cars we produce.

Vladimir Putin: The order will probably be for fewer cars but for more locomotives. In general, I was assured that the total will be nosmaller than in 2009, and can even be larger because of an increase in Russian Railways' profits due to an increased volume of transportation.

Ernest Mackevicius: The rows on the right have been silent for a long time.

Alexander Khristenko, please.

Alexander Khristenko: Mr Putin, please, let young people speak. This sector is very active. We have students here with different majors who come from different cities. I think they have plenty of questions to ask. Who would like to start?

M. Panina: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I graduated from the Siberian State University of Communication Routes this year. Now I am doing postgraduate studies, like many of my friends, and working as a teacher. We are active and ambitious young people, and we understand that what we do now will influence Russia's future. Sometimes we think about the objectives of Russia's young people.

Mr Putin, could you tell us please what kind of a country are we supposed to build? What will be Russia's future?

Vladimir Putin: You know, when we talk about this country, about Russia, we start with its economy, efficiency and competitiveness, and all that is very important. But our ultimate goal is people. Russia is its people, and we must make them happy, improve their lives, as well as Russia's healthcare services, security, defence potential and infrastructure. We have a great deal of work ahead of us.

You successfully graduated from university and are doing your postgraduate studies now.. Each person has her or his own goals. I hope that we can achieve all the goals we set.

Alexander Khristenko: Let's take one more question.

N. Rostovsky: I am a student at St Petersburg State University.

We have not touched on the subject of sport yet, which I am very interested in. I would like to ask you a question.

The Russian national football team has failed to get to the UEFA Cup finals. But we are planning to try promoting our bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Football Championship. Is it the only way for our national football team to participate in the World Championship, or do we have a more ambitious goal?

Vladimir Putin: Do you play football?

N. Rostovsky: Yes, I do.

Vladimir Putin: Do you want Russia to be the host country for the 2018 UEFA Cup?

N. Rostovsky: Sure, but I understand that this is going to be very difficult, because we don't have the infrastructure for that.

Vladimir Putin: I absolutely agree with you.

First, you just said two very important things: "I want it", and "we don't have the infrastructure." We did not have the infrastructure to host the 2014 Olympics. We don't have the infrastructure to host the 2012 Universiade in Kazan. Actually, our infrastructure is obsolete, but we need to develop it. We don't have enough infrastructure to hold an APEC summit in the Far East.

Speaking of the 2014 Olympics, we are finishing the construction of the road around Sochi. There was no normal water supply, no sewage; all waste is dumped into the sea. And this is Russia's largest resort. But we have been working on that.

We have recently launched a new power plant and are going to launch another one. Every winter, Sochi has problems with electricity supply because power lines ice up. Gazprom has been constructing a gas pipe to solve this problem.

Frankly, if we did not have such a goal, we would never turn Sochi into a popular resort. And that is what we intend to do.

This also applies to the UEFA World Cup. We do not have the infrastructure, but if we win the right to host the championships, it will be easier to concentrate administrative and financial resources on the development of infrastructure. We will need to do a lot more than build ten stadiums. The rules stipulate that the Olympic Games take place in one city, while FIFA, as Mr Blatter [Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA President] told me, tries to include as many cities as possible to develop their sports infrastructure. And a lot more than just sports infrastructure.

We will need to build new hotels, renovate roads, provide communications, energy, sewage and water supplies, and renovate or construct airports. And all of this will be for people, regardless of our performance at the 2018 Cup. I hope we will play better than this year, when our team lost the chance to take part in the championship finals in South Africa.

Alexander Khristenko: Mr Putin, let's give the far rows a chance to speak. I think they have given up hope already.

Go ahead, please.

A. Ovdina: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I am a student at the Siberian Federal University. I would like to ask you this question.

You have recently visited the Battle for Respect hip-hop contest. Did you do it to improve your approval rating?

And one more question. At the present moment, the main function of the television is entertainment; it lacks popular scientific and educational programmes. We have started making such programmes at our university's television.

Do you think Russia needs a national TV channel for students, especially now, when new federal universities are being established?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let's start with the national TV channel for students. Each national channel has programmes for young people. And there are many entertainment channels for teenagers. But it is pretty difficult to combine entertainment and education, and I agree with you on this issue. The heads of TV channels, including state ones, should work on that.

As regards my participation in the programme Battle for Respect. The truth is that the programme itself was initiated by the Healthcare Ministry and financed from the federal budget as a campaign aimed at combating smoking, drugs and alcohol abuse. We are speaking about young people, of course. It has nothing to do with approval ratings, because, fortunately, we are not having elections now.

But we cannot pretend that there are no young people who are interested in breakdancing and other contemporary movements. We have to work with them, too.

You know, when I was there, I really liked these young people, not only those who gave excellent performances, but also the people who attended the show. They are young and very trusting, so it is very important what it is said and done by their idols. And we should make sure these idols do positive things.

Until recently, the people who were promoting these arts, were promoting drugs, too. Now our rappers are combating drugs, and we must thank them for that.

I believe that the government should work with all age groups, and, in particular, with young people. 17% of Russians die of smoking-related diseases. The number of deaths from drug abuse is slightly lower. And we are all know about deaths caused by alcohol.

That's why we have launched several campaigns promoting healthy lifestyle. I want them to be implemented at both federal and regional levels. And I am counting on the initiatives of youth organisations, because working with teenagers is our top priority.

Farida Kurbangaleyeva: Mr Putin, young people from my sector also want to ask you a question. Would you let them speak, please?

Please, introduce yourself.

Andrei Kurikov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I'm Andrei Kurikov, a student at the St Petersburg Mining Institute.

Apart from other issues, you mentioned employment today. And I would like to ask a question about that. Do you plan to take part in the 2012 presidential election campaign?

Vladimir Putin: Do you?

Andrei Kurikov: No, I don't.

Vladimir Putin: I will think about it. I have enough time for this. In my view, everyone should do what he or she must, and work effectively. We will make decisions on the 2012 election based on the situation in the economy and in the social sphere. But this is 2009. The biggest mistake would be to adjust our current work based on the interests of future election campaigns at the regional, municipal or federal levels. When you start thinking about your ratings or about what you should do in the interests of future election campaigns, you will immediately feel tied to that and unable to make decisions some of which may be unpleasant but important for the economy and ultimately for the people.

This freedom allows me to talk, say, with the workers of the Tver rail car plant not about their potential support for my future election campaign, but about the best ways to resolve current problems at the plant, and to openly discuss their problems and difficulties.

As for your higher educational establishment, I can only envy you. I know that the Mining Institute in St Petersburg is one of the best in the world in terms of equipment and tuition. It is a pity that few people in this country know this. On the other hand, you receive considerable support from the companies that hire your graduates. The energy companies do not scrimp with money, thank God, and have turned the Mining Institute into a superior school. I wish you further success.

Ernest Mackevicius: We have one more live stand-up, with Novokuznetsk. We give the floor to Kuzbass and our special correspondent Andrei Baranov.

Andrei Baranov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin, colleagues. This is the Kemerovo Region speaking.

We are broadcasting from the main, or as they say here the administration building of the Polosukhinskaya mine near Novokuznetsk, a city of steel workers and miners. They describe it as the "iron heart" of Kuzbass and Siberia, and also the capital of South Kuzbass. In the last century it was praised as a garden city, but the romanticism has worn thin since then. Even the most successful companies in the region have been affected by the global economic downturn.

Miners and other workers of the Polosukhinskaya and other local mines have gathered in this hall. We decided against gathering in the mine itself, because people are working there and a mine is not the right place for broadcasting. Most of them had a chance to talk with you, Mr Putin, last March, when you were in the city. Today we will continue the conversation you started then.

Those who have questions should raise their hands.

Nikolai Syrov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I would like to say that our meetings have become a tradition and to thank you for your attention to our region.

Now I'd like to go back to our previous meeting. I think we met at a very difficult time, when we were in limbo, our future unclear. The situation has clarified since then. We have been working a full workweek since August, coal prices have their resumed growth, although slowly, and the demand for coal has increased. Unfortunately, this happened because of the accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant.

However, we have not yet regained the pre-crisis level in terms of wages or coal prices. So, I'd like to know what to expect because we live in a coal region and depend on coal one way or another. We are not confident of the future.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Nikolay Anatolyevich, first I also remember our meeting and would like to thank all the miners who attended it. I want to thank them for their mood at that difficult time. You were right when you said there was much uncertainty with a decline in production and slumping markets. Under those circumstances, I was impressed by your inner confidence, composure and your sense of responsibility and discipline. Miners have always been special people, but your mood during that meeting encouraged and supported me. It is for this moral support that I want to thank you.

Indeed, the market is gradually recovering. It has recovered 90% for energy coal and approximately 85% for coking coal. I am confident that it will recover 100% along with the growth of the global economy and the general Russian economy.

But the point at issue is not the global economic recovery; the point at issue is that we should shift the focus to the domestic market. I have already spoken today about the power industry. We have challenging plans to increase the generating capacity. We commissioned 13,000 megawatts in the previous ten years and should commission 10,000 megawatts over the next two years. This means that the domestic demand for your output will grow.

In addition, coal-fuelled power plants are modernising their equipment, which is becoming more environmentally friendly and efficient. And this offers new vistas for the coal industry.

And lastly, I would like to draw your attention to a highly important point. Gas prices are now lower relative to other primary energy resources, but we think that there should be a balance among the primary energy sources, including coal. Prices and pricing formulas should be gradually balanced out in the economy. In terms of industries, such as the coal industry, this means that the future will be more stable and the stability horizon will be pushed back farther.

Also, I am confident that machine engineering and the auto industry will develop requiring more capacity from the steel and mining sectors.

Some companies, mines and villages have problems with efficiency, and we are aware of it. Working jointly with shareholders and regional authorities, we will gradually, without undue haste, create conditions that will ensure jobs and establish modern, efficient businesses. There is a list of problems, but we can resolve them promptly and effectively.

Ernest Mackevicius: Andrei, do you have any more questions for Mr Putin?

Andrei Baranov: Mr Putin, this is not a question. There is one of your Kuzbass friends in the audience, miner Yevgeny Denk, to whom you gave a lift in your service car. He asked for an opportunity to speak.

Go ahead, ask your question please, Evgeny Alexandrovich.

Yevgeny Denk: Good afternoon, Mr Putin

I would like to thank you for visiting Novokuznetsk to deal with the issue of unfit housing, and want to let you know that those 9 barracks in Verkhny district have been torn down, even the basement has been demolished. Three hundred individuals have been rehoused and have settled into their new apartments. On behalf of everyone here, I would like to express our sincere gratitude for your assistance.

I have swapped apartments with my mother-in-law. Her four-bedroom apartment was slightly larger than mine. I have a son and a daughter, and now they each have a room of their own. They also asked me to send you their greetings. I don't really have a question, I just wanted to say thank you on behalf of all residents and also personally, from me.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, Yevgeny Alexandrovich.

I am very glad that I now have some more friends in Kuzbas. I am glad that we were able to help you resolve your housing problems. Hopefully, together with the regional authorities and the Governor, we will be able to continue these programmes, as there is still a lot of unfit housing that needs to be demolished and many people who need to be rehoused.

The housing and communal services fund, as I have already mentioned, will continue throughout next year, and for the years to come until the problem is resolved.

I hope your mother in law doesn't feel that she lost out in your apartment swap.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you, Mr Putin. Thank you, Novokuznetsk. Let us continue to work. We have already been on air for three hours.

And now for a question submitted online:

"Recently, we have often seen you on TV and photographs, there has been a lot of coverage of you with tigers, leopards, and whales. It seems like you feel more comfortable with those animals, than with your ministers. Is this indeed the case or does it just seem like that? "

By the way, you were recently elected chair of the Russian Geographic Society's council of trustees. What does that title mean to you? I am asking, because people are also interested in that aspect of your work.

Vladimir Putin: I believe it was Frederick II, the Prussian king, who said "The more I get to know people, the more I like dogs."

Of course, that has nothing to do with how I get on with the ministers, my friends or my colleagues. It is just that I am fond of animals, so I take advantage of my current job to try to resolve the most acute problems in that area. Are you aware that our Red list includes many animals that are on the brink of extinction and extermination?

Among them - the Amur tigers in the Far East of which there are only 500 left. That is a critical number. The Far Eastern leopards are in an even worse situation. Scientists estimate that there are approximately 50 to 60 species of leopards left.

They are being exterminated for no reason, just for the fun of it. They do not cause any significant harm to local residents. And I do not think they have any value as a hunting trophy either.

The tigers are being exterminated because our neighbors in China use every bit of them from their tails to their whiskers. There a tiger is an iconic animal. We have also been taking measures relating to white whales because they, too, are facing problems. Next year, I believe we will extend this programme to include the white bear, as it is also endangered. In general, I would urge everyone to pay more attention to problems in the animal world and the environment.

I have already mentioned the Sochi 2014 Olympics. In conjunction with environmental organizations, we are doing everything possible to make sure that the government resources are used not only to avoid any damage to the environment, but also to improve it. I have already mentioned the construction of treatment facilities, for example. This is certainly a step in the right direction. In addition, you might have noticed that the official emblem of almost every North Caucasus republic has a Caucasian leopard depicted on it. But, there are no leopards currently left in the Caucasus, they were all wiped out in the 1950's.

As part of our Olympics preparations, in conjunction with one of the organizers, Mr Killy from the International Olympic Committee, we are implementing a programme to revive the population of these animals across the Caucasus. We have received several species from Turkmenistan with the kind assistance of the country's president. Unfortunately, I believe due to a technicality, for the moment they have stopped sending us animals. We may need to ask for President's assistance again, and I really hope that he will help, as he has been very supportive on this issue in the past.

There are similar animals in Iran, but it turns out that not all leopards are the same. We used to believe that snow leopards were completely extinct in Tuva, but now the snow leopard population there is being revived.

Once again I would like to urge everyone to engage in this rewarding work actively and voluntarily.

Ernest Mackevicius: There are many people left in the studio who want to ask the Prime Minister a question. Tatiana Remezova, choose someone from your section.

Tatiana Remezova: Yes, here on the upper level we have residents of Tula, representatives of a defence industry, the Shcheglovsky Val company, where they make weapons and air defence systems.

Who wants to ask a question?

Here's someone of the fairer sex. I think that it will be interesting to hear her question. Please introduce yourself, and what is your question?

Yelena Bozhenkova: I install communications equipment and devices. Mr Putin, you recently visited our company and said that the defence industry had good prospects despite the crisis. Our colleagues from Komsomolsk-on-Amur confirm that state orders have really become more regular.

With all of this going on, why is the Defence Ministry announcing that it plans to buy a French helicopter carrier and other Western equipment? It's like the fable about the Swan, the Pike and the Crab [Ed. One of Krylov's fables - Once a Swan, a Pike, and a Crab tried to pull a loaded cab. They pulled hard and did not flinch, but they gained no ground as the Swan pulled hard toward the sky, the Crab tried to crawl backwards, and the Pike made for the river nearby. In short, they could not agree on a unified approach.]

Vladimir Putin: No, it's not turning out that way. The defence industry does indeed have some decent figures. I already said that while industry is declining on the whole, and considerably, the defence industry is doing the opposite - it's growing. This year, in any case, it grew by 3.7%. On the whole, this a good figure.

But the defence industry has very many problems and now, if you noticed, we are conducting a sector-by-sector analysis of it - including conventional weapons, rocket and space technology, the navy, anti-aircraft defence and so on. And there are lots of problems associated with the need to modernise our leading companies, because we cannot use 1950s-era equipment to produce modern weapons for our defence capacity.

All of these issues are resolvable. We're resolving them and will continue to resolve them.

As for weapons purchases and sales, we are No. 2 in the world in terms of volume of sales to foreign markets, and of course, we don't need to buy weapons from abroad to provide for our defence capacity.

In order to work efficiently on foreign markets, we are already manufacturing many of our items according to NATO standards. This makes these items easier to sell, and therefore, naturally, our defence department is looking at various items on the foreign markets, which in this case means the Mistral. The decision to buy has not been made yet, and before we make such a decision, we, of course, will consider it thoroughly and look at the capabilities of today's defence industry, including military shipbuilding.

But when our defence contractors determine the final prices for products, they also have to understand that they have competition. But we will certainly rely on the domestic defence industry when resolving issues of the defensive sufficiency and defence capacity of the Russian state.

Ernest Mackevicius: There's an important question from the Internet which has to do with everything we talked about today.

It's a question from Andrei Shatov from Krasnokamensk in the Zabaikalye Territory.

"You often visit places where people work, and often meet with workers and field questions from ordinary people. You always react to strong signals and decide many issues right on the spot. Can it be that officials in our country are unable to solve problems without the Prime Minister?

Vladimir Putin: Officials can and do solve many problems - particularly my colleagues in the Russian government. They work a lot. It needs to be said that these are very competent people, very professional. They have really become experts in their fields - and that is no exaggeration. They work a lot.

I would now like to take the opportunity - at government meetings, it's different; I'm more critical there - to publicly thank them for the work we do together, because they do a lot and have done much in order for the country to get through this difficult period, which is the most difficult period in the past 10 years, with minimal losses.

As for my meetings with workers, they benefit me and the whole government because this is "live" communication with people and their problems. Just as when we were preparing for today's event we stayed up until late in the evening watching the questions coming on the Internet and text messages.

You know, one could get a feel of the general nature of people's interests from the number of questions we had received in the previous few days. But as we were sorting them and looking through them and preparing - because I was preparing and my colleagues were helping me -- some of them said quite rightly: It is so useful to look at all this. This is real feedback from people about the real problems they face. So, there have been trips and there will be more trips, there is no doubt about it.

Ernest Mackevicius: Although we broke the traditions of our live phone-ins several times today, I would like to keep one tradition intact. You usually make your own selection for a series of quick questions and answers. What did you pick this time?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, indeed, I have just mentioned text messages that come over the Internet. I have picked out some. But I have seen a forest of raised hands and not everyone has had a chance to ask a question. Let us do it now. Air time is limited, so please be brief.

N. Salomei: Good afternoon. Moscow Physical-Technical Institute. I would like to ask how the Government is going to go about solving the problem of the shortage of qualified teachers in rural schools.

Vladimir Putin: Of course you should give people an incentive to go to these villages, there is no other way. Labour, especially skilled labour, moves and concentrates in places where they can best use their skills. It has to do with housing, above all for young teachers, and with higher pay. These are the main attractions.

We have a Federal Programme of Rural Social Development and many regions have programmes to help young families acquire housing. They target young professionals, including teachers. We are going to expand these programmes.

G. Zhukova: I would like to thank you on behalf of the large staff of the Russian State Social University. Thank you for the attention you pay to the development of the social services. You are familiar with our university and we suggest that you take a closer look at it. We would like to invite you to visit our University.

But I would like to draw your attention to yet another problem that emerged this year. This is 2009, Youth Year, and we have been unlawfully deprived of our youth convalescence and preventative care centre Ruza. The Federal Tax Service is very actively involved in this issue. We would appreciate it if you could help to sort this matter out. This a request on behalf of the many thousands of our workers.

Vladimir Putin: I cannot comment on that, of course, because I do not know the situation on the ground, but we will look into it.

Let's have a question from a man in a uniform.

A.Nosov: Civil Defence Academy under the Ministry for Emergencies.

The law on the mortgage accumulation system for servicemen does not take into account the size of the serviceman's family, and the prices of real estate in different regions. Formerly, a serviceman's academic degree was taken into account, but not any longer.

Can a serviceman choose whether to stick to the old housing provision system and remain on the waiting list or switch to the new system?

Vladimir Putin: You are right, the size of the family is not taken into account. A flat is allocated for a family. I think these flats have a total area of 56 square metres. The people who wrote the law assumed that it would be the minimum size a person could get from the government. If one wants a higher-class and larger flat, he should think about it in advance.

On the whole, some corrections can be made. This is connected with the huge federal budget outlays.

When I was in St Petersburg recently we discussed the housing problems of servicemen. I had invited to join me in St Petersburg the governors of the regions where we are planning to build housing for servicemen in 2010 for those who are entitled to it now, in 2010. By the way, those who are due to retire in 2011 and 2012 will stay within that system and get housing under that scheme. Everyone who joins the mortgage scheme will get a flat under that military scheme.

I would like you and everyone in the audience here and people throughout the country to note that the mortgage accumulations for servicemen are financed entirely out of the federal budget. While I was in St Petersburg an idea occurred to me how to stimulate the birth rate in the military: Families that have two children or more could be offered a housing bonus, even within the mortgage system. It is not about metres of floorspace, but additional subsidies; we should calculate all this and I think we will go ahead with this idea.

Let's have one last question from the middle of the hall and then...

Ernest Mackevicius: Yes, Mr Putin will answer the questions from those who are not in the studio, but who had sent in their questions earlier.

Last question, please.

Question: Good afternoon. My name is Alexander and I am from the Bauman Technical University Innovation and Young Entrepreneurs Centre.

This is my question: Will innovative solutions be introduced in education and will the state support such initiatives?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we have such plans and the government is already supporting them. I mentioned the contest in September and the results have been reviewed to choose the top 14 innovative higher education institutions in the country. They will get government funding on account of their innovative programmes in the amount of 1.8 billion roubles for five years to buy additional equipment and develop the innovative educational programmes you have referred to.
Thank you.

Let us now move on to these questions, otherwise we will be off the air.

Ernest Mackevicius: It's all right, we are on the air for more than three and a half hours.

Vladimir Putin: Good.

A question from Alexandra Maslennikova from Kostroma. I chose this question because I think it is important. Let me read it out.

"Pensions for all the categories of pensioners are being raised. There will be valorization of pensions as of January 1, 2010." Mrs Maslennikova knows what valorization is. "I would like to ask what will happen to us pensioners (sergeants, warrant officers) of the Defence Ministry. My pension is 3,610 roubles. Will we have our pensions raised?"

Let me say from the start for the benefit of Mrs Maslennikova and anyone else it may concern that in 2010 there should be no people in the Russian Federation whose pensions are below the pensioner's subsistence minimum in the region where they live. If the pension is less than the pensioner's cost of living in the region, these people will have additional benefits from the regional or federal budgets. The schemes may differ but a supplement to the pension must be paid.

Now about the military pensioners. It is not such a simple matter. But it is being addressed. There are some servicemen who have served in the Armed Forces for some time and then retired and have earned some seniority in civilian life. If that seniority is no less than 5 years then that person can choose whether to use the rules of the so-called valorisation, i.e. recomputation of his pension earned during the Soviet period, if he feels that is better for him. It is up to him. If he decides against it he may draw his pension as a military pensioner, and that pension of course is higher than the average labour pension across the country.

Here is a question about government ministers: "We would like to see other government ministers act like you, the transport minister take a drive along the roads in the Moscow Region, and Mrs Golikova visit a polyclinic."

They are no strangers to roads, pharmacies and polyclinics. If you think that is not enough we will intensify their movements around the country. The main thing is that it should be useful.

A very important question about social services: "You have promised in front of the whole nation not to send disabled people who have lost the use of their legs for a repeat examination by VTEK (the commission that certifies the disabled). I went to have prostheses fitted and they sent me to a medical commission. I sent both the prosthesis and the Commission to hell. Yuri Gustar, Category 1 disability for life. The Nosvosibirsk Region."

Mr Gustar, the decision was made in April 2007 under a Government Decree. The disabled who have lost a limb or function of a limb do not have to go through a VTEK examination again. If they referred you to VTEK, this was unlawful. I want to remind all the officials concerned that the decisions of the government of the Russian Federation must be complied with.

There is one nuance though: if they sent you not to VTEK, but for a medical check-up to determine what prosthetic work you need, that is another matter. But nobody has the right to send you to VTEK anymore.

"Why doesn't the government introduce a monopoly on the sale of alcohol? Zinaida Vinogradova, Ivanovo"

Mrs Vinogradova, the experts in this field believe that a monopoly on the sale of alcoholic drinks will not solve the problems of the government and its citizens. Decisions are being developed which would tax alcohol itself, the alcohol plants. We assume that in this way the state will collect all the money due to the state at the initial stage in alcohol production and thus avoid, among other things, the production of fake products that harm people's health.

"Mr Putin, (this is a text message) why is it that they cut bureaucracies every year and yet there are more and more bureaucrats? They multiply faster than they are made redundant."

In general our demographic process is picking up. Apparently it is a trend that applies to bureaucrats as well.

Joking apart, it is a major problem. The bureaucratic apparatus is ballooning in spite of our efforts to cut various positions and overlapping structures at the regional and federal levels. Even so, we will continue the downsising effort.

"Above all please take drastic measures to improve physical education in schools. Arnold Stolyarov."

Mr Stolyarov, let me repeat that the school system is the responsibility primarily of the regional and municipal authorities, although I agree with you that it is not getting its due share of attention. We can issue recommendations and step up the pressure at the federal level. I think that in spite of the objections of our financial agencies, which argue that we should not "earmark" federal subsidies to the regions, it should be done in some areas, including healthcare and education. We shall certainly think about it.

"Do you consider Stalin's role on the whole to be positive or negative?" I have left that question in because I am aware how sensitive it is. There is much debate in society, and I see "an ambush" here: If I say "positive" some people will get angry, and if I say "negative" other people will be angry. But because the subject of Stalin and Stalinism is still mooted, I left that question in deliberately.

I don't think it would be right to give a blanket assessment. Obviously, between 1924 and 1953, when Stalin led the country, it changed dramatically: It turned from an agrarian country into an industrialized one. True, there were no peasants left and we all remember well the problems, especially in the final period, with agriculture, the food queues, etc. All that happened in the rural areas had no positive impact. But industrialisation was accomplished.

We won the Great Patriotic War. Whoever and whatever might say, victory had been won. Even if we go back to the question of casualties, you know, nobody can today throw stones at those who organised and led us to victory because if we had lost that war, the consequences to our country would have been far more catastrophic. They are hard to imagine.

All the undeniable positive things, however, had been accomplished at an unacceptable price. Repressions did take place. It is a fact. Millions of our fellow citizens suffered from them. Such a method of running the state, of achieving results is unacceptable. It is impossible. Undoubtedly, during that period we were confronted not only with a personality cult, but with massive crimes against our own people. That is a fact too. We must not forget about it either.

Any historical event should be analysed in its entirety. That is what I would like to say.

"What in your opinion impedes Russia's development most of all?" One can philosophise on that score endlessly. I would permit myself just two remarks.

In the sphere of mentality, of course, it is the socialised consciousness, the expectation that the state should solve all the problems. That of course restricts individual initiative.

We were just speaking about the Soviet period. You know, at the first stage there was a lot of what was positive, the revolutionary elan. You remember the revolutionary song that went like this: "No one will bestow salvation on us, neither God, nor Tsar nor Hero, we will achieve it... (there were some more words there) with our own hands." That slogan unfortunately was lost. In the Soviet times people were bereft of initiative. This attitude is still embedded in our mentality, I think everyone expects decisions to come from the government. That is important and necessary, but we should also seek to give every person an opportunity to fulfil his or her potential as an individual.

In the economy the main problem is the structure of the economy that had taken shape, the planned economy. Such economic system is like an Egyptian pyramid: It is powerful but clumsy and very inert when it comes to change. It is sometimes easier to build a new enterprise in a new place, in a green field and it will be competitive, effective and modern, than to overhaul what we have inherited from the past. That said, we should do the latter as well.

"Can you recall the happiest day of your life? Dasha, 16."

Dear Dasha, I think the fact that we are alive is happiness bestowed on us by our Lord. We tend to forget that life is finite. But if we remember it, then we will know that every day we have lived is a happy day.

"Do your subordinates tell you jokes about you?"

No, they don't. Some of my subordinates are also my friends, and they do sometimes try it, but those who are just subordinates do not.

"It's great that casinos and gambling machines have been shut down. But in Kemerovo they have been replaced with Internet cafes with the same gambling machines where people lose all their money. I would ask you on behalf of thousands of people to get rid of this evil once and for all."

These people are trying to use loopholes in the legislation but these loopholes are ephemeral. In reality, by law, all places where gambling takes place must be shut down. I think that what cases like this really indicate, is corruption in the local government, administration and law enforcement agencies. We will tackle this separately.

"What do you think about the situation in the North Caucasus? Events in Ingushetia and Dagestan may spark a new war in the Caucasus."

No, there is no risk that they will spark a new war in the Caucasus. The situation is complicated, and has several causes. Illegal armed units and groups of extremists still operate there, sometimes even with a feeling of impunity. This is a fact and we know about it. We will continue to fight them, until they are completely destroyed.

At the same time, we must pay more attention to social and economic issues. We need to: create new jobs that pay well, resolve social problems and counter corruption and the clan system. Sadly, corruption is not less of a problem in the Caucasus than elsewhere in the country, and in some cases it is an even greater problem than it is, on average, elsewhere. Unfortunately, the problem is rooted in tradition, and history is in part to blame. But this should not prevent us from resolving the problem.

So, I think that we will achieve positive results if we work towards it.

"Why is there continuing enmity between Ukraine and Russia? Why does Ukraine hate us?"

That's not true. You cannot say that Ukraine hates us. I, for one, love Ukraine, and I'm sure that millions of Russian citizens feel similarly.

What does Ukraine mean? What does Russia mean? Those words primarily refer to people. A country is made up of its people. A country consists of people rather than merely territories or natural riches. There is so much that has linked us with Ukraine in the past, there is so much today that links us, and so much that will continue to link our two countries in the future.

However, certain individuals who have made their way into the Ukrainian leadership are exploiting our current problems, our past and present difficulties. I would like to emphasise that they are doing this out of their selfish political interests. But they will not succeed in destroying these centuries-long ties between Ukraine and Russia.

"We have three computers in our school. Could you allocate some money for us? Student of the ninth grade Tanya Kapnitskaya."

Tanya, just like old man Khottabych in the folk tale, I will provide a computer for every student in your school. It is not difficult. Almost every school has been supplied with computers. Maybe, there are a few educational institutions where the computerisation programme has not been completed. Where they only have computer classes, and not every student has a computer.

Since you have managed to get through to me, I consider it my duty to respond to your request.

"Why is it that great people suffer from depression? Mr Putin, how do you fight depression?"

I don't consider myself as being in the category of "great people", and therefore do not suffer from depression.

"You said ‘it will all work out' but did not specify how."

You didn't listen. I spoke for a whole hour at the party congress about ways and means of resolving those problems currently facing the country. We have a programme for Russia's development until 2020. Its focuses on modernising the economy, pursuing innovation, developing individual industries and agriculture, and provides for the wholesale restructuring of the economy. It also looks at social development, healthcare, education, and the reform of the pension system. The programme contains has all that. Needless to say, we need to make additional adjustments in response to the changing reality, but we are not abandoning those goals."

The next message is in the spirit of what I have just said. "It will all work out for you and the rest of our citizens."

"Mr Putin, I'm speaking to you on behalf of all people in Dagestan..." They are inviting me to lead the election campaign in Dagestan.

I will think about it. Thank you very much for the honour. It is really an honour, the people of Dagestan are really unique. I will never forget their actions in the face of international terrorism. They not only defended the interests of their republic, they defended the interests of Russia as a whole.

"Will Russia help the United States after its collapse?"

If this happens, there will be a lot to pay because the United States is the world's biggest power, economic power, and we have extensive links with it. It is one of our most important partners, and the global economy is very closely intertwined with the US economy. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to wish problems on any country. We would all be better off living in a prosperous world, rather than in a world of disasters.

"On December 3 I'm turning 55. Could you please congratulate me on camera? Respectfully, Tatyana Romanenko, Rostov Region."

Dear Tatyana! Please accept my most heartfelt congratulations on your 55th birthday! I wish you every success. (Applause)

All those present in the studio join my congratulations.

"Mr Putin, I worked at a factory... She continues to send her wishes that I will omit. Thank you for your positive response to what we are doing."

One more question is linked with medical examinations carried out by the Medical Expert Commission (VTEK) on disabled people who have suffered permanent loss of some of their abilities.

I have already said this and will not repeat myself, a Government resolution to this effect has been valid since 2007 and all officials must comply with it. No such people should be referred for examination to the Medical Expert Commission.

"Why don't all able-bodied people work in this country? It is necessary to make sure that salaries and wages for all professions should not differ from one another by more than five times."

I am in complete agreement with this. There is an enormous gap between those people who earn high incomes, and those on the minimum wage. It is one of the key economic and social problems. We must bridge that gap. We have a special programme on combating poverty. The crisis has shaken it a little, but we will definitely implement it fully in the future. That is something we'll work on.

Furthermore: "Pensions should be no less than 50% of the salary." (Apparently, going by the average salary).

In European countries, this ratio is 40%. Experts call it the "pension replacement ratio," that is the relationship between the pension and the average salary. After pensions are increased here by 46% next year, our replacement ratio will be 39.9% nearly 40%. We are approaching that figure.

"What do these annual question-and-answer sessions with Russian citizens mean to you?"

I have already mentioned this. While preparing for this event, my colleagues and I study a host of incoming requests, demands, and information. Incidentally, this shows that for a lot of people in this country life is still difficult. There is a great deal we need to do in order to reduce the number of problems people face.

Here's a different question: "Are you leaving out the stupid questions?"

That was a text message. We have gathered here to discuss serious problems. Therefore, I would like to ask the person who sent that question in, what category he thinks it falls into?

This message is similar: "Mr Putin, would you like to live as long as you desire? If you want to enter eternity as a citizen of Planet Earth, please call me on my mobile phone. Sergei Dolgov."

Mr Dolgov, I'm happy to be a citizen of the Russian Federation. This is quite enough. Thank you very much for your suggestion.

Ernest Mackevicius: This was the final answer to the final question.

You have been watching the programme "A Conversation with Vladimir Putin Continued" by the Russia channel. We have been on air for more than four hours. I hope, that in the future, we'll meet again in this studio, or somewhere similar, and that will be able to continue our conversation.

Allow me to thank everyone who has watched and listened to our programme, those who have sent in their questions and those who have gathered here today.

Thank you, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.