Press Conferences

13 may, 2011 16:30

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with reporters in Bratislava

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with reporters in Bratislava
“I have no doubt that the 2016 World Ice Hockey Championship in Russia will be held to the highest standard. Russians love ice hockey – roughly half a million people play ice hockey in Russia, and there are millions of hockey fans, without exaggeration.”
Vladimir Putin
At a meeting with reporters in Bratislava


Rene Fasel (via interpreter): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure and honour for me to welcome Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. As you know, we are holding the annual meeting of the congress and have decided today that the World Championship will be held in Russia in 2016 – in Moscow and St Petersburg.

It is an honour and a pleasant surprise for the federation that Mr Putin joined us today to say a few words to us and to the congress. Please, go ahead Mr Prime Minister.

Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,

As you know, today the International Ice Hockey Federation has decided that the 2016 World Ice Hockey Championship will be held in Russia. We will host it in two cities – Moscow and St Petersburg. The infrastructure is ready in both of them. As there is already a rapid transit system between Helsinki and St Petersburg (the train takes 3.5 hours), our Scandinavian partners will find this location very convenient. As you know, we have just held the World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow. It took us only two months to prepare for it, whereas normally it takes about two years to get ready for such an event. We did it in just two months.

I can say to you today that everything is ready. Nevertheless, I believe that hosting the World Ice Hockey Championship will give Russia fresh impetus to develop infrastructure and to raise public awareness, primarily among young people, about the ideals of sport. We hope it will encourage people to take up physical fitness and help promote a healthy lifestyle.

We are currently actively preparing to host major competitions like the summer Student Games in Kazan and the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. Work is being carried out according to plan and there have been no delays, thank God. Our specialists and international experts – builders and scientists – are effectively addressing any and all problems as they arise (and there are always quite a few when it comes to major competitions like these).

I have no doubt that the 2016 World Ice Hockey Championships in Russia will be held to the highest standard. Russians love ice hockey – roughly half a million people play ice hockey in Russia and there are millions of hockey fans, without exaggeration.

I am pleased to note that we have revived the Golden Puck competition for children. About 300,000 kids take part in it overall, while, by way of comparison, 600,000 kids participated in the Leather Ball football competition, so ice hockey still has some room to develop.

When I thanked the federation for its decision earlier, I said that all ice hockey players, journalists and experts will be met with a warm welcome in Russia. I hope that all of us will take joy in this day of celebration – a celebration of sport and ice hockey. Thank you very much for your attention. Let’s start with the girl. Please, go ahead.

Question: Mr Putin, Russia has already been selected to host the APEC summit in 2012. You’ve mentioned the Student Games and the Olympics. We’ll hold a stage of the Formula One in Sochi in 2015, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup; today the country has also been selected as the host of the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championships. All these events are quite expensive, and will take an estimated 1.5-2 trillion roubles to organise. Isn’t this too heavy a burden on our budget? Will we manage? Thank you.

Vladmir Putin: The tournaments you’ve just mentioned are, indeed, quite expensive. We’ll be playing host to the 2014 Winter Olympics, the World Student Games in Kazan, and the APEC summit in Vladivostok. But, as I’ve said more than once already, much of the investment will go to develop the infrastructure: roads, tunnels, bridges, power transmission lines, sewage and water supply facilities, facilities to reduce pollution, and so on. This is about investing in people and their environment, so we should spare no expense.

But of course, we should try to spend money wisely. And then again, we’ll attract private investment. Ahead of the Olympics, private investors are putting considerable amounts into the construction of facilities that could yield big profits in the future. These include hotels and other infrastructural facilities. We try to minimise government spending this way.

As for the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championships, it won’t cost us much as we already have all the required facilities up and running. We’ve got the excellent Ice Palace in St Petersburg, which was already used once before as the venue of the world championships, and a nice ice rink in Moscow. We also have a well developed hospitality infrastructure in Moscow and St Petersburg, where we could comfortably accommodate the participants and journalists. We’ll have to invest mainly in the organisation of events. But the effect will be dramatic, I think.

Question: Mr Putin, we expected you to attend the Russia-Canada match yesterday. Why didn’t you come? Perhaps, you’ll make up for it by attending the Russia-Finland semifinal? What’s your prediction for this particular match and for the finals?

Vladimir Putin:  I watch hockey every day, but I also have to get some work done. I watched yesterday’s game on TV. As I’ve said just now to our team’s head coach, Mr Bykov, I was watching with friends yesterday and some of them slid off their chairs to watch the final part sitting on the floor. No kidding…

Visits by high-ranking officials always break the routine of athletes, and they have no time to waste here. This is why I thought I’d better join millions of Russian fans in watching the match on television.

And then again, I’ve come here not to watch the championships live – though that’s something I’d really love to do – but rather to thank the International Ice Hockey Federation for selecting Russia as the host of the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championships. That’s my job. And the athletes have their own work to do.

Having said that, our hockey players know just how much I love and respect them. I’ve always supported them, in good times and in bad times, when they achieved spectacular results and celebrated outstanding victories and when they deplored their defeats. Sports will be sports, and defeats are inevitable. But judging from what I saw yesterday, our team is doing its best to defend the nation’s standing in sports. That’s evident, and I’m sure the fans appreciate the players’ commitment.

Question (via interpreter): You’ve said you’ll be hosting several major sporting events in Russia besides this one? What kind of impact do you think this will have on the country’s economy? Will this impact be positive?

Vladimir Putin: It will certainly have a positive impact. It will benefit the economy and help solve a number of serious social problems.

However, I will start with ecology. I am not sure about the numbers, but let me assure you that all of these sporting events involve heavy investments in environmental issues. This is one thing.

Second. Major competitions such as these invariably draw huge public attention and boost interest in physical fitness and sports. Basically, it’s another way of solving the demographic problem that’s very important for all of us. When I say “us,” I mean all of Europe.

Clearly, these events require significant expenses, but they will pay off in many ways. I’ve already mentioned two major factors. Now, I’ll mention the purely economic ones. We are building a lot of new roads, bridges and tunnels in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games. We have built a new power plant and eight substations. We have laid a gas pipeline on the floor of the Black Sea. We’ve built a new port. We will build many new comfortable hotels.

Certainly, this will help expand business projects in the region. If it were not for the kind of events we just mentioned, I’m not sure if we’d invest that much money in building the kind of infrastructure that is essential for the economic development of the regions. We have actually rebuilt the airport. We spoke about the new airport in Vladivostok that was built for the APEC summit. An entire complex of facilities was built there, which we will later hand over to the Far Eastern University. I believe that’s exactly what it means to invest in people, education and science. This is an essential area of investment for any nation.

Almost the same goes for all other events and functions. For example, we have built a set of facilities in Kazan and keep building hotels for the athletes. Later, the premises will be used for accommodating Kazan University students. Nothing will go to waste – everything will be put to good use. Please, go ahead.

Question (via interpreter): What do you make of Libya?

Vladimir Putin: I have already spoken about it. I came here with a different mission, and sports have little to do with the tragic events happening in Libya. The best outcome for both sides would be to reach a compromise and internally resolve the problems facing the country in the interests of the people. I hope this is the way it will play out eventually.

Question: You are known as someone who draws major sporting events into Russia. Could you share you future plans with us? Looks like we don’t have anything scheduled for 2017.

Vladimir Putin: We are ready to discuss our plans with the public, including the media. Let’s see if there’s anything interesting going on in the world that could be organised in Russia, too. Let me assure you that the government will support such initiatives. These should be significant events that help to create solutions for the problems I mentioned before, primarily, promoting healthy lifestyles, sports and infrastructure.

Russia is recvering from the crisis, perhaps, with fewer losses than other countries, since our budget allows us to do so. You know that Russia’s GDP grew by 4% last year and we expect this number to grow this year. The reserves held by the government and the Central Bank are on the rise. With the Central Bank’s reserves standing at 500 billion dollars, Russia ranks third in the world in terms of the amount of its gold and currency reserves. The reserves held by the Russian government are also growing, so we can allocate the necessary funds even from the current expenses and tackle the issues that we are discussing today. Let us know if you think of something interesting. Please, go ahead.

Question (via interpreter): What are your childhood memories of hockey? What was the first game you saw? When did you first become interested in hockey?

Vladimir Putin: You know that Russians love hockey. Playing hockey and watching hockey matches is a national pastime in Russia. I think that the USSR-Canada matches of the early 1970s were the most compelling ones. I can recall that my parents, who were far from being hockey fans, were glued to the screen watching all of them. They knew the names of all the Russian players, rooted for them and were upset when they suffered setbacks. I can remember this very well.

Regrettably, I have never had a chance to stand on the ice. Not only could I not skate, I couldn’t even stand upright on the ice. The first time I tried to get back out on the ice was back when I was still practicing judo. We went to a winter training camp in Kazakhstan and decided to hit the skating rink. I put on the skates and fell on the ground right away because I couldn’t keep my balance. I even twisted my ankle. So, I took the skates off and never put them on again. Quite recently, though, I made another attempt. I think I did better this time. I realised that it takes a lot of work to learn how to skate, let alone play hockey, but it’s very exciting. I enjoy skating now. I wish I had more time to skate.


Question: We were quick in getting the visas for all the guests of the World Figure Skating Championships, so that they could come here and support their teams. They announced here, in Bratislava, that the Slovak hockey club Lev Poprad became a member of the KHL, and the next world championships will be held in the neighbouring countries. May I ask you what will be the procedure for issuing visas to the Russian fans going to Latvia or Slovakia, or to the countries that will host the next few world championships? Will they reciprocate and maybe even ease the Schengen regulations for them?

Vladimir Putin: Why ask me, ask our colleagues from the European Union. You know that this is an ongoing discussion with our colleagues. They operate in accordance with certain rules, and these rules are rather complicated. This is the Schengen area, and any one country cannot take individual decisions. However, we had a chance to see that if needed (as in the recent cases with refugees), an individual country still can take decisions that are beneficial for it. I can relate to that. I am not being judgmental; I’m just saying that such decisions can occasionally be taken. We are not seeking any favours. We want to complete the negotiations, and we expect to be treated the same way we treat our partners.

As far as sports tourism is concerned, I believe that even the Schengen rules provide for certain exceptions. We will keep working with our colleagues on this matter. Just in case any one of them holds a press conference, ask them about it. That’ll help us, too.

Question: Mr Putin, in what capacity will you meet the 2016 championships? Maybe you’ll have more time to practice hockey then given the workload you might have in 2016?

Vladimir Putin: All right. Your question isn’t any different from what I have heard before. Mr Medvedev and I have spoken about this on many occasions. You know, I don’t have much to add to what I’ve said before.

As for practice… Honestly, time for practice… I said that there’s not enough time for practice, finding time for training has more to do with being organised than the mere fact of being busy. I exercise every day. Every single day. I swim 1,000 metres and go to the gym. That takes about 60-90 minutes of my time. I do it every day, even though I’m very busy.

I’ll have to cut down on my fitness routine in order to be able to practice hockey, though. Then I’ll face some real time constraints. But in general, I believe that being active instils discipline. The busier you are, the more you can achieve.

Question: Mr Putin, could you please give us an estimate of how much Russia will spend on the gigantic projects you mentioned today, other that hockey, which is not very expensive, as we know. Just the general level of spending, so we have some idea about how much it will cost.

Vladimir Putin: We have the numbers. I won’t give them to you now because I might give you the wrong ones. We have released all the numbers. They also include our investment in the Olympic Games. I have spoken about it during government meetings on many occasions. You can find these numbers on the internet, including our investment in the World Student Games. They are available, as I’ve said many times. No hard feelings, please, my only concern is that I might make a mistake, and then people will check the numbers I gave against the officially released numbers looking for inconsistencies. You can go ahead and take a look at what’s budgeted for the World Student Games in Kazan, for example. Occasionally, the numbers are revised. Not always to the upside, but, unfortunately, in many cases they are increased due to inflation, price hikes, etc. Quite often, these numbers go down when business finances the construction of certain facilities. I’m just saying that we have the numbers for all events, including the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, the World Student Games and the APEC summit that I mentioned before. Please take a look. No hard feelings, all right? I can’t remember the exact numbers and I don’t want to mislead you.

Question (via interpreter): What do you think about Slovakia and other countries joining the Kontinental Hockey League? Do you personally support this initiative?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, certainly, I already spoke about it earlier. I came up with the KHL idea and I believe that, first, my colleagues did a great job, for which I’m grateful and, second, I believe that the KHL will change the atmosphere of international hockey. A colleague asked me about my memories from years past. I believe that the hockey matches between the USSR and Canada increased the number of hockey lovers many times over, because these matches used to be intense and exciting events. The athletes demonstrated feats of sportsmanship and heroism, if I may put it this way.  

Things are different in today’s world. If the NHL keeps sucking in all the good players like a vacuum, then the NHL matches might be interesting to watch, but the rest of the world will lose interest in hockey. It’s probably good for Slovakia to have its player on an NHL team. Go, Slovakia. But don’t we all want to have good clubs in our own countries? Good clubs in Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Finland and Germany? That’s the only way to improve the overall level of international hockey.

I think that establishing a new international platform to train good players is a promising idea. It can be used to compare skills and training levels. It can also be used to run competitions between KHL and NHL teams, or conduct other competitions that Mr Fasel and his colleagues may come up with. Certainly, I will welcome the expansion of the KHL and would like to see the clubs from Slovakia and other European countries join it. Any other clubs.

The issue is all about the money. Unfortunately, we cannot accept teams to KHL that are not properly financed. We need to secure a certain level to be able to pay appropriate salaries to the players, not less than what they pay NHL players, so that the clubs have a chance to develop, and so on. Certainly, we need funds for that. But I think this would be interesting for everybody. I came up with this project, but I don’t want it to be just mine or an exclusively Russian project. I want all of us to own it and build a capable, strong continental league that could be on the same level as the NHL. I’ll say it again: I believe international hockey will benefit from it.

Thank you very much.

Rene Fasel (via interpreter): Thanks you very much. Mr Prime Minister, here’s a small gift for you with your number on it (hands over a hockey uniform).