Visits within Russia

25 september, 2008 19:12

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with United Russia’s secretaries of regional offices and top representatives in regional legislative assemblies

"There is no need to dwell on how important the performance of the party's regional offices and groups in legislative assemblies is for the party's reputation and consolidation of its positions because you are in direct contact with citizens. You are tackling problems which are directly affecting their lives, destinies, and interests. You are taking part in the drafting and implementation of regional development programmes".
Vladimir Putin
At a meeting with United Russia’s secretaries of regional offices and top representatives in regional legislative assemblies

Vladimir Putin's Opening Address:

Good afternoon, colleagues.

Mr Gryzlov, first of all, I would like to convey to all of you the best wishes from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He is now touring the country, and we have just spoken by phone. So, we have good connections, and even more sympathizers.

Indeed, this is the first time we meet in this format. I hope very much that we will be able to make this format permanent and highly effective.

There is no need to dwell on how important the performance of the party's regional offices and groups in legislative assemblies is for the party's reputation and consolidation of its positions because you are in direct contact with citizens. You are tackling problems which are directly affecting their lives, destinies, and interests. You are taking part in the drafting and implementation of regional development programmes.

Your performance is a yardstick by which people are largely judging about the party's ability to generate and perceive new ideas, unite clever and active individuals, promote them to government agencies, and conduct meaningful dialogue with civil society institutions.

Formal attitudes and red tape are outlawed here. This primarily applies to the party's projects oriented to the common man. We expect regional organisations to do much for building a system of targeted aid to pensioners, veterans, and people with disabilities. It is vital to expand programmes for the younger generation, support of sports, education, small and medium-sized business, and to render large-scale legal assistance to our citizens.

I would like to emphasize that you should always give priority to these tasks. In the final count, it is your deeds that should shape the party's image, and determine the people's attitude to it.

The party chairman's reception rooms have been opened in all regions. Regional organisations took a most active part in their establishment, and I would like to thank everyone for this. At the same time, I would like to note, and I think you realize this full well, that making very important and essential systemic decisions in Moscow, the Kremlin, the Government House, and the government is one thing, and resolving a host of most diverse problems all over the country is another thing. It is perfectly obvious that one person cannot do it single-handed. This is unrealistic. This is why I agreed to the opening of the party chairman's reception rooms. I proceeded from the premise that resolving problems which people bring there would be our common task. Therefore, I would like to ask you to take a most active part in this work.

I believe that reception rooms should work in two key directions. First, it is important to use all possibilities to help concrete people resolve their problems, and maybe even get them out of trouble. Second, you should seriously analyze all complaints to reveal the problems which require systemic decisions at federal, and maybe, regional level.

It is United Russia that is now primarily responsible for the formation of both federal and regional legislative foundations. Mr Gryzlov has already spoken about the party's representation in regional parliaments. It is a major instrument of political influence and the conduct of government policy.

Work on the drafting of the concept of long-term national development, also called Programme 2020, and main directions of the Government's work for the next four years will be completed in the near future. Implementation of these strategic programmes will require a concerted effort of the authorities at all levels.

It is important for the proclaimed federal priorities to be logically extrapolated into regional regulations, programmes, and budgets. We must concentrate all resources in those fields which will allow us to improve the living standards of Russian citizens, and create the conditions for the continued economic growth at a proper pace.

Naturally enough, opinions and affirmative proposals from the regions will be considered in the implementation of our strategy. This goes without saying.

Regional parliaments have the right to initiate legislation at federal level. Mr Gryzlov has already mentioned this. Needless to say, I would like these proposals to be thorough, and based on the economic reality. I consider it important to promote cooperation between the State Duma and regional parliaments so that fewer proposals land in rubbish can, so to speak. However, I would like to draw the attention of the United Party group in the State Duma that even if some proposals seem superficial at first sight, but are generally correct and conducive to resolving the country's problems, they should not be shelved. We should simply work on them all together, and develop them.

I have to say a few words about one more issue. On October 12, a whole series of elections to regional and municipal authorities will be held in Russia. Their results will indicate the quality of the party's work, the performance of its local organisations.

United Russia has set itself the task of consolidating its presence in the representative bodies of local government. I consider this approach correct and topical. Local government bodies badly need modern managerial culture and professionals. Their relevance and effectiveness directly depend on this, and the party should certainly help them resolve this task.

I would like to add that work in the bodies of local government may become a solid school for United Russia's personnel reserve. People whom we hope to see with us in the future should have an opportunity to reveal themselves in practical work.

Distinguished colleagues,

Having scored more points, in the past year United Russia has become an influential and serious political force. This party is working to consolidate society, and offers constructive cooperation to all those who are ready for it. The decision to unite with the Agrarian Party bears this out.

We should continue reaffirming our lead, and use it for the benefit of Russia and its citizens.

I will end my monologue here since Mr Gryzlov mentioned there will be many questions.

* * *

During the meeting with leaders of United Russia regional branches and the party's groups in regional legislatures Vladimir Putin answered their questions.

Alexander Levin: The global financial crisis is currently one of the most discussed topics. The Russian Government has already taken steps to protect the Russian economy. Do you think these steps are enough or should the state exert additional efforts? What is the role of our party and its groups in regional legislatures in helping the state to minimise the effects of the global financial crisis? Thank you.

Putin: World finances have suffered a systemic shock. Leading global economies, including the American economy, and their unsatisfactory economic and financial policies, are to blame for it.

Russia, on the other hand, faced the crisis at strength, with extensive reserves, a well-functioning economy, a double surplus - in the budget and in foreign trade - and growing economic volume. In purchasing power and economic volume Russia ranks seventh in the world. All this, plus a stable political and social situation, indicate a feeling of confidence.

But being a part of the global economy, we cannot but experience certain pressure from it. I think the Government and the Central Bank have taken effective measures. I will recapitulate them.

Credits available to financial institutions were increased to 1,514 billion rubles.

The authorised capital of the Agency for Housing Mortgage Lending was increased by 60 billion rubles.

Sberbank was provided with an additional 60 billion roubles to invest in the securities market.

Mandatory reserve provisions were cut back - that was an important decision by the Central Bank, because it concerned not only credit resources, but own assets of financial institutions, which the banks, including regional banks, could put to use - something like 300 billion rubles.

Lastly, the Government allowed companies to postpone their VAT payments through the end of the year, rather than pay them in one lump sum, as requested at the beginning of the year. This will improve their liquidity and financial standing.

And finally, an additional 500 billion rubles was allocated for stock market operations, to buy back the securities and stock we consider undervalued and which will definitely rise in price. I am referring above all to companies owned at least partly by the state.

It was also decided to grant longer credit terms, for three months rather than three or four weeks.

These combined steps, I think, are enough to say that we control the situation.

So far so good, but we need to keep a close eye on developments in world finance and the global economy and respond to them immediately.

In the regions, the authorities, too, must look after financial institutions and help them when necessary, promote their activity and prevent hostile takeovers. And if it is economically wise, help them pool their efforts for economic and social purposes.

And of course you must be in day-to-day touch with the Central Bank through its local branches and the United Russia parliamentary party in the State Duma, with which the Government airs these problems, including certain legislative decisions to amend related laws of Russia.

Boris Gryzlov: Thank you. The floor is given to Lyudmila Tokayeva, secretary of the North Ossetian regional branch of the party and leader of the United Russia party in the parliament of North Ossetia - Alania.

Question: Allow me on behalf of the Ossetian people to thank you for the timely help given to the people of South Ossetia during Georgia's attack. This saved them and helped to avoid a genocide. At the same time, you know that the Ossetian people are a divided people, living on both sides of the Caucasian Ridge. What are the prospects for reunification?

Putin: This is no simple question. You know, of course, the historical background. Ossetia joined the Russian Empire as early as the middle of the 18th century, and did it voluntarily. At that time, the North and the South were one. A hundred years later, the tsarist administration decided to include South Ossetia into the Tiflis Province. Georgia, I believe, joined Russia in 1812 and had been part of the Russian Empire for 30 or 40 years by that time. The decision was taken to make administration easier. Remember that the Roki tunnel did not yet exist and communication between the northern and southern parts of the territory was difficult. Perhaps, there were sound reasons for the decision. You know better than me that the Ossetian people were not very happy with that step, but they were never consulted.

Later - during the Stalin era - the decision was re-confirmed and sealed. Still, certain ethnic frictions remained in day-to-day life. They flared up in 1918, when the tsarist empire collapsed, and Georgia declared itself a separate state, while the Ossetians refused to break with Russia. In response, Georgia carried out two punitive operations - in 1918 and in 1921. Events like that also occurred in Soviet times, late in the 1980s. Now history is repeating itself.

I think Russia's recognition of South Ossetia's independence and sovereignty will put an end to bloodshed in the region, and that is the main point.

The second point is that Russia and its peacekeepers could not have acted otherwise. I am referring to Russia's international legal obligations - as a peacekeeping force Russia was bound to protect the Ossetian people against attack - and to a special relationship existing between North and South Ossetia. They are one people, you know. Russia has discharged its mission with honour, but, unfortunately, at the price of many human lives.

That reminds me to tell our regional party branches that they should look after the families of killed servicemen.

I told the governors before and I am telling you now: United Russia regional branches ought to know individually all the families of our servicemen who died during the conflict in South Ossetia and help them.

Regarding integration, it should be confined at this point to the economic rehabilitation of South Ossetia. In effect, we will abolish the border between Russia and the Republic of South Ossetia to enable its people to lead normal lives, raise children, develop their republic and communicate between themselves freely - without any border restrictions or formalities. The agreement signed between South Ossetia and Russia is a good framework for such legal steps. I think we need to sign other documents, on the one hand, to ensure Russia's border security and on the other, to let people socialise between themselves without any administrative barriers.

Boris Gryzlov: Mikhail Gulevsky, secretary of the Lipetsk United Russia regional branch.

Question: The Lipetsk Region is one of the areas providing housing for expats arriving from former Soviet republics under a special programme named "Compatriots." This is an important and necessary job, but most resettlers experience what we consider to be elementary inconveniences - difficulties with citizenship, registration, and some basic necessities of life. Could our migration legislation be somehow reviewed to simplify standard procedures for resettlers? Thank you.

Putin: Your question echoes the one asked by Lyudmila Tokayeva. Although she dealt with a regional issue, I want to draw your attention to this central fact: whenever Russia consolidates itself and gets stronger, it provides more comfort and support for the peoples it unites. In Russia, life is becoming more comfortable and secure. This applies to the North Caucasus and other parts of Russia.

It is a good sign that most people seek to move to Russia and live here permanently.

I am referring to the demographic problems, which we address and solve, but gradually. Still, the inertia effect of these problems will be felt and generate negative trends for a long time yet. One of the solutions is to invite back our expats who are willing to move to Russia and be its citizens again.

I agree that this legislation is not up to the mark. At the same time, the programme you mentioned already provides for a simplified way of receiving citizenship. For example, one need not reside in Russia for five years to gain such a right. The procedure has been simplified for them.

I think we should find optimum solutions both at the regional - I will say why - and the federal level. On the one hand, we should rule out any swindling and cheating. In some cities, 500 to 700 people are registered in one shared flat with a floor space of 14 square metres. This creates a crime-prone situation. This creates conditions under which those wishing to live and work in Russia are discriminated against - which is also bad.

But this also creates other problems, problems for the local population. We know how people respond to such measures: they say they have been on a housing waiting list for a long time, that unemployment in their region is high enough and yet money is invested into resettlement. Solve the problems of current residents, they say. One can understand their grievances.

But we also know that there are demographic problems, labour market and territorial development. They need adjusting. I will not go into details and particulars now. But the job can be done only if we work together with the regions, meaning you. I suggest that if you deal with these problems professionally, we should look into them together. I agree that adjustment is needed.

Boris Gryzlov: Thank you. Sergei Borodin, leader of the United Russia party in the legislature of the Vladimir Region.

Question: On September 12, United Russia signed a memorandum of unity with the Agrarian Party of Russia. How do you think United Russia will build its relations with other political parties and how will this affect the political system in Russia today?

Putin: We have something like 14 more or less well functioning parties now. Is it too many or too few? In principle, it's enough. The main point is that we have decided the principles for forming a parliament. And our domestic political situation is more stable than among our friends and neighbours in, say, Ukraine.

I am not going to poke fun or be mean about Ukraine. I can only feel sorry for what is taking place there. We have nothing of the sort here. That, incidentally, is the result of a correctly formulated approach to forming the country's highest representative body.

Unity and consolidation are a positive process. It does not mean United Russia should swallow all and sundry, by any means. Whatever the upshot, political forces with diverse points of view should be present on our country's political scene - left-wing parties, centrist parties, among which I include United Russia for its philosophy, and right-wing parties with liberal views on economic and national development. Only in this way, having a full inventory of instruments of political interaction, can we find optimum solutions.

The Agrarian Party and United Russia are kindred parties. They have been cooperating for a long time now. You have only to recall that both United Russia and the Agrarian Party backed Dmitry Medvedev's candidacy for president, doing the correct thing, as far as I can see it. Against the background of events in the Caucasus, I now understand that our voters made the right choice.

Many challenges lie ahead of us. They concern both the development of this sector of the economy and the social welfare of rural regions. Here, the approaches practiced by the Agrarian Party and United Russia are very close. I expect, therefore, only further growth in the strength and influence of their united organisation.

Boris Gryzlov: Thank you. Now Lyudmila Berlina, secretary of the Irkutsk regional party branch and head of the United Russia party in the Irkutsk legislature. Please proceed.

Question: Higher military schools throughout the country are being closed with their ownership restructured. Could cadet colleges be established on this basis? They might contribute to your plan of dealing with child neglect.

Putin: I think reviving cadet colleges is a very happy solution to the problem of children and the growing generation in general. When I worked in Leningrad and then St Petersburg I personally oversaw the establishment of some cadet colleges. I did everything personally. What's more, whatever others may say, we were very much at the cutting edge of that movement. I attach much importance to this.

Can the physical plant of former military schools be put to use? Of course, it can. To date, out of 14 abolished, merged or re-profiled higher military schools 11 are used by the Defence Ministry either for instruction in united structures, or for troops' needs. Three have been turned over to the regions.

The idea of using the equipment and premises of these military schools as cadet colleges is a good one. Only there is one problem worth remembering. What region are you from? Irkutsk? Well, the issue concerns all those present here. These matters, as you surely know, are decided through co-financing. And, therefore, we look to you with much hope. This is, in a way, the direct responsibility of the regions. The Defence Ministry can finance its end. Or the Education Ministry could provide some assistance, but the bulk should come from the regions. We always come to terms with the regions on this issue. Where we do, the scheme works.Boris Gryzlov: Irina Rodnenko, State Duma deputy and United Russia member from the Astrakhan Region.

Question: Mr Putin, you know that the party now has active social-conservative, liberal-conservative and state-patriotic clubs. These main discussion platforms examine the most important aspects of national, regional and partisan development. Most importantly, alternative intellectual forces which are not yet ready to join United Russia, as well as young people, have started taking part in such discussions. Will our discussions help create a more clear partisan ideology? What should be our partisan ideology at this stage?

Vladimir Putin: Are you from Astrakhan?

Irina Rodnenko: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to congratulate you and the city's entire population on the upcoming 450th anniversary of Astrakhan's foundation.

Irina Rodnenko: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: How are city dwellers reacting to the current changes?

Irina Rodnenko: I was born in Astrakhan and I have never experienced such profound changes over such a short time. This is not only my opinion. My friends and neighbours are also noticing astonishing changes. However, much remains to be accomplished.

Vladimir Putin: Thank God. I am very happy to hear this because, as you know, I was one of those who decided to renovate your city.

Irina Rodnenko: Mr Putin, you are kindly invited to the anniversary celebrations.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I have been to Astrakhan recently. I think my mission is accomplished at this stage. I have inspected various facilities and assessed the pace of work. I believe some facilities will be completed before the celebrations. There should not be any rush to get the work done. However, nothing terrible will happen if some facilities are commissioned at a later date.

I want to repeat that quality comes first, and that no facilities should be commissioned prior to specific deadlines, no matter what. I liked the theatre, most of all. It is amazing! In case my colleagues do not know, I can say the Astrakhan theatre has the same area as Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre. The theatre which resembles the ancient Russian architectural style is a modern facility with state-of-the-art technology. The theatre building is very beautiful.

The city's water conduits, canals and the Kremlin are also being renovated.

Irina Rodnenko: We have an exciting sports centre.

Vladimir Putin: You have a big and wonderful sports centre. Another one will also be built. The Centre of High Medical Technology will soon be opened. To be frank, the city is changing and acquiring a new image. This is great!

As to your question, I am convinced that direct discussions are the only way to find any effective solutions. I know there are people who have different opinions of national socio-economic development and of foreign policy sitting in this hall. Some colleagues are social-democrats, while others are conservatives. But I have always believed that United Russia is a centrist party. We must be able to hear all opinions because this is the only way to find acceptable solutions.

The United Russia party must be a living democratic organisation capable of democratic development, able to hear opponents, to heed the opinion of the minority, and be able to work out optimal decisions after everyone has passed the basic decision.

Boris Gryzlov: Pyotr Glybochko, secretary of the party's Saratov office.

Question: Mr Putin, the Saratov Region now specialises in agriculture. Over the last few years, our farmers have been applying for numerous easy-term loans with state-regulated interest. The state repays such interest.

Many farmers are now telling the partisan reception office about rising credit rates. We believe that farmers are facing certain risks due to limited state potential. Moreover, the global financial crisis also influences Russia's financial system.

All these changes imply that our people will not be able to repay their loans and interest. Consequently, many farmers could become insolvent. We know that you are now focusing on these problems, which are also tackled at the federal and regional levels.

We know that you devote much attention to Russian farmers. I would like to know what can be done at the federal and regional levels in order to prevent such developments. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Glybochko, you have noted that farmers may have trouble repaying their loans. First of all, this means that the loans are being issued. There was nothing like this in the past. Moreover, the easy-term loans carry 11% interest matching the Central Bank's refinancing rate.

Due to the situation on global financial markets, Russian financial institutions had to raise their interest rates from 14% to 18%. Farmers are not happy about this extra burden.

At the same time, I want to tell you that the Government has set aside an additional 21 billion roubles ($843.3 million) for the agriculture sector this year. The Agriculture Ministry has negotiated with regions and farmer associations, and has decided to spend the money on reviving the livestock breeding industry, namely, the longhorn-cattle and poultry sectors, and on subsidising fertiliser purchases.

Most farms get loans with two-thirds subsidised interest, while 95% of the loan interest is subsidised for small and medium farms. We will study the possibility of completely subsidising loan interest with Central Bank financial involvement.

The Agriculture Ministry and the Finance Ministry will re-examine the issue this November. This is very important because farmers are facing additional pressure due to greater bank payments and rising food prices. We must therefore assess farmer incomes and expenses; and the Government will re-examine the issue in late 2008.

Boris Gryzlov: Thank you. Alexander Kislitsyn, secretary of the party's Sakhalin office.

Question: Mr Putin, you know that the ambitious Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 oil and gas projects are being implemented on Sakhalin Island. However, most of their oil and gas are sold outside the region and outside Russia, too. Part of local gas is delivered to the Khabarovsk Territory. Unfortunately, the issue of gas volumes earmarked for the Sakhalin Region and their prices has not been settled yet. But we need to bring such gas to Sakhalin households and companies and to expand the local gas-chemical and petro-chemical sectors.

Vladimir Putin: To supply Sakhalin with gas.

Alexander Kislitsyn: Yes, that's right. I would like to hear your opinion and to ask for support.

Vladimir Putin: We were forced to agree that considerable oil and gas volumes would be exported elsewhere, while negotiating the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 projects. This was a deliberate decision because we hoped that the projects would help reduce local unemployment, raise corporate management standards and expand the insular infrastructure.

I believe you will agree because we are accomplishing these objectives.

The gasification of Sakhalin is a high-priority task. I want to draw your attention to the fact that the Sakhalin thermal power plant could use mostly local gas. The transition of the Russian economy to gas has its merits and drawbacks. This concerns safety and pricing issues. I am not saying that this must not be done in Sakhalin; but I know that your power plant burns coal today.

Alexander Kislitsyn: We have two coal-fired power plants. But it is our intention.

Vladimir Putin: Sakhalin has enough coal. Technically speaking, this is a substantial resource because Sakhalin uses coal and supplies it to other Russian regions. The coal industry would shrink if we convert all power plants to gas.

We must assess the consequences of specific decisions for other sectors. The Regional Development Ministry and the Energy Ministry are aware of the problem. I hope that they and regional authorities will adopt an agreed decision, matching regional interests.

Our international contracts imply that Russia can use any required volume of gas for domestic consumption.

I want to draw your attention to another circumstance. Everybody wants to convert to gas because it costs less. But the Government has passed a programme envisioning a gradual transfer to market relations. This is correct from the point of view of all economic sectors and Russian regions.

This high-priority energy resource will eventually acquire the same status as coal and other types of fuel and will become less economically attractive.

There are plans to set up four major refineries in Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, the Khabarovsk Territory and the Sakha-Yakutia Republic that will handle Sakhalin gas.

Alexander Kislitsyn: Thank you.

Boris Gryzlov: Yevgeny Nikora, head of the United Russia deputy group in the Murmansk Regional Duma.

Question: Mr Putin, Russian leaders are now focusing on the state's Arctic policy, especially the development of the regional shelf. The world has reacted to our activities in this field. How should we develop relations with our Arctic neighbours and importers at the regional and federal levels?

Vladimir Putin: We should develop friendly relations and heed our own interests. We are not exaggerating our interests but are formulating them on the basis of current international law.

As you may have noticed, Russian, Norwegian, Danish, Canadian and US foreign ministers have recently held their conference. You are absolutely right that Russia's partners have noticed our activity. But I was surprised at their unexpectedly nervous reaction. And I cannot find any explanation for this.

However, the latest contacts show that the situation remains normal. It is very important that the prime ministers of our five countries have agreed that the problem will be solved in accordance with current international law, primarily maritime law.

This suits us completely. We have submitted our claim to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) and must prove our rights to certain sectors. For this purpose, we must conduct the required scientific research; and this is exactly what we are doing today.

Arthur Chilingarov, who is now celebrating his birthday, vividly proved this a few months ago when he descended to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean aboard a deep-sea submersible.

We will act calmly in this direction and also continue to develop the Northern Sea Route. The Government and the Rosatom nuclear energy state corporation must do their best to reinstate the nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet, as stipulated by government programmes.

The Russian Security Council has recently examined such programmes and passed the relevant decisions which will now be fulfilled.

Thank you.

Boris Gryzlov: Galina Svetkina, secretary of the party's branch office in Samara Region.

Question: Mr Putin, at the beginning you have already answered my question. It is true that there is a chain of regional public reception offices, equipped with modern technical facilities, professional staff, and they have already started effective work. This has aroused public interest. Public reception offices have already received over 6,000 appeals. The public reception office in the Samara Region alone has received over 1,500 appeals. The number is growing.

What do you expect from the work of public reception offices? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You know, I really want at least some of these 1,500 appeals to be given due attention and satisfied. So that people can see that we managed to solve their problems, to eliminate injustice that certain people faced. It is an open secret that at different levels of authority, people often come across inadequate fulfillment of commitments on the part of officials. Well, mistakes are also quite often.

On the whole, life is difficult and varied, so, our task is to help people. So, the public reception offices are called on to help people. This is the first point.

The second, which I have already mentioned, is that I would like people's requests and expectations to be analyzed in order to find weak points to be considered on the federal level - on the level of parliament, Government or President of the country.

A. Romanov: Mr Putin, in our region, where planes are the most important means of transportation, the prices for air tickets have dramatically increased. I think this is also a problem for other regions. This restricts the opportunities of people living in remote districts to travel for a holiday or to get medical treatment and it seriously undermines the family budget.

How can we solve this problem?

Vladimir Putin: I understand that this is a serious problem. People are in a difficult situation. This is not just the problem of human resources mobility, but of state unity and integrity. I mean the whole region should not feel separated from its main territory.

I am not going to talk about the source of the problem. I think, you know that the state takes upon itself part of air transport expenses, yet this is a small part. In general, the airlines determine the fare - more than 50%.

What can we do in this respect? First of all, we should increase people's incomes, so that they could feel comfortable in a market environment. This is a separate issue - implementation of a programme for the development of the Trans-Baikal Region and the Far East. We will talk about it later today. What is needed to be done urgently is subsidize transportation starting with next year, although the economic bloc of the Government was unwilling to do this during the next few years, but I managed to convince them that this is an important step and at last they agreed. This is all that we can do today. I do not think we will invent something more effective in the near future. In 2009, the subsidies will amount to 2.5 billion roubles ($99.01 million, or €68.74 million) and will be channeled to the transportation of passengers from the Far East to the European part of Russia and back and their transportation within the territory of the Far East. The figure will reach 5 billion roubles in 2010. Let's see how this scheme will work.

What is to be done now? Your involvement could be useful if, together with the deputies of United Russia and experts of the Ministry of Transportation, you will ponder over the ways of using these funds in the most effective way. I mean: how, where and who should receive the money? Thank you.

V. Tulpanov: Mr Putin, before asking a question I would like to tell you that at the initiative of the regional branch office the members of our city parliament have started to work with the MPs of other countries, first of all with those who have sister-city relationship with St. Petersburg. By the way, St. Petersburg has over 22 sister-cities in Europe alone. Our primary aim is to explain the position of Russia in the South Ossetian conflict and to do our best to provide them with truthful information. So we have formed a group of our deputies and State Duma deputies, which had been to Tskhinval and have already visited Helsinki, Oslo and Stockholm and met with their parliament members. The deputies of Sweden, Norway and Finland were highly interested in this meeting. We met with them and expressed our position on this matter. They asked us a great number of questions and were very disappointed with the lopsided and biased position of their mass media.

At the end of our meetings all of them offered their help, for example, in organizing photo exhibitions devoted to the South Ossetian conflict in the biggest cities of Europe. I have the following question: what do you think about this method of "party diplomacy"? Should we reinforce such "party diplomacy" by attracting our colleagues from the Federation Council? Every major city has sister-cities and similar methods of diplomacy could be used not only in connection with this particular conflict, but also concerning other issues important for Russia. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I was listening to you and the first thing I noticed is that your colleagues from the sister-cities noticed the one-sided and biased position of their mass media. So I put to doubt the democracy of the press in some countries, the countries who speak a lot about democracy. I was thinking about this myself and I was astonished to see how they manipulated public opinion.

This is manipulation of public opinion, pure and simple. The table of the Russian troops movement is known, and they continue talking about the Russian aggression when we were taking peacemaking measures, protecting our peacemakers and citizens who had themselves become targets of aggression. Yet they are trying to make millions of people believe that this was just the other way round. Surprisingly, they have managed to do this, as ordinary people have their own lives and have little to do with these events. They don't remember what was at the beginning and TV channels don't show it. Yet we know that the Georgian military authorities said in front of TV cameras that they had started the war in South Ossetia, as they had put it, "to restore the constitutional order there." This fact is totally forgotten and now they are trying to put the blame on Russia.

I will repeat that Russia was acting in line with international law. Russia was acting with good reason, legally and, what is very important, effectively. Somebody, however, does not like it.

Certainly, direct contacts with foreign colleagues are very important and they can take different forms. Of course, not all cities have as many sister-cities as St. Petersburg. I think St. Petersburg has over 100 such cities.

V. Tulpanov: To be exact, it has 75 sister-cities all around the world.

Vladimir Putin: Anyway, it is close to 100. St. Petersburg is an attractive city for a partnership.

Other regions and cities can hardly have such partner ties. But anyway, we should use all opportunities for such citizen diplomacy, for cooperation and explaining our positions. Do you have a sister-city in Georgia?

V.Tulpanov: Yes, we do. Strange as it may seem, this is Tbilisi.

Vladimir Putin: That's good, by the way. We should develop good relationships with the cities in Georgia. It would do no good to leave Georgia to nationalists and irresponsible people. We should maintain contacts with Georgian civil society. This is our close neighbour. We have long-standing relations of friendship with it. I think we will restore our relationship in the future.

Question: German Mozgovoy, secretary of the party's branch office in the Kaliningrad region.

Mr Putin, personnel policy and the formation of personnel pool are very urgent issues when we talk about the quality of management at the municipal, regional and even federal levels. What is the role of United Russia in shaping the personnel pool of the country?

Vladimir Putin: We have a programme for a personnel pool. As President, I gave the green light to this programme. This is a good programme that must be duly implemented. People in the Russian regions and in the centre should feel that the personnel pool policy is not a fiction but a vital necessity. A lack of qualified specialists is our long-standing headache. It is not that we simply need personnel in all sectors of economic management; we need highly qualified professionals. The role of United Russia is to choose the proper candidates and to train them on a permanent basis, to create conditions for their promotion to certain management positions. I think we should pay special attention to this issue on the federal level. I think this is one of the most serious issues in our cooperation with the regions. We will join hands with you on this issue.

Question: Alexander Nikolayev, secretary of the party's branch office in Yakutia.

Mr Putin, intensified development of Trans-Baikal and the Far East is one of the key tasks facing the country, without which the future development of Russia is impossible. What are the prospects of implementing the programmes of the social and economic development of the Far East and Trans-Baikal within the Strategy 2020?

Vladimir Putin: The development of Trans-Baikal and the Far East is one of our high priority tasks. Unfortunately, in the past a large number of problems have accumulated in this region. One of them is de-population, a great number of people have left these areas. Among federal targeted programmes envisaging respective federal allocations, there are a few that aim at the development of certain territories - the South of Russia, Trans-Baikal and the Far East. We will do our best to provide regular funding. Also, this particular programme focuses on several tasks -the development of energy and transport infrastructure. We paid a lot of attention to transportation, but energy infrastructure is no less important.

High electricity and heat tariffs are not accidental there as there are no centralized sources of heat, gas and electricity supply. This sector is to be developed, as well as the transportation sector. We hope that the gross regional product will increase by 160-180% by 2013, when the programme is completed. The number of unemployed will decrease considerably by that time and the number of jobs, including jobs in the high tech sectors of the economy will increase.

And the last, you know about our plans to create a new federal university in the Far East on the basis of Vladivostok State University, which will become the new quality educational and research center of the Far East. We are going to invest over 500 billion roubles in these programmes. We will work on this.

Boris Gryslov: Thank you. Sergey Usoltsev, secretary of the party's branch office in Tyumen Region.

Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, Mr Gryslov. We are always talking about future investment. As you can see, the country's possibilities have increased. This programme alone will receive 500 billion roubles in federal appropriations. The most important thing is to spend them effectively. I mean all funding and expenses in the regions, even if money goes through federal channels, should be strictly controlled by deputies.

Excuse me, Mr Gryslov.

Boris Gryslov: That is all right. Let me introduce once more time - Sergey Usoltsev, secretary of the party's branch office in Tyumen Region.

Question: Mr Putin, we have already discussed the problem of support of agricultural producers. Over the last years, the United Russia party has greatly contributed to the development of the agricultural sector. Today nobody says any more that our agriculture is a "black hole". Nevertheless, every year farmers address us with the same problems. One of them is dramatic increase in fuel and lubricants prices during spring field works. As for price of agricultural products, it certainly does not increase so sharply. We are doing our best to prevent growth in food prices. Certainly, this situation affects the financial position of our agricultural producers.

I want to ask you for advice. This question is similar to the transportation issue. Is it possible to partially compensate fuel and lubricant costs to our agricultural producers in order to decrease these financial risks and to provide favourable conditions for the development for our agricultural producers? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Sobyanin is familiar with the situation in Tyumen Region. You allocate 2 billion roubles from the budget on partial compensation for fuel and lubricants costs. Last year this money was allocated from the federal budget. The Government is discussing this problem now. Let's see at the results of the agricultural sector performance at the end of the year.

I have already said, while answering the question from your colleague, that we should see what profits the agricultural producers will make this year. This year we had the biggest harvest in many years. I will not give the exact figure as the harvesting is still underway in some regions, but we will get over 100 million tonnes of grain. I can hardly remember such an impressive harvest. Last year we harvested 80 million tonnes.

You know, over the past few years the Government has been trying to keep the prices down, by administrative methods, and in most cases we were successful. Unfortunately there is some increase in prices, which is rather substantial. I will not give you figures. But largely it is connected with the growing world market prices. We cannot shut our market from the rest of the world.

Let's consider the possibilities of subsidizing. I carefully use the word "consider", as we have allocated an extra 21 billion roubles to this sector. The heads of the agricultural sector decided to spend the money on mineral fertilizers and cattle breeding. They could have used them for different purposes.

You know, every sector of the economy in our country has a lot of problems. To provide billions of financial support is not the way out. The right way is to choose priorities. We will discuss this problem together with the heads of the ministries and departments at the end of the year.

Boris Gryzlov: Arkady Fomin, secretary of Ryazan Region's branch of the United Russia party.

Arkady Fomin: I would like to greatly thank you for the adopted decision to allocate 20 billion roubles for constructing roads in the regions' administrative centres. The project entitled "Russia's New Roads" has been efficiently implemented bringing certain social and economic results, and our voters link this with your activities. However, the project is being implemented in big cities only, and, as you know, many towns and villages in rural areas lack hard-surface roads. Are you planning to allot additional finances for building roads in rural areas?

Vladimir Putin: Are you a resident of the Ryazan Region?

Arkady Fomin: Yes, I am.

Vladimir Putin: Road construction in rural areas is primarily the responsibility of the regional and municipal administrations, and this cannot be managed solely by the federal authorities. I will elaborate on what is being implemented but what I just said is aimed at everyone so do not relax on this subject.

We have indeed adopted the decision to allocate an additional 20 billion roubles for the roads you mentioned, namely the roads in Russia's regions. I estimate the overall finances to be allotted this year to reach around 37.5 billion roubles. A total of 133 billion roubles will be allocated from the federal budget for regional and municipal road infrastructure, the sum being direct subsidies and the finances for federal enterprises to go for constructing secondary roads for federal highways.

We will consider the possibilities to preserve and develop the road network in the future. We have enormous finances planned for the roads, since developing infrastructure, including the highways, is one of those activities we should work together on.

Arkady Fomin: Thank you very much.

Boris Gryzlov: Valentina Pivnenko, secretary of the Republic of Karelia's branch of the United Russia party.

Valentina Pivnenko: Mr Putin, first I would like to thank you for those system solutions you initiated for implementation of social and economic development of Russia's northern territories. Thank you for providing financially backed resolutions, which have come into effect this year and concern resettling people from the northern territories and preserving their pensions with a northern hardship bonus. However, we also should attract young residents to the northern territories as well. By the order from the presidium of the United Russia's General Council, the deputies responsible for the northern territories both in the State Duma and the regional dumas have suggested certain adjustments to the federal law on the state guarantees and benefits for residents of Russia's northern territories. By the order of the party's General Council, two years ago we developed a strategy for regionalisation of the northern territories. These activities are in line with the UN Security Council's decision on establishing the southern border of the Arctic zone. This is quite challenging work involving scientists, specialists, scientific centres at both the federal and regional levels. My question concerns the following: we have held certain mediation procedures, with the territories' regionalisation developed together with Regional Development Ministry, but we still need your political support for this draft law to be introduced to the State Duma for approval. The latest mediation procedure, which was held at the Health and Social Development Ministry, did not reveal any contradictions, but I was told the draft law will receive approval only after a political decision is provided. The project will not require considerable expenses. Mr Putin, is it possible to count on your political support in this regard?

Vladimir Putin: Ms Pivnenko, we have been working on the issues of the northern territories for quite a while. I feel very pleased that you have handled the issue in such a consistent and competent way. What's more, certain issues have been urged along at your instigation, and I am saying this from a serious and objective point of view.

As for regionalisation, this is a very important question since the payment coefficients totally depend on it, and this needs to be calculated. At the moment, I can certainly promise you two things: first, I will order the related department to perform calculations with you to be compared with those performed by experts, and second, it all comes down to financing, at least when considering issues like this. Providing housing is one of the most serious problems that we have repeatedly considered. As you know, in 2007 we allocated 2 billion roubles for resettling those who left the northern territories, a sum not so big if we consider the number of people in need of the government's social assistance. This year, the sum is increased to 8.5 billion roubles, while a total of 8.7 billion is planned for 2010. This is what I can tell you concerning the second question. I suppose these finances are not enough, and people have the right to expect us to put more efforts into solving these issues. I believe that starting from 2010, despite the sum of only 8.7 billion roubles planned for the purpose, we will adjust the budget to provide assistance for those who need housing. We will consider the changes in the budget together with the deputies of the United Russia party, but one thing is clear: the sum will be considerably increased.

Valentina Pivnenko: And what about the benefits?

Vladimir Putin: We will consider it later.

Boris Gryslov: Sergei Ivanchenko, secretary of Khabarovsk Territory's branch of the United Russia party.

Sergei Ivanchenko: Mr Putin, the current ecological situation of the Amur River is a cause for much concern among the Khabarovsk Territory's residents, the issue being well known in Russia. Bathing in the river has been banned for the past two years, the river's biological resources are deteriorating, while the number of residents with various diseases has been increasing. The major issue is the industrial waste and sewage waters released both from the territories of China and Russia. The Chinese side has been implementing the project of environmental recovery of the Songhua River, the Amur's tributary. I would like to know your opinion on the steps required for the Amur River's environmental recovery.

Vladimir Putin: First, we have to keep consistently and benevolently cooperating with our partners, primarily from China. You have just said that our Chinese colleagues are taking certain steps to change the environmental problems. We have to give proper respect to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Chinese side for their activities. Yet, this is the result of an intensive dialogue between the two countries' related departments. We had been long striving for our Chinese partners to pay proper attention and take certain measures, since the major discharges come from the agricultural companies located on China's bank of the Amur River. Of course, this is not the only source of pollution, with river transport and other factors aggravating the situation.

Among the activities we are intending to implement, there is a programme that implies providing the departments which monitor the environment and water quality with up-to-date equipment and facilities, as well as installing additional or new water purifying equipment at the water reservoirs. The programme also involves development of two big underground reservoirs, which I expect will be launched in due time.

Boris Gryslov: Igor Bryntsalov, secretary of Moscow Region's branch of the United Russia party.

Igor Bryntsalov: Currently, we have an import tax for enamelled stock imposed in Russia. However, the country's paper industry does not produce enough volume of proper quality paper of that kind, with the biggest publishing houses and printed media having their products printed outside Russia, which leads to domestic printing factories lacking enough orders for printing magazines and quality books. Could this tax be temporarily suspended to solve this issue in a more effective way until the factories in the country produce enough printing products of proper quality?

Vladimir Putin: Mr Bryntsalov, this is a complex issue. Anything implied temporarily can further become permanent, since nothing is more permanent than a temporary solution. There are two possible options to solve this problem: to eliminate or to decrease this import tax you have mentioned, or to increase the tax for the materials printed outside Russia to stimulate our domestic market. Experts have to decide which of the two alternatives is better. We have to provide conditions for our businessmen to invest money into domestic economy, not into developing the foreign markets. We will think about it. The problem is rather lucid, similar to the second-hand cars issue. I always put this example: we could have provided further conditions for importing second-hand cars but we succeeded in changing it in such a way that resulted in the biggest car manufacturers entering the Russian market and launching their subsidiaries here. The same methods should be applied to the timber and paper industries as well. We have adopted certain decisions concerning industry, this certainly is difficult but it is desirable to develop the domestic timber processing, paper manufacturing and printing industries.

Boris Gryslov: Viktor Sazonov, head of the United Russia faction of the Samara Region's Duma.

Viktor Sazonov: Mr Putin, although our meeting is coming to an end...

Vladimir Putin: [Humorously] are you trying to send me packing?

Viktor Sazonov: No, nothing of the kind. I would like to greet you and the United Russia party leaders on behalf of the deputies of the party's faction of the Samara Region's Duma, and to express our gratitude for today's meeting which no doubt will have enormous affect on our further activities. Sorry for the misunderstanding caused by my introductory remarks.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I remember there is also a drink reception scheduled.

Viktor Sazonov: Now, Mr Putin, my question. Starting next year, the imposed tax on magazines and newspaper retail selling will be abolished. We expect this will result in increasing prices for the printed press issues, which in its turn will lead to restricted availability of printed media for Russian residents. I suppose that the United Russia party cannot neglect this problem, and I believe it would be reasonable to keep this tax for organisations. Is it possible and what do you think of the ways to solve the problem?

Vladimir Putin: As I understand, you mean retail selling?

Viktor Sazonov: Exactly.

Vladimir Putin: Let us see. Right now I cannot say anything definite since this issue has to be considered with the Economic Development Ministry and Finance Ministry. I promise I will pose this question.

Viktor Sazonov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Any time.

Boris Gryslov: Farid Mukhametshin, secretary of the Republic of Tatarstan's branch of the United Russia party.

Farid Mukhametshin: I suppose my question is of great interest for all of us. Hosting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the city Sochi and the Student Games in the city of Kazan in 2013 are world level sports events extraordinary for Russia, with United Russia's task being their coverage. Will you elaborate and comment on the preparation activities being implemented? Our republic's administration has already commenced preparations for the Student Games, since we are perfectly aware of our responsibility to host the event, as the pilot project prior to the Olympics, in the proper way.

Vladimir Putin: First, I would like to congratulate the city of Kazan and the Republic on being chosen to host the Games. This clearly shows the country's growing abilities. I myself was doing my best to help you, and I hope the results will certainly bring benefit for developing the city, the republic and the country.

Second, when the entry was being prepared, the republic administration said that the territory would manage hosting the event without any finances allocated from the federal budget. However, I always knew that in the end we would have to pose the question of providing money from the federal budget for the purpose, and we are prepared to do it. We will provide assistance, although the volumes and the ways are yet to be determined, but it is necessary since this event is a national level event, though held in summer, serves as a grand rehearsal for the 2014 Winter Olympics. I consider it important to show Russia's abilities for both hosting winter and summer sports events. The Government will assist you with the work.

Let us precede to the last question for today.

Boris Gryzlov: Are there any more questions?

Vladimir Putin: Is that all? Still, we will be able to talk informally. Thank you.

Boris Gryzlov: Thank you, Mr Putin.