Visits within Russia

25 january, 2010 17:07

During his visit to the Chuvash Republic Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with students of the Chuvash State University

“We have always had a very strong tradition of being respectful towards other cultures and religions. That has always been one of our country’s strengths. And this tolerance is what has helped create this huge state that is the Russian Federation today. We need to be very clear about this. These fundamental and elementary moral principles need to be learned from the earliest age.”
Vladimir Putin
Meets with students of the Chuvash State University

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,

Many thanks for such an emotional welcome. I don't know if you saw how I was met at the entrance? There were songs and music. It feels like a real celebration.

First of all, I would like to wish you all a happy Tatyana's Day, the day of the Russian students.

I would like to remind you about the origins oft his holidays - some of you may know this already but perhaps not everyone. In 1755 Empress Catherine the Great signed a decree on the establishment of Moscow State University. It was on January 12 by the old calendar or January 25 by the new calendar, and this day coincided with the Day of Martyr St Tatyana.

Ever since then this day became celebrated as Students' Day. Recenly these celebrations have become more joyous and dazzling, as we have just seen by the entrance to your university.

It is a good holiday. It gives you an opportunity to look at your results, at least for the first six months because it coincides with the beginning of winter holidays. I would like to congratulate you once again and wish you all the best!

Voices: Thank you!

Vladimir Putin: Now let's talk about some issues that are important to you. Go ahead, please.

Question: Mr Putin, my name is Tatyana. I'm a student at the Law Department.

Vladimir Putin: A lucky coincidence.

Tayana: I would also like to wish you a happy Students' Day on behalf of all students and all Tayanas here. You used to be a student yourself and now you do a lot of work on student issues.

It would be very interesting to hear how you celebrated this holiday when you were a student? Maybe you even had some traditions among your friends.

Vladimir Putin: Officially, Tatyana's Day was registered as the Russian Students' Day in a decree I signed in 2005.

Tatyana: So, it is five year old.

Vladimir Putin: That's right. It was not an official holiday before that. I will tell you honestly - I don't remember celebrating it. Let me repeat that we knew about it and we talked about it. I think we rather celebrated the end of exams and the start of the winter holidays. But we did speak about it.

How do students celebrate? I'll tell you later... (laughing).

Question: Mr Putin, may I ask you a question? I've got a serious question.

There is a television series on at the moment, and a lot of school and university students watch it. It deals with the issues of educating the future generation. This programme doesn't show young people in the best light. It's quite negative. And there is a big debate about this because parents say that it's not true, that young people today are not like that.

I would like to ask your opinion about the way young people should be educated, especially from the point of view of social adaptation. What do you think?

Vladimir Putin: I'll be honest with you - I haven't seen this series. I just don't have the time. And since I haven't seen it, I would rather not give you an answer the way things used to be in the Soviet Union: I denounce Solzhenitsyn, though I haven't read him, but I denounce him anyway. I wouldn't want to revive those old traditions.

I've heard about this debate. You know, it's like when you look at someone's portrait and try to decide if it looks like the person or not. You may think that it doesn't but the artist says: That's the way I see him.

Maybe this is the way the director of this programme sees the situation in the Russian education system. Maybe that's how he sees young people and the next generation. It doesn't mean that young people are exactly like that. It's his vision - but it's not necessarily the truth.

Let me repeat - I'm too busy to keep up, but I know this series has come under a lot of criticism. We have a lot of problems - that's a fact. A lot of people have problems and a lot of organisations have problems. But I don't think it's fair to make generalisations and talk about trends, no matter how serious some individual cases may be.

We are aware of problems and we try to respond to them. And in society... Schools and universities are port of society, and the processes we see there reflect the processes developing in the country as a whole.

We should probably take note of it but there is certainly no need for hysterics. That's not just unproductive, but is also harmful. Although it makes sense that we are made to think about these acute problems in our lives. This way we become more aware of our problems and respond to them more quickly and efficiently.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, I'm a fourth year medical student. Here in Cheboksary everything is more or less all right. Life is quiet and stable. You can walk around the streets at night, which is not true of other cities, which have more crime. What measures are being taken to ensure the safety of foreigners?

Vladimir Putin: That is a big problem. Unfortunately, we have all heard of very sad cases, even tragedies, that happened to foreign students in our country in the past.

I think the authorities have shown a response that is commensurate with the threat. As a result, in 2009 interethnic and interfaith crimes were halved compared with 2008. Crimes against foreign students fell by 34%.

We have set up an interdepartmental group at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other regional bodies.

I repeat: On the whole, we have seen a good result. But, of course, we cannot stop at that. We are going to continue to work hard. First of all, we need to strengthen the role of police. But most importantly we need to educate people about fighting xenophobia. People need to realise that from the first days of its existence as a state, Russia developed as a multiethnic and a multi-faith country.

We have always had a very strong tradition of being respectful towards other cultures and religions. That has always been one of our country's strengths. And this tolerance is what has helped create this huge state that is the Russian Federation today. We need to be very clear about this. These fundamental and elementary moral principles need to be learned from the earliest age.

Question: Mr Putin, I have a question about state policy. Could you please explain how the single database of job vacancies is going to work and when it is going to become available?

Vladimir Putin: Do you mean the information network we're working on at the moment? OK, let me explain. We are creating a single information network that is going to contain all the data from job centres and various recruitment agencies. It will also have information about the situation in the economy and about the skills and professions that are currently in demand in the job market across the country. The network is being created at the moment. I think it's going to become available in June.

Question: Mr Putin, I also have a question about employment. My name is Katya and I'm a student at the Design Department. For the past two years I've been running my own business, specialising in designing and making uniforms for personnel in the service industry. I have also made some individually designed clothes for women.

Vladimir Putin: And how is it going?

Katya: Quite well, thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I won't ask you about your income. It's probably a business secret.

Katya: It is a pretty good income for a student. But I am going to graduate soon and it's time to get serious. I have enough orders but, unfortunately, I have to work from home because I can't afford to rent a studio and buy equipment. I suppose it would be a good solution to cooperate with the University. I mean working out of the Cheboksary State University. The University has heard my proposal and has agreed to support me. Especially since my company could provide jobs for our graduates. But there are certain obstacles. For example, the procedure for leasing premises is extremely drawn out. Can the University handle this matter alone? And can our students and graduates be granted either certain benefits or guarantees to be granted the right to participate in certain tenders? As you know at he moment these tenders offer equal terms to both young professionals and experienced businesspeople.

Vladimir Putin: Let's take your questions one by one. First of all, you may know that last year we adopted a law that grants universities the right to set up small innovative businesses. If what you are doing corresponds to your main subject of study, this law also applies to you. We had very heated debates about this law, but it has been adopted and it is being enforced. I don't remember the exact figure but I think about 150 firms have been set up at 51 educational establishments. And how many such businesses have been set up at your University?

Katya: Ten.

Vladimir Putin: Ten, already. As I understand, you've got a functioning business already and all you need to do is get the right status for it. You need to register it as a company set up at this University. Last year we adopted a resolution on connecting all small businesses to energy grids using a simplified procedure and providing them with premises. Above all, this applies to premises that have already been occupied by small and medium-sized companies: They are entitled to extend their leasehold or to buy the premises in which they have been working, and they can do this bypassing the general tender. If you are working now or have worked somewhere in the past, you can take advantage of this. Or, if the University has premises that it can rent out to you, there is only one condition: This space cannot be one of the former classrooms. I mean that a university should not be reduced to a factory-it should above all be a factory for training qualified specialists. This is also a product of intellectual activity.

What matters-perhaps, less in your case, though it applies in your case as well-is that the intellectual product obtained by the University or your department, on the premises and with the use of equipment granted by the state-this intellectual product can be vested in the authorised capital of an enterprise in the making. Basically, it is another element of support from the state because this intellectual product is obtained with the use of state property, and you can also invest it.

As to the practice of allotting premises, which is a matter of great importance, of course-this is largely a prerogative of the president of the republic and above all, the mayor of your city. If the University has any problems in this area, the president will support it.

Student: She has another advantage now, Mr Putin. She can tell everyone that she sat right next to the prime minister and discussed this issue with him as part of the strategy on small business development, innovation-based economy, and so on.

Vladimir Putin: Well done! I see a very smart manager in the making here. You've got the right idea.

Student: Mr Putin, I'm a dentistry student and I've recently received...

Vladimir Putin: I'm scared already.

Student: ...a patent. It is my first patent. I would like to continue my research at the University. I've heard about federal universities and research universities that are opening around the country. Is it possible to set up a Chuvash research university here, on the basis of our university?

Vladimir Putin: You're involved in research?

Student: Yes, my work deals with improving dental instruments and making the work easier...

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry that I'm asking you questions-I know I am here to answer your questions. But I'm very interested in what you're saying. Now, as to research and specialised schools. There are already 21 such centres round the country, including seven federal universities. The rest are research institutes. They are selected on the basis of a competition and a special commission carries out an in-depth study of every school's research and academic work and its prospects. We support such schools by granting them a special status, which is followed by modest but still necessary financial backing, which is mainly used to upgrade their facilities and laboratories. Your university has already made its mark and can claim such a status. The only requirement is to submit state-of-the-art educational programmes.

Student: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You are welcome.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, my name is Elie, and I'm from Haiti. First of all, I'd like to thank Russia for the aid it has extended so promptly. I also want to thank our university's management for waiving tuition and accommodation fees for four Haitian students.

Unfortunately, there is neither a Haitian embassy, nor a consular office in Russia, and there is no Russian embassy in Haiti. Are there any plans to open such diplomatic missions in the future?

Vladimir Putin: First, please accept my sincere condolences on the tragedy that has afflicted your country, and on the loss of hundreds of thousands of human lives. We feel great sadness for the Haitian people, and will continue to help in every way we can.

We sympathise, and we will certainly try our best to help you, as we did during the first days of the tragedy when we dispatched our rescuers and medical crews. Our medical crews are still working there. As for students and representative offices here... As you know, it is necessary to restore the normal functioning of the government and government bodies, as well to ensure proper medical assistance. As you can see, the fact that we have no diplomatic mission does not prevent us from providing aid.
As for the opening of an embassy or a consulate, this will proceed in accordance with the plans of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To tell the truth, I don't know the Ministry'|s plans, but it is obvious that a new building for an embassy or a consulate - for the diplomatic mission - is not a top priority now.

People have nowhere to live. At present we need to address the most acute problems. Maybe it would be more appropriate if the funds that could be spent on a new building for our embassy or consulate were given to Haitians as humanitarian aid.

As far as I remember, there are 74 or 75 Haitian students in Russia.

Remark: There will be 76.

Vladimir Putin: There were 75 students. Several dozen of them receive education for free, the rest paying for it. We decided to provide scholarships from the federal budget to the latter.

Remark: Thank you.

Question: Mr Putin, we have touched on intellectual products today. I have studied the issue of intellectual property protection and legal regulations for two years.
I wonder whether intellectual property is adequately protected and whether in your opinion any changes to current legislation are required.

Vladimir Putin: There has been a lot of discussion about this issue as of late. The government is keeping an eye on all issues related to intellectual property and its reverse, piracy. We are continuing our active negotiations to join the World Trade Organisation, which will require us to meet certain requirements and improve our legislation. This, of course, requires thorough scrutiny and adoption of international standards. We will continue moving in this direction.

Did you want to add anything?

Question: Mr Putin, I wanted to ask you about scientific and research centres. This month you talked about the opening of a big centre at the Kurchatov Research Institute and the creation of five to seven more such centres in Russia in the future. I would like to know where they will be set up, and whether people from different regions will be able to work there.

Vladimir Putin: We have established a research centre at the Kurchatov Institute, as you have just mentioned. These are five big academic institutions that boast unique histories and high levels of research. They were chosen primarily to complement each other: every centre must complement the others to make research comprehensive. We wanted to achieve a synergetic effect, as they say these days.

We need research at the intersection of scientific disciplines such as biotechnology, nuclear physics and so on.

This will be our guiding principle when we open research centres in the future. The Ministry of Education and Science has a clear vision of how and where to organise this. The minister is here today, and he can tell you a lot about it. However, this does not mean that these centres will be only established in one place.

Let's take the abovementioned centre, the Kurchatov Institute. It includes the institute in Gatchina, which is in the Leningrad region, an entierely different region. The ability to carry out joint research is what is important to achieve the results the country needs, not location. This is the basic principle for new centres.
As for locations, the ministry is working on this right now and will submit proposals to the government.

Question: Mr Putin, may I ask one more question?

Vladimir Putin: Please do.

Question: It is well known that you have a busy schedule. Do you manage to spend time with your family? Do you see them at all?

Vladimir Putin: I do. By the way, I need to call my daughters for today's holiday. I haven't had time to call them yet, but I'll certainly do so.

Question: One more question if you don't mind. How did you celebrate New Year?

Vladimir Putin: I celebrated it at home.

Question: What about the Christmas holidays, if you had any?

Vladimir Putin: I was at home too. I worked in Moscow most of the time, without going anywhere.

Question: Mr Putin, as a history student, I also have an informal question. You often visit Russian regions and towns and cities abroad. You see one-of-a-kind buildings and architectural masterpieces. What building or architecture style has impressed you the most?

Vladimir Putin: The Kremlin!

Question: Mr Putin, I have a question that's somewhat about women.

Vladimir Putin: Somewhat?

Question: Yes. When dating girls today, young people often forget to be romantic...

Vladimir Putin: How are they dating them if this is the case?

Remark: It happens like that sometimes! What is the most romantic thing you have ever done for a girl, if it's not a secret?

Vladimir Putin: Of course it's a secret! You want me to tell you about everything right here!

Remark: So that guys can follow your example.

Vladimir Putin: But this is such an intimate subject, and so I think that it's best not to discuss it in public, no matter how much I respect those who will look at us and listen. This is a personal issue, so please don't be upset with me.

As for the dating you mentioned, it is a romantic activity as such. I cannot even imagine how it could be about anything else.

Remark: It can.

Vladimir Putin: Can it? Are you talking about the physical aspect?

Remark: No, only romance.

Vladimir Putin: You are talking about romance and not the physical aspect, right?

Question: Mr Putin, not long ago you bought a Niva car to support our domestic carmakers. What can you say about it? Have you driven it a lot?

Vladimir Putin: Certainly not. I keep it in Sochi, but I use it. I drive it around the residence, and I went to the mountains with our supervisors from the IOC - Mr Felli and Mr Killy. They enjoyed the trip, as did I.

As you know, global carmakers were hit the hardest last year. I don't remember the exact figures, but production decreased by about 25%-30% in Japan and the United States. It dropped considerably in Europe as well.

This means they started selling more to us than before, for example from Western Europe.

Production also declined at the AvtoVAZ auto plant, but Nivas are selling well because they are relatively inexpensive by European standards. The Niva's quality is not bad and meets existing standards. This is a simple and reliable car with off-road capabilities.

However, I won't hide the fact that the car I bought is more powerful because it has an Opel engine. It is easy to drive and quite good on Russian roads, especially in the countryside and mountains and in winter. It's got good off-road capabilities, and its horsepower meets all other standards. It's a good car.

Remark: If you like it, everyone will like it.

Vladimir Putin: Well, not necessarily, why? Tastes differ.

Remark: Mr Putin, every day you have a very busy schedule. You see hundreds of people, and more often than not you meet outstanding people, artistic people, politicians...

Vladimir Putin: Everyone here is in that category as well.

Remark: Yes, thank you. It is clear that not all people leave a deep imprint or kind memories in your soul...

Vladimir Putin: If they all left a deep imprint, I would have gone crazy by now.

Remark: But still what type of people have made the best impressions?

Vladimir Putin: Decent and tolerant people.

Question: Mr Putin, I am also a student from Haiti. I take classes at night. I would like to ask you the following question. If foreign students want to transfer to a new university they first have to leave the country in order to get a new visa and then come back. Could this procedure for transferring be simplified?

Vladimir Putin: All this can be adjusted. We must think this over. The Ministry of Education and Science can submit a request to the government. We will work with the Migration Service and the Ministry of the Interior. I think that all similar problems can be resolved.

Question: Thank you very much for finding the time to visit our beloved university and our beautiful capital. When you became president, world-famous politicians and journalists asked: ‘Who is Putin?' That was a common question then. Now everyone understands that you are great.

Vladimir Putin: You know since you are a foreigner I can imagine that you do not have as rich a vocabulary as a Russian person, and I can give you some leeway for using this definition. However, I'm still alive, thank God, and it is a little early for me to think of myself as a living saint. No matter what positions we occupy, we must work every day like St Francis on the plot of land allotted to us by the Lord, and then we will be successful.

Therefore, the definition of ‘great' or ‘not great' is a question for later on. Future generations will evaluate what I have actually done today.

Question: We know that Russian colleges and universities train well-educated specialists. This is why foreigners come to study here. But we have problems with Russian diplomas in many countries. Could this be changed?

I'd like to ask a second question if I may.

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Question: When foreigners come to study here, quite often they do not know a word of Russian. Could they study Russian at embassies in their respective countries?

Vladimir Putin: I will start with your first question about the recognition of Russian diplomas. Russia is among the top ten countries in training specialists. I think we are eighth in the number of foreign students in our educational institutions. Students from 150 countries study in Russia, and their number is growing.

This means that the product of our educational system (a young specialist) is of high quality. Recognition of diplomas does not often depend on the level of education of a young professional, but is instead connected with agreements between governments. As a rule, recognition is reciprocal. Today we have relevant agreements with 100 countries and we will try to increase this number.           

We are working with Europe and other countries on a number of programmes and will continue doing so. But this does not depend solely on us. This is a bilateral or multilateral effort. The programme for modernizing the educational system, in particular introducing a Master's degree, also focuses on this issue. We want our graduates to have more opportunities for using the knowledge they have gained. This could be in Russia or anywhere else, and not necessarily in their native countries. We are continuing this process. I have nothing more to say about this.

As for the Russian language, this is a very important issue. It would be better if we could teach Russian to people who want to study here in advance. Also, more people would like to study here in that case. We are aware of this fact, and we are trying to act on this issue, first of all in other CIS countries. We are sending textbooks there, training Russian-language teachers and starting courses. We would like to do this in more countries. Education over the internet and using modern technology play a big role in this respect. But you are certainly right. If a network of such courses were established, many more people would come to study here. We realise this and we will work to make this happen.

Question: Mr Putin, I worked on our university's construction crew this year. Could our crew be sent to Sochi for the Olympic preparations?

Vladimir Putin: Sure. I will talk with the republic's leader. I will also ask my deputy who is in charge of Olympic facilities in Sochi to consider, together with the Ministry of Education and Science, the possibility of involving students in the Olympic preparations during their holidays. We must also find men and women who are currently students to work with guests and athletes during the Olympics. We must recruit volunteers. We will work to this end.

Question: Mr Putin, may I ask you a question? You travel much and meet students in different countries. Are Russian students different from them? What can you say about Russian students?

Vladimir Putin: In principle, students are the same everywhere. There are more reasons to speak about the differences between people in Russia and other countries. These differences have to do with our culture, religious and other traditions. Of course there are some unique features. This is true of all social strata, including students. But I wouldn't say that our students are different from foreign students.

Question: My name is Stepan Shevertalov. I took part in the first Russian ski trek to the North Pole for young people.

Vladimir Putin: You went to the North Pole?

Stepan Shevertalov: Yes, in 2008. Boris Smolin was the head of this expedition.

Vladimir Putin: How many people went?

Stepan Shevertalov: Seven.

Vladimir Putin: Seven?

Stepan Shevertalov: Our Russian team had seven people.

The expedition was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary since the discovery of the North Pole. Our goal was to reach the pole by a certain date.

Vladimir Putin: Was it in March?

Stepan Shevertalov: April.

Vladimir Putin: It was not so cold then. How cold was it?

Stepan Shevertalov: The coldest if got was minus 32 C, but it felt like it was about minus 40-45 degrees because of permanent winds and drift.

Vladimir Putin: Where did you start?

Stepan Shevertalov: Eighty-nine degrees north of the equator.

Vladimir Putin: Did you get there by helicopter?

Stepan Shevertalov:
First we took a plane to a place called Banelo, then we took a helicopter to the starting point 89 degrees north of the equator, and from there we skied to the North Pole.

Vladimir Putin: How long did it take you to get there?

Stepan Shevertalov: Six days.

Vladimir Putin: How many kilometres did you cover a day?

Stepan Shevertalov: Our best time was 35 kilometres in ten hours. We had 30- instead of 24-hour days - ten hours for walking, five hours for setting up tents, ten hours for rest and five hours for getting ready to move.

I'd like to ask a question. Seven sports centres have been built in Russia through the relevant federal programme. Will this programme be continued, and how is it being carried out?

Vladimir Putin: It will be continued. This programme is being carried out with United Russia's support. I must admit that my colleagues in this party made quite an effort to secure the required funding for this programme during the crisis. So this programme will be continued.

I have just spoken with the President of the Republic of Chuvashia (Nikolai Fyodorov). This is what we have fully agreed on: crime has fallen significantly in Russia, and so have alcoholism and smoking among young people. This improvement is largely due to widespread sports and fitness programmes, so their effect is here for all to see. We have set this target, and we are achieving it. So our efforts must go on.

Question: Another question, please. Much attention was paid to hiking programmes for children during Soviet times. Now, hiking is not as popular in Chuvashia. Is it possible to start a relevant programme for children and young people in Russia to promote hiking?

Vladimir Putin: To be honest, I am not sure about children's and young people's hiking. As for children's and young people's sports in general, the Ministry of Sports has started a relevant programme. It includes building football and other fields, offering physical education classes at school, holding competitions between schools and regions, etc, etc. As for children's hiking, I cannot say anything for sure just now. But I will certainly address this issue.

This is a good question. We need to examine it. In general, children's and young people's sports have been making considerable progress in Russia recently, and this progress will go on. I will see to hiking, I promise.

Response: Right now, parents have to pay for children's hikes.

Vladimir Putin: I see. We will see what we can do about this. Families should spend their leisure time together in an affordable way. Some extra programmes are needed. We will think it over.

Response: Mr Putin, I am studying to be a dentist. We all know you enjoy downhill skiing. You are an example for all of us. We, too, are learning to ski and are taking part in national amateur skiing competitions.

Vladimir Putin: That's great! What country are you from?

Response: Kenya.

Vladimir Putin: You can hardly do much skiing in Kenya but you have every opportunity in Russia, and I am glad you are using it. Skiing really is a good, invigorating sport. You are sure to like it.

Response: Mr Putin, a foreigner arriving in Russia has only three months to register. Can this period be prolonged?

Vladimir Putin: As you know, a foreigner arriving in Russia to study receives a migration card after crossing the border, and does not have to register upon arrival at the university-just check in, which is quite different.

The registration formalities are entirely up to the university, which gives you a certificate to send to the Migration Service within three days. This is far simpler than actual registration.

There are bigger problems for countries that do not have visa-free travel with Russia. This is connected with employment, etc. But this is a separate issue.

As for checking in, it has been simplified here and, I repeat, it is for the university to see to all formalities.

Response: Mr Putin, what personal traits have helped you to lead such a successful life?

Vladimir Putin: Love for my country, if there really are any achievements to speak of.

Response: You have just mentioned new R&D centres. To what an extent, do you think, is Russian business willing to invest in basic research?

Vladimir Putin: As you know, businesspeople always, or at least mostly, prefer to invest in fields where they can earn as much as possible as quickly as possible. It takes lucrative conditions to interest business in advanced technologies. This especially concerns credit for the commodity and service markets. We will continue relevant customs policies at least to satisfy our own market. We will give out loans and establish the major R&D centres we have already talked about. Such centres can offer marketable commodities even now. As for your area of expertise, nanotechnologies, it is a highly promising discipline.

Response: It is hard to find jobs.

Vladimir Putin: I know the problem. That is why we have authorised universities to establish small and medium-size high tech companies. We are drawing up another programme to develop the infrastructure of high tech small and medium companies. Last year, when the crisis was at its peak, we had to assist all small and medium-size companies without exception, because we needed to save jobs, because people needed jobs. This year we want our monetary and lending policies to influence the structure of small and medium-size business to ensure that advanced technology develops. We invested 10.5 billion roubles in this field through regional budgets last year. This investment has been doubled, if I am not mistaken. Funding through Vnesheconombank has been increased by several times, to 40 billion roubles, and I hope such funding will hit the 100 billion mark by this year's end. We have put aside another ten billion roubles worth of government money for direct federal funding, and we will work further along these lines.

Question: I would like to ask a question as an investor. My family has invested in equity construction, where the situation is very complex. Are there plans to change the relevant legislation in investors' favour? Right now a company raises funds and then gets bankrupt in no time, leaving investors with nothing. Will the new law increase management's criminal liability for such acts?

Vladimir Putin: We should understand that there is a difference between people involved in equity construction to get accommodation for themselves and people investing in the construction of five to fifteen flats to make a profit. This situation is quite different. It's just business.
When such investors are swindled, they have largely themselves to blame. They should have checked the company thoroughly before they entrusted their money to it instead of leaving the project unattended. But then, the state, too, should not have overlooked rampant fraud in this area, of which we see many instances to this day. Relevant laws certainly will be amended in the interests of the public.

Question: Mr Putin, Chuvashia is one of the most densely populated parts of Russia, and so has ample labour resources. Is there a federal project to develop labour-intensive industries?

Vladimir Putin: What exactly do you mean? Unskilled labour, or what? We should certainly give priority to developing high-tech industries, on which Russia's future depends.

Response: But what about employment?

Vladimir Putin: Everyone will find a job if Russia offers competitive goods in the world market. Regrettably, advanced technologies are still unavailable in many industries. Besides, things are now actually pretty good in the labour market.

We only have unemployment due to the crisis. Here are some examples I often cite. Take, for example, our steel industry. It is largely export-oriented. 50-60% of its total output was exported taken abroad. That was why companies were expanding and hired more workers. Then, foreign demand shrank. It is pointless-downright ridiculous-to buy up excess production for national reserves just so that it can be unused and rust.

So production fell and people lost their jobs. To avoid situations like this in the future, we need a diversified economy. Whenever something goes wrong in one industry, its personnel and facilities could smoothly transfer to others, which need them more.

Response: But that's not as simple as you say. The personnel would need retraining.

Vladimir Putin: You are right. That was why we allocated 43.7 billion roubles to support the labour market last year. A major part of the money was spent on personnel retraining.

Question: I am a sixth year student of the Paediatrics Department. Right now we are reforming healthcare in Russia. Medical centres are being built, and general practitioners' and rural doctors' salaries are being increased.

Will young specialists in ordinary urban hospitals also have their salaries increased?

Vladimir Putin: I am sure you realise what a huge job reforming the mandatory health insurance system is. I don't want to go into details now but, as you know, a decision was made several years ago to support general practitioners and nurses, and their wages went up. Some regions also increased specialists' salaries a bit, lest nurses earn more than qualified doctors.

We saw, however, that this distortion was inevitable, considering the intolerable situation in Russian healthcare, and the desperate shortage of nurses. The institution of nursing had been utterly degraded. No one wanted to be a nurse. It was absolutely obvious we needed to do things differently.

We have often talked about this. And these new medical services institutions should be connected to the fact that agencies are not paid merely to exist, but for the amount and quality of care they provide. This is what the new arrangement must ensure.

The transition is painful because bad hospitals and clinics have to close or at least cut their personnel.

As you know, there are as many hospital beds in Russia as in other European countries, but our healthcare is inferior because Russian medical institutions are funded merely because they exist, and not depending on the quality and amount of care they provide.

Chuvashia has made major progress in this respect, and is setting an example for other parts of the country because it is actively carrying out reform. I remember visiting these new medical centres here a few years ago, and they were working very efficiently.

That is what must be gradually done all over Russia. Then doctors and nurses will surely earn more. The salary increase will certainly go hand-in-hand with mandatory health insurance reforms.

These reforms need budget funding at the beginning. This is problematic, because we began pension reform this year, which required an extra 700 billion roubles-a huge sum. Similar steps of a comparable scope in healthcare and other areas will be barely affordable. They are inevitable, however.

Response: So a doctor would make the more money the better he treats his patients.

Vladimir Putin: This is the way it will be: the state requires you to perform a certain number of surgical operations. You do this surgery and get money for it. But if no patients come to you for surgery, you get no money.

Patients will go to well-organised hospitals. This might sound primitive, but that's the way things really are.

Question: I have a question about your answer because I will be a doctor and it concerns me. Young doctors will have to compete with experienced ones, but such competition is unfair-who wants to go to a beginner?

Vladimir Putin: A young doctor has every chance for rapid progress in a strong, competitive professional situation. That is the natural way to improve professionally. Naturally, good doctors with long work records should make more money. Egalitarianism is out of place here.

Question: Mr Putin, you have mentioned another reform: mandatory medical insurance reform. Does it mean healthcare services will partly shift to a paying system, as it is in Europe?

Vladimir Putin: No. Government resources should cover it. Essential government resources will suffice to keep the system going if they are spent with due thrift.

Question: Mr Putin, there is a project in Chuvashia for the construction of a plant to process garbage and fuel waste. Can the project have federal support?

Vladimir Putin: Processing waste is profitable around the world. If the project really needs support, it should come as loans.

I haven't seen the business plan, and don't know the vital statistics for this project, but if the city and the region really need the plant, municipal and regional authorities should apply for aid.

What form might such assistance take? It might be guarantees for a loan. If the project really needs credit the regional and municipal budgets cannot afford, it is possible to apply to Vnesheconombank or the federal government.

The government can act as guarantor or convince major banks with state participation-Vnesheconombank, Vneshtorgbank, Sberbank or Gazprombank-to make the loan. Bankers must see the business plan beforehand, of course.

Nikolai Fedorov, the President of the Republic of Chuvashia: Mr Putin, allow me to thank this student for his comment.

I have already drafted a letter to you on this topic because we are working...

Vladimir Putin: I see, you've brought me here on purpose!

Nikolai Fedorov: That's our job. The Investment Fund has sufficient money and a provision enabling the republic to apply for federal funding if it co-funds the project. A clean environment will become our principal economic goal after we finish gasification and build decent roads in every community. Here is Chuvashia, we work to ensure that life and work are as comfortable as possible for these and other young people.

I think environmental issues-in particular, waste processing-are very important in every part of Russia. Waste processing, however profitable it may be, requires sizable investment, so we expect the largest possible construction costs and think federal allocations will be necessary sooner or later. All my colleagues will agree with this point, as I see it.

Question: Mr Putin, will you answer another question, please?

When I was taking part in the national Seliger forum in Bashkortostan last summer, our project was in the top hundred in my category.

Vladimir Putin: What was it?

Response: A small garment-making company that would produce modern clothing with some elements taken from folk costumes.

I think the forum gave every student a unique chance to implement his or her practical ideas. Will there be any other events as the Seliger forum to help young people to realise themselves and achieve success?

Vladimir Putin: I can propose repeating the Seliger forum, and there is an idea to hold such forums on the regional level.

Voice: The City Foundation was established last year.

Vladimir Putin: So you can go on in the same vein.

Question: What should we do for you to come to the mini Seliger this year?

Vladimir Putin: I can come if you notify me with a letter in due time and I can make the necessary arrangements in my schedule. If I have nothing more important to do, I will certainly come. Thank you for the invitation.