Putin holds annual ‘Direct Line’ Q&A in Moscow

June 30, 2021

Putin holds annual ‘Direct Line’ Q&A in Moscow
The transcript will be posted here when it is complete.  http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/65973

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Good afternoon.

We are broadcasting Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

The moderators in this studio are Nailya Asker-zade

Nailya Asker-zade: …and Yekaterina Berezovskaya.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Our colleagues, Tatyana Remezova and Natalya Yuryeva, are working with volunteers in the Message Processing Centre.

Last year we combined two projects, the annual news conference and Direct Line. The format of today’s event is different. The focus is on direct communication, only the President and the people, without unnecessary intermediaries.

Nailya Asker-zade: During today’s live broadcast, you will often hear about a special platform, the Moskva – Putinu mobile app. It is a kind of a guide or entry pass to this programme, which is available to everyone.

So, President of Russia Vladimir Putin is on the air.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Natalya Yuryeva: We are in the Message Processing Centre, the heart of Direct Line. As you can see, right behind me an editor is processing a call. You can see the numbers for your calls and text messages on the screen.

The only way to personally address the President is via videoconference with the help of the Moskva – Putinu special mobile application, and the President will possibly answer your call.

Tatyana Remezova: Hard and meticulous work is underway in the Message Processing Centre. As of now, we have received nearly 2 million questions. Whatever many people say, telephone calls and text messages remain the most popular means of communication; together, they account for over a million questions. But many people are also making use of the Moskva – Putinu application, which has been downloaded over 650,000 times.

Just like last year, we are being assisted by volunteers. They have been working with the questions for a second week now, and many of the people’s problems have been settled even before this programme began.

Mr President, considering my experience at other Direct Lines, I can assume that you will be able to answer no more than 70 or 80 questions. What happens to other questions, as there are already nearly two million of them?

Vladimir Putin: I would also like to begin our current meeting with this, and here is what I would like to say.

In 2019, over one million questions were received when the Direct Line took place in this full format. And many hundreds of thousands of questions were asked last year when the Direct Line was combined with the Big News Conference. I would like to assure you – to make what would seem to be a self-assured statement, but, nevertheless, I would just like to say that we try to make sure that not a single question goes unnoticed.

As I have already mentioned, over one million questions were received in 2019. Over 500,000 questions have already been processed today, moreover, specific answers have been provided. Work continues on some of them because, to respond properly and positively, it is necessary to amend the regulatory framework and to include the resolution of these questions in regional budgets or even the federal budget.

It would be impossible to conduct this large-scale job without the assistance of the Russian Popular Front and other public organisations that have joined this work and cooperate very actively with administrations at various levels, including local, regional and federal, in order to help people.

This, of course, helps me because I receive all the questions. But I would now like to address the volunteers and people who are processing these questions, and I would like to thank them on behalf of the citizens because, of course, I receive the questions, but you help ordinary Russian citizens, and I would like to thank you very much for this.

I hope that we will organise the same productive work following today’s event, although I hope that we will be able to address the problems that interest people the most during our direct conversations, and we will try and resolve some of them during our current conversation.

Thank you very much.

Nailya Asker-zade: People with hearing impairments can watch a special sign-language version of our programme on the Public Television of Russia (OTR).

I suggest moving on to specific questions.

Of course, people are mostly concerned about the new COVID-19 wave. New virus mutations appear, and people want to know whether there are any clear rules. Why is it that the authorities stipulate an allegedly voluntary vaccination, while two-thirds of people working in certain sectors have to get vaccinated in Moscow and some other regions? Why are mass events allegedly banned but it is possible to hold the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship? What should be done so that governors, officials and ordinary citizens get to know what the exact rules are?

Vladimir Putin: This is very simple. As for the UEFA Euro 2021, of course, first of all, we had to fulfil the obligations that the state had assumed regarding hosting these major sporting events.

But, in general, it is very simple to understand what is happening in this sphere. All you need to do is have a look at the law. As you may recall, I once said that I do not support mandatory vaccination, and I continue to adhere to this point of view. We need to look at the law of, I believe, 1998, about the immune protection of the population which comprises two main parts – a national immunisation schedule, which is mandatory, this vaccination is mandatory. Some of our colleagues suggested transferring vaccination against the coronavirus infection to this nationwide immunisation schedule, the nationwide programme. But the State Duma deputies did not support this motion, so, COVID vaccination did not make it to this section of the nationwide vaccination programme and is not mandatory nationwide.

However, the second part of this law says that in the event of an increase in the number of cases and in the event of an epidemic in separate regions of the Russian Federation and upon the recommendation of chief sanitary doctors, regional heads can introduce mandatory vaccination for certain groups of people, especially risk groups. The heads of 10 constituent entities of the Russian Federation used this regulation to introduce mandatory vaccination for certain risk groups. This was carried out under the 1998 law.

Therefore, there is no confusion in Russia, and everyone is acting in accordance with the law that I just mentioned.

Nailya Asker-zade: So, there will be no nationwide lockdown, right?

Vladimir Putin: This is a different question. Our colleagues’ efforts in 10 regions aim to prevent the need for a lockdown, when entire enterprises are shut down and people find themselves out of work or without income; small and medium-sized businesses go bankrupt and individual incomes decline. Certain regions introduced these mandatory vaccination-related rules for certain groups of the population to prevent this from happening.

As you are aware, experts have already mentioned this many times on television, online and in many media outlets, on all television channels, that vaccination is the only way to put an end to further spread of the pandemic. We can do this since we have four high-tech, safe and very effective vaccines. So, I hope some of our citizens who are still biased about the vaccines will change their minds as the vaccination continues. Over 20 million – I believe, 23 million people – have been vaccinated. As you can see, everything is okay and, thankfully, we do not have any tragic vaccination side effects as is the case with AstraZeneca or Pfizer.

Nailya Asker-zade: You have reassured me regarding the lockdown.

Vladimir Putin: I hope so.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we know that you know about the vaccine from your personal experience, and you have become an example for the whole country. However, we have a question. If I may, I will read a text message we have received.

Vladimir Putin: Please do.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Tell us the truth: Did the President get vaccinated or not? Why is there no video?”

Other people are asking which vaccine you received; there are many similar questions. Everyone wants to know.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

I was indeed asked not to reveal which vaccine I received so as not to give it a competitive advantage. But I can see that there are very many questions regarding this.

As for the video, I do not believe that showing it is so important. What if you receive the jab not in the arm but in some other part of the body? Would I be obliged to show the video nevertheless?

Look, there are many crooks around who pretend to be getting vaccinated. Regrettably, the medics often play along, making the shot with some unknown substance, maybe not even a medication.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Just saline?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, just saline or nothing at all.

I hope that the majority of our people understand that when I say that I have taken the jab this is indeed so. I believe that cheating is unacceptable at this level.

As for me, when I got the shot back in February, there were only two vaccines available commercially: EpiVacCorona from the Vektor Centre in Novosibirsk and Sputnik V, as you know. Both vaccines are good. The third one was barely created then and was not available commercially at the time.

Of course, I could have taken any of them. But, strange as it may seem to some people, I did not even consult the doctors. I just looked at what shots my acquaintances had received. As I said, both vaccines are good and modern. The one from the Vektor Centre is wholly synthetic and, as they say, more advanced. But as I could see from the example of my acquaintances – maybe I should not say this, but I nevertheless want to explain my reasoning – the duration of effect of the Vektor vaccine is a bit shorter, although it has other advantages, such as the absence of any side effects at all, specifically fever or any other side effects. But I believed that I needed to be protected for as long as possible, and so I chose to be vaccinated with Sputnik V, especially considering that the military are getting vaccinated with Sputnik V, and I am their Supreme Commander, after all.

I have already talked about this, but I can repeat. I did not feel anything after the first jab, only slightly sore in the shoulder after about four hours. I had my second jab at noon and took my temperature at midnight, it was 37.2. I went to bed and when I woke up it was 36.6. That was it. In about 20 days, I think, I had a blood test that showed that I had a high level of protection. I recommend you do the same.

Did you get vaccinated?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: No, actually. I had COVID-19 not so long ago; it is too early to do it. The Healthcare Ministry recently issued recommendations on vaccination for those who have had COVID-19. If I am not mistaken, they should wait six to 12 months for their natural antibodies to wane.

Nailya Asker-zade: There is time to think.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Now things are clear.

Vladimir Putin: You know, the Healthcare Ministry issued its recommendations, and the World Health Organisation also released its guidelines, only a few days ago.

Normally, when there is no pandemic, it is recommended to get revaccinated in 12 months but when there is a peak or rising morbidity, it is recommended to get inoculated again in six months. These are WHO recommendations.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: My time will be in the autumn, then.

Vladimir Putin: Was it mild?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, I would say so. But what we see on the news and online, so many stories are just terrifying.

Vladimir Putin: People get infected even after they have had the vaccine, in about 10 percent of cases. However, they recover fast and with no serious consequences, which is important. This is what matters, I think. Without a vaccine, this illness may result in quite severe long-term consequences. That is why you, too, should watch your health and go through rehabilitation, if necessary.

Nailya Asker-zade: After hearing your account, many will probably decide they just want Sputnik V – but not everybody. Vaccine hesitancy is explainable: people have doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccines. Do they protect against new strains? You probably know that some people have still fallen ill after getting vaccinated and the incidence rate among such people is high.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I have just mentioned that, about 10 percent, on average. Again, in their case, the illness is mild. Some very famous people have become ill even after getting the vaccine. I do not want to disclose names. After all, it is their private matter. But they are quite famous in Russia. Last week, one of my colleagues got ill. Yesterday I was told he was already back at work. Some people close to me were vaccinated too but still got the coronavirus, unfortunately. But they recovered fairly quickly and did not need any strong medication. I am talking about people in my immediate circle. What I am saying is vaccination makes sense.

I had meetings recently, as you may know, in the Kremlin, we were awarding the Hero of Labour stars and State Prizes to our scientists, including those who had invented the vaccine. Let me reiterate what I heard from them, they speak in public continually: the disease may take a severe turn, but what is worse, it might have remote consequences. This should certainly be considered.

You know there are, there have always been people who believe that no inoculations at all are needed. There are many people in this category.

Nailya Asker-zade: The anti-vaxers.

Vladimir Putin: And not only anti-vax dissidents, there are enough of them both in this country and elsewhere.

What is happening in the world? What are specialists saying? When a sweeping vaccination campaign against the main infections is afoot, it seems that everything is fine and there is no need, as some people believe, to get vaccinated. “Why get a jab? Almost no one is sick.” But as soon as the vaccination level drops to a certain threshold – bang, all of a sudden there is an outbreak and everyone is scrambling to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

We should take our cue from the specialists, not people who do not know much about this matter and listen to rumours. After all, this is happening all around the world. You know, the things I heard: that there is nothing at all, that in reality there is no epidemic. Sometimes I listen to what some people are saying – they seem to be grown-up, educated people. I do not know where they are taking this from. When you tell them that this is happening all over the world, they reply: “Right, country leaders have come into collusion.” Do they have any idea of what is happening in the world, of the contradictions that are plaguing today’s world, where all leaders allegedly upped and conspired with each other? It is all absolute rubbish.

Nailya Asker-zade: But some people believe that the virus has been artificially created.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: This is a point for discussion to this day, a very active discussion, by the way.

Vladimir Putin: This is a different matter: artificial or non-artificial. The question is, how to get protection from it? Wait, like you, until taken ill and then feel cheerful and merry? You are a very young person and in good form, but there are people with a different constitution, with chronic ailments and advanced in age. These are the so-called risk groups, let me repeat it once again. This is dangerous, a danger to life, while being vaccinated is not dangerous. We have not had a single serious complication, nothing: I had a fever of 37.2 [Celsius]. So what? True, my daughter (she was also vaccinated with Sputnik V) had a temperature of 37.5.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: This is also normal.

Vladimir Putin: Also, for just one day, and that was all, nothing more.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let me go over how our work today will be organised.

We have received 2 million appeals, and people continue to write, call and send messages. We collect them and group them by topic. Please note that these are the main topics of people’s appeals. We can choose any, for example, Communications and Internet, and find out what our viewers are interested in.

Vladimir Putin: Ok.

Nailya Asker-zade: Or, for example, healthcare. Of course, everyone is interested in how the fight against COVID is being organised, how the vaccination is going, primary care and availability of medications.

Vladimir Putin: Please pick the one you like best.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, let us focus on the sub-topic “Vaccination and fighting COVID.” Please note that the federal districts are shown at the bottom of the screen. We can choose any and see the cities from which people are sending their questions.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Please also note that we have different types of appeals: some are in video format, others are written text, and there will also be telephone calls and live broadcasts. I propose launching a video call from Moscow. Shall we?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please, any one of them.

Yevgeny Tsvetkov: Yevgeny Tsvetkov, Moscow.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Yevgeny.

Yevgeny Tsvetkov: My wife is a teacher at a Moscow school and has a medical exemption due to a long-standing chronic illness. However, the head of the school does not accept this exemption and wants her to bring a vaccination certificate by July 15. My wife cannot comply, but if she does not, they say they will fire her. Is that legal at all?

Vladimir Putin: I can tell you right away that this is illegal. If there is a medical exemption, no one can ask a person to take the vaccine. I think that the head of the school where your wife works is unaware of this. I hope that he or she hears this and lifts these illegal demands.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let’s continue to take questions on this topic.

I see we have a message from Omsk. A person, who had recovered from the coronavirus, was discharged from the hospital and was told that free rehab was available at one of three institutions. One of them had run out of places, and the other one asked for a payment of 50,000 rubles for the service. What do you have to say to this person who recovered from the coronavirus? I was ill as well, and I know that patients need some rehab time.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is true, and we are now busy trying to organise this. Actually, there has never been any rehabilitation system as a factor of improving health after illnesses in Russia.

Nailya Asker-zade: But we had health resorts back during the Soviet era, did we not?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we had health resorts, and we still have them. Incidentally, they usually worked as holiday hotels or ordinary hotels. But this was back in the Soviet times, when we had many things and did not have many others.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We did not have COVID.

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, there was no COVID, thankfully.

Vladimir Putin: But there were other diseases. Incidentally, the vaccination system was quite strict in the Soviet Union, nearly all vaccinations were mandatory. Did anyone ask the parents’ permission when their children were vaccinated at schools? Nobody did, everyone was vaccinated.

Nailya Asker-zade: Were you vaccinated like that too?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course, why not? I was from a simple workers’ family. My parents were workers. Who asked them? Nobody did. And nobody asked me either. We were simply lined up in the school’s medical room, were given our jabs just like that and off we went. But we had stability when it came to combating infections. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the social system almost disintegrated as well, including in the areas we are discussing now.

We will now invest some serious money; funds have been earmarked in this rehabilitation system, and we will shortly sign contracts for the delivery of the necessary equipment. The trouble is that special equipment is necessary for post-coronavirus rehabilitation, because COVID hits the vascular and respiratory systems, as well as other organs. We are allocating these funds; they are being transferred right now, and we will start working on this project.

As for any paid services, I do not know the reasons for this, but, as I have already mentioned, this case must be looked into. We will do so, if the required information is available.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: If you wish, we can contact the person who asked this question. He is from Omsk.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, let us do it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We will do this later during the programme. We can do this.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us move on now to the Message Processing Centre.

Vladimir Putin: Anyway, the funds for the creation of a post-coronavirus rehabilitation system have been allocated, and the system is being established.

Nailya Asker-zade: We are moving to the Message Processing Centre. Natalya Yuryeva, go ahead please.

Natalya Yuryeva: Our Message Processing Centre is being literally bombarded with questions. There are almost two million questions. Let us find out where people are calling from. For example, I see a message from Moscow. The person who wrote it has not yet introduced himself. Naturally, there are plenty of questions about vaccination. I know that there is one video question. Where from?

Remark: From Moscow.

Natalya Yuryeva: It is also from Moscow. From Yekaterina Kachailova. Let us see a video she sent us.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead please.

Yekaterina Kachailova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

I planned to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but unfortunately, doctors at vaccination centres could not tell me if my illnesses were contraindications for getting a jab. I can check my temperature and blood pressure at home as well, and, of course, I would not go for a jab if I feel sick.

Could you please tell me where I can get qualified aid and an answer to my question: What are the risks and consequences of this jab? Thank you for your help and answer.

Vladimir Putin: Katya, the answer is very simple. It is out in the open. If you have some illnesses, chronic or recent, you do know about them. You are bound to visit your doctor, a specialist who monitors you as a patient. This is the doctor you should address. He must tell you whether you should get a jab or not. Nothing is easier.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: As far as I understand it, she did not get an answer to this question.

Vladimir Putin: No. However, she said she asked about it at vaccination centres where they may not necessarily know the answer. Who works there? Medical nurses and the like. But probably this is a question for narrow specialists who monitor their patients. It is necessary to ask them whether a jab is all right or not. They must know the answer.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest returning to the call centre. Do you have more calls or messages?

Alexander Maksimov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Alexander Maksimov: My name is Sasha Maksimov. I study in the third form of school No. 2070 in Moscow. We will start a new academic year in two months. Please tell us how it will be: at a school desk or at home? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Sasha, I cannot give a definitive answer to your question because we do not know how the coronavirus situation will develop in the country and in the place where you live.

That said, the question is clear, but most likely, children in junior forms will go to school. After all, we hardly ever shut them down during the worst times of the past year, spring and summer. So, most probably, for elementary school, the academic process will be organised in the usual format.

As for the senior school, as I have already said, this will depend on specific circumstances. But I hope that we will eventually reach the level of herd immunity we are talking about, in part, owing to active vaccination, which will allow schools and universities as well as small, medium-sized and large businesses to operate as usual.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we understand that you are now immune to the coronavirus and, probably, to some unfriendly countries.

We have received the following question as an SMS message via the number 04040 from Igor Oboimov in Moscow: Why is Ukraine not listed among these unfriendly countries? Here is another message on the same subject: Will you meet with President Zelensky?

Vladimir Putin: Why is Ukraine not listed among unfriendly countries? This is because I do not regard Ukraine as a country unfriendly towards Russia. I have noted many times, and I can repeat once again that, in my opinion, Ukrainians and Russians are a single people.

See for yourself: The Jews come to Israel from Africa, Europe, and other countries. Black people arrive from Africa, right? Those arriving from Europe speak Yiddish, rather than Hebrew. Although they are diverse, the Jewish people, nevertheless, cherishes its unity.

Well, Israel is far away. We have the Mordvins, one of Russia’s indigenous ethnic groups. This people is subdivided into the Erzya, Moksha and Shoksha ethnic groups, and there are three other ethnic groups. However, all of them consider themselves part of the Mordvin people. Although they speak the language of one ethnic group, the Erzya and the Moksha do not understand each other. Their respective languages are more different than the Russian and Ukrainian languages, but they cherish their unity. There are several reasons why. First, they are smart, and they realise that a breakup yields no positive results and simply weakens an ethnic group. There are also external factors to consider. What do I mean? Since the Middle Ages, efforts have always been made to divide and break up the Russian people. Rzeczpospolita launched this policy because Poland itself wanted to become a great power. Consequently, it tried to split up all nearby ethnic groups around itself. Austro-Hungary continued this policy in the run-up to World War I. But we have to understand this.

How did this country interpret ethnic aspects in the past? There were the Great Russians, the White Russians and the Little Russians. Sometime later, they started dividing the single Russian people under the influence of external factors, and the Bolsheviks also contributed to this process. Unfortunately, we cannot discuss this matter in great detail. By the way, I have thought it over, I will write a separate analytical article, and I will set forth my view of this subject. And I hope that people in Russia and Ukraine will read it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Because people just do not know many things, do not know the history.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, people have no interest in that; they are living in a world of their own. But this is important for all of us.

So, I do not regard the Ukraine people unfriendly. Nothing of the kind. Russians and Ukrainians are a single people. But the Ukrainian leadership, the current authorities of modern Ukraine are clearly unfriendly to us. This is perfectly obvious. Otherwise there is no explanation for the draft law submitted by the Ukrainian President to the Verkhovna Rada, the law on indigenous peoples under which Russians are not an indigenous people in that territory. It defies comprehension. Russians have lived there for centuries, and now they have been declared as non-indigenous people. What can this lead to? As a result, part of these people could emigrate. But where would they go? They have flats, jobs and so on in Ukraine. And so they will have to reregister [as Ukrainians], because they would be second-class citizens otherwise. This would reduce the overall number of Russians. This effect will be comparable to the negative impact of weapons of mass destruction. This is serious. This is pushing the Russian language out of everyday life.

You see, there are narrow-minded people and far-right nationalists everywhere; they exist in Russia and also in Ukraine. They are acting in all sincerity, but not wisely. The results of their activities will be destructive. This also concerns the suppression of the opposition in Ukraine.

Viktor Medvedchuk, whom I regard as a Ukrainian nationalist, was seized and confined to his apartment ahead of the election campaign, and they also ordered him to wear an electronic bracelet. Absolutely illegal and unconstitutional decisions have been taken. But nobody is paying any attention to this. This shows people in the country that there are no legal opportunities for the forces which want to develop and strengthen their country, including by developing normal relations with Russia, that they have no chance. They are nipped in the bud: some are jailed, others are placed under house arrest, and still others are simply killed in the street.

Why meet with Zelensky if he has accepted the full external management of his country? The main issues concerning Ukraine’s functioning are not decided in Kiev but in Washington and, partly, in Berlin and Paris. What is there to talk about then?

Nevertheless, I do not refuse to hold such meetings, but I first want to understand what issues we can discuss.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, our editors tell me that we have Yevgeny Tsvetkov on the phone. He is the one who told us about his wife, who is facing dismissal for refusing to get vaccinated because of a medical exemption.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Ecxuse me, but let us first take another call on a related subject, post-COVID rehabilitation.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Nailya Asker-zade: Vladimir Vasilkov from Omsk. The caller is unavailable.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We did not get through the first time, but I think we will reach him during the programme.

Vladimir Putin: Maybe we will get back to this subject later.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, certainly.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us get back to the Message Processing Centre. Tatyana, do you hear us?

Tatyana Remezova: Yes, colleagues, I do, thanks a lot.

We have already processed tens of thousands of questions, analysing them and calling people back to ask for details. The top five most popular subjects include the economy and price hikes. If you enter the word “price” or “prices” into the question database, you get tens of thousands of questions.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Tatyana Remezova: I can see that one of the video addresses was recorded in a grocery store. Let us see it.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Question: Mr President, tell us, please, why bananas from Ecuador – here is the price – are cheaper that carrots grown in neighbouring regions – this is the price tag. Another question is about potatoes: why are they so expensive? How can people, for example, my mother, who lives on a subsistence wage, survive with such food prices? Does anyone control prices in Russia, or do they just appear out of the blue? That is, do people simply think up a figure and then write it on the price tag?

Nailya Asker-zade: If I got it right, carrots cost 110 rubles per kilo and bananas, 70 rubles.

Yekaterina Berezovskya: And butter costs 500–600 rubles.

Vladimir Putin: Look, the global food price indices are the highest in 10 years. Regrettably, this is a global trend; food prices are increasing everywhere.

Of course, this affects us as well, considering that Russia is part of the global economy. There are many reasons for these increases; I will not list all of them, but they include the printing of currency by the main currency issuing countries, the consequences of the coronavirus, the decline in production and jobs, and so on and so forth.

We had the biggest price increases on food last year and early this year. Sugar increased the most, up 41 percent. Sunflower oil followed in its wake.

You probably know what the Government and we said about this. The Government made a number of decisions to control food prices.

Regarding these measures, the first was an agreement between producers and retail networks. The second was subsidies for producers of the final product for the purchase of raw materials at high prices. Later, export duty increases were introduced on foreign trade. Other regulation measures are being discussed, so in general the state is tracking this problem, though maybe sometimes the response is delayed. I spoke about this problem at one of the meetings with the Government. Let me repeat that the above measures are being taken.

Now regarding butter: you said 500–600. Prices on milk are generally stable and, as you know, butter is made from milk. This is why prices on that have increased between 3.5 to 5 percent recently. I would like to emphasise that this is below the inflation rate because the inflation has almost reached 6 percent, 5.9 percent, to be exact. So, this is less than the inflation rate.

That said, there are problems in this respect. This is what I think Valentina was talking about – the so-called borsch basket: carrots, potatoes, etc.

Nailya Asker-zade: She asked why bananas cost less than carrots.

Vladimir Putin: Just a moment. Not only carrots but also potatoes. This is because we ran out of some domestic products. Last year, we produced over 19 million tonnes of potatoes. This year we will have about 22 million – I hope this is more than enough. That is a million tonnes we missed. They bring vegetables not from a next-door region but usually from abroad, from Belarus, or Turkey where it is warmer. Naturally, in this context it is important to look at logistics. How much will it cost with this kind of shipping, and so on.

Naturally, we must keep an eye on this as well, but let me say again that we will soon take in the vegetable harvest, and I hope it will affect prices. That said, the development of agriculture also includes vegetables and fruit, but now we are not fully meeting domestic demand for them.

For instance, we have practically resolved the problem of chicken meat and pork. We produce enough to meet domestic demand and even export them. In fact, we export a lot. By the way, last year agriculture made a record $30 billion on exports, over $30 billion. This has never happened before.

Incidentally, a decision was also made on grain with a view to curbing prices on bread and bakery products inside the country by introducing export quotas and export customs duties.

Recent price hikes on bakery products and sunflower oil have been a mere 0.1 percent. Prices on sugar have also increased by about 0.1 percent. In other words, regulating measures are being taken and are resulting in the desired effect but, unfortunately, not on all food items. We will press on.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest we get back to the topic of agriculture a bit later because we have finally gotten through to Omsk.

Vladimir Vasilkov. Let us have this call on air.

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Vladimir Vasilkov: Hello.

I worked for more than 40 years and was awarded the title of Omsk Region Labour Veteran. I recently received a small increase in my pension but the Labour Veteran title was withdrawn along with my benefits. They used to pay me 550 rubles, which was at least something, and now I am nobody. It was a slap in the face. And I know more people like me.

Nailya Asker-zade: Excuse me, but your question was about your COVID-19 recovery and the rehabilitation you need.

Vladimir Vasilkov: Yes, that is another question that I have.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please, Mr Vasilkov.

As concerns the Labour Veteran title, I know that, unfortunately, it has been an issue in the regions. It is up to regional authorities to award the Labour Veteran title and to withdraw it. I think it absolutely unjustified. They should not take away what has already been given.

Vladimir Vasilkov: I am not the only one.

Vladimir Putin: I know and I believe that this decision was wrong. That is my opinion and I hope Omsk will hear me. There is a general rule, which is stipulated by the Constitution, no less: you cannot deprive people of the benefits they already have. This aspect of the matter must be reviewed carefully by officials at all levels.

Nailya Asker-zade: As I promised, shall we get back to the topic of agriculture?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us see what questions arecoming in from those who till the land, as they say. What shall we choose? Let us go to Ufa. Here is a message: “All the crops are dying due to drought in Bashkiria. Cattle are dying. Irrigation services used to be available. This is a global problem. Please look into this. When will irrigation services be available again?”

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I want to say that we are proud of our agricultural workers and their results. I have already said that even their export results are outstanding, no less. Productivity and production are growing fast. Vegetable and fruit cultivation could be better, but additional support is necessary.

Overall, support for the agricultural sector is quite substantial, around 350 billion rubles. We support other areas as well. For example, we will allocate 35 billion for the social development of rural areas. We also allocate 70 billion every year for farmland reclamation. That is 70 billion every year for this purpose.

Irrigation services are part of these efforts. We allocate more than 7 billion a year for this purpose and will continue to do so. Irrigation is very important, considering climate change. We will be ramping up these efforts across all the areas I have just mentioned.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, to follow up on agriculture, I would like to quote a few text messages. “Mr President, they say there will be a tax on livestock. Is it true?” someone from the Rostov Region is asking. In fact, not everyone is aware that there may be such a thing as a tax on livestock.

Nailya Asker-zade: Horned livestock.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, horned livestock. As far as I understand, agricultural producers have been exempted.

And one more follow-up question from Izrail Murzabekov in Ingushetia, who engages in selective sheep breeding. He is asking for help with the lease of land and writes the following: “Any kind of land, even wasteland, at least something.”

Vladimir Putin: Where does he live?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Nazran, Ingushetia.

Vladimir Putin: Ok. With regard to help, I will definitely have a word with the head of the republic. Land in the North Caucasus is worth a lot; it really is a valuable asset. But since this person engages in real business, an important business – selective breeding, right? Sheep breeding?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, selective sheep breeding.

Vladimir Putin: This is very important. This is something that we have been increasingly focused on lately. It is true of seeds and livestock. This is critically important. We are only taking the first steps in this direction.

We have resolved the chicken meat problem, but not everyone is aware – no, this is a serious matter – that we mainly import eggs in order to raise chickens. We need to have our own eggs to begin with. The same applies to cattle and sheep breeding.

To reiterate, we are moving forward towards this goal. Of course, people who engage in this business deserve special support. I will definitely have a word with the head of the republic.

The first part of your question was…

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: The first part of the question was about the tax on livestock. Is it true that…

Vladimir Putin: We should impose a tax on those who spread such rumours. No, no one is going to impose any tax on livestock.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: People are worried. This question comes from the village of Chaltyr, Rostov Region, apparently, a small place.

Vladimir Putin: I hope that I will be heard not only in the Rostov Region, but other regions of the Russian Federation as well.

Nailya Asker-zade: Most importantly, the Finance Ministry should hear you.

Vladimir Putin: No, no, no. Take my word for it, no one is planning anything like that. These are just rumours.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, I suggest we move on. The Economy section has a sub-section called Industry and Production. Let us see if we have received any messages or calls on this topic.

Troitsk is on the line, we have a video call, that is, people can go on the air. And Nizhny Novgorod is also calling.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Which one will we choose?

Vladimir Putin: It does not matter.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us listen to Troitsk.

Vladimir Putin: Troitsk – where is it?

Nailya Asker-zade: It is in Moscow’s immediate suburbs.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Hello, you are on the air.

Vladimir Putin: Good day, Svetlana.

Svetlana Mironova: Mr President, good day.

Here is my question. My name is Svetlana Mironova. I want to ask about the surging prices of building materials. I will give you an example: my family lives in a small flat of 33 square metres. The children are growing and now there is not enough room for everyone, so this year we planned to improve our living conditions. We bought a plot of land and started to think about building a house. I will use the fence as an example: three or four months ago it cost about 150,000 [rubles]. Today we will have to fork out 260,000 for a fence made of ordinary corrugated iron. It is quite a sum for our family. We want to understand – my family and those families who have found themselves in the same situation – if prices will remain the same or if they will increase or, maybe, with your assistance, they will be more affordable to us. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Hopefully, I can also help to make them affordable. I will explain what I mean.

First, of course, this was caused by inflation and the price increases in the consumer market across the board. The inflation rate in our country has gone up to 5.9 percent, or almost 6 percent, from about 4 percent. Of course, our objective is to push it down. That is why the Central Bank has increased slightly its key interest rate to avoid an excessive money supply in the economy.

I believe the current inflation rate will get back to its target indicator – 4 percent. This year, we will hardly achieve this, but I believe we will be able to bring it [the inflation rate] down to 5 percent and, generally, make sure that inflation holds steady at this level, yet, thinking of making it lower. This is my first point.

Secondly, regarding the reasons behind it, in my view, there will be more questions like this during our meeting today. This was caused by the changes in the situation in many world markets for commodities, in particular, metals.

Prices on metals have increased sharply on world markets. Incidentally, this includes foodstuffs. Prices on sugar went up on world markets and so our producers began selling it abroad. As a result, we had a shortage of sugar, and prices jumped. The same happened with metals. Metal prices increased on world markets. Here, they are trying to raise them to global levels, and so everything linked with this instantly gets more expensive.

Action is being taken now to curb prices on these basic goods, which includes construction goods. I hope this will affect you as well. We know all this and are taking the necessary steps to keep the situation stable.

By the way, maybe this is worth considering: are you selling your flat or are you keeping it?

Svetlana Mironova: We would like to keep it, of course.

Vladimir Putin: For those who are selling their flats, people have probably noticed this, but I would still like to repeat once again. I recently talked about this at the United Russia congress: if a person sells a flat within five years and buys a new one, he has to pay personal income tax. Considering growing housing prices, people were losing a fair amount of money. They could have at least made a down payment.

I suggested then that if a person buys a new flat within a year, he should not pay this tax when selling his flat. This may concern you less, but it has a direct bearing on all those who want to improve their housing conditions by selling their old flat and buying a new one. I believe this is how it will be. We will work to stabilise the situation in the construction market as well.

There are a number of other measures, but we will discuss them later. They are related to infrastructure loans, utilities loans and the like, but I believe that together these measures should promote stabilisation in the construction market.

In the meantime, I would like to wish you success. I hope you will manage to carry out your plans. I would like to wish your family and you personally all the best.

Svetlana Mironova: I was happy to see you.

Vladimir Putin: The pleasure is mine.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Thank you, Svetlana.

Mr President, besides our TV viewers, your colleagues in the Government are obviously listening to us.

Vladimir Putin: I am 100 percent sure.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We just received a message. Tatyana Golikova said that not even 10 percent (you noted that 10 percent of vaccinated people could fall sick after a jab) but more like 2.5 percent could get it again. Whom should we believe?

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Ms Golikova, of course, because she is dealing with this professionally every day. She was the Healthcare Minister and knows what she is talking about.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us read a question that was texted to us: “Why not have the governors hold direct lines like you do, annually or quarterly? That would reduce the number of questions for the President.”

By the way, heads of some regions, such as Moscow, Tatarstan and St Petersburg, to name a few, are already doing so, mainly through social media.

Vladimir Putin: I think this would do no harm to anyone, because direct communication is important not only because people have the opportunity to ask the head of state or region questions. What is more important – and I have said this many times – is that the most pressing issues that concern our citizens are selected in the process. This is critically important in order to fine tune our practical moves in the most important areas such as social policy, healthcare, housing construction, etc. That is why I would encourage regional leaders, my colleagues, to listen to what our citizens have to say.

Nailya Asker-zade: Occasionally, even simple issues cannot be resolved without the President or the Governor. It happens.

Vladimir Putin: It does. Perhaps, we should strive to make sure that things get addressed automatically, but we still have a long way to go. In any case, this feedback is always very helpful.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, speaking of feedback, if your colleagues could spend more time talking to the people, they would hear questions, including those coming from small and medium-sized businesses. Clearly, this year is difficult for everyone, and this segment was hit hard, but at the same time it received support. Just several days ago, you instructed the Government to exempt small businesses in the catering sector from VAT.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, but under certain conditions: there must be receipts for everything, so that everything is transparent, not just their services, but there should also be receipts for the goods that they purchase and use in their work and this should be transparent.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us hear what the businesspeople have to say about this. Let us hear from Surgut, which has also joined us on this direct line.

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Please, you are on the air. Mr Kharlov, can you hear us?

Vladimir Putin: We are listening to you.

Maxim Kharlov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Maxim.

Maxim Kharlov: Here is my question. As a representative of the business community, I have repeatedly applied for financial support – loans for expanding my business – but the terms offered by the lending institution preclude effective development. The interest rates are high, 18 percent and up, and loan terms are under three years, that is, very short, and they also want collateral. These terms preclude obtaining any effective financial support and prevent the channeling of funds into business expansion and, as a result, the development of entrepreneurs who can become the driving force of our economy.

Hence, the question: is the Government considering effective support for entrepreneurs in the following matters – extending lending terms, lowering interest rates and decreasing collateral requirements? I am talking about loans to finance working capital. The amounts are small, anywhere from 5 to 10 million, which a micro business may need. This is my question.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Kharlov, this is not an idle question, I understand you perfectly well. Small and medium-sized businesses, small enterprises, micro businesses, and providing them with funding are critically important matters. Of course, the pandemic hit small and medium-sized businesses hardest. We are aware of this as well. But please note that we, the Government, have taken a package of measures to support small and medium-sized businesses, including loans at zero percent or 2 percent with subsequent repayment of these loans, if the number of employees remained unchanged, loan term extension, cutting tax rates, including social contributions, in half. This is a major package of measures.

The things you are talking about are also important, I understand you perfectly. But organising this kind of work, say, collateral-free loans, is a delicate matter. After all, it is not difficult to apply for a loan. But how do you pay it back? This could undermine our financial and banking system. Although, of course, the banks enjoy big revenues. Thankfully, our financial system is stable, which is very good. But making decisions that could, in fact, rock this financial platform is also, clearly, a dangerous approach.

You said they are asking for 18 percent now, correct? That is too much, I agree, because the average rate is currently 12 percent for small businesses and microlending. There are preferential terms as well. I am not sure if anyone has ever offered them to you. Look, we have easy-term lending. What is that about? The Central Bank key rate is 5.5 percent currently, I believe, plus 2.75 percent on top of this key rate; 5.5 and 2.75 add up to 8.25, if I have it right. That is much better than 18 or even 12 percent.

Last year, in order to ensure this kind of work, we made available – and people received – a trillion rubles from budget sources. That sounds like a lot of money, but it is absolutely not enough if you think about the needs in this sector of the economy.

Mr Kharlov, we will, of course, continue to expand this system. It is a matter of budgetary capacity or budgetary constraints, on the other hand. But 18 is a bit too much. If you leave your details, your contact information…

Nailya Asker-zade: We have that.

Vladimir Putin: Our colleagues have your contact information. We will take a look at the banks you have contacted and the tools that you, in my opinion, could use, and the bank should have helped you do that.

Good luck.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us move on to another topic – defence and security.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Nailya Asker-zade: This must be a very important question because there could not be unimportant questions in the section.

Let us see. Here is, for example, a video from Krasnoyarsk. Shall we watch it?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Lyubov Shendeleva: Hello, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Lyubov Shendeleva: My name is Lyubov Shendeleva, I live in Krasnoyarsk and I am a pensioner.

My question, I believe, is important to many people. For how long will telephone scammers, taking advantage of their impunity, as well as people’s gullibility, be stripping them of the little money they have?

Posing as bank clerks or employees at any other organisation, they take money from the most vulnerable section of the population, that is pensioners and senior citizens.

When exposed, they even start sending messages with threats. How long is this going to last? I believe there are some technical means that can help track them down and punish them. We are asking you for protection. Thank you for your attention.

Nailya Asker-zade: A problem like this does exist in many regions. Here is another example. Sitting next to you at the Victory Day parade was Vasily Pronin. You exchanged a few words with him and straightened his jacket. A few days later, scammers stole 400,000 rubles from him. So, this problem is common in many regions. Vasily Pronin is 96 years old.

Vladimir Putin: I do not even want to comment on this. They are just rogues. People committing such crimes, targeting elderly people, war veterans, are simply rogues. Of course, we need to fight this. Unfortunately, crimes of this sort are on the rise and the growth is significant. Whereas the overall situation with fighting socially harmful, grave crimes in our country is satisfactory, and we have even seen some decline, there has been an increase – a significant increase of 25 percent – in crimes like those mentioned.

What are the reasons for them? In my opinion, the first thing that creates an unfavourable background and is contributing to the increase in crimes like these are illegal sales of personal data. Of course, the government and law-enforcement agencies must address this issue very seriously. Criminals use illegally obtained personal data, big data, to act.

Several questions here require special attention.

First, this is largely the competence of the Central Bank. They should be more active in countering phishing sites. As I see it, these phishing websites probably stem from the word “fish.”

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: A phishing site imitates the real one.

Vladimir Putin: They are looking for their victims in the net. Previously, it took the Central Bank several weeks and even months to locate such sites and shut them down. Now it does so in three days. But even this is not enough. It must be more active. This is the first point.

The second point. Commercial banks, the accounts in which money comes in or goes out, must meticulously monitor these processes to reduce to zero the opportunities for scammers.

That said, we must take into account the fact mentioned by Ms Shendeleva, that scammers are also involved in social engineering, where social services operate and often act on their behalf. People must simply bear this in mind and be very attentive in this respect.

There are also issues that are at the junction of competence of law enforcement bodies and the Central Bank. What are these issues? What is at odds?

On the one hand, the Central Bank and other financial institutions must keep bank deposits secret, but on the other, law enforcement bodies must have an opportunity to intervene in criminal activities at an early stage and prevent them.

However, under the law that ensures the secrecy of bank deposits, that is, banking financial secrecy, law enforcement bodies have the right to receive the required information from banks only if a criminal case is opened or by decision of a court. Yet, there is a solution. What is it? The Central Bank can contact law enforcement bodies at its own initiative if it detects some dubious transactions. But if the Central Bank has this right, operations units of the Interior Ministry, other law enforcement bodies or special services can contact the Central Bank. The Central Bank can check dubious transactions and provide information. It is relatively easy to develop this process with modern communications, and it is possible to do this quickly. I believe we should go down this road to start with. Naturally, it is essential to upgrade this practice and improve the regulatory framework.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, a question about a different drama, actually, a big one.

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: It is related to the British warship near Crimea. Do you think the world was on the brink of a Third World War, of all things?

Vladimir Putin: No, I do not think so. Is this a question or did you…?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We have received questions on this matter.

Vladimir Putin: No, I do not think so. I will explain what I think and what I do not.

First, this was apparently a provocation; it was obvious that it was a provocation. What did they mean to show and what goals did they want to achieve?

To begin with, this was a comprehensive provocation, and it was conducted not only by the British but also by the Americans. The British entered our territorial waters in the afternoon, whereas earlier, at 7:30 am, a US strategic reconnaissance plane took off from a NATO military airfield in Greece, I think from Crete. I was briefed on this, of course, I know all about it. If I remember correctly, tail number 63/9792. We saw it very clearly and monitored it. It was clear that the destroyer entered [our territorial waters] in pursuit of military objectives, trying to uncover the actions of our Armed Forces to stop a provocation, with the help of the reconnaissance aircraft they were trying to identify how we operated, and where things were was located and how they operated. We saw this and sent them the information which we deemed necessary. I may have let this slip; I hope the military will forgive me. This is the first thing.

The second thing is the political component. Recently, a few days ago, a meeting was held in Geneva. The question was: why was there such a provocation? What was all of that for? For the sake of emphasising that these people do not respect the Crimeans’ choice to join the Russian Federation? Is there something they do not understand there? Fine, keep not accepting it. But why a provocation of this kind?

Nailya Asker-zade: Maybe NATO is teasing us? The Sea Breeze exercise is underway now, and yesterday there was a Dutch frigate.

Vladimir Putin: Here is what I would like to say. You said that this put the world on the brink of a global war. No, of course, not. Even if we had sunk that ship, it is nevertheless difficult to imagine that this would have put the world on the brink of a third world war because those who did this know they could not win a war like that. This is very important.

I do not think that we would have been happy at the turn of events you mentioned, but we at least know what we are fighting for: we are fighting for ourselves and our future on our own territory. It was not us who covered thousands of kilometres by air and sea towards them; it was them who approached our borders and entered our territorial sea, which is a crucial component in the overall situation.

I am not concerned about this or that somebody does not respect the choice of the people in Crimea to join Russia. I have a different concern. Look now, they raised a clamour over the fact that we were conducting exercises on our own territory near the Ukrainian border. I instructed the Defence Ministry to quietly end the drills and withdraw the troops, if this is such a great concern for them. We did so. But instead of responding positively and saying “Ok, we understand your reaction to our indignation,” what did they do? They approached our borders.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, you said during your annual Address to the Federal Assembly that picking on Russia for any reason has become some kind of new sport. Does this mean they tried to pick on us again this time?

Vladimir Putin: No, this is not picking on us. As I said, this is not what is worrying me. I am worried about another, more fundamental thing, namely, the beginning of military development in Ukrainian territory. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, no foreign bases can be established in the country. Training centres and other facilities and formats are possible. But the military development of a territory that directly borders on our country creates a considerable security problem for us. This has to do with the vital interests of the Russian Federation and the Russian people. Of course, this is alarming, and we must think about it.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest that we move on to the next group of questions about social policy, which is largely tied to the economy, but is somewhat separate, and see what kind of questions we received from families with children. I see we have a video message from Astrakhan, and we also have a text message. Shall we watch the video?

Vladimir Putin: I am fine with that, please.

Nailya Asker-zade: Good afternoon, Ms Pluzhnikova. You are on live, please go ahead.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am speaking on behalf of all mothers in Astrakhan Region. We want to ask you about the new rules concerning payments for children aged 3 to 7.

Under the new rules, the calculations are based on income earned over the 12 months of 2020, but everyone knows that it was a difficult year for all of us: many have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Our region is no exception, and to this day, employment has remained a problem in our region, but I think, this is the case all over the country.

Here is my question: the authorities in our region require income information for 12 out of 12 months in 2020, although the Government resolution does not talk about providing information on each of the 12 months in 2020. In other regions, showing one month of official income is enough to receive a child allowance. Why is it that only our region interprets this resolution in its own way and denies payments to single mothers, large families, considers a flat and a house one single piece of property, and does not deduct alimony from the income that is paid to another family? The Astrakhan Region’s ministry cites specifically the Government resolution, not the regional one when these questions are asked.

We asked some ministers from other regions for help, and wrote to Olga Batalina herself [Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection]. The answer was that the minimum requirement is a pay stub for one month. Ms Batalina told us this, as did other ministers, including Natalya Oskina [Minister of Social Protection of Altai Territory]. But our ministry holds its ground and wants us to show proof of income for 12 months.

Please help get things in order in our ministry. Why are they disregarding this resolution?

Nailya Asker-zade: We are talking about the zero income rule, which says that if people are not officially employed, they are not eligible for child allowances.

Vladimir Putin: Correct.

Ms Pluzhnikova, can you rephrase that? Why exactly are you being denied these allowances?

Oksana Pluzhnikova: Because we are unable to show proof of income for 12 months. One month or five months are not good enough for them, they want 12 months.

Vladimir Putin: Under the resolution, it is based on yearly income. Your annual income…

Olga Pluzhnikova: Correct, annual income. But in other regions, one month is enough.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Pluzhnikova, look, if you have exceeded this amount of income in any given month, it does not mean that you should be denied payment. It would be illegal then.

We will need to take a closer look. Do our colleagues have your details?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, of course.

Vladimir Putin: I will issue appropriate instructions.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: Mr President, may I take one more second of your time?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, go ahead please.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: This concerns the same issue, because those whose child benefits were approved last year and then expired have lost them due to lack of income. Even if they spend one month without an income, they lose these benefits.

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean “lack of income”? I do not understand.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: They have simply lost it.

Nailya Asker-zade: This is zero income. If a person does not receive an official income, he is not entitled to get any payments because some people might rely only on these payments and are not motivated to get a job.

Vladimir Putin: You are saying that if a person does not work, he is denied the payments. Is that right? Do I understand you correctly?

Oksana Pluzhnikova: No. If a person works for 11 months but misses one month, these are grounds to deny him the payments.

Vladimir Putin: That is clear. So, he works for 11 months and does not work for just one month, and he is denied the payment benefit, right?

Well, let us figure it out. I will certainly instruct the Government to analyse this situation and provide a response. That said, if a person lost his job, the simplest thing for him is to be registered at an employment service. This is the easiest thing to do. Once he does this, nobody has the right to deny him the payment of relevant benefits. He should do that immediately…

Oksana Pluzhnikova: But they are not taking into account registering at the labour exchange. So, we do not know what to do about this. We are in complete chaos.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Pluzhnikova, I am telling you that if a person has registered at the labour exchange, nobody has the right to deny him payments. This is illegal. However, we will try to analyse your case separately. I will certainly instruct the Government to do this.

But let me repeat for the third time, that if a person loses his job but registers at an employment office, he cannot be denied relevant payments. I hope my colleagues in your region, Astrakhan, will hear this and respond. But even if they do, I will still instruct the Government to deal with this specific case. Is that all right?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us hope that justice will prevail.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: Ok, thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you for bringing this issue up because, as you said, it concerns many people. I hope we will make corresponding adjustments here to ensure people’s rights.

Nailya Asker-zade: We have had similar inquiries from the Astrakhan Region.

Vladimir Putin: Wonderful. All right. We will figure this out.

Thank you, Ms Pluzhnikova.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, as a follow-up on social support: families with children are indeed getting extensive support during the complicated year of the pandemic. Applications for some payments can be submitted as early as tomorrow. For example, pregnant women in difficult circumstances and single parents. And a great help for parents whose children will go to school – 10,000 rubles. These payments will also begin in August.

Clearly, the plans are ambitious. Will the system withstand this extra load?

Vladimir Putin: It will.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Will it be possible to pay everything out on schedule?

Vladimir Putin: It will. In the first year, 46 billion rubles are earmarked for the first two categories – pregnant women who applied early on in their pregnancy, and the second category. These funds have been reserved, slightly over 46 billion. There will be a little more next year. We do not see any problems here. I had another talk with the Finance Minister yesterday – all the money has been set aside. The issue with children starting school had not been resolved because according to the law, children can go to school at the age of six, not seven. However, in some families, children will start school at the age of six, whereas in others they will not. Naturally, the Government raised the issue: what if people get the money but their child will not start school at six?

However, I believe, and I am sure that the Government will hear me, that everyone should be paid including those families with six-year-olds, even if they do not start school this year. But I am just reminding parents that it is a lump-sum payment, therefore the money they get this year should be spent on preparing the child for school and buying some things in advance even if the child does not start school this year.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I suggest continuing our live marathon and going to the Message Processing Centre.

Natalya Yuryeva has the floor.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you.

We have a message that we just cannot ignore. It is rather a cry from the heart. Our hearts really sank as we read it. I ask the editors to display the message from Svetlana Chemezova of Yaroslavl.

She writes as follows: “Hello, Mr President,

I live with my 9-year-old son, work as a cleaner and my wage is low – 12,700 rubles. Payments are deducted from my wage at work to repay the loan, after which I am left with 1,500 rubles. I have no money to pay my utility bills and rent or buy schoolbooks for my son – I have no money to spend. My strong wish is that you help poor people and resolve the issue of loans, which a hopeless situation can force them to take.”

Vladimir Putin: I understand that the situation is not easy. I have a concrete answer and I will get straight to it.

Generally, as you see, we are carrying out a whole package of measures to support people who have found themselves in an uneasy situation, to say nothing of those with children, and to support families with children. I will not list them all now but this package includes a broad range of measures.

But this is not about this set of measures only; what matters is that we want the government to always lend a shoulder in any form to [families with] children from their birth almost all the way until they graduate from school, should they end up stranded. We have just talked about one measure from this package. There are also measures to support women visiting a clinic in their early pregnancy, who happen to be in a difficult situation, and other measures – all until her child starts going to school, and also to single-parent families. Hopefully, you will also be able to take advantage of some of these tools.

As for the loans, there is a specific decision that was finalised yesterday: on the initiative of the United Russia party, some deputies, a law was passed, and I signed it yesterday, under which no payments, including those to repay loans, can be deducted from a person’s income if that leaves him with an amount below the minimum subsistence level. I believe this measure will protect people in your situation, which they can take advantage of. I strongly believe this is not all that can work to support you. I repeat again that we have a diversified package of measures to support families with children.

It is a very important thing I have just said. That is, from this moment, the banks have no right to withdraw money from a person’s account to repay loans they have issued to this person, if he or she is left with an amount below the minimum subsistence level.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Incidentally, we have also received messages like this regarding microloans.

Vladimir Putin: Right.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I suggest that we pick the Miscellaneous and Personal section, which is, perhaps, the most unpredictable and, potentially, the most exciting section.

We have an audio call.

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us pick. Here it is, Starodub, Bryansk Region.

Alexander Ismailov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Alexander Ismailov: I am Alexander Ismailov from the town of Starodub, Bryansk Region. Here is my question: what dreams of yours will no longer come true?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Ismailov, I think every person, everyone literally – you and I, and these lovely young ladies sitting next to me, and everyone who is listening to us now – we all should think about the best to come, hope for the best, and this cannot but be part of a dream. I hope you have one too, and I have one as well. There must not be a place in life where a person has nothing to dream about or hope for. I think we need to think positively.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: That is, we can dream no matter what the dream is?

Vladimir Putin: Correct.

Nailya Asker-zade: Most importantly, one should not forget how to dream.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Right.

Vladimir Putin: You know, there is a popular belief that if…

Nailya Asker-zade: …if you really want something, it will come true.

Vladimir Putin: It will definitely come true; this is one thing. And you need to think positively, then good things will happen.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us hope that everything will be fine and COVID will eventually go away, because we are very tired of it.

Vladimir Putin: No, it will not go away by itself. We need to get vaccinated.

Nailya Asker-zade: We will definitely heed your advice.

Vladimir Putin: And you need to get revaccinated.

Nailya Asker-zade: Definitely. As we have already understood, it must be Sputnik and nothing else.

Vladimir Putin: Not necessarily.

Nailya Asker-zade: Well, if the President chose Sputnik, how can we choose anything different?

Vladimir Putin: No, no, this is not at all necessary.

Nailya Asker-zade: You are in good health.

Vladimir Putin: So what? You know, there is also, I repeat, EpiVacCorona that was developed by Vektor, which does not even cause a spike in temperature.

Nailya Asker-zade: Absolutely safe.

Vladimir Putin: All we do is absolutely safe.

Nailya Asker-zade: No reaction, correct.

Vladimir Putin: No reaction whatsoever. A person does not even feel they were vaccinated. This is important for some people, you know.

Nailya Asker-zade: We still have a section “Infrastructure and Housing and Utilities.”

There are many problematic inquiries, especially on gas infrastructure development. This has always been an urgent issue for the regions. Even after you announced the initiative on reducing the cost of utility connections, the number of questions has not decreased. Maybe, it has even increased.

Vladimir Putin: Sorry, not about reducing costs.

Nailya Asker-zade: Free pipeline miles.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, free miles.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us see what inquiries we have on this issue.

For example, we have Crimea, Karachayevo-Circassia and other regions. My computer is not obeying me. Who will win – technology or me. I do not know. We can choose.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We have many messages in different formats. Gas connection is here…

Vladimir Putin: Just press the “gas connection” button and that is it.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us see this one.

Svetlana Kultygina: Mr President,

Last year we asked you about gas connections, but we have not received a written answer. The regional Energy Ministry promised to reply but never did. Wood is very expensive and gas cylinders were banned. Can you tell us how to live, what to do? I am 70 and my husband is 74. Meanwhile, there are mayors’ summer houses near us and they have all the gas they need. What can we do?

Vladimir Putin: I understand this is the Sverdlovsk Region. If the mayor has gas at his summer house, the pipe main must be somewhere near, right? So, under the adopted decision, a gas pipe must be laid to your plot of land. This service must be free.

As for what to do next, this is a separate issue, how to arrange gas supply inside your land plot. Let us look closer at this later. You have their information, right?

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, of course, we have all the information.

I suggest moving to Karachayevo-Circassia.

Vladimir Putin: Just a second. Please, leave this information for me so I have it.

Nailya Asker-zade: Of course, we have all the information. This was the Sverdlovsk Region.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we will do this in a way that ensures that these promises are honoured. Notably, the pipeline must be connected to their land plot free of charge. As for the facilities inside the land plot, we will deal with that separately.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: So, Karachayevo-Circassia?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: You are welcome, you are online, please, go ahead.

Roza Kappusheva: Hello!

Vladimir Putin: Hello, Roza.

Roza Kappusheva: I am addressing you with a request on behalf of the residents of the northern part of Ust-Jeguty town in the Karachayevo-Circassian Republic. I am asking for help with gas supply. The pipeline here is mere 200 metres away from us, but according to our estimates, each family has to pay about 200,000 rubles to get gas. Most families living here are young families with many children, and this is a lot of money for an ordinary family. I ask you to help us, to assist. Unfortunately, the local authorities respond to our requests by saying there is no money. We do not live in a mountainous village. The pipeline is very close. Can you please check on this?

Vladimir Putin: Is this a direct link?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Kappusheva, please, tell me. Do they want you to pay 200,000 for laying the gas pipe to your land lot?

Roza Kappusheva: No, this is the total of our expenses.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: It is probably the outstanding amount.

Vladimir Putin: We still need to figure out what sort of expenses they are. To lay the pipe or proceed with the work on your property, or what?

Nailya Asker-zade: It is probably a project and a tie-in.

Vladimir Putin: Wait, wait, we will get to the point.

Roza Kappusheva: The first thing is the permit, they demand money for that, too. Second – laying the pipe proper at the required distance.

Vladimir Putin: To lay the pipe to your property, right?

Roza Kappusheva: Right. And not just to my property; other people live further on. This district has gas distribution connections at some properties; however, many people do not have a gas line.

Vladimir Putin: Got it.

Ms Kappusheva, we will be figuring this out. I will talk to the head of the republic about this, but I want you and others to know that the pipe must be laid free of charge from the main pipeline to your property and that of the others.

Roza Kappusheva: But not everywhere.

Vladimir Putin: It must be done either at the expense of Gazprom or the companies in charge of gas distribution in your republic. It means it is free up to the property line, to the fence, as they say, whereas the owner pays for the line inside the property.

However, there are some ideas in this respect, too. I recently talked to some Government members about this. They should draft a single contract for all the work on the properties to be done according to a single plan with centralised purchasing which means lower prices. It means that everything concerning laying the pipe up to the fence, to your property, must be done for free, not for 200, 300 or even 100,000 rubles. In some places it might even cost a million. But this should never be your concern.

I assure you that I will definitely speak with the head of the republic about this.

Nailya Asker-zade: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Wait a second. Are you satisfied with the answer, Ms Kappusheva?

Roza Kappusheva: Yes. But we have a completely new district.

Vladimir Putin: So what?

Roza Kappusheva: And so there is a lot to do.

Vladimir Putin: This is clear. But that is another question.

Roza Kappusheva: As for gas, yes, of course. If it turns out this way, we will be grateful to you.

Vladimir Putin: Alright. Done.

Roza Kappusheva: It will be a miracle.

Vladimir Putin: I will make sure. Agreed then. Thank you.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: These are everyday issues.

Vladimir Putin: It is ok. Why not? These are people’s concerns.

Nailya Asker-zade: I would like to explain the situation, if I may.

After the law on the ”free mile“ came into force, the cost of the tie-in and the project increased two to three-fold in some regions. We have received similar messages, for example, from Crimea.

Vladimir Putin: This is not just a question of whether the law on this free mile is enforced, although it may not be a mile, it could be five metres or a kilometre or more. The question is that due to the rise in prices for some types of products, including those for metals, prices are simply rising – first. Second, people have to go to different companies, which really start to drive up the cost of these works. That is why I said that now the Government is considering the possibility of doing this under one contract, one agreement, and minimising costs.

Nailya Asker-zade: Why should the project cost increase – due to rising paper prices?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is an issue that should be given special attention. I completely agree with those who are talking about this. And I repeat, this is why the Government is now working on a standard-form contract so that there is no unjustified overpricing.

Nailya Asker-zade: The law on a free mile for gas pipelines did not apply to gardeners’ non-commercial partnerships, and there are a lot of those in the Moscow Region, we have received many requests. Here are some examples. Reutov: ”The last mile pipe, about 150 metres, costs 90,000 rubles.“ Next, Volgograd: “There is a private gas pipeline 15 metres away from my house, but the owner is demanding 300,000 rubles for gas connection. Help me deal with this.”

Vladimir Putin: As for gardeners’ non-commercial partnerships (SNT), indeed, what we have been talking about so far are only localities where people live permanently, and there are thousands of them in the Russian Federation. So, a decision was taken to make the last mile free for localities where people live permanently, at least at the first stage.

Nailya Asker-zade: In the Moscow Region, many people live [permanently] in such SNTs.

Vladimir Putin: Right, many people live like this, but today, at this stage, we are talking about people who officially live permanently, for a long time, in towns.

There are different gardeners’ partnerships, there are those that stand apart, and the problem is that their land is, let’s say, collective property. This gives rise to legal issues.

There are partnerships that are located within the boundaries of a town, which means that, roughly, a pipeline to the fence of this gardeners’ partnership inside a town should be laid free of charge, and everything behind the fence is seen as a single household because the land is collective property.

The many thousands of towns are included in the first stage of the joint project to make the last mile free. Gas must also be supplied to SNTs by 2024–2025. This is part of the national gas infrastructure development programme, which covers 77 constituent entities of the Russian Federation. Why not all constituent entities? Because some of them do not have centralised gas supply. The Gas Supply Programme of the Russian Federation will be carried out in the 77 regions that have centralised gas supply.

Let us wait and see how we follow through on this stage. You see, even here there are many questions regarding the last mile to individual households. Things need to be put straight. At least, we should implement it as a pilot project. Again, there are tens of thousands of households like the above. We will see what comes of it: if it works, and works as it should, we will, probably, take additional steps to address other issues as well.

Nailya Asker-zade: We are looking forward to it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, people of all ages from all over the country are writing to us. Understandably, young people have many internet-related questions. We have such subtopics as Communications and the Internet and Internet Regulation. Let’s give our next question to Moscow. This is a direct video call. Let’s take it.

Vladimir Putin: Please go ahead.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: You are on the air.

Nikita Levinsky: Hello, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello, Nikita.

Nikita Levinsky: I am a blogger. My name is Nikita Levinsky. I have over 1 million followers on Instagram. My colleagues asked you this question in 2018 and later checked up on it, but the issue is so pressing for my colleagues and me that I would be remiss not to ask the question again. If there is an opportunity, I will take advantage of it. Should we expect foreign social media, websites or media hosting websites such as TikTok, Telegram, Twitter, YouTube and others to be blocked?

Vladimir Putin: No. We do not have any such plans. We are not going to block anyone. We are going to work with them. But the problem is that they tell us where to go and how to get there each time they fail to comply with our rules and laws. Nikita, you are a Russian citizen, are you not? You and I should have a sense of dignity, your colleagues, too.

Nikita Levinsky: I know what you are talking about.

Vladimir Putin: When they tell us, “You know, we will be working in your country, and if you do not like something, we will give you beads and you should be happy with those shiny objects.” This humiliates our dignity. If they work in our country and earn good money, they must abide by our laws. We are not asking them to do anything special.

So, as step one, and I hope step one will be enough, we insist and we want these international platforms to open their full-fledged representative offices in our country – legal entities with which we can at least maintain a dialogue.

We also tell them: “You are distributing child pornography or suicide instructions, or how to make Molotov cocktails, and so on – you must remove that content.” And they simply do not listen to us, they do not even want to hear what we are saying. This is wrong.

No self-respecting country around the world behaves this way. Everyone in Europe and even more so in Asia insists on a civilised approach to this kind of work, especially so since sometimes they are not behaving in a civilised manner in their own countries, either.

So, we understand that we are being heard and some of our colleagues are going to comply and open offices in Russia. If they do not comply, or if their offices do not abide by our rules and Russian law, then there are various technical methods, including slowing the speed and so forth. To reiterate, we have no plans to shut down anything.

What I would like is to see our respective companies also develop in this direction and provide creative and talented people like you and your fellow bloggers with an opportunity to express themselves on Russian social media and on similar platforms, to provide services to our citizens in a variety of areas and make our lives better.

Nikita Levinsky: Thank you.

Nailya Asker-zade: Many social media users have breathed a sigh of relief, probably including Nikita. Of course, it is better to look for mutually acceptable solutions and talk, rather than ban, as was the case with Telegram.

Let’s go to the Message Processing Centre.

Vladimir Putin: I think we reached an agreement with Telegram. It is operational, and everything is fine.

Nailya Asker-zade: Ok then.

Message Processing Centre. Tatyana Remezova, go ahead.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you very much, Nailya. I suggest moving from TikTok and Instagram to a more pressing issue – housing and utilities.

Mr President, we would like to show you billing statements we received from residents of Demyanka village in the Tyumen Region. Demyanka or the village of Demyanskoye. So a flat with an area of 70 square metres received a bill for 74,780 rubles. The flat next door – 60 square metres received a bill for 50,661 rubles for April. We have these payment demand orders. We are not inventing anything; these are the facts. We will try to connect with Demyanka residents, which sent us these documents. They should respond to our direct video call. Let us see: Housing and Utilities, Demyanka.

Good afternoon, you are on the air, the President hears you. Please go ahead.

Tarlan Tagirov: Hello, Mr President,

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon!

Tarlan Tagirov: I am Tarlan Tagirov and standing behind me are residents of Demyanka village, in particular, those who live in the building on 4 Pionerskaya Street and 15 Zheleznodorozhnaya Street. We were all moved to a new building under the programme to relocate people from dilapidated housing. We were beyond ourselves with joy, but our joy was spoiled by the following facts.

The first fact – we were relocated from dilapidated housing to new buildings for an additional payment of up to 330,000 rubles. This was contrary to the law and the Housing Code. However, we bought our flats. We were relocated last February and received our utility bills. They varied from 40,000 to 70,000 rubles. We approached many authorities and they gave us the same response: the rates are economically justified. We cannot get anywhere. We went to the prosecutor’s office, the governor’s executive office, district administration and the housing inspection on pricing policy, but we are not getting anywhere.

Meanwhile, 70 percent of residents in our building are pensioners. They receive pensions from 10,000 to 20,000 rubles. The utility bills run from 20,000 rubles and up. This is simply unrealistic. People have been put on the brink of survival. Such fees do not exist anywhere. We have to pay 333 rubles for a cubic metre of cold water. This fee is multiplied by 1.5 times, so there is a surcharge on this payment. When we lived in our old building, we paid 1,482 per gigacalorie for heating, whereas now the rate is 5,331 rubles, plus there is a surcharge of 50 percent.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Tagirov, I understand. There is one thing that I probably did not hear well enough. In the beginning, you said that you had to pay a fair amount of money during relocation. What for? I did not understand.

Tarlan Tagirov: I will be more precise, if I may.

Last September we were invited to the administration to submit applications for consent to be relocated from dilapidated housing. The application is written in no particular format expressing a residents’ consent to relocation. However, we were surprised to see that applications had already been written on our behalf with the following wording: “I ask you to withdraw my old apartment and provide a new one in return, taking into account the buy-out price,” which in itself implies an additional payment for relocation. Naturally, the residents refused to sign this application. Then, a week later we were summoned again by the head of the village administration. She persuaded the residents that there would be no cheating since there was heavy criminal prosecution and the administration would not dare it. The people believed her words and signed the applications. And this year, right before the relocation, we were billed up to 330,000 rubles in extra charges. The apartments had been evaluated according to market value without a reduction ratio.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Tagirov, I see a powerful support team behind you, like the one Yasha the Artilleryman had in The Wedding in Malinovka film. So the victory will be ours, do not doubt it.

First of all, I do not understand what sort of extra charges those are. It is nonsense, I don’t understand this, but I promise that we will sort it out. That is first. Second, the numbers you gave … Are you with us?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I think, he hears us on TV now.

Vladimir Putin: I hope you hear me. First, it is unclear what sort of extra charges they are. Second, the figures you gave me are mind-boggling, to put it mildly, both for water supply and the common meter. Water, if memory serves, costs on average 37 rubles per cubic metre, and two rubles per gigacalorie, although it might be more expensive in the Tyumen Region. This is on average, but again, it can cost more in Tyumen. But it is totally incomprehensible where the numbers you mentioned come from and the final payment result. One can imagine that the residential building was not completely settled, and then those tenants who moved in were obliged to pay for maintenance of the entire building. But I understand that you have all the flats settled. I promise you that we will definitely deal with this, at any rate we will find out what is going on.

You know, I really do understand from visiting the dilapidated buildings people live in, and of course, it is a great happiness when people move from these slums to normal housing. But this should not be accompanied by levies, but rather by support for the further operation of this building, and I think that it will be so in this case. We have the information, right?

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, we do. This is the Tyumen Region, village of Demyanka, We can contact him, Mr Tarlan Tagirov.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Tagirov, we will certainly sort this out.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest looking at what other problems there are in our housing and utilities sector.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s do this.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let’s watch a video address from Pskov.

(Playing a video address.)

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: This is a case when a video speaks louder than words.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. Is the author of this address on the line?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: No.

Nailya Asker-zade: We can call him.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please do.

Nailya Asker-zade: We will do this later.

Colleagues, please try to get in touch with Pskov.

In the meantime, I will ask the next question.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Nailya Asker-zade: Why only the Far East has a curator among deputy prime ministers?

Vladimir Putin: Will we get back to the previous subject?

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, we certainly will. I promise.

Vladimir Putin: Ok.

As for the curators of some regions from among the Government leadership, we do indeed use this method for the Far East and the Arctic, and for the Sothern Federal District. We recently discussed this matter with the Government leadership. Overall, this practice is paying off.

We have agreed that the Prime Minister will submit proposals for the senior officials, deputy prime ministers, to oversee developments in some regions. I regard this as justified, especially because this method ensures closer contact with the regions concerned and a deeper and more sustainable insight into their problems. I hope that as a result of this practice the decisions made in the [federal] centre will be implemented more meaningfully and accurately and will have a greater effect for the territories.

Nailya Asker-zade: Does this mean that all current deputy prime ministers will also be made responsible for some other regions?

Vladimir Putin: Not “some other regions” but specially assigned regions.

Nailya Asker-zade: In addition to the Far East, will each region have a curator?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is what we have agreed to do. We will see how this system functions on a larger scale other than only in the Far East, the Arctic or the North Caucasus.

Nailya Asker-zade: We are still trying to get in touch with Pskov.

We are now moving on to the Message Processing Centre.

Vladimir Putin: Please, keep trying.

Nailya Asker-zade: I will keep my word.

Tatyana Remezova.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you.

I would like to say a few words about the good work our volunteers have already done during this Direct Line programme. For example, they have expedited the delivery of medications and food, helped a disabled person in the Saratov Region to get an electric wheelchair, cleared away landfills in the Rostov Region, and cut down a tree that was threatening people in a residential house in the Tver Region. But we have encountered a problem. When somebody calls Direct Line and local officials learn about this, that person starts getting calls with hints and even threats. One of such cases was reported by our volunteer, Regina Kireyeva.

Regina, tell us about it, please.

Regina Kireyeva: In her message, Yelena Kalinina, a resident of Novokuznetsk, requested assistance in repairing the roof of kindergarten-school No. 235 where her grandson Ratmir studied. The renovation was badly needed because children faced completely insanitary conditions.

Tatyana Remezova: By the way, we have a photo of this school and the roof, sent by Ms Kalinina. Will you please show the photos?

Regina Kireyeva: I then called the Department of Education and asked them to comment on the situation.However they could not believe that a Direct Line volunteer was calling them and declined to provide me with any information. Ms Kalinina called the Direct Line the next day and requested that her message be deleted because representatives of the Department of Education had phoned her and asked her to delete it. “Do you not feel sorry for the kindergarten director and your grandson?” they said, whatever that may mean.

Tatyana Remezova: This is very interesting wording:“Do you not feel sorry for your grandson?” What does her grandson have to do with all this? I believe that we should now try to contact Ms Kalinina and find out how she is now.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Tatyana Remezova: We will try and do it.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, let’s do it.

Tatyana Remezova: We go to the Regional Government section. Great, we have Ms Kalinina on the line.

Ms Kalinina, you are on air, and the President can hear you. Are you not afraid of speaking on Direct Line after all that has happened?

Yelena Kalinina: Good afternoon.

I am having trouble hearing you, I can hardly hear what you are saying.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let’s try to call her back later and go on to the next question now.

Vladimir Putin: Phone her right now.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let’s call Ms Kalinina back.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, she is standing there. Give her the phone.

Nailya Asker-zade: Ms Kalinina, we will try to call you back. It appears that there are some magnetic storms and communications problems.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, not.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We are focusing on the equipment but sometimes even the equipment fails.

Nailya Asker-zade: Right now, we suggest calling Pskov. Here is the call that we promised you. Yes, we are ready to air this call about water problems.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Kalinina, we will be right back.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Right now we have Pskov.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, give us Pskov.

Nailya Asker-zade: Good afternoon, Andrei. We saw your video. You have approached the matter creatively, indeed. Please tell us about your problems.

Andrei Tarasov: Hello, studio. Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Andrei Tarasov: Indeed, the problem is very unusual.

The fact is that under the Clean Water programme, which Pskov has been carrying out since 2003, and according to applicable regulations, our city, since it has over 200,000 people, is supposed to have additional water supply sources. Pskov has a second alternative for water from an underground water source with wells as deep as 70 metres or so. However, when the project was being implemented, no one thought about what would happen to this water when it is heated up.

This water from the underground source has good bacteriological indices, that is, there is no bacteria in it. It is fairly clean and meets sanitary standards, but it precipitates when heated. Heavy sediment has killed all new buildings in the area of ​​this water intake. We have a building that is three years old, and the hot water supply in it has stopped. The same has happened to other buildings. For example, there is a block of flats in Okolnaya Street with polypropylene pipes which preclude rust. However, there is rust-like sediment. We clean it…

Most importantly, we began to discuss this problem with the municipal authorities, and everyone is saying: everything is up to code, everything is fine. Pskov Region Governor Mikhail Vedernikov stepped up and promised to help …

They are unable to find the money to build a water treatment plant because the water meets sanitary standards. As far as I know, they have contacted various authorities, but no one has allocated the money for this. We are now trying to find the money to install this water treatment plant as part of upgrading the water supply system. We appreciate your help with this.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Nailya Asker-zade: The quality of the call leaves much to be desired, but you understood the main question.

Vladimir Putin: I did. The problem is clear, Mr Tarasov. I understand that this is not an old system, it is new and modern. But unfortunately, the water quality gives rise to the processes that you mentioned.

Of course, this certainly requires additional financial resources. Look, a fairly large amount of money has been set aside for similar projects. We have set aside about 500 billion rubles for infrastructure projects, with 150 billion coming directly from the National Welfare Fund for housing and utilities, and another 150 billion coming through infrastructure securities and DOM.RF. These sources can be used to address these problems.

I understand that the money has been spent and it is difficult to return to this, but what can we do, things happen. People cannot live in such conditions. Therefore, I will instruct the Government, the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Utilities, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin and, of course, we will get in touch with the Governor. They will sit down and find a source of funding to resolve your issue, no doubt about it.

Andrei Tarasov: Mr President, a quick follow-up question, if I may.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Unfortunately, the connection is very poor.

Yelena Kalinina is standing by for your call again.

Nailya Asker-zade: From Novokuznetsk.

Ms Kalinina, can you hear us?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: While they are re-establishing the connection, Mr President, I would like to continue with the muddy water theme. We went through the entire mass of information. In fact, there are very many messages. There was Pskov, for example. The Penza Region: “A filthy liquid is coming from the taps instead of water. You can’t wash your face with it, let alone drink it.” What is more, people sent not just messages but also photographs like these. (Shows a photograph.) The Leningrad Region: “The water is either muddy or there is no water at all. I receive a tiny pension, but we have to buy water at the shop,” says Galina Smirnova.

Vladimir Putin: Look, I have already spoken about this, but I would like to reiterate: It is with all the problems of this kind in mind that a decision has been taken to allocate additional funds.

Everyone is aware of what is really happening in this sphere, but I will repeat: the local, municipal and regional authorities are seeking to avoid making decisions related to tariff hikes, because purchasing power has declined, particularly during the pandemic period, when the real incomes of many people dropped. Raising the tariffs, increasing the payments is a very hard decision, of course, and clearly it is difficult for people to endure all this. This is all clear. That is why the local authorities are restraining the growth of tariffs. Hence the underfunding of the sector itself, the delays in maintenance, failure to replace water pipes… It is very difficult to organise the investment process because it becomes unattractive. It is as simple as that.

It is for this reason that the decisions I have mentioned were made. We have allocated 150 billion rubles from the National Welfare Fund directly for housing and public utilities and another 150 billion – via DOM.RF, in total 500 billion for infrastructure. These are the sources that can and will be used to address problems of this sort. The only thing that the regions need to do is to prepare relevant proposals in good time, address the Government and defend their proposals, the documents should be properly drawn up.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Colleagues, let us go back to the Message Processing Centre. Natalya Yuryeva, please. I know you have an interesting story.

Natalya Yuryeva: In fact, we have very many enquiries regarding the emergency state of school buildings, complaints are coming from practically all over the country. I suggest we travel to the Far East and receive a video call from Ussuriysk, the village of Vozdvizhenka.

Hello, you are on air. Please introduce yourself and put your question to the President.

Natalya Tolmacheva: Hello, Mr President. We are chilled here and very nervous. Forgive me, please, I will read what I have to say because I am nervous.

Vladimir Putin: Please, Ms Tolmacheva.

Natalya Tolmacheva: At the end of the last academic year… Do you hear me?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we can hear you well.

Natalya Tolmacheva: A wall collapsed in the old building of our school. The building is about half a century old. Of course, we have another building, but it is too small. It is crowded there, and we will have to study in two shifts.

Please help us build a new modern school.

The army left our town in 2009, and everything has gone down the drain. We have raw water and dilapidated housing – it is impossible to live there. Roads are another story, just like all over the country. We have no water treatment facilities, and our sewers spill out right outside the town.

In general, we are bogged down with problems, and we would like to ask for your assistance in drawing serious attention to us.

Vladimir Putin: All right. Ms Tolmacheva, as I see it, you really have many problems. We will certainly talk to the regional leaders about what needs to be done after the withdrawal of Defence Ministry units and what can be done in the near future. I understand you are worried about the condition of the school, right?

Natalya Tolmacheva: Yes, that is the main problem.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I see. This is why you are standing together with the kids there. Is that the school behind you?

Natalya Tolmacheva: Yes, that is the old building of our school.

Vladimir Putin: If a wall fell down, the school is obviously dilapidated.

Look, we have about 40,000 schools in the Russian Federation, and some of them are in bad condition. It will not be enough to bring them up to standards. We must build new schools, about 1,300 schools in all. If your school is dilapidated, you should have a new one.

About 60 percent of schools – we have about 40,000 schools – need current repairs and 10 percent major repairs. Funds have been allocated for all these projects, including for the construction of new schools and major repairs. The programme is practically ready and will be carried out. All the leaders of your region have to do is submit the relevant applications, and we will certainly help you.

Natalya Tolmacheva: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: You are welcome. I wish you all the best and a nice day to your kids.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I am being told that Yelena Kalinina is with us.

Vladimir Putin: Is she? Please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Ms Kalinina, can you hear us?

Oh well, it looks like we will not be able to talk to Novokuznetsk.

Vladimir Putin: Perhaps your superiors do not want us to.

Nailya Asker-zade: The connection seems to get blocked.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: They are putting up all kinds of obstacles.

Yelena Kalinina: No, they do not want us to talk.

Vladimir Putin: Now I can hear you.

Go ahead.

Yelena Kalinina: Hello.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Yelena Kalinina: Here you go. Our kindergarten, our kindergarten-school No. 235 for children with special needs opened in 1982, or 40 years ago next year.

You see, we get absolutely no help. We recently opened an experimental class. My grandson was in it. He studied for two years with this class.

The kindergarten has a badly leaking roof. We have asked the authorities about it. We asked and begged. They promised, but nothing was done until I directly appealed to you.

Nailya Asker-zade: The connection is still very bad.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: But we got the gist of the problem.

Vladimir Putin: We got it.

Ms Kalinina, can you hear us?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I think Ms Kalinina will watch us on television when she gets a chance. I am sure all of Novokuznetsk is following this story.

Vladimir Putin: The problem with the school is clear.

Nailya Asker-zade: Would you like to clarify about the kindergarten?

Vladimir Putin: Apparently, the school and kindergarten are one facility. I got it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, what would your comment be?

Vladimir Putin: What is happening to Ms Kalinina herself?

Nailya Asker-zade: She has been receiving threats.

Vladimir Putin: From who?

Nailya Asker-zade: Apparently, from the administration of this kindergarten. They told her she should not have reported this issue to the President.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: The Department of Education called her.

Vladimir Putin: This is the Kemerovo Region, right?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Novokuznetsk. She was threatened. They told her she would lose custody of her granddaughter.

Vladimir Putin: Custody of her granddaughter? Because she reported this problem to us?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Correct.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Kalinina, if you can hear us, please do not worry about custody of your granddaughter. There is no such problem anymore. Anyone who threatened you needs to worry about their own problems.

As concerns the school, I just answered a similar question. We have a budget of tens of billions of rubles for the construction and renovation of schools, both major repairs and maintenance.

Do you have any information on this school?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Of course.

Vladimir Putin: I will talk to the Governor. It is the Kemerovo Region, I think.

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, the Kemerovo Region. Their Governor is Sergei Tsivilev.

Vladimir Putin: (Addressing Sergei Tsivilev.) Mr Tsivilev, I am also asking you to address this issue and apply to the school renovation programme in due time. Since this school and kindergarten are one facility, it is only one job instead of two. And please make sure to deal with the authorities who are threatening the same people they are supposed to be serving.

I hope you will take timely and adequate decisions. Please report to me on the outcome.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Colleagues, we are going back to the Message Processing Centre. Natalya Yuryeva, please go ahead.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you.

We also have examples of how the problem was resolved even before our programme started. Malika Aliyeva from Maikop has asked you for help, Mr President, and I know that the volunteers managed to help her. Sirin Hamida talked to the girl and her mother.

Sirin, please share with us what was done to help Malika.

Sirin Hamida: Mr President, unfortunately, 13-year-old Malika lost her eyesight when she was just six. We were touched by her story and asked the Russian Popular Front for help. The Front activists teamed up with the volunteers and found sponsors who bought a Braille display for Malika.

Natalya Yuryeva: Mr President, Malika wondered whether it was possible to include these modern Russian developments on the list of technical rehabilitation equipment that the state provides free of charge.

Vladimir Putin: We have a list of the rehabilitation equipment for people with disabilities approved by the Government and the Healthcare Ministry. Moreover, there are plans, which are being implemented, for contactless electronic appeals, so that people do not only choose a particular device or a piece of rehabilitation equipment on their own, but also receive payment via the Treasury. This can certainly be done, and we will do so. I am sure that the Government members can hear me, including Deputy Prime Minister [Tatyana] Golikova and Healthcare Minister [Mikhail] Murashko. Please include Braille display on the list of such rehabilitation equipment.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we will continue with our screen, we have not used it for a while. The big topic is Social Policy, and the sub-topic is the Labour Market. There are also many calls and messages here. Let’s give the floor to the village of Abatskoye. This is a video message.

Svetlana Shtrakhova: Good afternoon, Mr President,

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Svetlana Shtrakhova: I am a resident of Abatskoye, a village in the Tyumen Region. My name is Svetlana Shtrakhova, and I am 51 years old.

For four years now, I have been unable to find a job. I asked the governor and other authorities to help, but no one wants to resolve the issue. When will there finally be jobs in Russia for everyone, young people and people of my age alike? Everyone is tired of unemployment-related problems.

Thank you. Goodbye.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Shtrakhova, of course, the labour market and employment is an issue of fundamental importance. When employed, people are not just busy; they feel they are needed and independent, and this is one of the most important areas that the state as a whole and municipal and regional leaders should address.

The Tyumen Region is one of our leading regions in terms of income levels and development rates; therefore, the Tyumen Region leaders should, of course, focus more on the problems you just mentioned.

Unfortunately, unemployment has increased in our country during the pandemic. Before we started fighting COVID, the total unemployment rate was 4.6–4.7 percent. Alas, it increased to over 6 percent at some point and is now around 5.9 percent, going down already.

The Government has a goal to get back up to the pre-crisis level of 4.6–4.7 percent. This trend is, fortunately, emerging now and we must do what we can to maintain it because, in the long run, it contributes to economic development and ensures that people have a decent income.

If you have not been able to find a job for a long time, it is even sadder because it is not directly related to COVID-19. Of course, the Tyumen Region, which receives proper funding from the federal budget and has rather good economic indicators, should address this issue more thoroughly. But I am certain that your Governor can hear us, and I hope that he will pay more attention to the town from which you are calling.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I am being told that the bad connection with Yelena Kalinina was not a coincidence. Apparently, there have been major DDoS-attacks on our digital systems which are still happening as we speak.

Nailya Asker-zade: Hackers.

Vladimir Putin: Are you kidding? Seriously?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes. Even hackers are watching us. That is good to know.

Nailya Asker-zade: The whole world talks about supposed Russian hackers when there are…

Vladimir Putin: Hackers from Kuzbass.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We will try to fix our systems shortly.

Nailya Asker-zade: Now let’s move on to cultural affairs, a topic which does not get enough attention. Here is a message we received: “I am a teacher of literature and I work in a village. Our people are not rich. My students could go to the regional centre but they simply have no money to buy theatre or museum tickets. Is there any way to help our students?”

Vladimir Putin: Who sent this?

Nailya Asker-zade: The woman did not introduce herself. She just sent this message.

Vladimir Putin: And she is a teacher?

Nailya Asker-zade: She teaches Russian and literature.

Vladimir Putin: We have a proposal that has been discussed by the Government for a few months. We want to name it Pushkin Card. It would be a way to distribute small funds among people aged 14 to 22 specifically for this purpose.

Students will be able to use the funds between September and December of this year and next year. Each card holder would receive 3,000 rubles for four months. Why 3,000? Because even if they want to go to the Bolshoi Theatre, they would still be able to do it. As far as I know, Bolshoi tickets are fairly pricy so this allowance could be spent at once. But in other cases, this money can be spent on concert tickets, museums, exhibitions and other cultural events. I really hope that young people will take advantage of this new opportunity and visit not only regional but national cultural venues as well.

I think this is important for young people. Many want…

Nailya Asker-zade: Of course, they want to do something with their free time.

Vladimir Putin: Not only that. Many want to learn more about our cultural heritage but they have to save a lot first. I hope that when it comes to culture, they will not have to save too much. Their expenses will be covered by the state.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, let us open the section Domestic Policy, and the sub-section Federal Power.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I hope nothing will prevent us from airing a call from Krasnodar.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Nikolai Dolzhenko: Mr President,

You came to power after Boris Yeltsin passed it on to you of his own free will. Is such a transfer of power possible today? Do you have a member of your team that you could transfer power to without any doubts?

Vladimir Putin: Mr Dolzhenko, look. Boris Yeltsin did not hand over this power to me. The point is that according to our law, our Fundamental Law, if the President resigns, the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation becomes Acting President. I was the Prime Minister.

I will tell you straight, and there are no secrets here, this decision was preceded by other events. At one time, I was the Director of the Federal Security Service (FSS). When Boris Yeltsin offered me the position of Secretary of the Security Council, the organisation that coordinates the work of government agencies on behalf of the President at the political level, I had to choose a successor for the position of FSS Director, on the President’s instructions.

To my surprise, the people I offered this job to refused. Why? The situation in the country was very complicated and not everyone, in fact, very few, wanted to assume this responsibility. In addition, when Boris Yeltsin suggested I present myself in the polls in the future, I said: “Mr Yeltsin, I do not think I am ready for this.” He replied: “We will come back to that. Think it over.”

Eventually, Boris Yeltsin resigned and I became Acting President. However, in the final analysis, the decision of who is to head the Russian state rests with Russian citizens. They exercise this right of choice by direct secret ballot. This is the only way it can go.

As for who could lead the country, on the one hand, nature abhors a vacuum and nobody is irreplaceable. On the other hand, it is my responsibility to recommend people who might be qualified to run for the presidency. This is how it works in most countries in the world. I do not know of any exceptions. Naturally, the time will come when I hope I will be able to say that a certain person deserves to lead such a wonderful country as our Motherland – Russia.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Colleagues, we are handing it over to the Message Processing Centre again. We are aware that the pulse of the live broadcast and our Direct Line is beating literally at your centre. Please, the floor is yours.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you very much.

We have a rather interesting question about foreign, not domestic, policy. Mr President, let us watch a video addressed to you by Andrei Cheremisov from St Petersburg.

Andrei Cheremisov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

My name is Andrei. Not long ago, you met with US President Biden. The media told us that the meeting took place in a constructive manner, but almost immediately Russia was again threatened with all sorts of sanctions and restrictions brought about by either the “German patient” or God knows what else. By way of apology, they are saying that little depends on Biden, and supposedly he does not make all the decisions there. I have a question for you: why meet with President Biden if so little depends on him?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Cheremisov, much depends on the President of the United States, although that country has its own political system with checks and balances, but still a lot depends on him. You raised an important issue, but I believe it should be considered somewhat differently. It is not about whether things depend on the US President or not.

The matter is different. You know, there are children in a family that I am rather close with. There is a little child, who does not even talk yet, and he made a mess, so his mother told him firmly: “Never do that again. Switch on your head.” And at that very moment he did that motion with his finger, said “click” and switched on his head. Good job.

Conventional dads and moms in the United States, highly respected analysts, scientists and practical workers, even in the past, give advice to their political leaders and their political class that is in power in the broad sense of the word. What is this advice? They tell them the following: “Listen, the time when we were an absolute hegemon after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the period of the unipolar world is gone, and you must operate on the premise that the world is changing, and doing so rapidly.”

No matter what sanctions are being imposed on Russia, and no matter what they do to frighten us, Russia is nonetheless making progress. Its economic sovereignty is growing, its defence capability has reached a very high level, and, in many important parameters, it has surpassed many countries, in some respects, including the United States.

Asia is growing at a very fast pace. Look, in 1991 China’s GDP was 20 percent of the US GDP, but today, according to US sources –how much is it? – 120 percent. That is, China’s aggregate GDP has become higher in purchasing power parity than that of the United States. Trade between China and Europe exceeded trade between the United States and its main ally, united Europe.

You see, the world is radically changing. Our partners in the US realise that, on the one hand, and therefore there was this meeting in Geneva. On the other hand, they are trying as hard as they can to maintain their dominant position, and hence you get threats and further destructive behaviour with those military exercises, provocations and sanctions.

It does not depend on us; it depends on them. I really hope that an awareness that the world is changing and a rethinking of their own interests and priorities in this changing world will lead to a more attractive world order, and our relations with the United States will get back on track.

Nailya Asker-zade: Are we going to respond now? Will there be any response measures? We got a text message: “The US speaks about sanctions for crossing ‘red lines.’ Which sanction levers does Russia have to respond to US violations of our ‘red lines’?” asks Andrei Syutkin from Omsk Region.

Vladimir Putin: You know, first, we have not just adapted, our economy has adapted to this sanction pressure. It did us good in a way. These import substitution programmes, replacing imported equipment and technologies with domestically produced ones, gave a good boost to the development of high-tech production. It did us good, really. Not to mention agriculture, which saw a surge we could not even imagine before.

There are other positive things, too.

Nailya Asker-zade: The Mir payment system, for instance.

Vladimir Putin: The Mir payment system and the overall strengthening of the financial system. There are plusses in the fact that we are threatened, restrictions are imposed on our bonds and government loans. The overall debt decreased, the aggregate debt – and not just the sovereign debt, which was low anyway – but also the debt of the commercial sector went down. In general, it also has a certain plus, some positive sides.

But we are not going to take and will not take counter measures that would hurt us. For example, the Americans still fly into space using our engines. Our rocket engines are still being widely used to take US spaceships into orbit. We have been delivering them for a dozen years, why should we stop? To harm ourselves?

Or take another example: Boeing builds its planes from our titanium. I am not sure about the exact volumes but probably at least 50 percent of the planes. So what, should we close down titanium production in our country?

If they cross certain lines, we find asymmetrical responses which are pretty sensitive for our partners. Let me repeat: I hope the US will change this attitude not only towards us but also to many of their other partners.

By the way, do you think their traditional partners and even allies are happy that they are being spoken to arrogantly? Nobody likes that.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest moving forward. You mentioned the economy. Let us talk more about that.

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us take a look at where we stand regarding salary payments. We have a direct video call from the Trans-Baikal Territory. Shall we?

Vladimir Putin: With pleasure.

Nailya Asker-zade: Mr Perfilyev, you are on the air.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Good afternoon, Mr President.

This appeal comes to you from the employees of…

Nailya Asker-zade: I am sorry, Mr Perfilyev, could you please turn off the television so that we can hear you better? Sorry, there are problems with the signal.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: If it is on and is near you, it can interfere.

Dmitry Perfilyev: No, there is no television here, I am using the app.

Nailya Asker-zade: Please, go ahead.

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us call him back.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Perfilyev, we cannot hear you well.

Nailya Asker-zade: While we are restoring communication with Mr Perfilyev and the village of Mangut, let us see what is going on with our colleagues.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Perfilyev, wait, maybe you just need to speak a little slower and less loudly? Because I can hear you when you start talking, and then something happens and we lose the connection.

Nailya Asker-zade: Perhaps you can bring the telephone closer to your mouth?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, perhaps, not so loud, and slower.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Yes, Mr President, understood.

Nailya Asker-zade: Please go ahead; we can hear you well now.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Mr President, contrary to the list in Presidential Instructions No. 1180 dated July 2, 2019, at many regional agencies, including Zabaikalpozhspas, the salaries of firefighters have remained at minimum wage level, regardless of their position. Also, the regional firefighting team… (sound fails) <…> Mr. President, please [help resolve] these issues, low wages, and the lack of benefits. (sound fails) <…>

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, if I can clarify …

Nailya Asker-zade: I understand the problem is that the salaries remain at minimum wage level.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: The fact is these are municipal department firefighters; they are not Emergencies Ministry employees.

Vladimir Putin: Give us a moment, ladies. Mr Perfilyev and I will figure it out.

Mr Perfilyev, this is about increasing salaries, is it not?

Dmitry Perfilyev: It is.

Vladimir Putin: I have a question in this regard. Is your organisation part of the Emergencies Ministry, or is it a regional structure?

Dmitry Perfilyev: Zabaikalpozhspas is a regional structure.

Vladimir Putin: Is it regional? Not the Emergencies Ministry, right?

Dmitry Perfilyev: Not the Emergencies Ministry.

Vladimir Putin: Not the Emergencies Ministry, I see.

Can you hear me well?

Dmitry Perfilyev: Mr President, we hear you very well.

Vladimir Putin: Excellent.

Look, when we talked, and I spoke two years ago or last year about the need to raise salaries for the staff – not officers, but the staff of the Emergencies Ministry fire services, it was done.

They used to get 16, and now they get 32 and more, around 40,000 rubles, and a little more. They also have a problem because they began to fill the vacancies and the money allocated to them began to trickle away. In addition, they had to raise the salaries in the Arctic region. Nevertheless, we are keeping it under our control.

I take it and you have said that you are a regional structure.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Yes, exactly right.

Vladimir Putin: It means that at the regional level, in the majority of regions, when we raised the salaries for the Emergencies Ministry staff, salaries were also raised for their regional staff because otherwise the personnel migrate. I am sorry, what region are you from?

Dmitry Perfilyev: Trans-Baikal Territory.

Vladimir Putin: Clearly it depends on the fiscal capacity. Nevertheless, I will definitely speak to the governor, because, firstly, you have a hard and unsafe job, and it should be properly remunerated and marked. Secondly, there is another problem, which is personnel outflow. Ultimately the governor will not have the workers he needs, especially in the current situation when we, regretfully. are facing wildfire issues. I got it and I repeat: this lies within the governor’s authority, but we will certainly talk about that.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Thank you, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: It is too early to thank me. I hope there will be a response from the governor.

Nailya Asker-zade: Thank you very much, Mr Perfilyev.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Thank you and your colleagues, and as they say in such situations, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who is currently putting out wildfires under very complicated conditions. This work is very important, not only economically but also in terms of protecting people’s interests.

Thank you very much. I will be sure to speak to the governor.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I am being told that our colleagues in the call centre have many messages about the trash reform following the environmental topic. Let us give the floor to Natalia Yuryeva.

Natalya Yuryeva: That is correct, colleagues. But I must say that our editorial office has already received almost 2,200,000 messages, and they include plenty of questions about the trash reform. Irina Politova, a volunteer, has been processing all the messages on this topic for almost two weeks.

Irina, how many questions have you studied altogether?

Irina Politova: Probably several thousand.

Natalya Yuryeva: That is, all the messages without exaggeration?

Irina Politova: All of them, but they keep coming up to this day.

Natalya Yuryeva: What worries our people most of all?

Irina Politova: I think the most outrageous problem is unfair fees for trash pickup. The majority of the regions calculate them based on the area of a flat rather than the number of people who live there. As a result, a lonely pensioner from a three-room flat pays more than his neighbours, a family with many children from a small flat.

Natalya Yuryeva: And he has less trash.

Irina Politova: Of course.

Another big problem in the regions is the absence of recycling plants. Landfills are packed; rubbish is flying around, burning, and people are suffocating.

Mr President, there is a collective address to you about this problem from the residents of Selenginsk.

Natalya Yuryeva: And I know that we have photos. Editors, could you please show them on air? It is a pity TV does not transmit smells. Otherwise, it would have been possible to feel the pain of these people.

Irina Politova: Yes, this is a huge problem in the Republic of Buryatia. We received a complaint from 71 people, including veterans of the Great Patriotic War and home-front workers. They are begging you to save their village from an environmental disaster. In the village of Vasilyevskoye, Tver Region, people have to travel three km to get rid of their trash in a neighbouring village because there is simply no dumpster in their own village.

Natalya Yuryeva: Mr President, people are also concerned about why trash is collected separately and then thrown into the same rubbish truck? Also, what can be done to compel the managing companies to stop subverting the trash reform?

Vladimir Putin: The trash reform requires a lot of work throughout the country. It is not the first time that we are addressing this problem, but, as you know, nobody has dealt with it seriously since the Soviet times. True, probably we did not have as much waste in the past as we do now, owing to the transition to a consumer society, as they say.

Now we produce 60 million tonnes of waste every year, and we are only taking the first steps towards resolving this problem. We have received the first investment for the separate collection of 10 million tonnes of trash and for the processing of three million tonnes. As you see, the remainder is huge.

In the years to come, we must build waste incineration plants, although there are certainly problems here, as well. I am aware of the fact that many local residents in the places where these plants are supposed to be built are anxious and have many questions. I want you to be mindful of the fact that no country around the world can do without this kind of waste disposal, and there are types of waste that can be destroyed only by fire. For example, our doctors in the red zones and clinics wear something that is known as a “spacesuit.” It is impossible to dispose of these without incinerating them.

So, in addition to separating trash and the early phases of recycling, we are beginning the practical implementation of these tasks with plans to build five plants. The government is considering the option to expand this programme, it will involve a lot of work, and there are many aspects to it. For example, some packaging manufacturers – and experts are telling us that 50 percent of what we send to the trash can is packaging, for example, cardboard, all kinds of paper – they decided that they could create processing capacity. Glass manufacturers believe that it makes more economic sense to pay a disposal fee, and the Government is now working to build corresponding relations with them in order to collect these funds and use them for recycling this type of waste.

I repeat, this is a major challenge, but we are not going to interrupt these efforts for a second. Of course, the most extreme cases require a prompt response, including the landfills you mentioned. We will try to make note of this for ourselves and respond accordingly in conjunction with the authorities.

But there are things that are absolutely unacceptable. I am talking about what was just said. When – and people are rightfully outraged by this – they make an effort to follow the recommendations of the authorities, separate their trash, and then all of it is dumped and mixed up in a lorry. This is, without a doubt, a lack of proper organisation by the respective operators, who need to be held accountable for their actions. In this case, without doubt, the prompt reaction of residents, public organisations and the Russian Popular Front is of great help.

To put it in a broader perspective, we – I want to return to this subject – will move on to have packaging manufacturers bear expanded responsibility. That is, once you produce the packaging, you will be held responsible for it until it is disposed of properly, either by directly disposing of the packaging, or by paying a certain amount to the state so that it can take care of it itself.

We will try to respond to the most outrageous cases if we have addresses and feedback.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we will continue.

Tatyana Remezova has the floor.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, Yekaterina.

Ecology is not just trash processing, it also means clean water and clean air, of course. Omsk has become an anti-leader in this respect, an absolute anti-leader.

Here is just one of the messages: “We are forced to check the air outside the window before taking our child out for a walk,” writes Yevgenia Rogozina from Omsk. Nadeshda Kasatova urges the federal government to move to Omsk: “Let them breathe our odours.”

Let us try to connect Omsk to our live feed. We open Ecology, Environmental Pollution. I see we have a direct video call from Omsk.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Tatyana Remezova: Hello, you are on the air. The President can hear you.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Vladimir Lifantyev: Hello, Mr President. My name is Vladimir, I am calling from Omsk. Our question is indeed about ecology. In 2018, Omsk was included in the 12 cities – participants in the Ecology national project, the Clean Air federal project. But we have not seen any changes, and now it is June 30, 2021. Total emissions were to decrease by 20 percent as per your executive order, however, we were being poisoned with coal soot, formaldehyde or hydrogen chloride, and excess levels of these pollutants are still being recorded. We have very bad statistics regarding lung diseases, respiratory tract diseases and oncology. Mr President, we are calling on you for help today so that you can use your influence with the companies that are ignoring the May executive orders, and the overall system so that we can take a full breath and stop living in a gas chamber.

(Shouting together.) We are pleading!

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: It is a joint address.

Vladimir Putin: I hear you. Mr Lifantyev and all the others next to you – the adults and children – I have the following to say: I heard there was a suggestion to move the federal government to Omsk; you know, that would not resolve the issue. Moreover, I personally think that certain federal organisations should be moved to Siberia, at least our larger companies and their head offices, which operate in Siberia but pay most of their taxes, unfortunately, in Moscow. However, this is a separate issue.

Regarding the environment. Look, the situation became worse objectively over the decades, not as a result of actions by the Government of the Russian Federation or even new Russian authorities in the broad sense of the word. These enterprises, as you are aware yourselves, have been there for decades, and they are the polluters.

The biggest polluters are industrial companies. The second biggest polluter is the utility system, especially during the heating season if the primary fuel sources are coal or heating oil. And the third is transport.

Indeed, regarding Omsk, it was included in the 12 cities in a difficult situation. But a reduction [of emissions] up to 20 percent is to be in place by 2024, and I really hope that despite all the problems it will happen.

I am perfectly aware that living under such conditions is unfortunate; I understand this perfectly, however, this work is ongoing. Now I will tell you what the local and the central authorities have managed to do and in which areas.

There is more to it than just Omsk being included on the list of the 12 cities where this required reduction of 20 percent by 2024 has been scheduled. Specific actions are being taken. For example, as far as I know, there was a report out there recently – I am aware of the developments and I keep handy the information about what is going on in these 12 cities. Omsk, I believe, has four large landfills, correct?

Vladimir Lifantyev: Six large landfills, and five participants in the Clean Country programme. I could be off with my numbers.

Vladimir Putin: My documents show four large landfills.

The corresponding local and regional authorities can submit an application for action regarding these landfills. The Governor signed two applications. Unfortunately, there are still no applications for two landfills, and this is something that local and regional authorities should certainly focus on, and this work needs to be sped up.

The second thing is you have a large oil refinery operated by GazpromNeft, I believe, and there is a fairly large accumulation of sediment and slag. This matter is still being finalised with the company’s management. It is a powerful and good high-tech company, and they promise to recycle 50 percent of this landfill by 2023.

Why only 50? We need to proceed carefully so as not to stir up this landfill in such a way that it creates even more problems than we already have. But this work will be seen to the end.

Finally, public transport is one of the polluters, as I said earlier. There is some progress. It was decided to upgrade transport in the cities with an unfavourable environmental situation, and Omsk is one of those. We must give credit to the leadership of Omsk Region. The Omsk Region Government has prepared and defended this programme, and it was submitted to the Government, and we will start working on updating urban transport with an eye to reducing emissions.

Overall, the situation calls for taking more drastic action. For example, we are now moving to using the best available technology at our companies. But we can go beyond that. First, the number of Roshydromet stations needs to be increased, it is necessary to set up emissions measurement tools in spite of everything, even though industry officials, including regional officials, are telling us it will be expensive, and to respond accordingly to ongoing developments.

Rest assured that we will continue to work on this. I want to tell you, Mr Lifantyev, and everyone who is standing next to you, and all Omsk residents, that we will keep working on it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Look, everyone is wearing masks.

Vladimir Putin: You are all wearing masks, which is great, yes.

Vladimir Lifantyev: May I have a quick word?

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Vladimir Lifantyev: It would be great if you could give the supervisory authorities a little more push, because there are enterprises in Omsk that have been ignoring Rosprirodnadzor requirements for nine years now. We have two chemical lakes in our municipality.

Vladimir Putin: I will definitely look at that. Let us agree that I have marked these issues. After all, it is not even about them having more authority. Most importantly, they should respond to these events in a timely manner. We will definitely take a look at what is going on there.

Vladimir Lifantyev: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: No, thank you for paying attention to this and keeping an eye on it, and I strongly hope that you will continue to do so, since public control in these matters is of critical importance.

Nailya Asker-zade: The next question. Mr President, we currently have flash flooding in Crimea, a heat wave in Moscow, and now wildfires in Siberia. “What is going on with the climate? Why has nature gone mad?” a TV viewer is asking you, for some reason.

Vladimir Putin: Where from?

Nailya Asker-zade: Unfortunately, it does not say here.

Vladimir Putin: There is much talk about this all over the world. This is one of the most urgent and most debated topics related to climate change and global warming. Many believe, with good reason, that it is connected primarily to human activity, to emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere, mostly CO2.

Why is the situation so bad? Not because the climate changes periodically in different parts of the Earth but because some people believe that as the climate is changing in different areas and all over the planet, it will approach a dangerous limit, and if people add more, it will contribute to global warming, then irreversible processes may start which could bring our planet to Venus’s condition, where the surface temperature is around 500 degrees Celsius. This is what environmentalists are concerned about, as well those who warn us about these possible developments that are unfavourable for the entire world.

It may be right or wrong, but we must certainly do our best to minimise our contribution to the developments in the global sphere, including in the Universe in general. Because we are part of the Universe, and although we cannot influence what happens there, if there is something we can influence, we must do it.

Let me repeat, global change, global warming is happening in our country even faster than in many other regions of the world. Actually, not just in our country but along that latitude, including the Scandinavian countries. What consequences does this imply for us? There are apparently some advantages, however, but there are significant disadvantages. First, a part of our territory, about 70 percent, is situated in northern latitudes, and there are large areas of permafrost.

As a reminder, permafrost is frozen ground dozens or even hundreds of metres deep, and maybe even up to 1,000 metres in some places. We have towns and villages there as well as infrastructure, and if the permafrost should start to thaw, this would lead to grave social and economic consequences. Of course, we must be prepared for this. This is the first thing I want to say.

The second. Some areas might be overtaken by deserts, including those which are traditionally seen in Russia as land suitable for farming. This also needs to be considered.

We are carrying out all our obligations under international resolutions, including those under the Paris Agreements. Prior to that there were the Kyoto Agreements, and we were also a party to them. We have assumed serious obligations that, in some respects, are not only not inferior to those of the European Union, but even tougher when it comes to the amount of [carbon] emissions to be reduced. I have no doubt we will be doing all this.

Incidentally, this has an effect on the environment and involves the use of the latest modern technology, as well as efforts to ensure environmental safety. We will be doing this in 12 cities, including Omsk, and in other major localities – we will not tell you now how many there will be, it will depend on what is happening there to the environment.

We also have specific plans. For example, the Government has recently developed a plan for a response to more climate change, should it occur, for the most sensitive activities and industries, including residential development and road construction. Clearly, it is one thing to build a road in Krasnodar Territory and quite another in Yakutia; these are different situations which need different approaches and technology. The Government has just developed a response system for the 10 most important critical industries. We will be responding appropriately and contributing to international efforts; we will be doing more to tap our potential for the absorption of CO2 in the atmosphere. Our potential is huge and we will be boosting it. Incidentally, referring to the firefighters who spoke earlier – their role is great because the absorbing capacity of our forests, seas and our part of the ocean is extremely important and we must preserve it. Of course, in this sense their role is also great and what they are doing is very important. But we will be preparing for what inevitably may happen.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, with regard to the climate in international relations, people are asking about relations with our close neighbours. Let us give the floor to Balashikha.

Yerem Harutyunyan: Mr President,

I am Yerem Harutyunyan, an 11th grade student from Balashikha, outside Moscow.

Before I ask my question, I would like to once again emphasise the crucial role of the Russian Federation and yours personally in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and to thank you for this.

Here is my question: can Russia guarantee Nagorno-Karabakh residents’ safety?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, Yerem, Russia has played a specfic role in resolving this very serious crisis.

No one is interested in seeing it continue: neither Azerbaijan, nor Armenia, let alone Nagorno-Karabakh residents, because the other side of the matter is that if we all live in peace and friendship, then we will create proper conditions for improving people’s lives, not only in terms of security, but also in the current circumstances. I mean normal lives for families, for economic and social development, which, of course, the Karabakh people need, because it is impossible to live thinking all the time that an armed conflict can reignite any time. We understand this very well. The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan understand this as well.

Yes, there is a backlog of issues. There are issues related to rebuilding the infrastructure. There are issues related to demarcation of the border in order to carry out appropriate work on the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, especially in places where a border has never existed as such and was only an administrative border between the union republics.

We are now in the process of doing this. We have created a special trilateral group with Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. We will do our best to restore normal relations in the region. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh should be the beneficiaries of this work. I would like to think that this will be the case despite the difficulties that have been piling up for decades.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Elections to the State Duma will be held in Russia in September. You addressed the congress of the United Russia party. Why are you supporting the party of power so consistently, and what is your opinion of the outgoing parliament’s performance?

Vladimir Putin: Let us begin with the outgoing parliament, and I will speak about the party of power later.

I believe that the parliament of the seventh convocation did not just work in a satisfactory manner but at the appropriate level. The results of this work were fully in keeping with the circumstances and the requirements set to Russia’s supreme representative and legislative body.

It is clear what I am referring to. I mean that for a long time, this past time, the deputies have been working in conditions of the pandemic. They had to continue working despite the threats and challenges, including to their lives and health. They had to gather in the voting hall and make decisions bearing on the most important spheres of the country’s development. They needed to provide assistance to people, to families, enterprises and entire economic sectors. If this had not been done, the situation in Russia would have been much more complicated. As you are aware, and nearly everyone supports this view, we covered the worst part of the road with losses, but not as dramatical as in many other countries, including thanks to the State Duma deputies from all factions, which I would like to emphasise. About 25 percent of the members of parliament caught the coronavirus, and four passed away. But the deputies continued working and doing their duty. I believe that they deserve respect and gratitude not only from me but also from the voters who will come to polling stations in September.

As for the party of power, everyone knows that life is not all about fun and giving away money. It is very easy and pleasant to throw money around, just like the sower on the famous painting. But the seeds will eventually run out, and it is not a fact that they will germinate. Therefore, decisions must be made with a clear vision, as people say, professionally and with a sense of responsibility for the decisions made.

I would like to say once again that a vast number of decisions were made in the 1990s just to please the public, and these decisions were made by those who knew that they could not be implemented. What is this? This is deceiving the voters, deceiving our citizens so as to present oneself as the defender of the people and later to shift the blame for failure to implement these decisions onto someone else. As I said, they usually knew in advance that their decisions could not be implemented.

This is not how United Russia is acting, even when we adopt unpopular decisions that are necessary for the people and the future of the country. United Russia deputies do so, even if it can damage them. Because it is sometimes impossible to explain some decisions in detail, even though they are necessary. As I said, we need to do this. But all of this, the work of United Russia is creating a solid foundation of the Russian statehood in terms of the guaranteed adoption of the decisions the country needs. This is why, and also because I was the founder, the creator of this party, it is logical that I support it. Ultimately, this conversation and my answer to your question show that I intend to support the party during its election campaign.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Thank you.

Let us go to the Message Processing Centre and ask our colleagues if they are getting bored. How is it going, girls, Tatyana?

Tatyana Remezova: No, Nailya, we are not bored at all. We receive very many questions when the President goes on air. You understand how rapidly the number of requests increases when people see that this is live streaming, real-time communication with the President.

Mr President, the European football championship is underway. You mentioned it at the beginning, but people continue asking questions. Here is one of them: “Mr President, the Russian national team has not gotten out of the group at EURO 2020. Some time ago, our hockey team tumbled out of the world championship in the quarter-finals. What is your personal view of this embarrassment? Russia, which has a population of 147 million, must show different results. Thank you.” This question came from Svetlana Tokareva in Lipetsk.

Vladimir Putin: This is what sport is like. There can be triumphs, and there can be losses and failures. But it is a fact that our hockey team, not to mention the football team, did badly, and this cannot go unnoticed.

I will not go into detail now; we have specialists for that. Although I am a master of two sports, sambo and judo, I do not consider myself a specialist in hockey or football, and so we must trust the specialists. But in such cases, as they say, “nothing personal,” this can happen to anyone.

But we simply need to think about what positive things have been done by those who are responsible for the performance of our national teams, we must put our heads together to think what must be changed when it comes to both hockey and football players, and move on, without crying over spilt milk but hoping for the best.

We certainly have a good potential.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, sport can be recreational for some people. But many others believe that recreation means traveling. Maybe many of those who are watching us now do not want to sit in front of their television sets but would rather go to the seaside or a health resort. Of course, COVID has closed the borders one way or another. On the other hand, many people have discovered their own country, and more than that.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Yes, they have also discovered problems, because prices in Crimea, Sochi and on Lake Baikal are sometimes higher than abroad, while the quality of services is below foreign standards.

I suggest taking up the issue of tourism, in particular, internal tourism. Shall we take a question from Kirov? What does this girl want to ask?

Good afternoon, Alyona. You are on air.

Alyona Maslennikova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Alyona Maslennikova: Mr President, please tell me why is it more expensive to spend a vacation at a Russian resort than abroad? For instance, for 35,000–40,000 rubles, we can fly to Turkey on an all-inclusive tour. It will include a four-star hotel, three meals a day, picturesque views, and the clearest sea. In Sochi, for the same amount of money, you will get a three-star hotel, with only breakfasts included, and the sea will be so unclean that it can give you various infections. Many holidaymakers complain about illnesses after visiting the Black Sea coast. I think this is why Russian tourists do not want to visit the Russian south, especially if they have been abroad and can see the difference for themselves. Even if they cannot visit Turkey, they will stay away from Russia’s overpriced southern resorts.

Vladimir Putin: What can I say, Alyona? The answer is out in the open. Unfortunately, very little money has been invested in the development of our tourist capacities and infrastructure for a very long time. People preferred to travel abroad as soon as this opportunity was available to them.

Tourism export is huge in Russia; in 2019 alone, our tourists spent $36 billion on travelling abroad. It is a huge sum. The state, unfortunately, did not invest.

We have a programme designed to develop domestic tourism, there is a cashback project for tourists, and there is the task of developing the tourist infrastructure. We have recently created a state corporation for domestic tourism. It will be responsible for tourist projects and provide cheap loans with the possibility of later transfering its share to private entrepreneurs at market prices. The first steps have already been taken and domestic tourism is growing.

As for overpriced services, yes, it seems to be relevant. But why is this happening today? Most foreign countries, despite the fact that some of them are opening, are still closed. People are cautious about travelling abroad. In fact, they are right because these countries keep changing their rules every day. Greece yesterday had certain rules and tomorrow they will change. First, they required vaccination certificates, now they want PCR tests, and tomorrow they will want something else because the European Commission also has its own requirements. It is impossible to get to a hospital there. What is this going to lead to? It will lead to an excessive load on our tourist infrastructure, above all, in the south, in Krasnodar Territory and Crimea. As soon as supply cannot keep up with demand, prices tend to rise. It is how market economy works.

I strongly hope that we will increase our capacities, including in the ways I have mentioned; 50 projects are already being considered and we are going to increase this number.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us proceed.

Mr President, a question from Miscellaneous and Personal, one of my favourites.

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: It is about recreation again.

“Mr President, do you sing when you are not working? If so, which songs do you sing?”

Vladimir Putin: (Laughs) Yes, it is about recreation again.

First of all, I have little time for recreation, and second, as we say, when people are winding down, they get together, and then they have a drink, and if they do they also sing. I am a Russian, after all, and so I am not much different from the majority of our people in this sense. What songs? I sing Russian, Soviet songs. They are melodic, beautiful and meaningful.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Let us go to the Message Processing Centre.

Natalya, can you hear me?

Natalya Yuryeva: Yes, thank you. I believe that those who have sent us the following questions would definitely sing The Roads. The majority of text messages include photographs of roads, or rather their absence.

For example, if we take a look at the image we received from the village of Alekseyevka in Smolensk Region, we will be unable to see either a bridge or a road. They are there, but they have been flooded.

And this is the road leading to School No. 39 in Taganrog.

The residents of Nizhnekamsk have measured the depth of the potholes in their roads: 25 centimetres.

Let us watch a video address not from Venice, but from Lesosibirsk. Its roads have become canals or even rivers.

Natalya Prokopyeva: Good afternoon.

Mr President,

I am addressing you on behalf of the residents of Borovoi district of Lesosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory. We are asking you to help us resolve this problem.

This is the road running through our area. When the road across the railway line was repaired last year, the water drain pipe was not laid correctly. Now water is not being drained, but is rising with every passing day. This is how vehicles drive on this road, at their own risk and peril.

We have appealed to the city administration several times, but we have not yet received a single reply regarding our problem. We are asking you to help us.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Prokopyeva, we know about the problem with roads; we are constantly hearing about it.

What can I tell you and the other people who come across similar problems, because many people in the country, in various regions are listening to us? Our roads are divided into several categories: federal roads, regional roads and local roads. We have about 60,000 kilometres of federal roads, if memory serves, and over 500,000 kilometres of regional roads. There are about a million kilometres of local roads.

With regard to federal motorways, during the first phase, the state engaged precisely with these, because these are the main motorways that are used for hauling goods and transporting people; they form the backbone of the entire network. About 85 percent of them have been brought up to code. By 2024, 50 percent of the regional motorways must be brought up to code as well, and then up to 80–85 percent of the regional motorways must be brought to code.

Different approaches are being used, including full cycle, where they build and then do the roadworks themselves. In your particular case, you should have done just that, so that, as part of the full cycle project, those who built this road also do the maintenance. Meaning that they built it, so let them get on and do the maintenance at their own expense. Clearly, this is an oversight on behalf of those who built this road.

I will definitely have a word with Governor Alexander Uss and we will see what can be done about it. The funds are available. I am confident the region has funds as well. If needed, we will, of course, tap into the federal funds, but we will resolve your issue.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, the question that came to our website from Natalia Skarynina from Chelyabinsk is also about infrastructure: “Use your influence to improve the mass transit situation in our city. The metro has remained an unfinished construction project since the Soviet times.”

Vladimir Putin: Well, yes.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “So many years have gone by without them doing anything about it, we hear nothing but promises. We are not just a village, but a city with a million-plus residents.”

Vladimir Putin: Well, yes. Is Ms Skarynina listening?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We received this message on the website.

Vladimir Putin: This is a well-known story. Indeed, this is unfinished construction, a legacy of Soviet times. It is not the only city of this size to face this kind of a problem. Krasnoyarsk, which I just mentioned, has the same problem.

Deputy Prime Minister Khusnullin traveled to Chelyabinsk on my instruction to get acquainted with the situation there. He reported to me that the issue had been worked through. It should be a hybrid transport service, a cross between the metro and the tram. The central parts, where it is more convenient, should be serviced by the underground lines. These should then come to the surface as the transit lines move away from the centre. It will cost over 40 billion rubles. We have the money to cover this construction not only in Chelyabinsk, but other cities facing the same problem as well.

To reiterate, these funds will be allocated for the infrastructure projects. The amount of funds is quite large at 500 billion rubles. Matters of this kind, including the one in Chelyabinsk, have not only been taken into consideration. The approximate scope of work is quite clear, we have the resources, and all we need to do is start this work just like we did in other cities facing the same issues.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest we move on to the Economy. You have announced the extension of the easy-term mortgage lending programme. It will continue in a slightly adjusted form. Do you think this programme has increased housing prices and, thus, the investment effort benefitted the construction rather than the buyers?

Let me give you an example. Last year, prices in new blocks of flats rose by 12 percent. In Krasnodar Territory, the price of 1 square metre has increased by 53 percent this year alone. We received a message from Belgorod: a flat cost 1.5 million, now it costs 3.5 million. Of course, there were other reasons that affected the housing prices, but do you not think that the mortgage lending terms also had a role to play in this?

Vladimir Putin: Then, I want to counter: would it be better not to have done this? By the way, I myself drew attention to this at a Government meeting, it can be easily verified. I just said that we must keep in mind that when we introduce these preferential mechanisms, we must ensure that the market, in this case the construction market, takes them in a proper way so that they do not lead to a price rise. Unfortunately, this is to a certain extent unavoidable since it is based on supply and demand.

Still, these are easy-term loans, despite an increase in prices, which is there, indeed, it is true (although the causes may differ and include the rise in metal prices, other things and inflation, in general). Nevertheless, this easy-term mortgage lending programme played its positive role: housing construction rates and the number of loans increased sharply. More than 500,000 people used this programme. Therefore, we decided to extend it. It will now be 7 percent, not 6.5 percent, for the next year until the summer of 2022, I believe.

Nailya Asker-zade: The amount has changed too.

Vladimir Putin: The amount has been changed. In any case, this programme has been preserved, that is what matters most. Again, they raised it a little, by half of a percentage point.

At the same time, we have retained the benefits associated with providing and helping families with children. The initial benefit was for families with two children, and more recently we decided to extend this benefit to families (at 6 percent) where a child was born in the period since January 2018, the first child. Therefore, I hope that expanded benefits will still be beneficial and the people will be able to take advantage of them.

In the Russian Far East, a certain group of our citizens have access to super-easy mortgage loans at 2 percent APR. Therefore, it is necessary, of course, to increase market supply and to monitor the prices of building materials and other products.

There are also problems associated with labour shortages. During the pandemic, we limited access for labour from the former republics of the Soviet Union, including Central Asia, which also affected the cost of housing, no matter how strange it may seem to someone. But we will continue this work.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, what do you think about this, as you put it, counter hit? A text message asks: Who is the President subordinate to?

Vladimir Putin: To the Russian people, to the voters.

When people come to vote, they make their choice at every level – local, regional or national. And in this case, of course, the President, the head of state obeys the people who have given him their special trust.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest we choose one question on the wall. For example, the Defence and Security category. Let us see, Fighting Crime.

I can see that we have a direct video call from Moscow. Shall we try it?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Nailya Asker-zade: Hello, please speak up, you are on live.

Rinat Bilyalov: Hello, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Rinat Bilyalov: My question is rather short.

Today, swindlers are offering fake vaccination certificates or vaccination contraindication certificates. How are you planning to deal with these swindlers?

Vladimir Putin: They are swindlers, pure and simple.

There are Criminal Code articles punishing swindling.

It is just that the law enforcers need to work more efficiently.

They know about this, and so does the Interior Minister. I talked to him about this quite recently. They are working, of course, and they are looking for them. Hopefully they will bring them to justice. This is a very dangerous type of crime. In this case it is also linked to people’s health. It is absolutely unacceptable and the law enforcers should use the entire arsenal at their disposal in order to prevent these offences.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: People in Moscow have been using QR codes to visit cafes for several days now. And, of course, these swindlers are in ever growing demand.

Vladimir Putin: Right, right. The Interior Ministry is aware of this and intends to fight it.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest we go back to the vaccination theme, if in a different context: “Please supply an anti-COVID vaccine to the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic. Thank you very much in advance.” This is a message from Vasily Kuprinenko.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is a matter requiring careful consideration. I think several thousand – some 90 thousand – doses of vaccine have been supplied already. But I hear you. An additional shipment will be made.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we have been working for over three hours now, or maybe even more. Let us move over to the blitz Q&A: short questions and short answers.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Nailya Asker-Zade: “Do you keep up your foreign language skills? If so, what mistakes do you make most often in German?”

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: No mistakes?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, I make mistakes; after all, it is not my native tongue. But the main problem is that I am gradually forgetting words. You see, language is like a musical instrument: you must practice every day to keep up a certain level. Regrettably, I do not have this opportunity now. And my vocabulary is gradually decreasing.

Nailya Asker-Zade: What about English?

Vladimir Putin: The same, only worse.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Mr President, which of your school teachers do you remember best?”

Vladimir Putin: Tamara Chizhova; I still remember her. She was my teacher from first to fourth grade. She was very kind. I remember her to this day. Vera Gurevich, my teacher from fifth to eighth grade. I still keep in touch with her.

Nailya Asker-Zade: “What was the best period in the history of our country?”

Vladimir Putin: There were many glorious periods in the history of Russia, even back before Peter the Great, who implemented major reforms, which changed the country. The reign of Catherine the Great was a period of our largest territorial acquisitions. And during the reign of Alexander I Russia became a superpower, as we say now. It is an obvious fact. Therefore, we can and must study all these eras and also many other periods. We must remember this, revere the memory of those who achieved these outstanding results, and try to measure up to their examples.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Mr President, who starches up your shirt collars and irons your shirts?” A question from Moscow.

Vladimir Putin: You see, there is a dry cleaners’ where I live, in Ogaryovo, and it really is…

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: …the best? By the way, this is paid promotion. (Laughter)

Vladimir Putin: I do not know how to describe it. But the people who work there, women… Thank you for this question. Why? Because you have given me an opportunity to thank them, express my gratitude to them. I see them very rarely, but I always admire the results of their work. I am not being ironic. When I put these shirts on, they look brand new to me, right off the shelf. Thank you very much. Of course, you must look your best, just like our moderators, at such events as we are having today, when millions of people are watching us.

Nailya Asker-zade: “Mr President, how do you cope with adversity?”

Vladimir Putin: Do you know what I am used to and how I feel about it? First, any adversity should be taken as something inevitable, because people in my position should operate on the premise that this is an absolutely natural part of what I do. Most importantly, one should believe in the correctness of the course that one is following. In that case, like an icebreaker, one can go through ice of any thickness, fully aware of what is going on around you, but not paying much attention to it and striving to achieve the goal that one has set for oneself.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Is your main achievement as President of Russia still ahead or already behind?”

Vladimir Putin: I hope it lies ahead.

Nailya Asker-zade: “You have quoted Mowgli and Twelve Chairs more than once. What are the three works of art that impressed you and influenced you the most?”

Vladimir Putin: Let us say it is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto for piano and orchestra, and Kolobok [Russian fairy tale].

Why? I want all my colleagues in high offices to pay attention to this story. Why? Because as soon as you, my dear colleagues, begin to take flattery for the truth and sink into this atmosphere under the influence of what they are telling you, you risk being eaten.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Mr. President, what does one need to be happy?”

Vladimir Putin: First … Right, I will try to be brief.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: No, this is a serious question, we still have time.

Nailya Asker-zade: This is a philosophical question.

Vladimir Putin: It is. I think that to be happy, you need to feel needed and to be able to fulfill your potential.

Nailya Asker-zade: “Where will you work after you retire?”

Vladimir Putin: Why work after retirement? I will sit near a woodstove and relax.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: ”How do you feel about diets?“

Vladimir Putin: Diets? You know, I have a rule of thumb – you can call it a diet, if you like: everything is good in moderation.

Nailya Asker-zade: Not only in eating.

“What games did you like to play when you were little?”

Vladimir Putin: I am tempted to say chess, but, unfortunately, it was not chess.

Nailya Asker-zade: The game, Cops and Robbers?

Vladimir Putin: Just like everyone else did, probably, in the then Leningrad backyards: hide-and-seek and tag.

Nailya Asker-zade: Here comes the last question: what kind of Russia do you dream about to pass on to the next generation?

Vladimir Putin: A question that I would like to answer with beautiful and colourful catchwords, and I do have them. But in this particular case I would like to give a more detailed answer, if I may. May I?

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, of course, we still have time.

Vladimir Putin: You know, I will begin with something sad, namely, once upon a time our common homeland, the Soviet Union, disintegrated. The nucleus of that common state, of that historical Russia, namely the Russian Federation itself, is known to have lost almost half of its industrial potential, half of its economy – nearly 50 percent – approximately the same percentage of its population and a considerable part of its territory, a part that was important in the industrial and economic respects, a territory with a well-developed infrastructure, in which historical Russia had invested its resources not only for decades, but also for centuries.

And what has to be done about all this? I have already commented on that: it makes no sense to restore the Soviet Union. It is impossible and senseless for a number of reasons, and is also inexpedient, if we keep in mind, say, the demographic processes in certain republics of the former Soviet Union. Otherwise we may face insoluble social problems and even the erosion of the state-forming ethnic nucleus.

So, what should we do in Russia proper? How should we approach the geopolitical realities and domestic development? Look, despite the losses I have mentioned, Russia is still the biggest country in the world in terms of territory. And even though much of its territory lies in the northern latitudes, nevertheless, this is also important, keeping in mind the Northern Sea Route and much else. This is my first point.

Second, Russia is, without any doubt, a world treasure trove of various mineral resources, and this can and must be used cleverly. This too is a huge competitive advantage for us.

But our chief gold reserve is not even the $600-odd billion that has been accumulated by our Gobsecks at the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry. Russia’s chief gold reserve is its people. This is not mere rhetoric, nor a statement intended to ingratiate myself with others. I am sincerely convinced that this is really so.

After all, our people, the multiethnic population of Russia, are, firstly, highly spiritual and possess deep historical and cultural roots. This is always important, but in the modern world – I will explain why right away – this is important doubly and triply so. This is emerging as some almost tangible and even economic substance. And the following is the reason why. The world of today is based on high technologies that constitute the future of the entire world, including this country. If so, this deep-down principle, the innate spirituality of the Russians and other ethnic groups of the Russian Federation is highly important because at heart we nurture a considerable respectful attitude towards science and education. This has to do with our culture.

Today, 60 percent of parents in our country would like their children to take up science, even though you cannot earn as much in this sphere as in business, but they nevertheless want their children to become scientists. It is very telling.

The future of humankind is connected with this: with genetics, biology in the broad sense of the word, information technology, artificial intelligence and everything else at the junction of these disciplines. And we have huge competitive advantages there. If we ensure internal stability, which external forces have always been trying to disrupt, if we attain this internal stability our success will be inevitable. And we will be able to say proudly and with good reason that we live in a state that is domestically an attractive place to live in, and we will have reason to say that we live in a country which we consider great. In my opinion, this is very important. This inner feeling of our citizens and inner attitude to Russia is important and, in itself, is a vital guarantee that Russia will definitely attain all the goals it sets for itself.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, thank you very much for this long and substantive conversation.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Let us believe that this is how it will be in our country.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I would like to thank our colleagues, Natalya Yuryeva and Tatyana Remezova, who worked with the volunteers. Our special thanks go to the volunteers, who received a huge number of questions. We would not have succeeded without you.

Vladimir Putin: For my part, I would like to thank our listeners and viewers, and the participants of our discussion and meeting today.

I would like to assure you once again and say what I said at the beginning: we will try to make sure that not a single question goes unnoticed, even if we could not discuss it during this conversation.

I would like once again to thank the moderators for their coordinated work today. Thank you.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Thank you.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

Putin rewrites the law of the geopolitical jungle

Putin rewrites the law of the geopolitical jungle

April 23, 2021

By Pepe Escobar and first posted at The Saker Blog

Putin’s address to the Russian Federal Assembly – a de facto State of the Nation – was a judo move that left Atlanticist sphere hawks particularly stunned.

The “West” was not even mentioned by name. Only indirectly, or via a delightful metaphor, Kipling’s Jungle Book. Foreign policy was addressed only at the end, almost as an afterthought.

For the best part of an hour and a half, Putin concentrated on domestic issues, detailing a series of policies that amount to the Russian state helping those in need – low income families, children, single mothers, young professionals, the underprivileged – with, for instance, free health checks all the way to the possibility of an universal income in the near future.

Of course he would also need to address the current, highly volatile state of international relations. The concise manner he chose to do it, counter-acting the prevailing Russophobia in the Atlanticist sphere, was quite striking.

First, the essentials. Russia’s policy “is to ensure peace and security for the well-being of our citizens and for the stable development of our country.”

Yet if “someone does not want to…engage in dialogue, but chooses an egoistic and arrogant tone, Russia will always find a way to stand up for its position.”

He singled out “the practice of politically motivated, illegal economic sanctions” to connect it to “something much more dangerous”, and actually rendered invisible in the Western narrative: “the recent attempt to organize a coup d’etat in Belarus and the assassination of that country’s president.” Putin made sure to stress, “all boundaries have been crossed”.

The plot to kill Lukashenko was unveiled by Russian and Belarusian intel – which detained several actors backed, who else, US intel. The US State Department predictably denied any involvement.

Putin: “It is worth pointing to the confessions of the detained participants in the conspiracy that a blockade of Minsk was being prepared, including its city infrastructure and communications, the complete shutdown of the entire power grid of the Belarusian capital. This, incidentally means preparations for a massive cyber-attack.”

And that leads to a very uncomfortable truth: “Apparently, it’s not for no reason that our Western colleagues have stubbornly rejected numerous proposals by the Russian side to establish an international dialogue in the field of information and cyber-security.”

“Asymmetric, swift and harsh”

Putin remarked how to “attack Russia” has become “a sport, a new sport, who makes the loudest statements.” And then he went full Kipling: “Russia is attacked here and there for no reason. And of course, all sorts of petty Tabaquis [jackals] are running around like Tabaqui ran around Shere Khan [the tiger] – everything is like in Kipling’s book – howling along and ready to serve their sovereign. Kipling was a great writer”.

The – layered – metaphor is even more startling as it echoes the late 19th century geopolitical Great Game between the British and Russian empires, of which Kipling was a protagonist.

Once again Putin had to stress that “we really don’t want to burn any bridges. But if someone perceives our good intentions as indifference or weakness and intends to burn those bridges completely or even blow them up, he should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetric, swift and harsh”.

So here’s the new law of the geopolitical jungle – backed by Mr. Iskander, Mr. Kalibr, Mr. Avangard, Mr. Peresvet, Mr. Khinzal, Mr. Sarmat, Mr. Zircon and other well-respected gentlemen, hypersonic and otherwise, later complimented on the record. Those who poke the Bear to the point of threatening “the fundamental interests of our security will regret what has been done, as they have regretted nothing for a very long time.”

The stunning developments of the past few weeks – the China-US Alaska summit, the Lavrov-Wang Yi summit in Guilin, the NATO summit, the Iran-China strategic dealXi Jinping’s speech at the Boao forum – now coalesce into a stark new reality: the era of a unilateral Leviathan imposing its iron will is over.

For those Russophobes who still haven’t got the message, a cool, calm and collected Putin was compelled to add, “clearly, we have enough patience, responsibility, professionalism, self-confidence, self-assurance in the correctness of our position and common sense when it comes to making any decisions. But I hope that no one will think about crossing Russia’s so-called red lines. And where they run, we determine ourselves in each specific case.”

Back to realpolitik, Putin once again had to stress the “special responsibility” of the “five nuclear states” to seriously discuss “issues related to strategic armament”. It’s an open question whether the Biden-Harris administration – behind which stand a toxic cocktail of neo-cons and humanitarian imperialists – will agree.

Putin: “The goal of such negotiations could be to create an environment of conflict-free coexistence based on equal security, covering not only strategic weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, heavy bombers and submarines, but also, I would like to emphasize, all offensive and defensive systems capable of solving strategic tasks, regardless of their equipment.”

As much as Xi’s address to the Boao forum was mostly directed to the Global South, Putin highlighted how “we are expanding contacts with our closest partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the BRICS, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the allies of the Collective Security Treaty Organization”, and extolled “joint projects in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union”, billed as “practical tools for solving the problems of national development.”

In a nutshell: integration in effect, following the Russian concept of “Greater Eurasia”.

“Tensions skirting wartime levels”

Now compare all of the above with the White House Executive Order (EO) declaring a “national emergency” to “deal with the Russian threat”.

This is directly connected to President Biden – actually the combo telling him what to do, complete with earpiece and teleprompter – promising Ukraine’s President Zelensky that Washington would “take measures” to support Kiev’s wishful thinking of retaking Donbass and Crimea.

There are several eyebrow-raising issues with this EO. It denies, de facto, to any Russian national the full rights to their US property. Any US resident may be accused of being a Russian agent engaged in undermining US security. A sub-sub paragraph (C), detailing “actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the United States or abroad”, is vague enough to be used to eliminate any journalism that supports Russia’s positions in international affairs.

Purchases of Russian OFZ bonds have been sanctioned, as well as one of the companies involved in the production of the Sputnik V vaccine. Yet the icing on this sanction cake may well be that from now on all Russian citizens, including dual citizens, may be barred from entering US territory except via a rare special authorization on top of the ordinary visa.

The Russian paper Vedomosti has noted that in such paranoid atmosphere the risks for large companies such as Yandex or Kaspersky Lab are significantly increasing. Still, these sanctions have not been met with surprise in Moscow. The worst is yet to come, according to Beltway insiders: two packages of sanctions against Nord Stream 2 already approved by the US Department of Justice.

The crucial point is that this EO de facto places anyone reporting on Russia’s political positions as potentially threatening “American democracy”. As top political analyst Alastair Crooke has remarked, this is a “procedure usually reserved for citizens of enemy states during times of war”. Crooke adds, “US hawks are upping the ante fiercely against Moscow. Tensions and rhetoric are skirting wartime levels.”

It’s an open question whether Putin’s State of the Nation will be seriously examined by the toxic lunatic combo of neocons and humanitarian imperialists bent on simultaneously harassing Russia and China.

But the fact is something extraordinary has already started to happen: a “de-escalation” of sorts.

Even before Putin’s address, Kiev, NATO and the Pentagon apparently got the message implicit in Russia moving two armies, massive artillery batteries and airborne divisions to the borders of Donbass and to Crimea – not to mention top naval assets moved from the Caspian to the Black Sea. NATO could not even dream of matching that.

Facts on different grounds speak volumes. Both Paris and Berlin were terrified of a possible Kiev clash directly against Russia, and lobbied furiously against it, bypassing the EU and NATO.

Then someone – it might have been Jake Sullivan – must have whispered on Crash Test Dummy’s earpiece that you don’t go around insulting the head of a nuclear state and expect to keep your global “credibility”. So after that by now famous “Biden” phone call to Putin came the invitation to the climate change summit, in which any lofty promises are largely rhetorical, as the Pentagon will continue to be the largest polluting entity on planet Earth.

So Washington may have found a way to keep at least one avenue of dialogue open with Moscow. At the same time Moscow has no illusions whatsoever that the Ukraine/Donbass/Crimea drama is over. Even if Putin did not mention it in the State of the Nation. And even if Defense Minister Shoigu has ordered a de-escalation.

The always inestimable Andrei Martyanov has gleefully noted the “cultural shock when Brussels and D.C. started to suspect that Russia doesn’t ‘want’ Ukraine. What Russia wants is for this country to rot and implode without excrement from this implosion hitting Russia. West’s paying for the clean up of this clusterf**k is also in Russian plans for Ukrainian Bantustan.”

The fact that Putin did not even mention Bantustan in his speech corroborates this analysis. As far as “red lines” are concerned, Putin’s implicit message remains the same: a NATO base on Russia’s western flank simply won’t be tolerated. Paris and Berlin know it. The EU is in denial. NATO will always refuse to admit it.

We always come back to the same crucial issue: whether Putin will be able, against all odds, to pull a combined Bismarck-Sun Tzu move and build a lasting German-Russian entente cordiale (and that’s quite far from an “alliance’). Nord Stream 2 is an essential cog in the wheel – and that’s what’s driving Washington hawks crazy.

Whatever happens next, for all practical purposes Iron Curtain 2.0 is now on, and it simply won’t go away. There will be more sanctions. Everything was thrown at the Bear short of a hot war. It will be immensely entertaining to watch how, and via which steps, Washington will engage on a “de-escalation and diplomatic process” with Russia.

The Hegemon may always find a way to deploy a massive P.R. campaign and ultimately claim a diplomatic success in “dissolving” the impasse. Well, that certainly beats a hot war. Otherwise, lowly Jungle Book adventurers have been advised: try anything funny and be ready to meet “asymmetric, swift and harsh”.

The Brazilian fracture between the Expanding Universe and the new imperialist competition in South America

The Brazilian fracture between the Expanding Universe and the new imperialist competition in South America
Fabio Reis Vianna, lives in Rio de Janeiro, is a bachelor of laws (LL.B), MA student in International Relations at the University of Évora (Portugal), writer and geopolitical analyst. He currently maintains a column on international politics at the centennial Brazilian newspaper Monitor Mercantil.

April 05, 2021

By Fabio Reis Vianna for The Saker Blog

In an article published in Foreign Affairs magazine – one of the most prominent mouthpieces of US imperialism – , and signed by, among others, Marcus Hicks, former commander of the US Special Operations Command in Africa during the period 2017-2019, defends the idea that the increased competition between the great powers ignites a red alert that the United States should turn its attention to the African continent.

The main motivator of this concern would be the urgent need to limit the “malign influence” of the hegemon’s two major strategic rivals: Russia and China.

Citing the increased Sino-Russian presence on the African continent, in which Russia alone would have already established military agreements with at least 19 countries, and China, installed in 2017 its first international military base in Djibout.

It is worth noting, that although the Foreign Affairs article mentions that there was an ebb in the American presence during Donald Trump’s administration, in reality, and in a long-term look, since 2001 American foreign policy has turned more aggressively to Africa, and this posture has even been an incentive for a greater presence of other actors of the interstate system in that continent.

The American presence in Africa, justified by the excuse of fighting transnational terrorism, was therefore the trigger for an increase in the presence of other interstate actors, and consequently, of the imperialist competition that in this pandemic 2021 gains even more dramatic contours.

Although this article is specifically a defense of the American presence in Africa, it serves as a warning of how the American establishment is positioning itself in face of a phenomenon that has deepened considerably in recent years: the new imperialist race.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance to understand the role of South America in this complex power game.

Taking into consideration that the increase in competitive pressure in the world system has been accelerating considerably since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has gained imperial contours after September 11, and has unveiled itself as, in fact, in a scenario of almost war with the advent of the pandemic, it is possible to deduce that the recent events in certain parts of South America definitely place it as a battleground of the current powers’ wider dispute for global hegemony.

Symptoms of this competitive phenomenon could be seen recently in insinuations that the Chinese are carrying out naval maneuvers in Argentinean waters (when in fact it was the Americans who in fact carried out exercises near the Brazilian coast), as well as in the intensification of the diplomatic crisis between Venezuela and Guyana.

There are many fracture points in South America, and perhaps the most visible and dangerous one lies over the Esequibo zone, a Guyanese territory of 159,000 square kilometers never recognized by Caracas.

In early March, Guyana accused Venezuela of having violated its airspace with the use of two Sukhoi SU 30 drones, of Russian origin. Caracas promptly refuted the accusations as false.

Repudiated by the Secretary of State for Falklands, Antarctica and the South Atlantic, Daniel Filmus, more recently, the publication of the new British defense plan – ratifying the decision to maintain a permanent military presence in the Falkland Islands – brought concerns to Buenos Aires.

The presence of foreign powers in South American territory is clear, and in light of the significant increase of competitive pressure in the world system – which has been gradually taking place since the disproportionate display of American military power against a defenseless Iraq in 1991 – the theory of the Expanding Universe is confirmed year after year, and in an increasingly dramatic way.

Contradicting the idea that a unipolar system, and therefore led and conducted by a single hegemon, would lead to Kant’s “perpetual peace,” the theory of the Expanding Universe supports the thesis that the global power game tends to reproduce itself ad infinitum as a continuously expanding, anarchic, and directionless universe.

Thus, it doesn’t matter whether the dispute is bipolar or multipolar: whoever is at the top of the system tends to expand his power even further – even if he is not necessarily being challenged at the moment, as is the case in the period right after the Soviet collapse, when the United States reigned absolute over the rest of the world.

The factual (and cruel) reality that comes to confirm the theory of the Expanding Universe could not fit into a more appropriate outfit than that of the present moment.

Just as 9/11 served as the perfect excuse for the expansion of the United States’ global power (in this specific case against an imaginary enemy – since the usual enemy, Russia, was temporarily out of the game), the Covid-19 pandemic serves today as a ladder for an unprecedented increase in competitive pressure in the interstate system.

Following this reasoning, and contrary to what Atlanticist analysts are saying, the pandemic crisis would be favoring only one country: the United States of America.

Not only because Silicon Valley technology companies have never profited as much as they do now, but the awakening of sovereigntist and militarist instincts brought about by the pandemic chaos has made possible the realization of the only fundamental and untouchable consensus of the currently divided US elites: the permanent and continuous reproduction and expansion of their military industrial complex. This expansion would be nothing more than the viability of the so-called Full Spectrum Dominance contained in the DOD Joint Vision 2020, published in the year 2000.

In this context, South America comes to play a new role in the global geopolitical chessboard, a role that the long period as a zone of peace under Anglo-Saxon influence would have softened.

With the increased competitive pressure caused by the pandemic event, which in other terms could be seen as the hegemon’s reaction to the entrance of new competitors in the system, came an increase or shock in the demand for energy resources.

In this scenario, we could exemplify the perspective of an expressive growth in the global demand for oil for the next 30 years, with China and India alone representing approximately 50% of all demand.

Considering that South America today can be considered the region with the largest oil (Venezuela) and Lithium (Bolivia) reserves on the planet – not to mention the Amazon forest and fresh water reserves (Brazil) – and in light of this global energy order in formation and dispute, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the new imperialist race between the great powers in the beginning of this century would be gradually turning to the region.

This situation is a wake-up call for a country in the region that is currently experiencing the greatest identity crisis in its entire history: Brazil.

Fractured internally since before the pandemic, the South American giant has never found itself so pressured and isolated internationally.

The systemic chaos that began with the Color Revolution of June 2013, and which has been deepening year after year until culminating in the election of Jair Bolsonaro (puppet president emerging from the white coup orchestrated by the consortium between the Armed Forces High Command and the U.S. government), finally goes into full short circuit after the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic.

Since then the growing discontent of sectors of the local economic elites with the disastrous management of the health crisis by the current government ruled by the military junta is visible.

Threatened by external sanctions from all sides, the country that has surpassed the mark of 300,000 deaths, is experiencing an internal fracture unprecedented in its history.

Something little remembered, but already in October 2019, Portuguese-speaking writers Mia Couto and José Eduardo Agualusa, on a visit to Brazil, said they were impressed by the climate of local political animosity, comparing the South American giant to African countries like Mozambique and Angola during the pre-civil war period.

At the same time that military police officers in Rio de Janeiro organize marches dressed in suggestive black shirts in defense of President Jair Bolsonaro, military police officers in the state of Bahia are threatening to cause chaos with a riot against the local governor (Rui Costa, from the Workers’ Party, an opponent of Bolsonaro).

Amid escalating tensions, the arm-wrestling between government and parliament is intensifying, and in particular with regard to two issues of geopolitical relevance: 5G and the Sputnik V vaccine.

Even if it is not clear from the stories reported by the hegemonic Brazilian press, it is visible that the Bolsonaro government deliberately acts as a representative of US interests in Brazil.

The difficulties created for the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and the constant threat of exclusion of the Chinese technology giant Huawei from the great 5G auction in the country, reflect the current role of Brazil as a battleground of the great expansionist dispute of the world system in this beginning of the century.

The social fracture, and the deepening divide within the local elites expose the serious risk of a country that could spiral out of control at any moment.

The news that the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) has sent a letter to Mr. Joe Biden, and to his Special Climate Secretary John Kerry, requesting a direct channel of communication – and away from the Brazilian government – to deal with issues related to the Amazon, opens a very serious alert about something that, for those who know history, would not be new.

Bearing in mind that geopolitical competition between the great powers is usually concentrated in fracture zones of the world system, history teaches us that fractured societies – and weakened states – tend to become the object of divisive games in the hands of the great powers.

With all due respect to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil – so mistreated and threatened by the current government – but the moment calls for a deep reflection on this.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions during the meeting with members of the Association of European Businesses in Russia, Moscow, October 5, 2020

Source

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions during the meeting with members of the Association of European Businesses in Russia, Moscow, October 5, 2020

October 08, 2020

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Mr Vanderplaetse,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Colleagues,

Thank you for the opportunity to address once again the members of the Association of European Businesses in the Russian Federation. First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the 25th anniversary of your association. We appreciate your efforts to promote our economic, investment and trade ties, laying a solid foundation for building good relations between us and the countries you represent.

Here at the Foreign Ministry we value opportunities for dialogue with European entrepreneurs aimed at pushing forward a pragmatic, politics-free and mutually beneficial agenda. At the end of the day, these efforts are designed to improve the wellbeing of the people in Russia and in your countries. Holding regular meetings in this format has become a good tradition, testifying to our mutual commitment to keeping this dialogue going.

Since our previous meeting last year, in fact more than a year ago, the overall global environment has not become any easier, seriously affecting business activity. For many years now, the problems of international terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime have been escalating around the world. Regional conflicts continue unabated and their number is growing. Recently, the coronavirus infection emerged as a new and a very serious challenge for all of humanity. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it changed the lives of billions of people overnight. Today, no one can say with certainty when the pandemic will end. I will not elaborate here on how the interruption of global supply chains affects global trade. Unemployment is on the rise in many countries. All this weighs on the global economy, which will have to go through a lengthy and probably challenging recovery.

Speaking broadly, in the global context, the pandemic has yet again highlighted what we have long been talking about, that all countries without exception are interconnected, regardless of their geography, size and the level of economic development. All of them have been affected. This is how the pandemic has shown again that cross-border issues cannot be disregarded in this globalised world.

We believed that the conclusion was obvious, that the common tasks and challenges should bring all of us together based on the universally recognised norms of international law. Regrettably, this has not happened so far.  Quite to the contrary, some of our Western colleagues led by the United States have tried to take advantage of the novel coronavirus crisis to promote their narrow interests even more energetically and to settle scores with their geopolitical rivals. The appeals by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to suspend the illegitimate unilateral sanctions at least during the pandemic, primarily to allow the delivery of medicines and medical equipment as well as the necessary financial transactions, have fallen on deaf ears. Likewise, they have paid no heed to the initiative, put forth by President Vladimir Putin at the online G20 meeting, for setting up green corridors free from trade wars and sanctions to supply medications, food, equipment and technologies. This attitude to unifying initiatives is seriously poisoning the atmosphere of international cooperation and increasing the lack of mutual trust, damaging not only ordinary people, who have been affected first of all, but also the business circles. You know this better than anyone.

These alarming trends have also affected Russia-EU relations. There are hardly any positive achievements to speak about. Since 2014, when the European Union flagrantly violated its own pledge to guarantee the agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition, it has not just accepted the coup but has actually been encouraging those who seized power in Ukraine illegally and in violation of the Constitution. In particular, the EU has turned a blind eye to the fact that the coup plotters’ policy is based on Russophobia, and that they threatened to oust Russians from Crimea and tried to browbeat the Russian-speaking regions which refused to recognise the coup and said they wanted to sort out the situation. They were denounced as terrorists, even though they had not attacked anyone, and the army and Ukrainian security forces were sent to fight them. As I said, they have been designated terrorists for refusing to recognise the coup.

Since then, the EU, probably becoming aware of its negative role in these processes but still trying to shift the blame onto someone else. Since 2014, it has ruined the multilevel architecture of interaction between Brussels and Moscow, from summit meetings to over two dozen sectoral dialogues. The programme of four common spaces has been abandoned. To this very day, the normalisation of our relations is being artificially conditioned on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Moreover, they say openly that it is the Russian Federation that must do this. Meanwhile, our Ukrainian colleagues have announced once again through their leaders, as you probably know, that the Minsk agreements should be preserved as the basis of the EU and US sanctions against Russia. This is their logic.

Of course, we will insist on the implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures, which has been approved by the UN Security Council, but we will not do this because we want the EU to lift its sanctions. We will do this above all in the interests of the fraternal Ukrainian people, who are suffering from what has been recently going on in Kiev and other parts of their country.

Restrictions are still retained on Russian economic operators’ access to external financial markets. European producers, too, continue to sustain multi-billion losses. The other day, we became aware that Sweden has taken yet another discriminatory step. A Swedish company, Quintus Technologies AB, has refused to supply spare parts for GAZ Group’s industrial press, under an absolutely far-fetched pretext. Allegedly, the equipment is of a military nature and has a dual purpose. This is absolutely artificial logic. This press has been in use since 2009, and never before, including the entire period of crisis in our relations after the coup in Ukraine, have the Swedish regulators entertained any doubts. Judging by all appearances, this is by far not the last example, where the wish to curry favour with those who lay down the West’s geopolitical line prevails over commonsense and own interests. Of course, this will also affect Swedish businesses that cooperate with the GAZ Group and the company’s employees.

Regrettably, we have to state that the EU agencies continue their shortsighted policies. In particular, this refers to the EU member countries that have proclaimed themselves “frontline” states. Their mood is also “frontline” and they pursue “frontline” policies. Let me note that in July, the EU set into motion, under an absolutely far-fetched pretext, its 2019 framework for unilateral sanctions against violations of certain “rules” in the cyberspace, which rules have not yet been coordinated on a universal basis. Invented last year, this generic regime, as they decided, should be “test-driven” in practice over Russian citizens. Without providing any real evidence, they have accused them of launching a cyber attack against the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. Created in 2019, this regime is not the only one of its kind. The EU has spawned, also within its “inner circle,” yet another generic regime punishing violations in the field of employment of toxic chemicals, or, to put it in a nutshell, the use of prohibited types of chemicals that are chemical weapons. It is intended to be used in specific situations. I have no doubt that they will be attempting to apply this regime to the situation involving Alexey Navalny. Moreover, there is no need to “test-drive” or discuss the facts for this on a universal basis either.

Our French colleagues, again unilaterally, have established the so-called “partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons,” a structure outside of the UN or any universal and generally approved international legal framework. But a narrow circle of soul-mates will establish so called “facts,” whereupon a unilaterally created EU organisation intended to punish those who are allegedly guilty of violations will approve sanctions, based on these unilaterally established “facts.” All of this is sad and makes one think that our Western colleagues’ talk of the need for everyone to respect the rules-based order is not just a figure of speech or a synonym of the need to respect international law, but a conscious policy to substitute unilateral and illegitimate actions for the universal international legal framework that requires a consensus of all states in order to approve relevant conventions.

We are interested in establishing the truth regarding Alexey Navalny. That said, this is an outrageous situation that is unfolding following the exact same scenario as in the so-called Skripal case, when accusations were made without presenting any evidence. As you are aware, Russia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office sent requests under the 1959 European Convention for Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters to the relevant agencies in Germany, France and Sweden, where the required tests were allegedly carried out. Under the protocols to this convention they were asked to share information on the results of these tests. We were told that no action will be taken under this convention, which in itself is a violation, and that the results were handed over to the OPCW. They told us to wait for this organisation to release the results of its tests. However, the OPCW informed us that they continue investigating this matter and the samples they collected (it is unclear who collected them and when). We were told that once they are finished, they will communicate the results to Germany, since the request came from there, leaving it to Germany to decide whether to share this information with us. This is a travesty of common sense, and I believe that everyone understands this, including our Western colleagues who deny our requests that are based on a binding international convention. It seems that their Russophobic fervour is so strong that it prevents them from exercising good judgement.

We regret that trade and economic cooperation is becoming increasingly politicised. I have just cited some examples. Trade and economy have always been viewed as a safety net in relations among nations. Nowadays though, things seem to have shifted into a somewhat different phase. I remember so well that in 2014 German businesses called on the European Union and its agencies not to place politics above the economy in its approach to Ukrainian affairs. At the time it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel who said that there are cases when politics must be above economics. This is regrettable.

We are now witnessing another example. The European Commission has drafted a report with a long title: Report on Significant Distortions in the Economy of the Russian Federation for the Purpose of Trade Defence Investigations. You probably understand what this is all about. The document is clearly biased and can lead to new restrictions on the access of Russian goods to the EU market. You know that this will definitely prompt us to reply. In particular, this report presents regulatory measures that are totally legitimate, including in energy, transport and labour resources, as distortions in the Russian economy. We also have questions regarding another EU initiative. I am referring to the key element of the European Green Deal, the so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism. Brussels said that it will be enacted not later than on January 1, 2023 in one form or another. For now, we are looking into what this initiative actually means. We do hope that this mechanism would not contradict the World Trade Organisation (WTO) norms and will not lead to “trade protectionism on climate issues.” We would like to avoid having to take retaliatory measures. I believe now is not the time for trade wars, even in the current politicised environment.

I will not elaborate too much on the games with Nord Stream 2. It all started quite a few years ago when the EU retrospectively amended the gas directive within its Third Energy Package just to make it harder to carry out this project. This ran counter to all legal norms and established practices approved by all countries. It was with great difficulty that compromises were found. This did not prevent things from going awry afterwards. When the end of the project was on the horizon, a new factor emerged in the form of the heavy hand of the United States that stated its open and unscrupulous intention to derail this project for Russia and the Europeans in order to force the US LNG on the Europeans. They are franticly creating LNG capabilities. Washington claims that these measures are designed to support US producers. This is a gloves-off approach free from any ethical boundaries. They do not seem to be concerned with the fact that higher costs for buying expensive gas will undermine the competitiveness of entire European manufacturing sectors. In fact, this suits the US.

Politicised energy cooperation is yet another blow at the foundations of what we call European security. Energy is the area of cooperation dating back over 50 years. We recently marked the anniversary with our Austrian colleagues. Energy was always left outside any forms of confrontation during the Cold War. Our joint energy programme and cooperation have survived the dissolution of some states and the formation of others; they have always served the long-term interests of all European nations, including the Russian Federation.

Protectionism and other barriers and restrictions will only aggravate the economic situation, which is already complicated. By the way, we noted that the BusinessEurope Confederation of European Business recently published recommendations aimed at protecting European businesses amidst sanctions-related restrictions. The document directly states that the weaponisation of the sanctions policy to pursue economic interests is unacceptable. It may seem obvious but as things go nowadays, it takes a lot of courage to say something as obvious as this.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Russian leadership is implementing measures to support the public and businesses in the face of COVID-19 related problems. We are doing everything we can, considering certain minimum requirements of the epidemiological authorities, to help return foreign workers to Russia, which you are well aware of. You have made respective requests and requests continue to come in. We will continue to process them promptly. We expect that, according to the forecasts made in Russia and foreign capitals (including multilateral institutions), the depth of the economic decline in our country will not be as significant as in many other countries, including the eurozone.

Our potential for countering infectious diseases is becoming increasingly more effective. We have learned a lot while taking practical measures to fight this challenge. Relying on our past experience in countering various pandemics, we managed to develop a series of test systems to diagnose the coronavirus and launch the production of drugs to treat it efficiently. As you know, we registered the Sputnik V vaccine. Registration of one or two more vaccines developed by the Vector Research Centre is being finalised. We support sharing experience in this area and cooperating with all interested countries because it is important for overcoming the consequences of our common emergency once and for all. As you know, speaking at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly via videoconference, President Vladimir Putin proposed an initiative of holding a high-level online conference involving the states interested in cooperation on developing coronavirus vaccines. We hope to receive a constructive response to this important proposal.

Before concluding my opening remarks, I would just like to say a few more words about the main subject on our agenda today: as we have already seen more than once, economic interdependence can be both a boon and a bane. I don’t really think that anything good will come out of this if the EU continues to see its partners as some “appendages” of the Eurocentric world. The world that was based on the central role of Europe has become history, not regrettably or happily but objectively. The drivers of economic growth and political influence are now in the East. The new polycentric reality calls for new approaches in politics and the economy. The “leader-follower” relationship is no longer tenable. What we need now is respect for the fundamental principle of equality.

Nowadays we must help the global economy through this difficult period and ensure its consistent post-COVID development. This goal should unite all of us, because this is about the welfare of all nations. We call for finding new growth points in order to overcome the global recession. It is crucial in this respect to combine the potentials of the various integration initiatives that are being implemented throughout Eurasia. This is the objective of President Putin’s initiative on the Greater Eurasian Partnership based on the universal principles of international law and transparency and open to all countries of our huge common continent without exception. You are aware that we are actively promoting dialogue on this subject within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), as well as in relations with ASEAN nations. While doing so, we point out that we would like all countries of our common continent to join this process, both members of regional associations and the unaligned countries. This means that the EU countries could also take a look at this initiative with regard to their own interests, the interests of European businesses, including the possibility of easy access to the rapidly growing markets and new transit routes within the framework of this project. We have a starting point for launching this work in earnest. I am referring to the contacts created at the technical level between the European Commission and the Eurasian Economic Commission. We would like these contacts to break out of the restrictions of technical and regulatory issues. We would like our discussions to move over to a political level and to acquire a political vision of the development of Eurasia, which will become a global economic driver – there is no doubt about this.

We firmly believe that it is in our common interests to prevent the appearance of undesirable dividing lines in the new economic spheres created by the new technological paradigm. Energy and industry are becoming ever greener and all spheres of human activity, including the work of economic operators, are being digitalised. It is our strong conviction that this calls for combining efforts rather than trying to play zero sum games again, as was the case in the past. We are ready for cooperation on the broadest possible basis.

Thank you. I am now ready for the interactive part of our meeting.

Question: There is a saying in my native German language that smart people give way in a dispute. What steps would Russia be ready to make in this regard? What opportunities do you see for giving an impetus to this process and putting it back on a more constructive trajectory? What mechanisms and measures do you see for shielding small islands of cooperation from the collateral damage caused by geopolitical rivalry?

Sergey Lavrov: As far as I can see, the way you used this German saying (smart people giving way in a dispute) suggests that you are certain that the West will never give way.

I also see this in the way many of the ongoing developments are unfolding. In particular, this refers to the complaints we hear. Russia invariably owes something regardless of the international matter, be it Syria, Libya or Belarus. The same goes for Alexey Navalny, any cyber affairs and poisonings. But no evidence is presented. Moreover, when we question their claims and findings, in this case I am referring to the Bundeswehr laboratory, or to the Porton Down laboratory in the Skripal case, they see this as an insult. But no evidence was presented. Our German colleagues are now telling us that this is our problem and that the poisoning took place on Russian territory, so they don’t know anything. Go ahead and open a criminal case, but we will not give you anything, they tell us.

By the way, I remember a rather gruesome episode in our relations with Germany when there was a problem in 2016 with Yelizaveta Fesenko, a Russian underage girl. She disappeared and the search continued for quite a long time. She later resurfaced and said that she had been raped. It turned out that she had not been raped but Germany still opened a criminal case on child sexual abuse charges. One of the defendants received a suspended sentence. But when we tried to become involved to help the girl (apart from a German citizenship she also is a citizen of the Russian Federation) and asked our German colleagues to explain what happened, we faced an outpouring of resentment, including a statement by then German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said that Russia should not interfere in Germany’s domestic affairs or use this incident for propaganda purposes. This is a similar case. Something happened to a Russian national on German territory. When we asked to explain what had happened they told us that it’s not our business and asked us not to interfere in their domestic affairs. When now we asked our German colleagues to share their findings after analysing Alexey Navalny’s test samples, they referred us to the OPCW. The OPCW referred us to Germany, arguing that it was Germany that filed the request, while Russia should have had the same findings as Berlin. However, the doctors in Omsk passed on to the Germans the results of all the tests they ran and everything they did. When the Germans came to transport Alexey Navalny to Germany, they signed papers confirming that they received all the information. Moreover, Alexey Navalny’s spouse signed a document assuming responsibility for all the consequences of his transfer to Germany, since our doctors were not convinced that this was safe. It is true that they did not find any traces of weapon-grade toxic substances. They honestly said so. Let me draw your attention to the fact that the Charite clinic did not find any toxic agents from the so-called Novichok group in Navalny’s samples either. It was the Bundeswehr clinic that made these findings. We still do not know whether the French and the Swedes collected the samples themselves or the Germans simply passed on these samples to them. The fact that our partners are trying to keep this secret, muddying the waters, is a matter of serious concern for us. We want to get to the truth and will pursue this objective. I don’t know what to do with this. Now we are being accused of the developments in the Central African Republic, and they are trying to pin the blame for something that happened in Mozambique on us as well. We stand accused of everything no matter where it occurs.

When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his deputies and other members of the US administration travel around the world, they openly call on their partners during news conferences in Africa, Greece or elsewhere to stop cooperating with Russia and China. These statements are being made officially and unceremoniously, for everyone to hear. It is difficult for me to say now what concessions we can make when it comes to this situation.

As your board chairman has already mentioned, it is good that the ties with the EU are being revived. Yes, they are indeed being revived, but only in specific areas, such as Syria, Libya and Africa – we have recently held such consultations. However, we do not see a systemic approach to our relations on the global and hugely important political plane.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell is a good friend of mine. We spoke with him earlier  this year on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. In June, we talked for two hours via videoconference. We discussed all topics in great detail. There is a common understanding that we need to review the situation, at least so as to see if the EU policy based on sanctions is really effective. This is for the EU to do. In our opinion, it is a flawed policy. Sanctions damage both those against whom they are applied and those who apply them. You are aware that we are trying to abandon all forms of cooperation that can strengthen our dependence on Europe, including in the fields of technology and agricultural goods. I believe that we have achieved good results with this. We are probably doing this because we are no longer sure that our European partners will honour their commitments. I have cited the example of Nord Stream 2. It would seem that the EU’s Legal Service has long analysed this project and concluded that it is good and does not contradict any EU norms. Nevertheless, the question has been reopened and the rules have been changed. Is this how reliable partners act? Moreover, this is being done contrary to the fact that companies from the five respected “old” EU members were fully interested, and continue to be interested, in the Nord Stream 2 project. But politics has prevailed over business.

Of course, selective dialogue is underway on some specific matters, as you mentioned. We are not abandoning it. But we can see that the EU has been trying to preserve the five guiding principles and only to modernise them (and they are based on the fact that the normalisation of EU’s relations with Russia is conditioned by the implementation of the Minsk agreements by Russia, not by Ukraine). While these futile discussions are underway in the EU and the very aggressive and loud Russophobic minority is preventing any efforts to reassess relations with Russia, very serious analytical processes are gathering momentum in Germany. As far as we know (this information is based on German media reports), experts close to the German Government are developing what they describe as “a new Eastern policy,” which actually amounts to removing the remaining positive parts on our agenda.  Their main arguments, as cited by the press, are that strategic partnership is a thing of the past; that the Partnership for Modernisation, which used to be a symbol of our cooperation with Germany and subsequently with the EU as a whole, has not materialised; and that Russia refused to become an ally for the EU and NATO and hence became their opponent when it comes to fundamental political and ideological aspects of the new international order. I have already said that our Western friends want the new international order to be based on rules rather than international law, and on rules invented in a narrow circle of confederates.

As for selective cooperation, the circles close to the Government who are formulating a new agenda say that such cooperation will be possible only after Russians mend their ways. Amid mental stagnation in Brussels, these processes are gathering momentum first of all in Germany. Geopolitical analysts have probably seen that Germany is becoming the lead player in ensuring a strong and lasting anti-Russia charge in all processes underway in the EU.

We have seen this before. The first sanctions were adopted after an absolutely transparent referendum was held in Crimea and nobody questioned their outcome – US representatives told me so immediately after the referendum. Nobody doubted then, and nobody doubts now, that it was a sincere desire of the Crimean residents. But as soon as this happened, we were told in a quite superior manner that Russia should know that there would be no “business as usual.” We replied that yes, there will be no “business as usual.” You yourself have ruined your standing and reputation when you were spit in the face – excuse my French – by those who terminated the agreement guaranteed by France, Germany and Poland. We know very well that there will be no “business as usual,” but we are nevertheless ready to look for spheres of constructive interaction. But take a look at the current situation. Just a small but telling example regarding Nord Stream 2: the Swedish authorities have cancelled their companies’ permit for cooperation with GAZ. There are more examples of this kind too. The question now is not that there will be no “business as usual,” but that there may be no reliable basis for doing business with Europe in the long term and we cannot be sure that our European partners will honour their commitments. I am not talking about companies. They want to do business, but it is the politicians who are ruling over business now. This is the problem. As I have already said, there is no lack of goodwill or desire to develop normal relations on our part. Just read President Putin’s message of greetings to Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on Germany’s reunification. It clearly says everything. But goodwill cannot be unilateral. It is said that he who is smarter and stronger should take the first step. We probably have grounds to believe that our partners are strong and smart. I really do hope that they think about us in the same way. If there is goodwill on both sides, we can turn the tide. But we do not see any reciprocity so far.

Question: We have noticed these concerns regarding the recent trends that you mentioned, and the articles claiming that the partnership has come to an end. We share these concerns. As an association, we agree that it takes two to tango.

Sergey Lavrov: These days, some prefer breakdancing and you don’t need a partner.

Question: Let’s hope that partner dancing will not go out of style. As an association, we adhere to the principle of independence. We communicate both with Brussels, by voicing our concerns with the current situation, and with officials in Russia. I was very happy to hear your greetings on our anniversary. This year we marked 25 years. We planned to organise a conference using the motto “Russia and Europe in the world of tomorrow: looking back on the past to move towards the future.” How do you see Russia and Europe in the world of tomorrow? What are the most promising areas for continuing the cooperation that has not always been easy but has undoubtedly been productive over these 25 years? What are the key areas for you?

Sergey Lavrov: We spoke about this at length today. If we talk about specific areas, these include, of course, the digital economy, the green economy and everything related to the new types of energy (the Russian-Italian-French thermonuclear reactor project). We have many hi-tech projects with Germany. There is mutual interest. But, again, the political course pursued right now, mainly by the United States, is aimed at preventing any mutually beneficial, promising and competitive economic projects in Europe to be carried out without the American involvement – be it Russia or China. This has been stated openly. Politics is the art of the possible but perhaps, in the current circumstances, the economy is also the art of the possible. As long as the leaders of your countries are capable of protecting the core interests of European businesses, as long as they can protect your competitiveness and as long as they can withstand this pressure.

But, of course, besides the economy, we are deeply concerned about the military and political situation. It is not improving in Europe and, on the contrary, it is becoming more disturbing. By the way, there have been many reports, analysis pieces and articles recently marking the anniversary of the German reunification. Russian television filmed a two-hour documentary, The Wall, which came to a rather sad conclusion: the Berlin Wall was never destroyed; it simply became virtual and moved to the East very close to the Russian border, despite all the promises and assurances. I will not comment on this film right now. I hope you watched it. If you did not, I recommend it because you will understand a lot about the current conditions for the Russia-Europe relations, how the Russian leadership and Russian people remember the times when – and we all know this very well – Russia played the decisive role in the German reunification, by making a huge sacrifice. I am not exaggerating. The withdrawal of our troops was conducted in absolutely cruel and inhumane conditions. We know the real (financial) cost Germany paid for this. We also know that, not that our Western colleagues tried to persuade the Soviet leaders against it but they asked whether they [the Soviet leaders] had thought carefully and whether everybody needed a united Germany. You know the outcome. I find the manner used by some representatives of the German leadership in communication with the Russian Federation not only unacceptable but fully indicative of the fact that the era everybody considered a historic victory of Germans and Russians and eventually the victory of the entire Europe is now completely forgotten. This is unfortunate. I really hope that this anomaly goes away. It cannot reflect the Germans’ true attitude towards Russia. Speaking of which, in a recent public opinion poll, half of the German people across the Federal Republic of Germany, including Western Germany, expressed a positive attitude towards the Russian people. I think the number of people in our country supporting cooperation with Germans will not be less than that. Our historic victory is in overcoming all phobias and focusing on the constructive process in the interests of our nations. Of course, it would be a crime to lose it.

Question: I would like to get back to the issue of highly skilled professionals returning to Russia. We are very grateful for the help we received from the Government of the Russian Federation and, in particular, from the Foreign Ministry. We know that the rules currently in place, the Government Directive No. 635-r of March 16, 2020, is greatly appreciated by our members because it opens a channel for returning highly skilled professionals. However, on the other hand, this process is still complicated and there are many unresolved matters. What are the prospects of relaxing the border crossing regime, especially ahead of the New Year days off?

Sergey Lavrov: I have already spoken on this matter multiple times. The Foreign Ministry will play a secondary role there. Public health is the top priority. Therefore, the epidemiological and sanitary authorities are calling all the shots. We have an Emergency Response Centre headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, the Federal Supervision Service for Consumer Protection and Welfare, the Healthcare Ministry and the Federal Medical-Biological Agency. All these experts are working on the best measures to protect our citizens and our visitors from the danger of contracting the coronavirus.

It is in the interests of the Foreign Ministry to establish contacts as quickly as possible. As you are aware, the aviation authorities are also interested in this – as are the airline companies which are suffering losses and hoping to resume air services as quickly as possible. Once again, the decisions are up to the epidemiologists.

Question: I can see that Russia is trying to shut itself off from the rest of the world by demanding that production facilities be more localised.  We invested about 2 billion and are one of the largest companies. Seventy percent of our products will not be considered Russia-made products in two years. I am urging you to do everything you can to make sure that Russia does not isolate itself from the rest of the world and cooperates with Western companies. Do not force us to resort to localisation which puts us at a disadvantage and which will seem rather strange after we invested 2 billion.

Sergey Lavrov: I agree with the idea that we should not destroy the global forms of cooperation and build barriers. If we look at localisation as a barrier, this logic probably applies here. But again, we need to remember about the strategic goals set for our economy by President Vladimir Putin and the Government. To a great extent, they have to do with the events in our relations of the past six or seven years and with the fact whether the West demonstrated itself as reliable and capable of negotiating in relations with us.

When it comes to localisation, we are not alone. For example, India is rather actively pursuing its Make in India policy and I think it is much more demanding than the localisation policy in the Russian Federation. Overall, I understand your production-related concerns and assume that these issues should be raised with the Government Foreign Investment Advisory Council that is in charge of these matters.

Question: The Government of the Russian Federation adopted new rules that prevent us from investing for the next two years. We do not know whether we can invest in the future because in two years there will be no benefits in this for us.

Sergey Lavrov: The Foreign Ministry is interested in continuing pragmatic and mutually beneficial economic cooperation; therefore, let’s agree that following this meeting, following our discussion, your chairman, the Director General, will send me a proposal outlining the steps which, in your opinion, would allow our cooperation to continue on a mutually beneficial basis.

I know that you cooperate with the GAZ Group. I meant exactly the same thing that you are talking about when I said that some small European countries are trying to run before the American hounds because the seizures by the United States were once again extended. The Americans are thinking about themselves, too. Many American jobs depend on continuing this cooperation. Our Swedish neighbours decided that they will be more American than the Americans themselves.

Question: When we discuss relaxing the border crossing regime for highly skilled professionals, please do not forget about their family members because it is a major part of their lives here. I would like to ask you to consider this issue.

Sergey Lavrov: Of course, their comfort is important. We will make sure to support requests concerning their family members as well.

Question: We are witnessing the US administration purposefully dismantling the international relations system that took shape after World War II. How much have they managed to accomplish in this regard? Is this an irreversible process? What can we expect from the upcoming election?

Sergey Lavrov: As I mentioned earlier, the current international relations system is collapsing under the banner of the “rules-based world order.” It became part of the political vocabulary, or narrative, in modern parlance, about three to four years ago. We took note of it immediately. When we began to talk about this term which was proposed to be included in the declarations of international forums, we were told that “this is the same as international law.” When we proposed replacing this term with “respect for international law,” we were told, by hook or by crook, that “we need to use some fresh language.” And then everything that I was talking about came to the surface.

Two parallel processes are underway that are directly related to the erosion of the system that was created after World War II, which suited everyone, made it possible to avoid another world war and, as we all hoped, would be ridding itself of confrontational components after the Cold War ended. We have already talked about the Berlin Wall and everything that followed and what we are witnessing now.

There are two obvious areas where this system is being eroded. The first is the privatisation of the existing international organisations’ secretariats. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is based on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), is a case in point. It was adopted unanimously (any convention can only be adopted unanimously) and is binding exclusively for the countries that have ratified this Convention, 193 in all. The OPCW is one of the most universal organisations. The Convention can only be amended by way of talks, and the language must be agreed upon by a consensus, after which the amendments are adopted and ratified. Under the convention, the OPCW Technical Secretariat (TC) has the competence to conduct a probe in response to an inquiry by any CWC member country. This should be done by an onsite visit by the experts to a location designated by the corresponding party to take samples that are then taken to certified labs. Then, a report is compiled which says whether a substance prohibited by the special lists attached to the CWC was found in these samples. That’s all there is to it. The OPCW Secretariat began to grossly violate the Convention. For example, in Syria, they were making decisions and compiling reports without onsite visits. They just said that they managed to get samples from, say, Great Britain or France (there was such an episode in Khan Shaykhun), since it was “unsafe” for them to go there. We insisted that, under the Convention, they must go there themselves. The answer was “it’s unsafe.” Then, we asked the British and the French, since they were able to obtain the samples in unsafe circumstances, to use their contacts to ensure the safety of the OPCW inspectors so that they comply with the convention. We were told there was nothing they could do, and it’s “classified.” The Syrian government was accused of airstrikes using bombs filled with toxic agents. This “classified” information was used to conclude that a poisonous agent was used in Khan Shaykhun. End of story. Nobody knows who took these samples, or who took them to which laboratory, because it’s “classified.”

There are many questions. When we started asking them and stopped accepting such reports in the UN Security Council (only the UNSC can decide who is right and who is wrong under international law and the UN Charter), our Western colleagues at the OPCW convened an extraordinary session of all parties to the Convention. They put to the vote a proposal that, in addition to what is allowed for the OPCW Technical Secretariat under the Convention (to determine whether a prohibited poisonous agent was used or not), it should also be authorised to identify the perpetrators and to carry out the attribution. Less than half of the countries members of the convention voted in favour of the proposal. The rest voted against it or abstained. However, according to the rules of procedure, the decision was declared adopted. Thus, instead of an international law instrument, which any universal convention is, we got an instrument of the “rules-based order.” Of course, we will not be paying for the portion of the Secretariat’s activities that focuses on these purposes. China and a number of other countries are doing the same, but that doesn’t make the problem disappear. This is an outright privatisation of the Secretariat, which can now be seen in the way the senior officials of this body (Western countries hold the posts of Director-General and his “right hand”) react to our inquiries on many issues (Syria, Navalny, etc.). Concurrently, privatisation is carried out in less aggressive forms, when the Western employees of the respective secretariats conduct blatantly one-sided policies at the UN organisations.

The second area is about the propensity to move “inconvenient” matters outside the UN system. In my opening remarks, I mentioned that our French colleagues had created the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. We asked why we can’t discuss this at the UN or the OPCW, which they are trying to manipulate. Why do this somewhere else? We were told that this is just a “group of like-minded people.” Today, I spoke on the phone with my French colleague, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, and asked him why they were not responding to a request filed by the General Prosecutor’s Office of Russia regarding Alexey Navalny’s tests. Mr Le Drian told me they were waiting for the OPCW to respond. The OPCW has not yet responded (today is October 5). However, already on September 24, our French colleagues initiated the distribution, among their closest partners at the very same organisation in The Hague, of a draft statement by the countries participating in the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. The draft of this statement is already saying that, as confirmed by the OPCW Secretariat, Mr Navalny was poisoned with Novichok. The Secretariat has not confirmed or said anything. We have an official letter from the OPCW Director General Fernando Arias Gonzalez saying that the process is still underway.

This “privatisation,” as we call it, creates quite serious problems in other areas of the universal institutions’ work as well. Instead of once again provoking scandals at the conferences of the parties to the relevant universal conventions, they are now making decisions in a narrow circle of “like-minded people” and then present this as an example of multilateralism. This approach forms the basis of the Franco-German initiative for a new multilateralism, which they are promoting and which was proclaimed not so long ago. It was stated that the EU is an example of multilateralism. We asked again why multilateralism is being considered outside the framework of the UN multilateral organisation. There’s no answer, but we know it. There will be more cases like this. Along with this International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, the French have created a similar partnership on the freedom of journalism and information in cyberspace.

Question: The impact of geopolitics on de-globalisation. Modern equipment has a very broad built-in functionality for data collection and transmission. At the same time, requirements for a mandatory local hosting are being tightened, in particular, with regard to data collection and transmission. Some forecasts say that by 2030, many countries will close their markets to each other. What do you think could promote the opening of a common economic space?

Sergey Lavrov: For 15 years, if not longer, we have been actively promoting the initiative (it has gained a large number of supporters now) to figure out how the internet should work so that everyone feels comfortable. This question was raised at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an organisation dealing with all forms of information and communication technologies, and in the UN, where it was proposed to agree on the rules of responsible behaviour in the information landscape. It is about international information security. At the same time, we are promoting initiatives at the UN to combat crime in cyberspace. There is one part that relates to processes affecting national security, and the other is crime proper – drug trafficking, paedophilia, pornography, and so on. But things are moving with difficulty at the ITU. All these years of discussions have led us nowhere. The Americans do not seem interested in making this topic the subject of agreements. The discussion continues, but you know how the internet is governed, how it all works. It suits them. The Americans are actually pushing forward the idea that there is no need for any anti-cybercrime conventions or rules of conduct to ensure security in the information landscape. There is international law and it is applicable. This also reflects our Western partners’ policy to declare cyberspace an arena of potential confrontation, including the possibility of hostilities (and the outer space for good measure).

As we have seen from hours of discussions with the Americans and other Westerners, they are reluctant to introduce new regulations and cite applicable international law because the West again wants to reserve some extra rights. I mentioned the partnership to protect freedom in cyberspace. If it is established that someone has violated “freedom in cyberspace,” they will not have to prove anything to anyone, because international law is already in place. The Americans are primarily interested in Article 51 of the UN Charter (the right to self-defence and the possible use of weapons). They do not hide this and want to reserve the right to strike. More precisely, not reserve, but actually obtain the right to use military force in response to what they might consider an encroachment in cyberspace that affects their national interest. You can implicate just about anything there.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin proposed reopening the existing channels on cybersecurity issues. On October 2, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev met with US President Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, who said that so far, Washington has not seen any Russian interference attempts in the 2020 United States elections. Well, they kind of expected Moscow to interfere, but “Mr Patrushev assured them they won’t.” What the Russian Security Council Secretary proposed – we actually lived through all this many years ago with the Obama administration, and later it resumed with Donald Trump – was a proposal to sign a deal on non-interference in each other’s affairs, including in cyberspace, concerning elections or other processes. The US does not want to, because they really interfere in our internal affairs. After Kiev events in 2014, they passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which explicitly ordered the State Department to spend $20 million a year to liaise with Russian civil society, to support certain “independent” and “non-governmental” organisations. You are certainly well aware of this. Indeed, a cutting-edge sphere like cyberspace and information and communication technologies in general, where progress is rapidly gaining momentum, is a field for competition. Look at what is happening with 5G networks now, how the Americans prohibit Europe and the rest of the world from cooperating with China; look at how these policies affect the atmosphere of international relations. Consider artificial intelligence. I think competition will continue, as we are seeing a new industrial revolution – or rather, not an industrial, but a technological one.

If we consider the US policy line they are pursuing today, it is difficult to predict how and when it will end, whether it will even come to a close in our lifetime, because anything’s possible. Who knows what will happen on this planet in 50-100 years. There are many people who believe the current US policy line is irrevocable, and from now on, they refuse to put up with it. The most interesting thing is that they actually achieve their goals in some cases. As we say, might is right. But it seems to me that the United States should and will try to pay more attention to its internal problems. I would say what we can see there now has very deep roots. There are many forecasts that any empire will reach a crisis at some point and become smaller and quieter. As Vladimir Vysotsky wrote, “it goes at random, all over the place, and downhill.”

I am not trying to make any predictions about the US elections now; I do not want to be blamed again for supporting someone or not supporting someone else. Vladimir Putin has said many times that we will work with anyone they elect. We are watching the squabbles between Democrats and Republicans. No silver lining, of course. Destabilisation in the United States is unlikely to do any good to any of us. We are actually all interested in the United States being a responsible player in the international arena; but for that, they should at least have some internal stability, which is now being tested. We want them to be a responsible player, which means they should follow the rules, not those invented by them, consistently rather than occasionally, and not change those rules at their whim or use loopholes (like we say, every law has a loophole). This is rules-based order. Unfortunately, the trend is quite steady – they have left the UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council, and withdrawn from nearly all treaties; now the last one, the New START, is going to die. The conditions they set are absolutely unilateral and do not take into account either our interests or the experience of many decades, when arms control was enforced to everyone’s satisfaction and was welcomed by all countries. I cannot rule out that the World Trade Organisation will be next. They are also complaining about it, as I understand it, and continue blocking the dispute resolution body, preventing the appointment of the necessary participants for a quorum.

This question causes everyone’s concern, but I have no answer to give you. Some expound on how empires grow old and new ones emerge, like when you all play together as kids, and there is always the main bully in the sandbox who hits the younger ones. But later, when they grow up, they get even. This probably happens in different forms on a bigger scale, like centuries-long cycles.

Question: As you may be aware, Turkey and Libya have certain agreements regarding the Mediterranean Sea. We’re amid an abnormal situation, where Turkey, a NATO member, has a run-in with Europe, where most countries are NATO members as well. Clearly, in addition to the economic interests, there are geopolitical and military reasons as well. What’s your view about a potential increase in the number of clashes in this region and Russia’s role?

Sergey Lavrov: Here, too, we need to look through the lens of geopolitical interests. The situation in Libya, Syria and a number of other countries is far from being alright, but hydrocarbons are among the factors that clearly influence politics. At least what the Americans are doing with oil having illegally occupied the eastern coast of the Euphrates River in Syria and making a decision allowing their company to produce oil. Together with the Kurds, they are trying to “cobble up” a Kurdish autonomy, which will have quasi-state functions. It is well known that they are also trying to talk the Turks into not objecting to the idea of creating such autonomy, assuring them that the Americans will ensure the Kurds’ loyalty. Flirting with a country’s territorial integrity is a gross violation of international law. In this case, this applies not only to Syria, but also to the Kurdish problem, which can be so explosive that the current situation will appear much less serious. It affects a number of countries in the region. An invitation to separatism and its active promotion can end very badly. This is being done by a distant overseas country, but the countries of the region and Europe will have to deal with the consequences. We are not far away from there, either. So, we have come up with an initiative to develop a security concept in the Gulf with the participation of all Arab countries, Iran, the League of Arab States (LAS), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the UN Security Council permanent members, and the European Union.

The time has come when too many problems have piled up in and around the Gulf, including the Middle East and North Africa. We need to sit down and talk.

The Americans are also departing from international law and moving to the rules on which they want to establish the world order, I mean a Middle East settlement. They are turning the Arab Peace Initiative upside down, which proclaimed the creation of the Palestinian state followed by the normalisation of relations between the Arab countries and Israel. Now, the process has reversed.

We welcome any agreements that normalise relations between the states, but we cannot agree to this being done to the detriment of the Palestinian people’ interests which are enshrined in numerous consensus resolutions adopted by the Security Council and the UN General Assembly.

Question: More than a year ago now, President of Russia Vladimir Putin met with President of France Emmanuel Macron in Bregancon. How would you assess the results of that meeting? I know that recently in Lithuania, President Macron said he would continue cooperating with Russia because it is crucial for Europe. What do you have to say  on this score?

Sergey Lavrov: In August 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron had a very good and productive meeting in Bregancon. France is the only state whose government responded to Vladimir Putin’s address circulated in autumn 2019, when it became known that the INF Treaty had finally “died.” That long letter went to all NATO members and a number of other states, in which Vladimir Putin spelled out the history of the issue, explained how important the INF Treaty was, how its termination would increase the risks and wipe out any control over such missiles, and proposed to declare a voluntary moratorium. He said that Russia has already announced it and will not build or deploy any such missiles until such US-made systems are deployed in some part of the world. The President of Russia asked his NATO partners to consider the possibility of a counter moratorium without concluding any agreement – just pure goodwill, similar to the previous nuclear test ban. Only a few of them even bothered to respond, usually “thank you and we’ll read it later.” Some just declined. French President Macron was the only one who actually wrote he was ready to discuss the proposal, and who noticed that we were not just proposing two counter-moratoriums in that letter – a Russia-NATO and a wider one – but we were ready to discuss specific ways to verify compliance. Western Europeans as well as our American colleagues said the “cunning” Russia was proposing a moratorium when it allegedly had such missiles in Kaliningrad. They believe our Iskander systems violate this Treaty, but never provided a single fact that proved it. If they say that an Iskander missile has been tested at a prohibited range, then obviously, they should have satellite images, but they never showed any, just as they have not shown any satellite images when it comes to the Malaysian Boeing shot down over Donbass. They have some pictures, but they just don’t show them to anyone. So Vladimir Putin proposed, if they have any such concerns, to discuss what verification measures we can agree upon to make everyone feel comfortable. The only one who responded to that was Emmanuel Macron.

Unlike our selective cooperation with EU’s Brussels on specific conflict matters, sporadically, from time to time, what we have with France is a stable dialogue, including the two-plus-two format with the foreign and defence ministers. In September 2019, our French colleagues were in Moscow. We also established cooperation in more than ten working groups on various strategic tracks. The working groups on combating terrorism and cybersecurity met recently – these topics should obviously be of interest to everyone, but the Americans and most other Westerners, including the Germans, have shown little interest in cooperating on them, to put it mildly.

Emmanuel Macron also makes critical statements. We can hear those. We also have some questions for France. I have just mentioned some of the steps they are taking that undermine the legitimacy of universal organisations, attempts to isolate some issues to be addressed by a narrow circle of participants they find comfortable. But we are having a dialogue, whatever disagreements we might have cannot be a reason to refuse to discuss serious matters, and limit interaction to some selective, elective topics, as the European Union does.

Question: The international community failed to prevent two global catastrophes in the 20th century: the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. Today we are witnessing the escalation of a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in which Turkey has become involved. Do we have any mechanisms for preventing genocide in the 21st century?

Sergey Lavrov: We have the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), which is effective. Genocide has been denounced as a crime against humanity. There are different types and forms of genocide. What is happening today to the Russian language and Russian education in the Baltic countries (in Latvia and Estonia), in Ukraine and several other places clearly amounts to infringement on the fundamental rights of a very large group of people.

One of the topics we discussed with Josep Borrell was discrimination against Russian speakers, in particular, in Ukraine. We regularly raise the question of the Baltics with the EU. They seem unable to do anything, and it even looks to me as if they are unwilling to do anything about it. They only speak in favour of naturalisation. The process is underway, they claim, adding that everything will be just fine, in time. Nothing good is taking place there though. And in Ukraine they adopted several laws on education and language, following which they have adopted amendments that stipulate exemptions for EU languages, which has placed the Russian language in conditions of double discrimination, even though the Ukrainian Constitution stipulates the protection of national minority rights. And it directly mentions Russians.

We have informed the EU that there are Hungarian, Bulgarian and Polish communities in Ukraine and called on them to join forces to protect the rights of the national minorities at the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. We sense a trend in each of these countries to settle the problems of their national minorities in Ukraine unofficially, and they don’t care what happens after that. I asked Josep Borrell if Brussels would support this policy. Absolutely not, he replied, adding that they would equally protect all national minority languages and that the EU would never be content with exemptions for their minorities. But these exemptions have already been made. A law prohibiting primary school tuition in any language other than Ukrainian was to become effective as of September 1. A three-year exemption has been approved for the EU languages, but not for the Russian language. I asked Josep Borrell why this was so. He answered that they were working on this problem.

I don’t think a repetition of genocide in its classical form is possible today, but regrettably, discrimination trends will be gathering momentum. Speaking about Karabakh, we maintain contact with Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as with Turkey and Iran as their neighbours. Today I had a telephone conversation with [French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs] Jean-Yves Le Drian, during which we also spoke about Karabakh. The presidents of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group – Russia, France and the United States – have made a very strong statement. We are now preparing a statement of the three countries’ foreign ministers.  However, what we need is not only statements but practical moves that can be made to end the bloodshed and resume negotiations.

You have mentioned that Emmanuel Macron said in Vilnius that cooperation with Russia was crucial for finding solutions to problems. We fully share this view. He also met with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya there; she has met with a number of high-ranking officials from EU countries.

This has jogged my memory regarding a situation, I think it was in 2017, when Jean-Marc Ayrault held the post of foreign minister. In March 2017, Marine Le Pen came to Russia at the invitation of our parliament. She met with President Putin. Mr Ayrault criticised that meeting between the President of Russia and the leader of a large French party. He interpreted it as “an attempt to interfere in the election process.” “We would like to understand if this is so. France is not interfering in Russia’s internal affairs, and we hope that Russia will not interfere in our affairs either,” he said. This is how he commented on President Putin’s meeting with the leader of a French political party who had been invited to visit Russia by our parliament. Now look at the [Western] reaction to what is taking place in Vilnius and other places. This is double standards.

Question: First of all, I would like to point out the importance of [foreign] professionals returning to Russia so that they can resume their operations here. As for our exports to Russia, we would like to say that we account for 25 percent of them, and we would like to continue to increase our share. We can see great potential here, in particular, when it comes to raw materials. We should start with renewable materials and discuss recycling. We also need to coordinate certification issues and think about improving the furniture industry in Russia so as to be able to export more IKEA products from Russia.

Sergey Lavrov: I hope your products will not be designated as military or dual-purpose items, as was the case with Sweden’s Quintus Technologies, and that you will continue to supply us with affordable, solid and reliable furniture.

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